Some artifacts more than 150 years old and related to residents who lived on what is now Antietam National Battlefield during the Civil War are now on display at the battlefield visitor center.
The battlefield held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday morning to announce the opening of a new museum exhibit room in the visitor center that highlights the effect the battle had on the nation and families who lived there. Artifacts and photographs are included in the exhibit, and veterans returning to the battlefield for reunions is also documented, as well as the creation of the park by the United States War Department.
“This project was several years in the making,” Park Superintendent Susan Trail said. “The idea was to expand the stories that we’re telling of Antietam to include the families who lived on the battlefield, who lived through the battle, to talk about the aftermath of the battle, and to talk about the commemoration of the battle through the years.”
Included in the exhibit are furniture from houses on the battlefield, commemorative ribbons and books, and personal family items all related to residents of the battlefield.
Furniture from the Roulette Farm, a family-owned farm on the battlefield, is on display as is as a gold watch owned by the Mumma family, which had a farm destroyed during the battle. A hand-carved headstone for a soldier’s grave just after the battle is also on display.
Donors of some of the artifacts attended the event Friday for the ceremony, including Betty Otto-Kretzer, former park curator.
“Since my involvement with the park, my first late husband had collected artifacts from the fields around the house that we bought on North Mechanic Street in Sharpsburg,” Otto-Kretzer, 83, said. “He was also involved in the Centennial in 1962, and all of those artifacts, plus Centennial clothing, were donated to Antietam National Battlefield as our legacy.”
Otto-Kretzer said she was involved with the park from 1962 to 1987. One of her donations was a coat from John Otto, the last pastor of Dunker Church, according to Trail. The church was destroyed by a violent windstorm in 1921.
Otto-Kretzer said the new exhibit should help people understand the effect the battle had on regular people.
“In September (1962), these peace-loving people and farmers had prepared for the winter months and had most of their stuff destroyed,” she said. “The impact was very devastating on the local people.”
Artifacts directly from the war also were donated to the exhibit.
Greg Neel, 47, of Ashburn, Va., donated the bottom of the color staff of the Fifth Regiment of New Hampshire Volunteers, which joined the Army of the Potomac and fought in the Battle of Antietam led by Gen. Edward E. Cross, according to New Hampshire’s Division of Historical Resources website.
“I wanted to make sure that its destination would be secure,” he said. “I have no idea where the other pieces ended up.”
Neel said the exhibit makes the battle seem “more personable.”
“People understand that these were people’s lives, and it’s just not dates and places in a book,” he said.
“Even to this day, moments like that are still shaping our society. Freedom isn’t free, and sometimes you have to pay the ultimate price to preserve what is so dear to all of us.”
Reunion ribbons from veterans who attended the battlefield years later are on display.
Smithsburg resident Stephen Recker donated a selection of them, including a silk ribbon from 1900 used to invite President William McKinley to the dedication of the Maryland State Monument.
“In 1900, it was pretty hard to print a silk ribbon correctly,” he said. “They made a mistake on the first one, and I managed to get hold of that, and they saw fit to put it in the museum.”
Recker, 54, said he has a book coming out Friday titled “Rare Images of Antietam and the Photographers Who Took Them,” showing about 200 photographs of 600 that he collected. He said the impact of the battle is still felt more than 150 years later, and the artifacts show that.
“These artifacts are a tangible connection between us today and those veterans that were here at the battle,” he said. “When the armies left a few weeks after the battle, most of the relics had been cleaned off the battlefield, but it’s still possible to find these different relics that you can actually touch that the veterans have touched.”