Beyond the Antietam Battlefield: Cemeteries worth seeing

Beyond the Antietam Battlefield
Cemeteries worth seeing

Approximately 4,000 men were killed at Antietam, and in the days that followed, many thousands more died of wounds or disease. The once peaceful Sharpsburg became a huge hospital and burial ground extending for miles in all directions. Burial details performed their grisly task with speed, but not great care. Graves ranged from single burials to long, shallow trenches for hundreds of bodies. Grave markings ranged from stone piles to rough-hewn crosses and wooden headboards. A few bodies ended up in area church cemeteries and, in other cases, friends or relatives removed bodies for transport home. By March 1864, many graves had become exposed but no effort had been made to find a suitable final resting place for those buried in the fields surrounding Sharpsburg. Later that year, a plan was introduced to the Maryland Senate to establish a state, or national, cemetery at Antietam for the men who died in the Maryland Campaign of 1862. The original plan allowed for burial of soldiers from both sides, but bitterness from the recent conflict and the South's inability to raise funds persuaded Maryland to recant. On September 17, 1867, the fifth anniversary of the battle, President Andrew Johnson and other dignitaries officially dedicated Antietam National Cemetery. Confederate remains were re-interred in Washington Confederate Cemetery in Hagerstown, Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Frederick, and Elmwood Cemetery in Shepherdstown (WV). Approximately 2,800 Southerners are buried in these three cemeteries. More graves of Confederates exist in the heritage area than Union troops. This is due to the fact that more northern families had the financial and transportation means to move their fallen loved ones back home. Men of both armies are buried in various small churchyards and cemeteries throughout the area. The grave pictured (left) marks one of two Confederate officers killed during Corbit's Charge. The bodies of Lt. John William Murray and a comrade, Lt. St. Pierre Gibson, were initially interred in Westminster Cemetery, but Gibson's body was later returned to his hometown of Culpeper, VA. Meanwhile, Lt. Murray was moved to a new site in the cemetery of the Ascension Church shown here. A sycamore tree at his head was planted to provide shade for the fallen soldier. Mere words cannot capture the emotional intensity of visiting the annual Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination ceremony the first Saturday evening in December. Thousands of volunteers place luminaries to represent each of the Union and Confederate soldiers killed, wounded or missing on September 17, 1862.

This information was provided by the Hagerstown/Washington County Convention and Visitor's Bureau - www.marylandmemories.com