- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

On the morning after the Battle of Antietam (Sept. 18, 1862), an unseasonably warm sun exposed countless distended Blue and Gray bodies across the rolling fields and woods around Sharpsburg, Md. To the east, the sound of steel picks and shovels echoed from the rugged slopes of South Mountain, where burial details desperately were trying to clear the carnage left from another battle, fought four days earlier.
That night, Gen. Robert E. Lee led his Army of Northern Virginia safely across the Potomac River to Southern soil. Behind remained the enormous task for Gen. George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac to care for the wounded and bury the dead, North and South more than 23,000 total casualties that day.
The bloodiest day of the Civil War was fought on some of the most fertile farmland in Washington County, fortunately making burials a little easier. Immediate burial was necessary because of highly contagious disease, not to mention the horrible smell of thousands of decomposing bodies. A Sharpsburg resident wrote in his journal, "I could hardly sit down for my evening meal without getting sick on the stomach, due to the odor of rotten human flesh."
On South Mountain, where terrain was so rocky that it was next to impossible to penetrate with a shovel, the dead were buried hastily in rock crevices, stone-fence corners and sinkholes. In one case, 58 Confederate bodies were dumped down an old well.
Federal dead received priority, and, needless to say, Union burial parties didn't hurt themselves when it came to burying the invading Rebels. Otho Nesbitt of Clear Spring, Md., toured the Antietam battlefield Sept. 19 and noted in his diary, "The Rebels were put in a trench and a board put at one end with the number put on. I saw probably 500 dead and from what others said, I didn't see more than half of the battle field for some said it extended far below Sharpsburg."
Residents of Sharpsburg even noticed arms and legs protruding from the earth of shallow graves on nearby farms. After hard rains, hogs and dogs were seen chewing and dragging human bones and carcasses.
During spring plowing, one farmer mentioned that if he noticed a fragment of blue uniform sticking from a shallow grave, he would pull up the wood slat marking the site (if one existed) and stick it back in the soft ground behind him, without stopping the horses. If he saw a trace of butternut or gray, he would plow straight on through.
In 1865, three years after the battles at South Mountain and Antietam, plans were made to move dead from both sides to a new cemetery near Sharpsburg but Northern states refused to appropriate funds for the project if any Confederates were to be placed with the Union soldiers.
By early 1867, in the "strictly Union" National Cemetery at Sharpsburg, 4,695 dead had been reinterred with temporary wooden headboards. On Sept. 17, 1867, the fifth anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, that cemetery was officially dedicated. Dignitaries among the crowd of nearly 15,000 included President Andrew Johnson, Gov. Thomas Swann of Maryland and Gens. McClellan and Ulysses S. Grant.
Now came the question of what to do with the Confederate dead, haphazardly buried around Sharpsburg and on South Mountain. One thing was sure: Northern states were not about to contribute "one dime" for reburial of Rebels, and the Southern states were in the process of Reconstruction and still in financial ruin.
Trustees of the National Cemetery received a letter dated Dec. 3, 1867, from Gov. R.E. Fenton of New York, calling attention to the "sad condition of the Confederate dead." The Antietam trustees contacted Swann and his successor, Gov. Oden Bowie.
Early in 1868, Bowie requested that Thomas Boult make a list of the locations of the Confederate remains at Sharpsburg, South Mountain and Monocacy battlefields and other points throughout Washington and Frederick counties. Moses Poffenburger and Aaron Good of Sharpsburg assisted in locating and preparing the list of the dead.
Entries on the list sent to the governor give examples of the brutal reality of war and its aftermath: "Buried in D.R. Miller's field near Smoketown Road, 9 trenches, supposed to contain 225 unknown dead; 3 trenches of 30 unknowns, buried in S.E. corner of Mrs. Lucker's barn field; 6 unknown, below J.C. Grove's spring; 2 unknown, buried 20 feet north of elm tree in Samuel Bealer's field, and along the line fence between D. Smith and Bealer's."
The list, completed May 1, 1869, contained 758 Confederate identified, while 2,481 were known only to God.
Now it became necessary to find a piece of ground suitable for reinterment.
On April 4, 1870, the Maryland legislature provided $5,000 for the final resting place for the Southern remains. The cemetery, it said, "should be located within one mile of Hagerstown," the county seat, 12 miles north of Sharpsburg. To secure the ground, Bowie appointed a board of trustees that included James Gambrill of Frederick County, Maj. George Freaner and Col. Henry Kyd Douglas of Washington County. (Douglas had served as Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's youngest staff member.)
