Eyewitness to Battle, Part 2
"The force of a mini ball or piece of shell striking any solid portion of a person is astonishing; it comes like a blow from a sledge hammer, and the recipient finds himself sprawling on the ground before he is conscious of being hit; then he feels about for the wound, the benumbing blow deadening sensation for a few moments. Unless struck in the head or about the heart, men mortally wounded live some time, often in great pain, and toss about upon the ground."
"A frenzy seized each man, and impatient with their small muzzle loaded guns, they tore the loaded ones from the hands of the dead and fired them with fearful rapidity, sending ramrods along with the bullets for double execution."
"The truth is, when bullets are whacking against tree trunks and solid shot are cracking skulls like eggshells, the consuming passion in the breast of the average man is to get out of the way."
"I recall a soldier with the cartridge between his thumb and finger, the end of the cartridge bitten off, and the paper between his teeth when the bullet had pierced his heart, and the machinery of life--all the muscles and nerves--had come to a standstill."
"Under the dark shade of a towering oak near the Dunker Church lay the lifeless form of a drummer boy, apparently not more than 17 years of age, flaxen hair and eyes of blue and form of delicate mould. As I approached him I stooped down and as I did so I perceived a bloody mark upon his forehead...It showed where the leaden messenger of death had produced the wound the caused his death. His lips were compressed, his eyes half open, a bright smile played upon his countenance. By his side lay his tenor drum, never to be tapped again."
"I recall a Union soldier lying near the Dunker Church with his face turned upward, and his pocket Bible open upon his breast. I lifted the volume and read the words: 'Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.' Upon the fly-leaf were the words, 'We hope and pray that you may be permitted by kind Providence, after the war is over, to return."
"Comrades with wounds of all conceivable shapes were brought in and placed side by side as thick as they could lay, and the bloody work of amputation commenced."
"A man lying upon the ground asked for drink--I stooped to give it, and having raised him with my right hand, was holding the cup to his lips with my left, when I felt a sudden twitch of the loose sleeve of my dress--the poor fellow sprang from my hands and fell back quivering in the agonies of death--a ball had passed between my body--and the right arm which supported him--cutting through the sleeve, and passing through his chest from shoulder to shoulder."
"...two of our army surgeons came into the room and began to tie up my arteries to stop the bleeding, which possibly saved my life. Before they got through, however, several shells struck the house and they left me alone."
"When night came we could still hear the sullen guns and hoarse, indefinite murmurs that succeeded the day's turmoil. That night was dark and lowering and the air heavy and dull. Across the river in numeral campfires were blazing, and we could but too well imagine the scenes that they are lighting."
"All were calling for water, of course, but none was to be had. We lay there until dusk--perhaps an hour, when the fighting ceased. During that hour, while the bullets snipped the leaves from a young locust tree growing at the edge of the hollow and powdered us with fragments, we had time to speculate on many things-among others, on the impatience with which men clamor, in dull times, to be led into fight."
"Both before and after a battle, sad and solemn thoughts come to the soldier. Before the conflict they were of apprehension; after the strife there is a sense of relief; but the thinned ranks, the knowledge that the comrade who stood by your side in the morning never will stand there again, bring inexpressible sadness."
"I have seen more than I ever expected to see. I have laid on the field in front of the enemy, where the dead and wounded were laying in heaps around us."
"Before the sunlight faded, I walked over the narrow field. All around lay the Confederate dead...clad in `butternut'...As I looked down on the poor pinched faces...all enmity died out. There was no `secession' in those rigid forms nor in those fixed eyes staring at the sky. Clearly it was not their war."
Did You Know?
William McKinley served at Antietam as a Commissary Sergeant in the 23rd Ohio Infantry before becoming the nation’s 25th President. A monument to him at Antietam was dedicated in his memory on October 13, 1903, two years after he was assassinated.