- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2007

SHARPSBURG, MD. (AP) — Buried beneath a cornfield in Western Maryland lies detritus from the millions of rounds of ammunition fired during the battle of Antietam, the single bloodiest day in U.S. history.

For an archaeology team from the National Park Service that surveyed a part of the field with metal detectors recently, every spent round unearthed tells the story of the men who died and of the ebb and flow of the two vast armies that fought each other Sept. 17, 1862.

“I think about who was out here… and their proximity to each other,” archaeologist Bob Sonderman said. “This wasn’t [soldiers] shooting at each other at 250 yards. This was 70 yards. You could see the faces of your enemy. It must have been terrifying.”

Team member Karen Orrence said more than 400 objects — mostly bullets and shrapnel — have been recovered. For each hour in the field, the archaeologists likely will spend about three hours in the lab analyzing the evidence they discovered, she said.

The locations of shrapnel and spent and unfired bullets help the team determine troop movements, such as the retreat line of the fleeing 7th Maine, which was ordered to attack a Confederate unit near Piper Farm in the late afternoon, said Stephen R. Potter, head of the team.

Mr. Potter said it was a stupid order. With the Union troops in their artillery sights, Confederate troops managed to drive back the assault.

“I don’t think they would’ve been able to drive the Maine guys back if they wouldn’t have had the artillery that they had because what we’re finding out here is pretty nasty stuff,” Mr. Potter said.

For example, the group found one piece of shell that was about half the size of a human hand. Inside would have been lead shot about the size of pingpong balls. Any piece could have taken off a limb, Mr. Potter said.

“It’s a horrible, horrible thing,” he said.

By looking at the marks on bullets, Mr. Potter determined whether bullets found on the field had been fired. Deformities at the bullets’ tips indicate they hit something, though there is no way to know what they hit.

“Millions and millions and millions of rounds” were fired at Antietam, Mr. Potter said.

More than 20,000 Union and Confederate troops were killed, captured or injured, or simply disappeared during the 12-hour battle, which aborted Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s attempt to invade the North.

The area will be planted with apple trees to re-create the appearance of the landscape.

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