The Wounded Lion Monument At Antietam for the 15th Massachusetts Regiment
Antietam generated 23,000 casualties in a single day on September 17, 1862. It was the first quasi-union victory that had the British and French rethink their support for the Confederacy and gave Lincoln cover to announce the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. The proclamation freed slaves in the Confederate states as of January 1, 1863. This much heralded historical document in actuality freed not a single slave. A true marketing document if there ever was one.
The armies fought here as a result of a copy of Lee’s Special Order 191 being left behind in Frederick, Maryland when he broke camp days before and was found in the grass by a resting Union Private more concerned with the 3 cigars wrapped inside it. With knowledge of Lee’s troop movements, the Union chose to strike and to strike hard.
The skirmishing was decision making in real time. Panic. Troops running into one another in cornfields. Troops fleeing cornfields for the safety of woods only to be attacked in there as well. Troops arriving to the scene just in time to flank others. Young kids who had yet to load muskets being thrust onto a flank, only to be over-run by serious, seasoned adversaries who stumbled onto the scene racing to Antietam on double time. Troops marching headlong into what was called the Bloody Lane where a sunken road provided cover for surprise attack. Other troops stuck at Burnside Bridge pinned down by sharpshooters and sent piece meal to slaughter by an indecisive Major General Ambrose Burnside who would have lost his command had he not ultimately taken the bridge.
The Bloody Lane Which Yielded 5,500 Casualties
Burnside Bridge Stormed From This Side by 12,000 Union Army Members With About 500 Confederates Holding the High Ground
Troops were shot trying to surrender. All hell was breaking loose and everywhere they seemed to turn, more carnage befell them. This “decision in real time” fighting off panic becomes hard to follow on the traditional education maps showing movements. Lots of squiggly lines and hasty retreats. Elements of incredible valor and heroism, to boot.
The two sides met in truce the day after at Dunker Church, a location where fighting took place several times during the day, to gather and bury their dead. Not all the dead were recovered, being left, essentially, to rot in the fields for months thereafter.
From a fierce, frenzied battle that many think could have ended the War had McClellan taken up pursuit the next day to a peaceful exchange and swapping of tobacco and other personal effects as each side hauled away their dead.
Sitting mid stop on the tour in the West Woods dutifully listening to my audio CD and following along on the book, I became struck with the discussion of the 15th Massachusetts Regiment Monument. It depicts a wounded and dying lion, paw in the air, teeth bared. That unit went into battle with 606 people, suffering 318 killed or wounded, representing the highest casualty percentage for any unit in that day.
It struck a chord that had me thinking of it for quite some time during the remainder of the tour and the ride home. How when cornered, trapped, or feeling threatened soft animals become hard. We become fierce and lash out, even, perhaps, at those closest to us and perhaps merely being helpful. It reminded me of a family Jack Russell snapping at my young son’s nose on the way to the vet’s as he leaned in to console the dog after she had been run over by a car and had an injured leg. Feared, pained, and ferocious.
These men were all trapped, cornered and caged. Some rose to the occasion. Some dropped their guns and ran. Some became brutal in their retaliatory actions toward others. Some of the best trained military minds froze under the pressure of it all. Others able to rise to the occasion, and others still just flat out lucky.
I could not find the monument at the tour stop in the West Woods. Monuments abound at these sites, and it was nowhere to be found. Still, I thought of that monument the entire rest of my time there, including my stop at the cemetery with row upon row of headstones and a huge monument of a single Union private facing North, placed on the location in 1876.
Upright Cannons Signify Battlefield Deaths of Major Officers Throughout the Site
On my way out of town on the highway bypassing the battle site sat the monument staring oddly out at the road from an embankment. Not facing the field, rather, but facing those in cars perhaps whizzing by on a daily basis or merely not at all interested with the history sitting several hundred yards off the location. Totally unaware of the majesty, meaning, and sadness encased in that simple granite statue.
Humbling. Truly humbling. The extent to which we as a nation tore hell out of one another almost 150 years ago, and the extent to which in our daily lives that we at times cause others to act like wounded lions or react that way ourselves.
Wounded Lion, Pained and Cornered ...
Fearful, Frightened, and Attacking ... Aren't We All At Times?
Photos my own.