Last Monday, September 17th, marked the 150th anniversary of theBattle of
Antietam. Named for Antietam Creek by the Union and Sharpsburgby the Confederates, the battle was fought September 17th, 1862. In one day, 23.000 Americans were killed, wounded, or missing. “Missing” in the Civil
War usually meant they were hit by artillery and so mutilated they couldn’t be identified. For comparison purposes, the D-Day landings cost us 2500 dead.Antietamis accurately dubbed the Bloodiest Day in American history.
If you should look it up, you’ll often find the same battle called either Antietam orSharpsburg, depending on the sympathies of the writer. TheUnionliked to name battles after geographical features like rivers. So they called itAntietam. The South named battles after nearby towns, thusSharpsburg. That’s why theUnioncalled it the Battle of Bull Run [a stream] and the Confederates called it the Battle of Manassas, a town.
One of the more interesting things about this one day bloodbath can be found in a large monument erected after the war in 1902. It commerates the actions and bravery during the battle of the Supply Sergeant of the 23dOhio. Now, if you visit Civil War battlefields, you’ll find they are covered with monuments erected by states or military units to mark where they fought. Rarely are they dedicated to just one man. Here’s what happened…
The 23d Ohio Infantry was one of hundreds of Infantry regiments in the Union Army. AtAntietamit was commanded by a Colonel Hayes.
During the battle the men of the 23dOhiowere constantly engaged. They each had one canteen of water and nothing to eat. As Col. Hayes said afterward, the men “…were famished and thirsty, and to some extent broken in spirit.” Just then, Colonel Hayes saw the Regimental Commissary Sergeant [what we’d call the Supply Sergeant today] bouncing across the battlefield with a wagon. When he got to the 23d , according to the inscription on the monument…”from his hands every man in the regiment was served hot coffee and warm meats…he passed under fire and delivered
with his own hands, these things, so essential to the men for whom he was laboring…”
Colonel Hayes was so impressed by his Commissary Sergeants’ bravery under fire that he promoted him on the spot. Both men survived Antietamand the war. Both went into politics. Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes became the 19th President of the United Statesfrom 1877 to 1881. Commissary Sergeant William McKinley became the 25th President of theUnited States from 1897 to 1901.
See? I told you it was an interesting story.