Wisconsin –-(AmmoLand.com)- “When Hell Came to Sharpsburg” is a recently released book by the author Steven Cowie about the 1862 Civil War Battle of Antietam. It is, however, not about the battle and who shot who or who beat whom; it is about the systematic pillaging and outright stealing by the Union Army from the already traumatized US citizens of the greater Sharpsburg, Maryland area.
After the southern secessionists got done killing, shelling, and generally destroying everything they could in Sharpsburg, they stole everything they could carry back to Virginia. Such as food, livestock, and high dollar valuables, including free blacks taken as they marched south through Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
Adding insult to injury. After the secessionists skedaddled, the issue was, the Union Army, with five Army Corps, stayed in the Sharpsburg area for over six weeks and stole everything the secessionist could not.
The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest day in American history. It is estimated that over 23,000 men were killed, wounded, taken prisoner, or just left, never to be accounted for. The biggest problem was the Union Army and the US government were not prepared with the massive supplies needed to treat the wounded, feed the soldiers, and bury the dead. So, with the consent of their chain of command, the average Union Soldier just took whatever they thought they needed or wanted from the Maryland civilians.
And the Yankee Army never paid for what they took or stole.
First, the Union Army took all the food and livestock not stolen by the southerners and then all the fencing for firewood. They went into homes and took all the clothes, bedding, window curtains, and even rugs off the floor to make bandages for the wounded Soldiers. However, there was no accountability for what was taken or any offer to reimburse the civilians of greater Sharpsburg.
Complaints to the Union Army leadership fell on deaf ears. Oh, sure, Mr. Lincoln’s government will re-pay some day, was about all the response civilians got in the way of compensation.
I had family that fought at the Battle of Antietam, and their unit lost a lot of men in the cornfields of that battle. I am sure those who lay on the ground wounded and in need of immediate help, truly did not care where the bandages and food came from. Or whose home got raided to supply those needed items. But, the US Federal Government stole from its citizens with no plan or mechanism to compensate them. That same government hired a herd of lawyers to fight the citizen’s claims until 1915, when the last claim was paid. Paying mostly about 15-20 percent on the dollar for the now over 50-year-old last claims.
Of course, any damage to your property due to combat was not covered in the compensation plan. If Union soldiers fought from inside your home and the secessionists used their canons to destroy your living room to thwart the Yankees, that Mr. and Mrs. Sharpsburg resident is your problem–fortunes of war.
American families were ruined by the actions of the Union Army–lives were destroyed.
Mr. Cowie spent over fifteen years researching the claims, land deeds, census, and US Army records to piece together just how badly the greater Sharpsburg citizens were adversely and financially affected. The book is over 500 pages long, and it is packed with financial facts and documentation of the financial ruin of many American families at the hands of their Army and their Government.
As a side note, Mr. Steven Cowie, the author, is an outstanding public speaker on the topic in his book. If you want someone to speak at a function, as we did with the Civil War Round Table of Milwaukee, Mr. Cowie will keep your listening audience awake and wanting more information. www.milwaukeecwrt.org
When I called Mr. Cowie to interview him, we talked about the book and the issue of the US Army with the blessing of is Federal Government condoning stealing from the citizenry. I guided the conversation to 2022–this is where the what-if question comes in.
What Ifs: It is December 2023, and the US and the world are in crisis.
What if there is a major civil upset? It could be large-scale violence, power grid failure, fuel shortages that dramatically curtail American transport, another pandemic, or food shortages. The local government and law enforcement cannot control the problem, and your state’s National Guard is called in to help.
They roll into your town in convoy style and pitch their tents across the street from your house in a city park. At first, they are friendly and in fact very nice. The problem is shortly, they consume the support supplies they brought with them, and then they come knocking on your door for a “little” help. The state government and the federal government is bogged down in crisis and fails to resupply the troops in the field deployed to your front yard.
After a while, the Soldiers stop asking for handouts, and they take what they need and want. They take the rifle proactively to ensure you do not get your deer rifle out and try to protect your home. They take your vehicle after so many of their trucks break down. All the while, they keep telling you the state or the federal government will reimburse you for everything.
In 2005 after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, I flew into Kessler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, with a load of re-supply items for the base. On the C-17 aircraft, there was a pallet with a safe sitting on it. There was an armed courier with the pallet because half a million dollars were in that safe. The armed sergeant was a finance NCO, and he was there to help spend Air Force “cash” buying any re-supply items my Big Air Force might be able to obtain on the ground in the local area.
The modern-day concept was that no one would take a government check or, worse yet, a government letter telling the seller of desperately needed items. Or that the Air Force was “good for it” and would pay at a later date. So Mr. Seller hands over the goods “now.” If I am a semi-driver and I have a trailer full of plywood, I want cash for my load. With cash in hand, I can drive back up north and get another load of plywood and return in a couple of days.
With any Air Force-issued “IOU,” I do not even have the money to re-fuel the semi for the drive to that big-box hardware store in Memphis, and certainly not enough money to purchase a new load of plywood. So I refuse to sell my plywood to the Air Force. Now, unless they are willing to pull a gun on me and force me to turn over the wood, I head down the road looking for some hurricane survivor who needs my plywood and has cash.
What if some senior officer tells his troops to seize my load of wood at gunpoint and then fails to even give me an “IOU”? Does this concept sound farfetched? Do not bet on it. Desperate people do desperate things in times of desperation. Including your elected and appointed local, state, and federal leaders.
What happened at Sharpsburg, Maryland, back in 1862 could happen again on US soil, given the wrong and desperate set of circumstances. That National Guard Soldier who is the son of your long-time co-worker right now is in your basement stealing everything he believes he needs and “wants,” and you are going to do nothing to stop him. He has a weapon, and he has many fellow Soldiers who also have weapons, and they also want what you have.
“When Hell Came to Sharpsburg” is a very informative book, but sadly, someday, Mr. Cowie may have to write a sequel–perhaps titled “When Hell Came to your town, and they took everything.”
History does have a way of repeating itself.
Major Van Harl USASF Ret.
About Major Van Harl USAF Ret.:
Major Van E. Harl USAF Ret., a career Police Officer in the U.S. Air Force, was born in Burlington, Iowa, USA, in 1955. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School. A retired Colorado Ranger and currently is an Auxiliary Police Officer with the Cudahy PD in Milwaukee County, WI. His efforts now are directed at church campus safety and security training. He believes “evil hates organization.” [email protected]