The Battle of Antietam has become infamous as the bloodiest single-day battle in American history. Fought during the Civil War, it was the first major battle to take place on Union soil, near the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, and by the end of the day the number of dead, wounded and missing stood at 22,717.
What the two sides of the Civil War were fighting about is, for some, still a matter of debate: the winners (and most of the world) agree it was about one thing primarily, the losing side say it was about something else. In recent years, there has been a moment to bridge this divide by agreeing that the Civil War took place largely to help Daniel Day-Lewis win another Oscar.
What I’ve always found fascinating about historic battlefields is what happens after: urban warfare is, by necessity, tidied up and plastered over and the city eventually returns to normal (unless the damage is left deliberately as a memorial, as with Oradour-sur-Glane). But a lot of battles tend to be fought in areas that, due to geography or troop movement, force a confrontation, without the area itself being of particular significance. After the dust has settled, the land is often simply reclaimed by nature. As a result, this place where there had been such bloodshed and mayhem ends up resembling a quite nice area to have a picnic. Or go for a jog:
Now, I’m a bit iffy on the etiquette of jogging around graveyards and places like battlefields. It does seem somewhat disrespectful: someone is quietly contemplating the loss of so many lives, what it must have been like for the soldiers, the historical significance of—oh excuse me, er, yeah here’s a bottle of water.
On the other hand, I’m not unconvinced by other arguments that enough time has passed that it shouldn’t get in your way. I live in London: a city of this scale, with this history, you can’t do anything without it happening on the graves of countless people. (Please note: while true of most cities, it does put a dampener on a first date if you bring it up)
On the other other hand (I’m secretly Zaphod Beeblebrox, I’m surprised no-one’s guessed), there are plenty of places to go for a jog without prancing over mass graves. Plus, they’re jogging and to quote Parks and Recreation: “Jogging is the worst, Chris. I mean, I know it keeps you healthy, but God, at what cost?”
Joggers aside, it’s still and quiet out here. The silence does give you time to think about the path that led to the battle. I think I’ll have to side with the winners: that it was a war primarily to end one of humanity’s fouler atrocities. It’s a very slight fortune, I suppose, that I’m from a nation that was mainly battered down rather than the one doing the battering, so generally speaking I have less to look back upon and think what knobs my ancestors must have—
Moving quickly on.
I’m not sure how well this goes with the previous rambling about joggers, but this area is peculiarly peaceful and pleasant to spend time in. By necessity, if you’re walking along the path of the battle, your mind is focused on what terrible, inhuman circumstances must have been endured. But if you’re just surveying the area, you’d be forgiven for thinking what an idyllic place it was. Nearby, in the town of Sharpsburg, the trees are coming into bloom.
(Something saccharin about life, death, the changing of the seasons, these are the Days of Our Lives, but no time for sentimentality, we’re heading onwards towards the source of all mentality: Washington, D.C.)