By DAN DEARTH
7:38 PM EDT, September 17, 2012
On a small stage near a country church that witnessed some of the bloodiest fighting in American history, a U.S. Army general told several hundred people the story of a 15-year-old private who received the nation’s highest military honor during the Battle of Antietam.
Maj. Gen. Mark S. Bowman said Pvt. John Cook, a bugler serving in Battery B of the 4th U.S. Artillery Regiment, received the Medal of Honor for joining the fight after other soldiers fell on Sept. 17, 1862.
“This soldier, just 15 years old, risked his life to save fellow soldiers,” Bowman said in a speech marking the 150th anniversary of the battle Monday at Antietam National Battlefield. “He went far beyond the call of duty when he started manning the posts of fallen comrades.”
Bowman, who serves as the director of Command, Control, Communications and Computers for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, said Cook’s heroism was a testament to U.S. military personnel who have served from the birth of the nation to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Since the very dawn of this Republic, our nation has drawn strength from the great character of its people, and in the generations of men and women who were able to fight and even give their lives to defend liberty and freedom,” Bowman said.
Bowman, who was nominated by the president earlier this month to receive a third star, was one of several speakers who addressed a crowd gathered near Dunker Church on the north end of the battlefield. Other speakers included Susan Trail, superintendent of Antietam National Battlefield, and James McPherson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and professor emeritus of American history at Princeton University.
Before the speakers took the stage, a brass band played a mix of patriotic and religious music as a pleasant breeze whipped flags that represented Confederate and Union regiments that fought there.
Bowman said Antietam stands as one of the greatest examples of dedication and sacrifice in American history. Of the nearly 100,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who clashed there, 23,110 were killed, wounded or listed as missing.
“The toll on humanity at Antietam was devastating,” Bowman said. “Nearly one in four engaged in combat became a casualty ... nearly 6,100 were either killed or mortally wounded.”
He said more soldiers were killed or wounded during the Battle of Antietam than in the American Revolution, War of 1812, the U.S.-Mexican War and the Spanish-American War combined.
“Being here today, one can almost feel the extraordinary courage and sacrifice of the soldiers who came across those fields,” he said. “Let us remember their amazing heroism and their total dedication to the ideal for the liberty of all people.”
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