The Battle of Antietam, or Sharpsburg, on September 17, 1862, was the tragic culmination of Robert E. Lee's first invasion of the North. That one fateful day more than 23,110 men were killed, wounded, or listed as missing. Approximately 4,000 were killed, and in the days that followed, many more died of wounds or disease. The peaceful village of Sharpsburg turned into a huge hospital and burial ground extending for miles in all directions.
Antietam National Cemetery
Burial details performed their grisly task with speed, but not great care. Graves ranged from single burials to long, shallow trenches accommodating hundreds. For example, William Roulette, whose farm still stands behind the Visitor Center today, had over 700 soldiers buried on his property. Grave markings were somewhat haphazard, from stone piles to rough-hewn crosses and wooden headboards. A few ended up in area church cemeteries. In other cases, friends or relatives removed bodies from the area for transport home. By March of 1864, no effort had been made to find a suitable final resting place for those buried in the fields surrounding Sharpsburg. Many graves had become exposed; something had to be done.
Establishing a Plan
The original Cemetery Commission's plan allowed for burial of soldiers from both sides. However, the rancor and bitterness over the recently completed conflict and the devastated South's inability to raise funds to join in such a venture persuaded Maryland to recant. Consequently, only Union dead are interred here. Confederate remains were re-interred in Washington Confederate Cemetery in Hagerstown, Maryland; Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Frederick, Maryland; and Elmwood Cemetery in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Approximately 2,800 Southerners are buried in these three cemeteries, over 60% of whom are unknown.
An Arduous Task