Antietam dead and debris

This might sounds strange to some, but I firmly believe that many Americans have a hard time fathoming the reality of the American Civil War. It is one thing to say that 750,000 Americans were killed right here on the North American continent. It is another to grasp it. Even our nomenclature supports this tendency. To be a Civil War “buff” implies that the war is something one “does” for fun. How many times have you heard someone say that they “love” the Civil War? You can love jazz, or baseball, or impressionist art. Can you really love the American Civil War? To many Americans wars are something that happen someplace else, over there. That ours was as terrible as anything we might see on the evening news today is literally incomprehensible. I can’t say I have not succumbed to it myself, especially when I was younger. Ironically, visiting battlefields can reinforce this notion. Antietam, Gettysburg, Shiloh, and other places are so tranquil, so beautiful, so verdant and peaceful that it is difficult to believe when you are there that horrific events occurred there. Sometimes things happen that remind us of the war’s reality. In 2009 the remains of a soldier from New York State were found by a visitor at Antietam and returned to the Empire State for a proper burial, nearly a century and a half after the still unknown soldier was killed so far from home and left behind in a shallow grave. Now, an extraordinarily well-preserved arm that had been in a private museum for decades, has been donated to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland. I hope this is on display when my wife and I visit Antietam in June. For me, these are the most poignant reminders of the war’s cost.

(image/Library of Congress)