Shadows of War


Tolson's Chapel

Confederate surrender at Appomattox (VA) in April 1865 ushered in both relief and confusion. Property damaged during the course of marches and battles caused often insurmountable financial strain for citizens. The political and social position of Maryland men who had fought for the Confederacy was unclear in the reunified nation. Because Maryland had not seceded from the Union, it was not subject to the wide-ranging policies known as Reconstruction.

Maryland voted to end slavery in the state on November 1, 1864, after the Emancipation Proclamation had abolished the institution in the states in rebellion on January 1, 1863. An estimated four million enslaved Americans were free after the Civil War. Without the benefits of inherited property, formal education, and in many cases extended family, the newly emancipated faced enormous new challenges. In 1865, the War Department established the Freedmen’s Bureau to provide education and relief in the form of food, clothing, medical care, housing, and legal assistance.

Documentation survives for 25 Freedmen’s Bureau schools in the Heritage Area. Tolson’s Chapel in Sharpsburg was home to the “American Union” Freedmen’s Bureau school from 1868 to 1870. The church, which doubled as a schoolhouse, has been restored to its Reconstruction-era appearance. Tolson’s Chapel is open to visitors during special programs and by appointment.


Old Simon

There were over 23,000 casualties at Antietam, including soldiers who were killed, wounded, missing or captured. Burial details worked hard, but many graves were inadequately prepared, as many were simply shallow ditches for hundreds of bodies, marked only by crude wooden headstones. While some friends and relatives were able to transport their loved ones home, many men were left in the fields surrounding Sharpsburg. By 1864, many bodies were exposed, with no plan for re-interment. A bill was introduced in the Maryland Senate for dedicating a state or national cemetery at Sharpsburg for all Marylanders who died in the Maryland Campaign. However, bitterness and the South’s inability to raise funds forced the cemetery to be dedicated only to Northern troops.

On September 17, 1867, the fifth anniversary of the battle, President Andrew Johnson and other dignitaries officially dedicated Antietam National Cemetery. The remains of about 2,800 Confederate soldiers were re-interred in Washington Confederate Cemetery (now part of Rose Hill Cemetery) in Hagerstown, Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Frederick, and Elmwood Cemetery  in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

Antietam Illumination

The graves of men who served in the United States Colored Troops can be found in segregated and integrated cemeteries such as Frederick's Laboring Sons Memorial Ground  and small churchyards like Tolson's Chapel  in Sharpsburg and Fairvew Methodist near New Windsor. The latter features gravestones by Sebastian "Boss" Hammond, an enslaved man who bought his freedom by carving ornate headstones.  

Words cannot capture the emotional intensity of visiting the annual Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination ceremony the first Saturday evening in December. With luminaries to represent each of the soldiers killed, wounded, or missing during the battle, it is a truly moving experience.

Civil War Memory

Shadows of WarThose who endured the Civil War began commemorating its toll immediately after battles. The descriptions and images of contemporary writers, photographers, and illustrators defined the way we picture the conflict today. The War Correspondents Arch at Gathland State Park honors those who reported and illustrated the war. Communities dedicated monuments and national cemeteries sought to officially honor the Union dead. By the 1890s, commemorations were guided by sectional reconciliation-- at the expense of recognizing African American contributions to the war effort. The countless monuments erected in the 150+ years since the war reflect more about the time they were created rather than the actual individuals etched into stone. Ongoing debates provoke discourse on questions of freedom and human dignity.