Battlefield reminder of soldiers' sacrifices

  • Published
  • By John Ingle
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
I went to Maryland a couple weeks ago to attend a public affairs officer's course following a five-and-a-half month struggle through the online portion. 

My first Sunday there was to be uneventful other than visiting the local mall. I got in my car and headed out the gate - the one I thought was correct - and began my excursion in the state whose motto begins with "manly deeds." Forty-five minutes later, I realized that I had probably passed the mall as I was surrounded by beautiful country homes and gorgeous, but foul smelling, dairy farms. 

I decided to do the unmanly deed and stop to buy a map. I swear I could hear the collective manly souls of Maryland gasping as I threw the three bucks and some change on the counter. 

Opening the map in an unmanly-like fashion, I realized I wasn't too far from the Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg, Md. I decided to continue my trek to Western Maryland as visiting the site on my list of "things-to-do." 

After getting lost a couple more times - even with the map - I was greeted by artillery pieces at the park's visitor center. A short tour of the exhibits and a 20-minute video gave some insight as to what I was about to see, but it didn't compare to my imagination that ran wild once I began the driving tour of the hallowed grounds. 

For those who aren't Civil War enthusiasts, Antietam is the location of the bloodiest day of the Civil War where more than 23,000 men - Union and Confederate - were killed or wounded in a single day of fighting. 23,000. In one day. Can you imagine that? 

As I looked at the pamphlet provided by park employees, some of the names told me of the grisly day before I even left the parking lot ... names like "the Bloody Cornfield," "Bloody Lane" and "Sunken Road." 

I envisioned Union soldiers making the march Sept. 17, 1862, out of the wooded area toward the cornfield. Confederate soldiers fired repeatedly to turn back the assault. More than 10,000 dead and wounded soldiers lay in the field after three hours of fighting.
Not far from the cornfield was an old sunken road used to transport goods to mills in the area. This day, Confederate forces used it as a trench and launched a surprise hail of lead into advancing Union lines. By the end of this three-hour skirmish, 5,600 men were killed or wounded. 

In all, the Union lost 12,410 men in the battle, and Southern forces lost 10,700.
And for what? Historians have painted a picture of the Union vowing to end slavery and the South rising up to continue the practice. 

I'm not a historian, but it doesn't take a scientist to discover why tens of thousands of men would line up and continually battle for almost five years. 

These brave men fought to keep a still-struggling nation together. They fought to ensure their rights weren't taken away. 

They fought to confirm the words in the documents that formed the country almost 100 years before the Civil War contained substance, not just ink. 

We'll remember the sacrifices of colonial men and women Tuesday when we celebrate the Fourth of July. Deservedly so as this is our great nation's birthday.
But I ask you to remember those who fought to preserve the United States and those who fought for their way of life in the 1860s. Regardless of what side soldiers fought on, they did so with the understanding they were fighting for something more than themselves. 

Members of our Armed Forces fight for something greater than themselves today. We still fight for freedom that was won so long ago, but in other places. 

Don't let your observances end with honoring our founding forefathers and those who fought in the Revolutionary War. 

Remember all Americans who fought, and fight today, to preserve our way of life and promote democracy throughout this world.