Family members recall toll ancestors paid at Antietam Farms burned, possessions plundered behind battle line

September 14, 1997|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Wilmer Mumma began, with a hint of bitterness in his voice, to tell his family's story of the Battle of Antietam.

The Mummas lived on a farm in Sharpsburg 135 years ago, he said. Confederate troops led by Gen. Robert E. Lee burned it to the ground. With 13 children, the German Baptist family rebuilt the farm within 18 months, he said.

Nearly 30 years later, Mumma said, in 1890, the postmaster of Sharpsburg received a letter of apology from a North Carolina man who said he was the officer who reluctantly followed orders and destroyed the Mumma farm. Would the postmaster, the writer asked, please deliver an apology to the wronged party?

The postmaster, Mumma's grandfather, one of the Mumma children who helped rebuild the farm, was touched by the gesture.

Yesterday, while more than 10,000 people re-enacted the 1862 battle that left 23,000 casualties in a single day of fighting, Mumma and his friend, Earl Roulette, also 77, told their families' stories about the bloodiest day in American history.

They told how the Union and Confederate armies scavenged and plundered -- and even, as Roulette said, grabbed a watch off the mantelpiece of his family's home. How the armies tore down the chestnut fences to burn the wood. How the Roulettes hid in the cellar, stocked with winter supplies, during the battle Sept. 17, 1862.

The battle of Antietam, with casualties fairly evenly divided between both sides, has been judged by history as an inconclusive victory for the North as a result of an overly cautious Gen. George McClellan.

But Antietam was a moral victory, said Anthony Johnson, 37, who came from New York.

As Johnson pointed out, Antietam led to the Emancipation Proclamation just days later, when President Abraham Lincoln freed slaves.

"For an African-American person like myself, this is an important battle because it gave him [Lincoln] the impetus to push the Emancipation Proclamation. It was the key," Johnson said.

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Pub Date: 9/14/97

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