- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2009

SHARPSBURG, Md. | An unknown Civil War soldier began his journey home to New York state Tuesday, nearly a year after a visitor to the Antietam National Battlefield spotted his remains in a cornfield that saw the fiercest fighting of the war.

During a 15-minute ceremony at the battlefield cemetery, park Superintendent John W. Howard placed a small wooden box containing about 400 bone fragments, 13 uniform buttons, a U.S. belt buckle and some scraps of fabric and leather inside a period-appropriate pine coffin donated by an Albany-area funeral home.

Mr. Howard prayed for a safe trip, and six National Park Service rangers flanked by two re-enactors in Union blue placed the coffin, draped with a 34-star U.S. flag, in a black SUV for the two-day, 330-mile trip to the Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery near Schuylerville, N.Y.

Two uniformed New York Army National Guardsmen and a volunteer motorcycle escort accompanied the remains.

The soldier will be buried Thursday on the 147th anniversary of the clash, also called the Battle of Sharpsburg. It was the bloodiest day of the war and left more than 23,000 combatants killed, wounded or missing on Sept. 17, 1862.

Donald E. Roy, civilian director of New York’s Military Forces Honor Guard, said the young man’s grave marker at Saratoga will identify him as an unknown Civil War soldier who died at Antietam.

“His name is known only by God,” Mr. Roy said. “We’re going to remember him as a hero.”

Mr. Howard said in January that the remains were found last October by a visitor who spied fragments of bone and a metal button, clotted with red clay, near a groundhog hole.

Insignia on the buttons indicated the soldier was from New York. A National Park Service archaeologist and Smithsonian Institution anthropologist determined, based on the condition of the teeth and bones, that he was 17 to 19 years old, Mr. Howard said.

“All involved feel that a positive ID will not be made,” Mr. Howard said.

He said the bones were packed up with all the buttons and bits of clothing, plus a few handfuls of battlefield soil because “if he wasn’t discovered, that’s where he’d be.”

He said the soldier could have served in any of 24 New York regiments that confronted Confederate forces early on the day of the battle, exchanging small-arms and artillery fire that mowed down cornstalks and men alike.

The nearly 3,700 dead were buried less than 3 feet deep in the rocky soil, their graves marked by crude wooden headboards. Five years later, most were dug up and reburied - the Union soldiers at the Antietam National Cemetery and the Confederates in nearby towns.

Such remains turn up occasionally. A visitor found the last set, belonging to four unidentified members of the Irish Brigade, in 1989, Mr. Howard said.

Historians consider Antietam a pivotal battle because Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s retreat gave President Lincoln the political strength to issue the Emancipation Proclamation five days later.

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