Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/176

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time the most terrible, that came to my personal knowledge was at Antietam, where General Hooker conducted the fight when he received his wound. The Confederates were massed in a field of tall corn, and Hooker ordered his batteries to open on them with canister. In his report he says that the shot cut every stalk of corn in the greater part of the field close to the ground as neatly as though done with a knife. Of course, the men in that field did not escape the biting hail. Neither did they stand like lambs and accept their doom. After the first cannon volley the survivors started toward Hooker's batteries, mounting a rail fence that barred their progress, and just in front of and along this fence several hundred lay dead after the action. The regiment in which I served took position at one end of the fence some hours afterward, and as this field was between the lines the bodies had not been disturbed. About sundown there was a sort of truce to remove some of the wounded, and with others I passed along the fence to see the line of the dead. Some of the poor fellows had passed over the fence and begun creeping forward, gun in hand; some had gained the top of the fence, and death had left them balancing across the rails; others, in the act of climbing, had died leaning against it or dangling from it head foremost, having passed partly over and been caught by the feet. Generally the sword or musket was held in firm grip, the eyeballs turned forward, and every muscle and organ bearing evidence of having been strained to get at the batteries that were making such dreadful havoc. When I returned to the end of the line and glanced back again at the prostrate column, I said to my comrades who had not gone out to get a close view: "Boys, it is just as it looks from here. Those men were caught at it, and were struck down in the act." It is not to be wondered at that General Hooker was too much absorbed at the time of this fighting to notice his wound. He wrote of the action that the "slain (Confederate) lay in rows precisely as they had stood in the ranks a few moments before."[1]

Very, very few of these dead bore the look of having passed away composedly. Yet, on the ordinary battle-field, where the killed outright number but two or three to every hundred of combatants, the exceptions are those who do not die in a quiet-state of mind or body. Men who are cut down in a charge, while the tide of heated action sweeps on, leaving them alone, bend their thoughts at once to themselves, and, if death is felt approaching, turn their faces up to the quiet skies, compose their

  1. The scene here described was visible from two o'clock p. m. until sundown from the northern edge of the East Wood along the fence running from the East Wood westerly to the Sharpsburg pike, and separating a corn-field from the elevated cleared field lying south of the Miller farmstead.