This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns working on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.
Though its monuments are not nearly as numerous as those at Gettysburg, Antietam National Battlefield is still dotted with hundreds of monuments that commemorate those who fought and died in the struggle between North and South. Most of the monuments here reflect that struggle; there are monuments to northern states and regiments, and then there are other monuments, though much fewer, that memorialize those soldiers who fought for the Confederacy. There is one monument here that breaks the mold. It does not focus as much on the fighting of the battle as it does on the reunification and reconciliation that occurred afterward.
The Maryland state monument is one of the main attractions for visitors, in no small part because it commemorates the soldiers that fought and died defending their own land. This monument is unique because it is a memorial not to either Union or Confederate soldiers, but to men from both sides. In the Battle of Antietam, Marylanders fought in both the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac, killing each other on the ground that they both called home.
Unlike the other monuments on the field, or even the cemetery here at Antietam, there are no soldiers who are left out because of their conflicting allegiances during the war. Although each of the eight Maryland regiments that fought here are given their own iron tablet on the inside of the monument, they are not separated based on which side they fought for. The two Confederate regiments stand side by side with their Union counterparts, paired with the men that they fought against in this battle. Although it commemorates the fighting that these men did throughout the battles that they participated in, particularly the Battle of Antietam, it is more a monument to the growing sense of reconciliation between the two sides than a continuation of the divide between them. There is no mention of their conflicting views, just a recognition that they fought and died “in maintenance of their principles.” The monument was erected in 1900, during a period of reconciliation and reunion between the North and the South.
Five years after the battle and two years after the war itself came to an end, the National Cemetery at Antietam was created and dedicated. Although it was originally intended to contain the remains of both Union and Confederate soldiers, the divide between the North and the South remained too strong to agree on this. Consequently, the cemetery remains empty of any Confederates, who were instead buried at various surrounding cemeteries. This divisiveness could easily have continued years later to the time of the dedication of the Maryland monument. Although this monument was originally intended to honor only those who fought for the Union, the commission eventually accepted the idea of creating a memorial to both sides. A monument that excluded the Marylanders who fought for the Confederates would not only have signified a continued schism between the people of Maryland, but of the states within the nation as well. Instead, a monument recognizing soldiers on both sides of the battle was created to suggest that the period of division had ended, that the North and South had been reunified and reconciled. Yet, as recent scholarship has suggested, reunion and reconciliation are not synonyms. Although the nation had certainly reunited by 1900, reconciliation remained incomplete and divisions on how to remember and interpret the war lingered despite the unity depicted in the monument.
“Antietam – Memorial to Marylander’s Heroic Dead Unveiled.” The Morning Herald. May 31, 1900.
“At Antietam on May 24 and 30.” Antietam Valley Record, May 24, 1900.
“Men Who Fell at Antietam: State Column to the Memory of Both Blue and Grey.” Baltimore American, August 13, 1898.
Savage, Kirk. “The Politics of Memory: Black Emancipation and the Civil War Monument,” in John R. Gillis, ed., Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity (Princeton, 1994): 127-149
Schildt, John. Monuments at Antietam. Chewsville, MD: Antietam Publications, 1991.
Soderberg, Susan Cooke. Lest We Forget: A Guide to Civil War Monuments in Maryland. Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Publishing Co., Inc., 1995.