Page images
PDF
EPUB

stone set up in the field, near a spreading chestnut, marks the spot where he fell. A few rods north of this, running east and west, is the mountain-road, with a stone wall on each side of it, where the Rebels fought furiously, until driven out from their defences by our boys coming up through the woods. The few wayside trees are riddled with bullets. A little higher up the crest is a log house, and a well in which fiftyseven dead Rebels are buried. “The owner of the house was offered a dollar a head for burying them. The easiest way he could do was to pitch them into the well. But he don't like to own up to having done it now.”

It was a sunny, breezy field. “Up yer 's a heap of air sturrin',” said a mountaineer, whom we met coming up the road. We sat down and talked with him by the stone wall; and he told us of his tribulations and mishaps on the day of the battle, attempting to fly south over the mountain with his family ; overloading his wagon, and breaking down just as the shells began to explode around him; doing everything “ wrong-eend fust, he was so skeered.”

We pushed along through the woods to the eastern brow of the crest, in order to obtain a general view of the field. Emerging from among the trees, a superb scene opened before us, — Catoctin Valley, like a poem in blue and gold, with its patches of hazy woods, sunlit misty fields, and the Catoctin Mountains rolling up ethereal beyond.

The bridge across Catoctin Creek, half a mile west of Middletown, where the fighting began on that memorable Sunday, September 14th, 1862, could be seen half hidden and far away below. There our troops came up with the rear-guard of the invading army. Driven back from the Creek, the Rebels massed their forces and formed their line of battle, two miles in extent, on this mountain-side, in positions of formidable strength. Standing on the brow of the commanding crest, you would say that ten thousand men, rightly posted, might here check the advance of ten times their number, hold the gap on the left there, and prevent the steep mountain-sides from being scaled.

[merged small][ocr errors]

In a barren pasture above the slope climbed by Reno’s men in face of the Rebel fire, we came upon a little row of graves under some locust-trees. I took note of a few names lettered on the humble head-boards. “ John Dunn;"« T. G. Dixon, Co. C, 230 Regt. O. V. I. ;•' several more were of the 23d Ohio,

- the impetuous regiment that had that day its famous hand-tohand conflict with the 23d South Carolina, in which each man fought as though the honor of the nation depended upon his individual arm. Here lay the victorious fallen. A few had been removed from their rude graves. The head-boards of others had been knocked down by cows. We set them up again, and left the field to the pensive sound of the cow-bells and the teasing song of the locust.

Walking back to the road through the gap, and surveying the crests flanking and commanding it, which were held by the Rebels, but carried with irresistible impetuosity by the men of Burnside's and Hooker's corps, one is still more astonished by the successful issue of that terrible day's work. All along these heights rebel and loyal dead lie buried in graves scarcely distinguishable from each other. Long after the battle, explorers of the woods were accustomed to find, in hollows and behind logs, the remains of some poor fellow, generally a Rebel, who, wounded in the fight, or on the retreat, had dragged himself to such shelter as he could find, and died there, alone, uncared for, in the gloomy and silent wilderness.

Crampton's Gap, six miles farther south, stormed and carried that same Sabbath day by the men of Franklin's corps, I did not visit. The sun was setting as we turned our faces westward; and all the way down the mountain we had the Antietam valley before us, darkening and darkening under a sky full of the softest twilight tints and tranquillity.

CHAPTER V.

THE FIELD OF ANTIETAM.

Ar seven o'clock the next morning, light and jaunty Lewy Smith was snapping his whip again at the tavern-door; and I was soon riding out of the village by his side.

Our course lay along the line of the Rebel retreat and of the advance of the right wing of our army. A pleasant road, under the edge of woods still wet with recent rain, brought us to Keedysville, a little cluster of brick and log houses, all of which, Lewy told me, were turned into hospitals after the great battle. At the farther end of the town is a brick church. “ That was a hospital too. Many an arm, a leg, a hand, was left there by our boys. There's a pit behind the church, five feet long, five feet deep, and two feet wide, just full of legs and arms."

