Landscape Turned Red: Dunker Church

The Battle of Antietam, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, is the single bloodiest day in any American War battle. During the Civil War, every causality was an American so the causality rate is understandably higher than in other conflicts. But the brutality of the fight over once day, makes the Battle of Antietam stand out amongst other battles.

About 23,000 where killed in this once day conflict. The Battle of Antietam, named after the creek that flows east of Dunker Church, was a failed campaign, by General Robert E. Lee to invade the north in the border state of Maryland. It was also not the decisive battle that Lincoln wanted and the ever meek General McCellan, let the depleted rebel army escape across the Potomic. McCellan was soon replaced but this victory was enough for Lincoln to introduce the document that had been sitting in a desk drawer: the Emancipation Proclamation.

One of the enduring sights from Antietam is the Dunker Church. It has been called, “one of the most famous churches in American military history”. This simple, one room church was surrounded by the horrors of war on September 17, 1862. When soldiers first came upon this small, plain, and unassuming building, some thought it was a schoolhouse.

The church was granted on a parcel of land by farmer Samuel Mumma and was constructed in 1852. The “Dunkers” were a pacifist German Baptist congregation, which is very ironic considering the bloodshed that surrounded the church on a September day in 1862.

Antietam, the mix of the holy and the profane. Dunker Church and cannon.

The battle started near the church on the morning of the 17th. Blood runs thought the landscape and place-names of this battlefield. To the northeast of the church was a cornfield, after the battle, it was given the infamous moniker, the Bloody Cornfield. Many men, both north and south, died in a field of life giving corn.

The Dunker Church was the center of the morning’s conflict and today, the visitors center is built near the church. When I visited, on an early October Sunday, there was an artillery demonstration in a field to the east of Dunker Church. So I stuck around because reenactors would be firing a replica Napoleon Cannon.

Civil War reenactments started in 1960, the centennial of the war. It has been a growing hobby, some might say “obsession”, since that time. One of the biggest Civil War reenactments was to celebrate the 135th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg (much more on Gettysburg later). That event included 15,000 participants. It seemed that Civil War reenactments are on the wane these days and younger generations have differing views of the Civil War, its influence and it’s impact. As a result they are not taking up the replica muskets and joining a “battle”.

These reenactors where dressed in the mismatched uniforms of the Confederate Army. Maryland was a border state during the Civil War and Lee counted on support from the locals on his Maryland Campaign. In the end, this didn’t really happen.
Fire In the Hole! The canon demonstration was both loud and powerful. It was haunting to hear the cannon echoing across the rural Maryland landscape. I’m not sure if the neighbors sleeping off Saturday’s revels felt the same.
A photography taken just after the battle of Antietam showing Confederate dead in the foreground. In the background, Dunker Church shows damage from artillery fire. This is the photograph where I took inspiration for my featured field sketch.

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