After several sites were considered, the trustees purchased a 23/4-acre parcel for $2,400 within the boundaries of Rose Hill Cemetery in the southern end of Hagerstown. Establishing a cemetery within a cemetery had the advantage of eliminating the need for a separate fence or enclosure, and maintenance could be handled by the caretaker of the existing cemetery.
Having spent nearly half the state funds, the trustees had to be very conservative in order to pay for the reburial of more than 3,000 Rebel soldiers. To purchase lumber, build coffins, exhume and rebury, they hired Henry Mumma of Sharpsburg. Mumma would be paid "one dollar" per head or, to be more precise, per skull.
In September 1872, 10 years after the battle, Mumma began, with an unknown number of laborers and Bowie's list, to remove the Confederate skeletal remains from around Sharpsburg. It was said that the workers were "black men" who, when opening the shallow graves, would grab the skull, rib cage and maybe several longer bones. After the bones were placed in one of the wooden boxes or coffins, any smaller bones were covered quickly and left behind. About 1 foot square and 3 feet long, the boxes each contained the remains of two soldiers and were loaded on a two-horse wagon for the journey north toward Hagerstown.
Legend has it that as wagon after wagon entered the cemetery, they were driven in a semicircle, laying out the actual grave sites the small 3-foot coffins were fitted between the ruts created by the heavy wagon wheels. The unknown were buried in rows listed in plots; for example, "27 boxes 54 bodies unknown; 34 boxes 68 bodies unknown." The identified were placed in sections according to their states of origin Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia having the largest areas.
The removal of the Southern soldiers from Antietam was completed by the end of 1872; however, about 500 bodies remained on South Mountain and scattered throughout Washington County. As the original fund was almost exhausted, Maryland provided another $5,000, and Virginia and West Virginia each contributed $500 for the project. Henry Mumma and his workers started again, this time to remove the dead from South Mountain.
By fall of 1874, Mumma had completed the grim chore and the Hagerstown Mail reported that the Confederate remains "have been taken from the historic well on South Mountain battle field, where they were thrown by Gen. [Jesse Lee] Reno's command."
With the remaining money, a monument was purchased for $1,440. On Feb. 28, 1877, the 19-foot granite-and-marble statue representing "Hope" was erected at what originally was called Washington Cemetery Confederate. That official name eventually gave way to simply Washington Confederate Cemetery.
Directly behind the monument is a large-scale map illustrating the layout. Drawn in 1888 by the custodian of Rose Hill Cemetery, Joseph Coxon, it gives the name and approximate location of each identified Confederate soldier's grave.
There is only one individual grave marker, and that belongs to Col. Samuel P. Lumpkin, 44th Georgia Infantry. Lumpkin was mortally wounded at Gettysburg and died in Hagerstown on Sept. 18, 1863. The Georgia officer was first buried in a church cemetery in Hagerstown but was removed to Washington Cemetery in 1913.
The Washington Confederate Cemetery was dedicated June 15, 1877. The guest speaker was Confederate Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee, nephew of Gen. Robert E. Lee, and presiding at the solemn ceremony was Douglas. More than 6,000 people attended. The Rev. Levi Keller from nearby Funkstown gave the opening prayer, in which he thanked "almighty God for the restoration of love and unity between the late contending armies."
On Sept. 3, 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower came from his farm near Gettysburg for the rededication of Washington Confederate Cemetery. The former president and five-star general flew to Hagerstown in an Army helicopter for the ceremony, attended by a host of Maryland dignitaries.
Was Henry Mumma successful in removing all Confederate remains from Antietam? Hardly. In 1902, the bodies of two Confederates were unearthed while repairs were being made to the C&O; Canal near Sharpsburg. In 1907, the remains of several were "plowed up" on the Smith farm just west of Sharpsburg. Other Confederate dead doubtless remain where they were buried quickly on the day of battle.
While in command of troops at the Sunken Road at Antietam, Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon sent a message to Lee: "These men are going to stay here, General, till the sun goes down or victory is won!" Gordon recalled those words 28 years later in his wartime memoirs, and wrote, "Alas! Many of the brave fellows are there now."

Richard E. Clem is a cabinetmaker in Hagerstown and a frequent contributor to this page.

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