A Strange Story of Antietam

One evening, early in the autumn of 1889, a bevy of bright-faced ladies was gathered in a well-lighted hall in central Illinois. From the cheery tones, and the frequent laughter indulged in by the company, it was evident that the 'Women's Relief Corps' of ______ were having a most satisfactory session. But among the number was one whose quiet features showed a trace of sadness. She seemed to be absorbed in thought, and did not join in the merriment that held full sway around the cheerful circle.

"Why Kate," said one of her companions, "what on earth ails you tonight? You are as glum and solemn as though you hadn't a friend, nor an aspiration left in the world. What are you moping about, anyway?"

A sad smile crossed her pale features as Kate replied:

"I was thinking, my dear - only thinking; and my thoughts wander far from here, and far back to the days when there was little merriment in northern homes. Don't you know that this is the 17th September the anniversary of the great battle of Antietam? Well, on this day, of all in the year, my heart grows heavy with painful recollections. It is the anniversary of the saddest day of my life, and of the most wonderful experience I have ever had."

"What was it, Kate? Tell us all about it," exclaimed her younger companion, while all the rest joined in the request.

Thus urged, the sad-faced, grey-haired woman told her tale.

"In 1862, I was living, as you know, in my childhood's home among the hills of dear old Pennsylvania. My father was a prosperous farmer, but had taken up his sword at his country's call, and commanded a Company in the famous Pennsylvania Reserves. His second lieutenant was a son of our nearest neighbour - a young man of great promise, one of nature's noblemen. Frank - that was his name - had been my playmate from childhood, and the day he marched away he told me of his love and we plighted our affections 'ere he left my side.

Well, kind Providence spared the lives of our dear ones through many a bloody battle, and as my mother and I retired to rest each night, we fervently thanked God for his goodness. At last came the awful struggle along Antietam Creek. For days we had been oppressed by an awful dread, as we had heard that a great battle was impending. That night, that awful Wednesday night, how well do I remember it! My mother and I remained long in earnest conversation. Each knew the load that lay upon the other's heart, and tried to cheer each other with hopeful words that really added to our apprehensions. At length we parted, and I fell asleep upon a pillow wet with tears. At two o'clock I awoke with a sudden start. The room seemed dimly lighted, and soon I could discern the form of my beloved standing by my bedside, pale as death, his uniform rent and stained with mud and gore. I leaped to my feet and exclaimed:

'Oh Frank! What is the matter?'

He answered:

'I am dead. Go and tell my mother, then hurry to the field. I was mortally wounded, and knew you would grieve less if you should find my body. So I crawled up under an old oak tree on the hill to die. There you will find me. Make haste and reach the field before tomorrow night, for your father is desperately wounded, and if you would see him again in life, go at once. Farewell, my darling!'

The all was dark. I fell to the floor in a swoon.

In the early morning we started for the battleground. Under the old oak tree we found the body of my love, his white face turned to heaven, his uniform rent and stained as it had been in my vision.

At the hospital we found my father, wounded unto death, and at sunset he expired in my mother's arms."

A solemn hush has fallen over the whole assembly, but 'ere they left the hall, each sister silently embraced the memory-haunted woman and mingled with her scalding tears a flood of honest sympathy.

This article appeared in the 'Cannonade'

The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, December 1997