On Sept. 17, 1862, between 5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., the Battle of Antietam, considered the bloodiest single day in American history, was fought between the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, and Antietam Creek.
For Soldiers in Army medicine, Antietam has a special meaning. Dr. Jonathan Letterman, the Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac, Clara Barton, the "Angel of the Battlefield," and Dr. Hunter McGuire, Chief Surgeon to and Medical Director of General Stonewall Jackson's Corps, were among the nursing and medical personnel engaged on that historic day. These three individuals provided medical and nursing care to the casualties at Antietam (and other Civil War battles), but perhaps more importantly, developed systems of casualty management that brought order and humanity to the battlefield. These models of care continue today in modern military medicine. Letterman started the very first Ambulance Corps, training men to act as stretcher bearers and operate wagons to pick up the wounded and bring them to field dressing stations. He also instituted the concept of triage for treatment of the casualties.
The success of the Ambulance Corps was proven at the battle of Antietam. While there were over 23,000 casualties, medical personnel were able to remove all of the wounded from the field in just 24 hours.
Letterman's headstone bears the following tribute: "Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac, June 23, 1862, to December 30, 1863, who brought order and efficiency into the Medical Service and who was the originator of modern methods of medical organization in armies."
Sgt. 1st Class (promotable) Lawrence "Jacob" Romero, Detachment Sergeant for Dunham Army Health Clinic at Carlisle Barracks, Pa. took part in the staff ride and said "The fellowship with our teammates from across the MEDDAC is always a plus however, to walk on the ground and try to see through the eyes of those leaders that were at a point of change in our American history brings a leadership perspective that is unequaled. Antietam was a bloody and horrible battle but every Soldier, Union or Confederate buried was a seed from which freedom grew."
Staff rides to America's battlefields are more than a 100 year old tradition. In fact, the five original battlefield parks - Chickamauga, Antietam, Gettysburg, Shiloh and Vicksburg were created by the War Department in the 1890s just for that purpose.
More than one hundred and fifty years later, the Antietam battlefield is one of the best-preserved Civil War battlefields in the National Park System. A continuing goal of the National Park Service is to maintain the site in the condition in which it was on the day of the battle.
The purpose of any staff ride is to learn from the past by analyzing the battle through the eyes of the men who were there, both leaders and rank-and-file soldiers. Antietam offers many lessons in command and control, communications, intelligence, weapons technology versus tactics, and the ever-present confusion, or "fog" of battle."
Being physically present on the battlefield provides insights and experiences that classroom teaching alone cannot accomplish.
By Mr. Danny L Paul Farley (Army Medicine)