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The Known and Unknown

September 17th, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe · No Comments

Having already mentioned that today is the sesquicentennial of the titanic Battle of Antietam, here is another photograph. Alexander Gardner took it on September 19, 1862, two days after the battle and the day that Robert E. Lee retreated back south into Virginia. He provided this caption:

A Contrast: Federal buried, Confederate unburied, where they fell, on Battle-field of Antietam.

Research conducted by the historian William A. Frassanito later identified the background trees as being part of the famous West Woods that saw fierce fighting on the morning of September 17. And the writing on the freshly dug grave’s headboard reads, “J. A. Clark, 7th Mich,” referring, Frassanito explains, to 1st Lieutenant John A. Clark, Company D, 7th Michigan Infantry. Remarkably, that’s him there below right. And if you click to enlarge the map, you’ll see where Union general Edwin V. Sumner‘s men attacked the West Woods. Those attacks included Clark and his men, who were part of John Sedgwick‘s division.

Who was John Clark? Frassanito tells us he was born in 1841 on his father’s eighty-acre farm in Ida Township, Monroe County, Michigan. He had an older sister, Ellen, and an older brother, Edward. Young Clark volunteered for service on June 19, 1861, and was made a sergeant. On March 18 of the following year he was promoted to 2nd lieutenant, but during the Peninsula Campaign that summer he became ill and he was out of action until August.

Somehow his parents, Thomas and Lovonia, got word of John’s death.

During the fall of 1862, members of the Clark family, most likely Thomas and his eldest son, Edward, made the sad journey of nearly four hundred miles by rail from Monroe through Pittsburgh to Hagerstown, and thence by wagon to the Antietam battlefield to locate and recover the body of John A. Clark. Eventually, John’s grave, inadvertently depicted in Gardner’s heretofore unidentified photograph, was found and his remains recovered.

He is now buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Monroe, Michigan, a popular resting spot, as it happens, for members of the Custer family killed at Little Big Horn.

Lest we forget: that Confederate soldier in Gardner’s photograph is still, and likely forever will be, unknown. One more price of losing the battle.

IMAGES: Gardner photograph of dead: buried and unburied (Library of Congress); map of the Battle of Antietam (Hal Jespersen); Lieutenant Clark

Tags: Virginia History · Visual History

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