‘Remembering the Violence of Antietam’ commemorates the Battle of Antietam
SHEPHERDSTOWN — On Sept. 17, 1862, the Confederate and Union armies converged in Sharpsburg, Maryland, to wage the Battle of Antietam. Over 23,000 men died in what is now known as the bloodiest day in American history.
The George Tyler Moore Center, Antietam National Battlefield and the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College partnered together to feature “Remembering the Violence of Antietam,” a day-long workshop on Saturday focusing on the culture of commemoration, violence and memorialization occurring after the Battle of Antietam.
Featuring six professors and Civil War historians, the morning’s three lectures were held at the Robert C. Byrd Center and the afternoon’s three lectures were held in the theater of the Antietam National Battlefield Visitor’s Center. Community members, Shepherd University students and Gettysburg College students attended the free event.
“The Civil War era is interesting to me. I want to major in it, so that’s why I’m here,” said Shepherd University freshman and history major Kaelyn Day, of Parkersburg.
According to Gettysburg College Professor Peter Carmichael, who gave the morning lecture “Where is the Blood? Imagination, Violence, and the Sunken Lane,” discussing Civil War soldiers’ need to connect emotionally through letters with their spouses can dispel the false assumption that Civil War soldiers didn’t struggle psychologically as a result of the Battle of Antietam. Carmichael compared soldiers’ letters with photographs of the battle, showing how the letters reveal soldiers’ gruesome depictions of the battle, which the photographs, sometimes intentionally, avoided showing.
“The point is, the famous Antietam photographs did not have the profound impact that people have assumed. The photographs, when published in a New York newspaper, show how the violence was softened for the public’s sensibilities,” Carmichael said. “The letter was probably the most powerful source in shaping how people saw the war, because it attacked all of the senses.”
In “On this Field Died Slavery: Remembering and Reconciling at Antietam,” University of Virginia Professor Caroline Janney discussed how the American people found reconciliation after the Civil War by ignoring details about why the Civil War was fought.
According to Janney, after the Civil War ended, many Union soldiers who fought at the Battle of Antietam rightly viewed themselves as responsible for President Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862. The Union soldiers’ sense of pride and Confederate soldiers’ anger at losing the war led to elitist behavior on both sides, which is revealed in Antietam Battlefield itself, where the majority of monuments — all but two — are Union monuments. Janney said that elitism has held strong in the U.S. for many years, but as those who were personally involved with the Civil War have died off, viewpoints on the war have begun to change in American culture.
“Memory changes over time. We’re standing right in the middle of another shift in how we view the Civil War,” Janney said.