Letter From America’s Civil War – September 2007

September is America’s cruelest month. The three most costly events in human terms suffered by our country occurred in that ninth month of the year.

On September 11, 2001, jets fell out of clear blue skies to kill roughly 3,000 people in New York City, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The Gulf of Mexico spread its wrath over Galveston, Texas, on September 8, 1900, when the worst hurricane in U.S. history killed between 6,000 to 8,000 residents of that city. And on September 17, 1862, 145 years ago, the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac went at it tooth and nail in the beautiful rolling countryside of western Maryland near the hamlet of Sharpsburg. Four to five thousand men died on that day, and that number increased when wounded men succumbed to their injuries in the following weeks.

Those three tragedies in three separate centuries are connected by common threads: Physicians struggled to treat horrible injuries in ad hoc conditions (P. 30). Hardworking citizens like William Roulette tried to grasp and quantify how much they had lost in the blink of an eye. (P. 48), mangled victims tried to stave off death or cope with their new reality (P. 40), and those in charge endured scrutiny for years afterward (story, P. 42).

But the aftermath of each of those horrific tragedies also conveys a positive message about America’s ability to prevail. New York remains a vibrant, amazing city. The Pentagon was rebuilt, and beautiful Galveston has become the destination of cruise ships.

Near Sharpsburg, the lush countryside that soaked up so much blood became one of our most beautiful National Battlefields. Go there and contemplate the cost of that day and its consequences for our country. You won’t regret the visit.

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