Come and get your Antietam dead

Located on Route 34 just outside Sharpsburg, Md., the Antietam National Cemetery contains the graves of Union soldiers killed during the Battle of Antietam. Maine has its own section within the cemetery. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Maine boys still littered the Antietam battlefield six months after George McClellan and Robert E. Lee battered each other senseless on that mid-September day.

Sometime in early spring 1863, New York resident James S. King traveled to Sharpsburg, Maryland and “visited the field of Antietam in search of the remains of a friend,” reported the Augusta-published Maine Farmer. “Finding many of the graves of soldiers buried there marked by some frail memorial, he prepared a list of those which he could thus distinguish.”

Among the Yankees buried at Antietam National Cemetery is W.A. McPheters of the 7th Maine Infantry Regiment. His grave was found on the battlefield in early spring 1863 by a New Yorker looking for a slain relative. (BFS)

The New York Herald published the entire list, and Maine Farmer Editor Ezekiel Holmes culled from it “the names of soldiers from Maine. The list is of course imperfect, but may be of some service to those who wish to recover and remove the remains of those who fell upon that bloody field.”

Holmes published the list in the Maine Farmer’s April 9, 1863 issue. Citing two units nowhere near Antietam, the regimental information was inaccurate, but the list evoked thoughts of lonely graves in far-away Maryland:

  • 2nd Maine Infantry — H.F. Coffin.
  • 7th Maine Infantry — J.H. Johnston, W.A. McPhetres, and William C. Stickney.
  • 10th Maine Infantry — H.M. Bradbury, Henry Campbell, J.D. Easton, George J. Fuller, V. Mason, John McCinty, William O’Brien, C.M. Phressey, A. Reed, George Stanley, John Trowbridge, and Charles H. Wentworth.
  • 15th Maine Infantry — William S. Sholds. Unless he was on detached duty to the Army of the Potomac, Sholds did not belong to the 15th Maine, then serving in Louisiana.
  • 16th Maine Infantry — James A. Witham.
  • 20th Maine Infantry — W.B. Jones, C. Morrill, and M.B. Washburn.
  • 21st Maine Infantry — Daniel Bailey and — Boynton. The regiment is incorrect, because the 21st Maine did not muster until October 4, 1862.

Antietam National Cemetery circa 1890 (National Park Service)

The graves were scattered across the battlefield, the 10th Maine lads probably near the East Woods and the 7th Maine boys possibly near or on the Piper Farm. According to the National Park Service, after the September 17, 1862 battle, “burial details performed their grisly task with speed, but not great care. Graves ranged from single burials to long, shallow trenches accommodating hundreds. A few ended up in area church cemeteries. In other cases, friends or relatives removed bodies from the area for transport home.

“Grave markings were somewhat haphazard, from stone piles to rough-hewn crosses and wooden headboards,” the NPS indicates.

Inside the Antietam National Cemetery, the Maine boys lie together along the cemetery’s western boundary. (BFS)

Maryland State Senator Lewis P. Firey proposed in 1864 that the state create a cemetery to bury the men lying at Antietam. Maryland bought 11¼ acres for $1,161.75 on March 23, 1865.

Confederates were ultimately buried elsewhere, so only Yankees went into the cemetery. According to the NPS, local residents Joseph Gill and Aaron Good spent much time scouring the battlefield to document the graves. The work was physically and psychologically challenging: “The dead were identified by letters, receipts, diaries, photographs, marks on belts or cartridge boxes, and by interviewing relatives and survivors,” the NPS reports.

Imagine examining long-dead soldiers, their remains often exposed by rain and erosion, to find out their identities: The very thought shivers my timbers.

Bangor historian Richard Shaw walks past the Private Soldier Monument, known as “Old Simon,” at the Antietam National Cemetery. The monument stands 44 feet, 7 inches high. (BFS)

Eighteen loyal states, including Maine, sent more than $70,000 cumulative to pay for the cemetery, which was dedicated on September 17, 1867. President Andrew Johnson spoke, as did other people, and many attendees wandered among the graves, which were laid out by state.

The New York and Pennsylvania sections form rectangles either side of the cemetery’s entryway; the other states form an arc, beginning with Indiana on the right and Massachusetts on the left. The Maine boys lie on the right, behind Indiana and Wisconsin. The Mainers occupy 1½ rows; Indiana and Wisconsin occupy 2¼ rows apiece. Mature trees stand amidst the graves, which are well maintained.

In late spring nasty little midges even peskier than Maine blackflies can drive some visitors from the cemetery. Yet if visiting the Maine boys means shedding a little personal blood, the effort is well worth it.

Today the giant statue known as the Private Soldier Monument or “Old Simon” dominates the view when visitors enter the cemetery. Dedicated on September 17, 1880, the entire monument rises 44 feet, 7 inches, with the great coat-clad Union-infantryman statue accounting for 21½ feet. James G. Batterson designed the monument, which James Pollette sculpted in bronze.

The monument’s inscription is “Not for themselves, but for their country.”

As for the Maine graves identified by the Maine Farmer, W.A. McPheters reached the national cemetery, for sure. James Johnson, who could possibly be “J.H. Johnston,” lies beside him. Others could be there, but I have only photographed several particular grave stones.

Source: Maine Farmer, April 9, 1863

If you enjoy reading the adventures of Mainers caught up in the Civil War, be sure to like Maine at War on Facebook and get a copy of the new Maine at War Volume 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, available online at Amazon and all major book retailers, including Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. —————————————————————————————————————–

Brian Swartz can be reached at He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.


Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at