2nd Manassas - Aug. 1862
The Battle of Antietam - Wednesday, September 17, 1862
A Woman's Recollections

Shepherd's Mill, Shepherdstown, West VirginiaFour miles to the west, just across the Potomac River in what is now Shepherdstown, West Virginia, Mary Bedinger Mitchell wrote about the Battle of Antietam as she first listened from her home to the thundering sounds of conflict and then watched the aftermath of slaughter flow into her town.

"The seventeenth of September looked down from cloudy skies upon the two armies facing each other on the fields of Maryland. It seems to me now that the roar of that day began with the light, and all through its long and dragging hours its thunder formed a background to our pain and terror. If we had been in doubt as to our friends’ whereabouts on Sunday, there was no room for doubt now. In the thickest of the fight, where the "Old Stonewall" was ever to be found, there was it now and they with it, and here were we, not two miles away, listening in anguish as beyond the river the tide of battle surged to and fro. There was no sitting at the windows now and counting discharges of guns, or watching the curling smoke. We went about our work with pale faces and trembling hands, yet trying to appear composed for the sake of our patients, who were much excited. We could hear the incessant explosions of artillery, the shrieking whistles of the shells, and the sharper, deadlier, more thrilling roll of musketry; while every now and then the echo of some charging cheer would come, borne by the wind, and as the human voice pierced that demoniacal clangor we would catch our breath and listen, and try not to sob, and turn back to the forlorn hospitals, to the suffering at our feet and before our eyes, while imagination fainted at thought of those other scenes hidden from us beyond the Potomac.

On our side of the river there were noise, confusion, dust; throngs of stragglers; horsemen galloping about; wagons blocking each other, and teamsters wrangling; and a continued din of shouting, swearing, and rumbling, in the midst of which men were dying, fresh wounded arriving, surgeons amputating limbs and dressing wounds, women going in and out with bandages, lint, medicines, food. An ever-present sense of anguish, dread, pity, and, I fear, hatred—these are my recollections of Antietam.

When night came we could still hear the sullen guns and hoarse, indefinite murmurs that succeeded the day’s turmoil. That night was dark and lowering and the air heavy and dull. Across the river innumerable watch-fires were blazing, and we could but too well conjecture the scenes that they were lighting. We sat in silence, looking into each other’s tired faces. There were no impatient words, few tears; only silence, and a drawing close together, as if for comfort. We were almost hopeless, yet clung with desperation to the thought that we were hoping. But in our hearts we could not believe that anything human could have escaped from that appalling fire."

In the Wake of Battle
A Woman's Recollections of Shepherdstown during Antietam
Mary Bedinger Mitchell
Cornell University Library