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Civil War Veterans, 1937

In 1937, in preparation for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, the organizers of the National Antietam Commemoration sent a questionnaire to all known living veterans of the Civil War. It was believed that only one hundred veterans of Antietam were still alive, so the letter was sent to all veterans, not just those who had been at Sharpsburg. The former soldiers and sailors were invited to attend the re-enactment of the battle, and asked to name the unit they had served with during the war. A number of the responses have survived, along with photographs that veterans sent.


George Dellinger and Daniel Miller,
Boonsborough Museum of History
The Antietam Commemoration invited former combatants to attend the event. It appears there was no offer of financial support for transportation or housing. Those who asked for information were sent lists of hotels in Hagerstown. A number of the veterans responded that they would be interested, but couldn’t afford the trip. For example, 90 year old John Aldridge who had fought with the Indiana 1st Heavy Artillery wrote “Would like to attend but will be unable to do so as I would not want to go that far by myself and would be unable to pay expenses for an escort.” L. N. Baugh who lived in Texas and had been part of the Army of Northern Virginia wrote “not financially able to attend”. There is a newspaper report that W. Taylor Reed of Alderson, West Virginia, the state’s sole survivor of the Battle of Antietam, had his and a companion’s transportation costs paid by the State of West Virginia. Beckley Post, September 9, 1937. This was however the only report of assistance provided.

The lack of support for the events at Antietam is in direct contrast with the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg a year later in 1938. 1800 veterans and their escorts were provided with transportation, meals, housing in a 9’ x 9’ tent for each man and his companion, a hospital, post office, stadium and 40 buses to transport the veterans from the battlefield to the town (Earp, 2003). The Gettysburg Reunion had been years in planning, and in 1935 the reunion was supported by the leadership of the two main veterans’ groups, the United Confederate Veterans and the Grand Army of the Republic (Roy, 1950). By contrast, the Antietam Commemoration seemed less well prepared, at least for the veterans, and fewer than 50 veterans attended Antietam in part, it would appear, because little assistance was provided and the GAR and UCV leadership were not asked to be behind it.

Miles Morrison and his wife, Amanda,
Boonsborough Museum of History

The Antietam questionnaires however give a snapshot of veterans in 1937. Responses came from California and Texas to Pennsylvania and New York. Two men listed Navy as the organization they had served with, others the cavalry, artillery or the Scouts. Age took a toll on the memories of some of the veterans – they couldn’t remember what unit they fought for. There was variety too in the length of service – some soldiers enlisted in 1861 and fought to the end of the war; others were “90 day men,” serving only briefly. A few recounted hospital stays or imprisonment. Photographs showed involvement in the Grand Army of the Republic or the United Confederate Veterans, as veterans posed in their uniforms.

Also in this collection are more in-depth reports by men who fought at Antietam. Wales Porter from Connecticut recounted the struggle at Burnside Bridge, recollecting that “the Confederate soldiers had all but one cannon covered with brush and as the attempt was made to charge them they uncovered approximately five more batteries, with the result that the Union men had to seek refuge back of a board fence.” Calvin Blanchard, a Pennsylvanian, reported he was listed as mortally wounded, lay all night on the battlefield at Antietam, was in the hospital in the Dunkard Church when President Lincoln visited the injured and still “ran away and hoofed it on the Towpath of the Canal to Harper’s Ferry and joined my regiment.” James Hill reported that he was part of the 3rd. Wisconsin and “was stationed in Fredrick City the winter of 62 and 63. We captured a few members of the Legislature thus saving Maryland to the Union.” Casper Wallace of New York described being taken prisoner at Harper’s Ferry, hearing the guns of Antietam and seeing Jackson’s troops on the march.

Western Maryland Regional Library is most grateful to Doug Bast of the Boonsborough Museum of History for making the materials available. Additional material was provided by the Western Maryland Room of the Washington County Free Library. The Massanutten Regional Library assisted with research.

Additional resources
Earp, Charles A. (2003). The 75th reunion at Gettysburg, my interviews with the veterans. Linthicum, Maryland: Toomey Press.
Roy, Paul L. (1950). The last reunion of the Blue and Gray. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: Bookmart.
National Park Service Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System
   
Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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