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Remembering.

Editor’s Note: This is a repeat of a post we wrote back in the day. We were looking through the archives and came upon it and decided to publish it again as we like it.

Antietam National Cemetery.

It was an early fall day when citizens of western Maryland began to hear that the Confederate Army had passed through Frederick, Maryland and was heading further into the state. The area was mostly farm land, and the crops of wheat and corn were high and ready to be harvested.

The ragged Johnny Rebs would meet the men in Union blue around a little town called Sharpsburg which was near the Antietam Creek on September 17, 1862.

By the end of the day, the Confederate and Union Armies had fought to a tactical draw.

The cost of the battle was horrific. The two armies suffered more than 23,000 casualties that day, making it the single bloodiest day in the history of the United States. The corn and the wheat had been cut down by musket, rifle and artillery fire, leaving nothing taller than four inches on the fields that were once gold and green.

Instead, the ground was red with blood of fathers, sons, and brothers.

We used to go up to Antietam a great deal. The country there is beautiful. The rolling hills hide the carnage that took place in 1862.

The battlefield is quiet now. Eerily quiet. We cannot imagine the noise of muskets, rifles, cannons, bugles and cries of the wounded compared to the bucolic serenity that is the National Battlefield Monument of today.

It is hard to imagine the dead bodies that filled the sunken road from side to side as you walk down “bloody lane.” You can climb the observation tower to see the entire battlefield and once at the top, the beauty of the area and the chirping of the birds seems almost out of place.

Antietam “Bloody Lane,” with observation tower.

There are markers and monuments everywhere. More generals were killed that September day than any other and the place they fell is marked by a cannon in a stone base.

West Woods of the Antietam Battlefield with a marker denoting where Confederate Gen. William Starke was killed.

It’s easy to remember the generals. It’s easy to give them a marker or a monument and in many ways, it is fitting.

But there are other markers as well.

The Antietam National Cemetery is where over 4,000 Union dead are buried. Of those, 1,836 or 38% are unknown – their bodies having been laid to rest in the Western Maryland soil with no one knowing who they were, or even a relative being able to come and pay homage to the ultimate sacrifice their loved one made.

Row after row after row of white markers with the words “Unknown” on them

Those markers are next to markers that denote the final resting place of men who were identified. No matter the rank, both enlisted men and commissioned officers are buried there.

We have walked the cemeteries of Antietam, as well as Gettysburg, Brandywine, Harper’s Ferry, New Market, Appomattox Court House and many other fields on which American men and women gave their lives for their country. We have visited Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The sheer number of dead can be overwhelming, but what may be more shattering is the realization that we don’t know anything of the men and women beneath the markers. They were all loved by someone in their lives. They were all Americans living their own lives before America called upon them to defend the country, its people and the rights of all.

The sad realization is that for those men and women, they are like the graves marked “Unknown” they lie next to.

Today is Memorial Day.

Today in a solemn ceremony in Washington, DC, the President will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The tomb is carved with the words “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

We sometimes think of the men and women buried in military cemeteries who are also, “known but God.” At the same time, we wonder and think of the identified men and women whose lives were cut short without ever returning to their loved ones, or before having a family of their own, or even being the last person in a lineage that was extinguished with their death in service to their country. For others, as time marches on, the people that did know them pass away, taking the stories of their lives with them.

In many ways they too are “known but to God.”

Their lives, their histories, their impact on families and friends forgotten and remembered only by God.

Today is the day that as we often cannot remember the person, we honor the service.

Today we honor those who gave their lives for this country.

As Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg address which was made at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, “We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”

Today we remember and honor the service of the men and women who died in service of their country.

This country.

The United States of America.

It is not only “fitting and proper” that we should do this, it is a moral imperative.



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