By Annalee Grant, Belvoir EagleJune 5, 2014
Fort Belvoir, Va. (June 5, 2014) - There was laughter as U.S. Army Garrison Fort Belvoir Headquarters Battalion Soldiers raced across a Maryland cornfield, using corn stalks as mock guns against an invisible enemy. But when all was said and done, the present-day noncommissioned officers and Soldiers admitted the task that faced Civil War Soldiers on Sept. 17, 1862, at Antietam Battlefield, would have been nearly impossible to complete.
Headquarters Battalion Operations Officer, Maj. Geoffrey Earnhart, led a staff ride to Antietam National Battlefield outside of Sharpsburg, Md. May 30. The Soldiers visited several battlefield sites to learn about the day-long battle where 27,000 Soldiers were killed or wounded during the Civil War. Starting at the Dunker Church, and on to the Sunken Road and Burnside Bridge, the Soldiers reflected on the experience of a Soldier in 1862 and one in 2014.
"Within a two to three mile stretch, you've got 100,000 Soldiers coming to blows, 27,000 of which did not leave this field," Earnhart said, as the Fort Belvoir Soldiers looked out on the vast cornfields flowing over rolling hills. "We're going to get an idea of what it was like to be a Soldier in the Civil War."
Pvt. Causby Jeremiah, chaplain assistant, said he enjoyed touring the battlefield and thinking about what has changed.
"I think understanding the history plays a huge role on what we as Soldiers do today," he said. "It makes us better Soldiers."
During a stop at the Sunken Road, eerily renamed Bloody Lane after the battle, Earnhart led Soldiers into a cornfield where more than 150 years ago, Union Soldiers rallied through six-foot high corn, over a hill to awaiting Confederate Soldiers. The modern day Army formed into a marching line, and NCOs were responsible for filling holes in the line as "casualties" were taken.
In May, the corn was only a few feet high, but Earnhart asked the Soldiers to imagine it at its height before harvest in September.
Jeremiah said the video played at the Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center before the start of the tour didn't prepare him for actually running through the cornfield.
"It's different when you're actually out there," he said. "I can only imagine what it was like at that time, when you were in full gear, going across big corn."
Earnhart said many Civil War Soldiers were inexperienced and terrified.
"Think about it, for those of us who have been deployed, how scary it is the first time something blows up (near you)," he said.
The Sunken Road stop got the Soldiers thinking about the challenges faced at Antietam that still happen today. Communication was achieved by sending a runner with a note across the battlefield.
"150 years later, we can find the same lessons re-learned with a different set of conditions," said Fort Belvoir Garrison Commander, Col. Gregory D. Gadson, who noted the Civil War Soldiers did not have proper communications set up on the battlefield, nor did they do adequate pre-planning and reconnaissance.
Gadson told the Soldiers that many Civil War Soldiers didn't even have shoes -- and if they did, they were usually ill fitting and the wrong size.
Pvt. Scarlett Butler, chaplain assistant, wondered about the lack of medical personnel offered to wounded Soldiers in the Civil War. Earnhart explained that Soldiers who fell were left to die, unless they were able to pull themselves to safety.
"If you were wounded in the Civil War, if you were wounded anywhere in the torso, you were probably going to die. It might take awhile -- but you were going to die," Earnhart said. "There's no ambulance care, there's no ambulance service. So you kind of have to get out on your own power unless you were lucky.
"One of the jobs of the NCOs was to stop people from stopping and helping the wounded."
The NCOs would kick or pry healthy Soldiers off their comrades, and push them back into the firing line. Surgeons would often perform quick amputations for injuries to the extremities, but Soldiers suffering from bullet wounds to the body were left to die.
Butler said she couldn't even imagine having to fight through the pain.
"It's a lot more fortunate to be a Soldier today than it was back then," Butler said.
Civil War Soldiers received little training before being thrown into battle. Butler, who joined the Army six months ago in October, 2013, is thankful for his basic training and the support she receives now.
"It would take a strong-willed person to not get trained in anything, and get thrown in and basically learn as they go," she said. "People are very fortunate these days."