Antietam burial map, part 1: Its discovery stuns historians and researchers

Mapmaker Simon G. Elliott created an incredibly detailed map showing the graves of 5,844 soldiers, Union and Confederates, buried on the Antietam battlefield. The map was unknown to historians until last spring. (New York Public Library)

A Civil War-era map discovered at the New York Public Library in spring 2020 will forever change how visitors view the Antietam battlefield.

And there’s even a 10th Maine Infantry lad listed on the map.

Invading Maryland in September 1862, Gen. Robert E. Lee figured his Army of Northern Virginia had time to forage between Frederick and Hagerstown for anything beneficial to the Confederate war effort. Union Gen. George B. McClellan would probably not respond quickly, or so Lee figured based on McClellan’s slow ooze up the Peninsula in spring 1862.

After 27th Indiana Infantry Regiment soldiers 1st Sgt. John M. Bloss and Corp. Barton W. Mitchell found those three famous cigars wrapped inside a copy of Lee’s Special Order 191, McClellan moved west to squash Lee’s army, momentarily split into separate wings. After the South Mountain brawls on September 14, Lee concentrated his available troops at Sharpsburg, a Washington County town on the Potomac River.

The Confederates held the right bank of Antietam Creek, a meandering stream that reaches the river below Sharpsburg. Holding at least a 2-to-1 advantage in available manpower, McClellan deployed on the left bank.

The armies savaged each other on Wednesday, September 17. The battle left 22,726 soldiers dead, wounded, or missing, with not all the last captured. McClellan lost 2,108 men killed, Lee 1,567 men killed.

A Union soldier look at the grave of a dead Yankee buried on the Antietam battlefield next to a dead Confederate soldier. Combat photographer Alexander Gardner took this photo no sooner than the day after Southern troops recrossed the Potomac River to Virginia after the September 1862 battle. (Library of Congress)

Antietam went into history for at least two reasons:

The highest one-day casualty toll during the war (July 2, 1863 at Gettysburg fell some bodies short of breaking this horrifying record);

Photographers arriving post-battle had little to “shoot” but the dead, human and horse. Displayed in New York City and elsewhere, the resulting gruesome images brought home the war’s horror to a public inured against the war’s true cost.

Union soldiers buried the dead soldiers and burned the dead horses. The Union boys were moved to the Antietam National Cemetery prior to its September 17, 1867 grand opening. In concerted efforts undertaken after the war, the Confederate boys were relocated to Southern cemeteries.

Antietam later became the national battlefield managed by the National Park Service, and people — except those calling at the national cemetery — forgot about the dead.

Until 2020.

Pat Horne of Holden descends the Bloody Lane Trail at Antietam National Battlefield. Union regiments marched in the same direction down the slope, which became a massive graveyard after the battle of Antietam. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

In this image cropped from the Elliott Antietam Map, hundreds of Confederate graves, indicated by hash marks, line the slope crossed by the modern Bloody Lane Trail at Antietam National Battlefield To the upper right are the crosses indicating a large Union burial site. (New York Public Library)

In fall 1864, mapmaker Simon G. Elliott drew on available records and other information to create a highly detailed burial map of Gettysburg. The map depicts individual graves, including those of men buried in mass graves. Elliott marked each Union grave with a cross and each Confederate grave with a hash mark.

The Gettysburg Elliott Map indicates that so many Confederates were buried essentially shoulder to shoulder between the Emmitsburg Road and The Angle on Cemetery Ridge, the map was all but black in that section. Today, it’s difficult to image that those fields stretching from the Angle’s stone wall to the road once formed a massive, temporary cemetery.

In spring 2020, Adams County (Gettysburg) Historical Society researchers contacted the New York Public Library about Elliott, apparently a slightly hazy historical figure. Among the information sent to the ACHS was an Elliott map.

It was not a copy of Elliott’s Gettysburg map, but a similar map depicting Antietam burials. The news stunned Civil War historians and National Park Service officials at Antietam.

Drawn vertically and oriented from south to north, the map places “downtown” Sharpsburg at the center and depicts, in incredible detail, the terrain, roads, and Antietam Creek, all of which affected the fighting.

A downloadable copy of the map is available here.

The map reveals that most dead were buried where the heaviest fighting occurred, from the Bloody Angle north beyond the East Woods and into the West Woods across the Hagerstown Pike. The Union burial details grouped the slain by their respective sides and often by their regiments, but Union and Confederate graves lay near each other.

Graves packed the Cornfield and the slope down which Union troops advanced toward the Bloody Angle, which is identified as such on the map. With my friend Pat Horne, I’ve walked trails at both places, and the land we crossed once held hundreds of bodies, if not more.

Researchers quickly calculated that Elliott’s map marked 5,800-plus graves, a figure that does not jive with official reports. According to the article “Hidden In Plain Sight” published in the fall 2020 American Battlefield Trust magazine Hallowed Ground, NPS officials believe that of the 5,800 graves, “between 4,000 and 5,000 of those are individuals who died’ during the battle.

At the Antietam National Battlefield website, the NPS states that the map shows “5844 Total Graves,” with 2,644 being Union and 3,210 being Confederate.

Surprisingly, Elliott identified by name the graves of 50 soldiers, 40 Yankees and 10 Johnny Rebs, and therein lies his map’s Maine connection.

While examining the map, Civil War historian Nicholas Picerno of Virginia noticed the name “Asa Reed 10 Me.” The name electrified Picerno, the nation’s leading authority on the 1st/10th/29th Maine infantry regiments.

In a recent Civil War Times article, Picerno introduced the young Reed, whose dreams of sharing an Aroostook County home with his new bride ended in the East Woods.

Next week: We compare parts of today’s Antietam battlefield with graves on the Elliott map.


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 visionsofmaine@tds.net. 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 visionsofmaine@tds.net.