We rode on until we obtained a view of the pleasant hillsides where Porter lay with his reserves, while the other armycorps did the fighting, on the day of Antietam; then turned to the right down a little stream, and past a dam, the waters of which glided still and shadowy under fringed banks; and soon came in sight of the fields where the great fight began. There they lay, over the farther bank of the Antietam, some green, some ploughed, the latter turning up yellow as ripe grain in the morning light.

“ We used to could drive all over this country where we pleased. The fences were laid down, and it was all trampled and cut up with the wagons, and soldiers, and artillery.” But the fences had been replaced, and now Lewy was obliged to keep the open road.

At a turn we came to a farm-house, near which were a number of dilapidated barns and other outbuildings, and some ald straw stacks. “ It was a sight to behold, passing yer after

HOSPITAL CEMETERY.

the battle!” said Lewy Smith, shaking his head sadly at the reminiscence. “ All in and around these yer buildings, all around the hay-stacks, and under the fences, it was just nothing but groaning, wounded men !”

Crossing the yellow-flowing Antietam, we turned up the right hank, with its wooded shores on our right, and on our left a large cornfield containing not less than forty or fifty acres. “There was right smart o' corn all through yer time of the battle. Good for the armies, but not for the farmers. Come to a cornfield like this, they just turned their horses and cattle right into it, and let 'em eat.” You fortunate farmers of the North and West, so proud and so careful of your welltilled fields never yet broken into in this ruinous fashion, have you fully realized what war is ?

Leaving the course of the creek, and crossing the fields where the fighting on our extreme right began, we reached a still and shady grove, beside which, fenced in from a field, was a little oblong burying-ground of something like half an acre. In the centre was a plain wooden monument constructed of boards painted white; the pedestal bearing this inscription :

Let no man desecrate this burial-place of our dead;" And the side of the shaft, towards the fence, these words :

I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.

This was the hospital cemetery. The graves were close together in little rows running across the narrow field. They were all overgrown with grass and weeds. Each was marked by a small rounded head-board, painted white, and bearing the name of the soldier sleeping below. Here is one out of the number:

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

As I wrote down this name, the hens in the farm-yard near by were cackling jubilantly. The clouds broke also; a shaft of sunlight fell upon the glistening foliage of the grove, and slanted down through its beautiful vistas. I looked up from the sad rows of patriot graves, and saw the earth around me, all around and above the silent mouldering bodies of the slain, smiling sweetly through her misty veil. For Nature will not mourn. Nature, serene, majestic, full of faith, makes haste to cover the wounds in the Earth's fair bosom, and to smile upon them. The graves in our hearts also, which we deemed forever desolate, she clothes with the tender verdure of reviving hope before we are aware, and gilds them with the sunshine of a new love and joy. Blessed be our provident mother for this sweet law, but for which the homes in the land, bereft by these countless deaths in hospitals and on bloody fields, would lie draped in endless mourning.

Near the monument, in the midst of the level burying-place, grew a loftily nodding poke-weed, the monarch of his tribe. It was more like a tree than a weed. With its roots down among the graves, and its hundred hands stretched on high, it stood like another monument, holding up to heaven, for a sign, its berries of dark blood.

Pursuing a road along the ridge in a southwesterly direction, Lewy at length reined up his horse in another peaceful little grove. Without a word he pointed to the rotting knapsacks and haversacks on the ground, and to the scarred trees. I knew the spot; it was the boundary of the bloody “cornfield.” We had approached from the side on which our boys advanced to that frightful conflict, driving the Rebels before them, and being driven back in turn, in horrible seesaw, until superior Northern pluck and endurance finally prevailed.

In a field beside the grove we saw a man ploughing, with three horses abreast, and a young lad for escort. We noticed loose head-boards, overturned by the plough, on the edge of the grove, and lying half imbedded in the furrows. This man was ploughing over graves !

Adjoining the field was the historic cornfield. I walked to the edge of it, and waited there for the man to turn his

« PreviousContinue »