A final resting place
Many of the war's dead were buried in shallow graves on the field where they lay or by the hundreds in trenches on the fields of area farmers. In the years that followed, many of the graves became exposed, and local residents pestered elected officials to find a suitable resting place for the fallen.
Bill Divelbiss, executive vice president of Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagerstown, kneels near the gravesites of Jesse Hyder's relatives in Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagerstown. Hyder, who fought with Company B 7th Maryland Infantry, is buried in the Confederate cemetery portion of Rose Hill, where headstones are not allowed. Hyder's relatives wanted to recognize him, and did so by placing a headstone on their family plot. (By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer / September 7, 2012)
"For one day of battle, there would be really long, long, long lasting impacts," said Alann Schmidt, a park ranger at Antietam National Battlefield.
"A lot of folks focus on the troop movements from the battle, but it doesn't take long until the glory and rush of battle give way to the harsh reality of what you're faced with in a practical and logistical sense afterward," Schmidt said. "And that is thousands and thousands of killed soldiers, wounded soldiers of that 23,000 casualties."
The sheer numbers of casualties in the bloodiest day of battle in American history — the National Park Service lists 2,100 Union troops killed, 1,550 Confederate troops killed; 17,300 soldiers on both sides wounded and another 1,770 missing or captured — had an impact not only on military forces, but also on the community of the small town of Sharpsburg, Schmidt said.
"Almost every farm, almost every barn, every house, every building, anywhere that they can be ... is going to be a hospital facility," he said. "There's not a lot of doctors, not a lot of organization, so the local folks are probably going to be the ones to help with care."
It was the worst time of the year for local residents to deal with such a job, Schmidt said.
"It's in the middle of harvest time in September. All the work the farmers have done all year to provide food for the winter, that's now out the door," he said. "It's either eaten by over 100,000 men or it's trampled in the action of all that."
After the Confederate retreat, Union leaders began drafting teams of men to handle the burial of the dead as quickly as possible, many in shallow graves on the field where they lay.
Other soldiers were buried by the hundreds in trenches on the fields of area farmers, rendering that land useless for seasons to come, Schmidt said.
In the years that followed, many of the graves became exposed, and local residents pestered elected officials to find a suitable resting place for the dead.
On March 23, 1865, the state of Maryland purchased an 11.25-acre plot in Sharpsburg that would became Antietam National Cemetery.
The cemetery's original commission called for soldiers from both sides to be buried there, but bitterness over the recently ended conflict and the South's inability to raise funds to join the venture resulted in the North keeping exclusive burial rights there.
Union burial parties transferred the Union dead from the field to the cemetery, which was officially opened and dedicated on the fifth anniversary of the battle in 1867, Schmidt said.
Today, Antietam National Cemetery contains the remains of 4,776 Union soldiers — of which 1,836 were unidentified — from the battles of Antietam, South Mountain, Monocacy and other action in Maryland, according to the National Park Service website.
Since Confederate soldiers were not permitted to be interred at Antietam, states started to look for other locations to bury the fallen Confederate troops.
"People weren't happy," said Bill Divelbiss, executive vice president of Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagers-town. "They weren't satisfied because they still ... were fighting in their own minds."
Officials from Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia eventually struck a deal in 1871, allowing the states to purchase a 3.2-acre plot at Rose Hill, a section of the cemetery that later would be named Washington Confederate Cemetery, Divelbiss said.
There are no individual grave markers for the 2,468 Confederates whose bodies were moved from Antietam and re-interred in Rose Hill in the early 1870s, and all but 346 of the dead are unidentified.