Antietam National BattlefieldThrough My Heart and Lens
I began to visit Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg, Maryland, frequently once I learned that my ancestor, 1st Lieutenant John Alexander Palmer, who came from a strongly abolitionist family, fought there with the 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. At the time of the battle, the 36th Ohio was attached, with the 11th and 28th Ohio Regiments, to the 9th Corps of the Army of the Potomac in George Crook’s Brigade of the Kanawha Division. Although I began my exploration of Antietam in hopes of merely tracing John’s steps across the southern end of the battlefield (including Burnside Bridge), my scope quickly expanded to include parts of the battlefield that the 36th Ohio never saw on the day of battle: the Dunker Church, woodlots, and fields to the north, and Bloody Lane, the Roulette Farm, and the rolling fields in the center.
My visits became more poignant and melancholy once I learned that John had contracted typhus on the day of the battle, September 17, 1862, and lay with his regiment near Antietam Creek for most of the night in a steady rain without the benefit of shelter or even a blanket. John survived the battle, but it would be his last. He became quite ill and was forced to resign his commission in January 1863 due to continuing ill health. John Palmer died back home in Lower Salem near Marietta, Ohio, of typhus in March 1863. His younger brother, Jewett, was Captain of Company G at the time of the Antietam Battle but wasn’t with the regiment that day due to illness. Jewett rejoined the regiment later that autumn and fought in the Battles of Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge in 1863 and then served in the 1864 Valley Campaign, through the Battle of Cedar Creek, before also resigning due to ill health in November 1864.
I offer these photographs in honor of John Alexander Palmer, Major Jewett Palmer, Jr., Colonel Melvin Clarke (killed during the Battle of Antietam in the ravine near the Otto House), and all the boys of the 36th Ohio who fought for both the preservation of Union and the abolition of slavery.