Commemorating Anitetam through art, artifacts

By Rebecca Massie Lane

Special to The Herald-Mail

Our region and nation have been forever imprinted by the events of the Battle of Antietam: the unimaginable loss of life, the visits by President Abraham Lincoln and the subsequent chain of events leading to the Emancipation Proclamation and eventually the Battle of Gettysburg. The Cumberland Valley was the site of both of these campaigns and in the process of memorializing the dead, lands have been set aside and sanctified and commemorations are regularly held. 

Every year on Sept. 17, the people of this region remember the Battle of Antietam, fought on beautiful farmland in southern Washington County at harvest time in 1862. The unbelievable happened: the largest casualties in a single battle that our nation has ever sustained. 

The battle was characterized by several coinciding circumstances that when combined created the perfect storm. First, both armies used traditional Napoleanic warfare techniques with lines of soldiers facing one another at close range. Second, the recent improvements in the guns of war, with rifling and better ammunition, caused soldiers on both sides to shoot and hit with greater accuracy. Third, at this early battle, modern battle medical techniques were not utilized; these would emerge over the course of the Civil War — including triage and ambulance removal of wounded from camp hospitals to designated field hospitals.

Thus, the Sept. 17, 1862, Battle of Antietam resulted in more than 23,000 soldiers casualties. Those who died or were wounded, who fought, or who were widowed or orphaned — all those whose lives were affected by the war left personal items, documents and stories behind, and at this time of commemoration, many are remembered, exhibited or pieced together into a newly discovered relationship as each successive generation learns the old stories, and as new stories are revealed.


If you go

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15

Where: Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, City Park, off Virginia Avenue, Hagerstown

Cost: Free

More: Kunstler will sign books and meet the public

What:  Special museum hours

When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday, Sept. 17

Cost:  Free Admission

MORE: The museum will be open on this special Monday, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, for visitors to view the landmark exhibition, "Valley of the Shadow."

For more information on this event, the museum's "Valley of the Shadow" exhibition commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War and all of the museum's other related events, lectures, programs and activities, go to