Sunday, March 1, 2020

What did Antietam's Cornfield Look Like in September 1862?

     "How tall was the corn?" Many a visitor to Antietam National Battlefield asks this question when standing on the southern edge of the 24-acre Miller Cornfield. That simple question is typically followed up by a similar one: "Did the corn look the same as it does today?" The answers to these questions are never a one-word answer. Men of different heights viewed the corn's height differently. And today, we plant corn differently than farmers did in the nineteenth century.
     Alexander Gardner's photographic capture of the battlefield as it looked in September 1862 would be a useful tool to answer the above questions. Unfortunately, Gardner never photographed the Miller Cornfield, despite taking multiple pictures immediately around it. However, there are enough drawings and veteran sketches that we can reconstruct what the Miller Cornfield may have looked in September 1862.
     The two earliest depictions of any cornfield at Antietam come from Alexander Gardner and Alfred Waud. The Piper Cornfield is shown in the background of a photograph showing dead Confederate soldiers lying in the Bloody Lane...
and the Miller Cornfield can barely be seen (the dark line below the tops of the trees) in the background of Gardner's photograph of Knap's Pennsylvania Battery.