January 17, 2012

Trip to Antietam

This past trip, I finally got to visit Antietam. It was my first time going and although it was very windy, we still got to see everything we planned to. I was very excited to finally get to see this battlefield, as it was a battle that my Civil War ancestor fought in. He was in the 124th Pennsylvania which fought there only six weeks after enlisting.

We took with us an excerpt of a journal from a Sergeant in the 124th, Charles Broomhall. He was in a different company from my ancestor but their experiences were probably similar. The boys in company D are familiar local names. In fact, I work at the house of company D's 1st Lieutenant.

The journal, while probably based on a real journal, reads more like memoirs and may have been in the process of being prepared for publication.

For September 17th 1862, he wrote:

" At the commencement of the battle at day dawn, our boys had been listening to the stray shots on the edge of the 1st named woods called the East Woods, the rebels had come through the corn and deployed pickets on the edge of the East Woods. Our pickets were deployed in the edge of this woods, consequently, at daylight the two picket lines found themselves face to face and that caused the suddenness of the onset. Our brigade was about æ of a mile to the right and rear, and our regiment was brought up to near the clear sod field first spoken of while shot and shell went fluttering over our heads like partridges for sound. We were soon formed in line of battle at right angles to the turnpike and also at right angles to the lines which were doing the fighting, about 700 yards distant. A good number of wounded were now passing to the rear and this was the first sight of battle we had seen and the blood also, and it shook the nerves of some of the boys. The shells crashing through the trees and fluttering overhead as well as the musketry in advance of the left, all contributed to mark the time, and place, fixed in one's memory forever. We now advanced to the edge of the cleared field adjoining the cornfield. There we halted for a few minutes, our right resting on or a little across the pike and in a small grove. Here old Gen. Mansfield rode up to Gen Crawford who was within a few feet of me, and told him to hold this woods as we were hard pressed on the center. Fine old man that was the last I ever saw of him, as he was shot a few moments after, but we advanced with fixed bayonets across this open field on the cornfield, with a great hurrah, and as our regiment was a large one compared with those of a year old, the rebels got out of that corn in a hurry across the fire into a field near J.  Miller's barn and into the woods a little further to the South, but they had been roughly handled before we got to this part of the field we now advanced into this cornfield and were halted. Our company was among the rebel wounded. We got the order to lie down. I was so close to the rebel wounded, one in particular, that I had to separate myself from the company. One man was moaning and asking for water. Ben Green gave him some, had to pour it down him. I hadn't a drop in my canteen. The poor fellow said he was from South Carolina and had been forced into the war. He died while we laid there."

Taken from in the Sunken Road
 His journal is very interesting and descriptive, especially his details about the physical landscape. Not having seen the field before, I would never have believed it was so hilly. Broomhall elaborates " We marched over a most circuitous, rough, hilly road," which was an understatement. It was chilling reading his account. The battlefield is small but well worth the visit. It seems insane that any fighting could have taken place there at all. 

A larger excerpt of his diary about the battle of Antietam can be read at History Lost and Found. It was transcribed by Carolyn Ivanoff. 


  1. "...One man was moaning and asking for water. Ben Green gave him some, had to pour it down him. I hadn't a drop in my canteen. The poor fellow said he was from South Carolina and had been forced into the war. He died while we laid there.".."

    Wow! Thank you for that entry.

  2. Scott, that's actually the sentence that really got to me. Reading battle summaries doesn't remind you that every one of those numbers was a real person with a life and family. Thanks for commenting.

  3. We went to Antietam in '06. It was unfortunate that we only spent a half day there because there's so much to see. I hope to go back but the Lord only knows when that'll happen.
    Wonderful post - the diary excerpt just brought it to life!

  4. Ken, We didn't get to spend much time either but we are definitely planning to go back.


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