146 years ago today – the Chambers boys attack the Sunken Road
The Lower Bridge (or Rohrbach’s Bridge) over Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland. Photo by Thomas M. Mingus taken during the 145th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam
Today, September 17, 2008, marks the 146th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, which has gone down in history as America’s bloodiest day. Most people are unaware that the fighting at Antietam actually lasted parts of multiple days, but September 17 is usually given as the single date for the battle as that is when the vast majority of casualties were taken, more than any other day in American military history.
A sharp and nasty little skirmish in the East Woods on the evening of September 16 set the stage for the dawn attack that kicked off the bloodbath the following day, and sniping and light to moderate skirmishing marked September 18, when the two battered armies stayed put and stared at one another. Among the combatants were a set of brothers from the Ohio River Valley.
The Chambers brothers (and their kinfolk) were members of the 7th (West) Virginia Infantry, loyalists to the Union cause in a section of a seceded state (West Virginia had not yet been organized as a separate state at the time of the fighting near Sharpsburg). Hailing from Marshall County, they left their parents and their little sister Mary Jane behind and entered the army. They saw action at several battles of the Army of the Potomac in the II Corps, and at Antietam were in the brigade of Col. Nathan Kimball.
The 7th was part of the waves of Union attackers that assaulted Confederate positions along a sunken farm lane that was to go down in history as the “Bloody Lane.” It was a pnear-perfect defensive position until a Rebel regimental commander misunderstood his orders and pulled his unit out of line, creating a gap in the line that led to the collapse of the entire position. The Chambers boys survived the bitter attack, unlike so many of their comrades from the Mountain State. They would go on to more glory at Gettysburg, where they attacked the Louisiana Tigers and I. E. Avery’s North Carolinians on East Cemetery Hill on July 2, 1863.
Their little sister, Mary Jane, eventually married an Ohio farmer named Melvin Mingus (they were my great-grandparents). George Chambers settled on the adjoining farm, and is buried in the Buckeye State, a long way from the now peaceful Antietam battlefield where he had experienced so many emotions. His brothers remained residents of West Virginia for the rest of their lives. I have George Chambers’ thread-bare quilt he carried in the war, a tangible connection to this long ago Civil War fighter and one of my great-uncles.