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Laurel Museum opens Battle of Antietam exhibit

MuseumsBattle of Antietam

In anticipation of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, the Laurel Museum opened a mini-exhibit Sept. 9 that includes former Laurel Mill superintendent George Nye's handwritten account of the battle.

The exhibit includes a letter Nye wrote to his wife, Charlotte (Charlie), on Oct. 1 shortly after the battle; Nye's war belt and buckle; and his 1879 diary, which references the Battle of Antietam. Antietam was the bloodiest single day in American military history, with more than 20,000 soldiers killed or wounded.

Nye fought on the Union side in the battle of Antietam with the 10th Maine, which lost 20 men and had 48 wounded there. His experiences in the early morning hours of that battle were harrowing, and their memory remained with him throughout his life. In parts of the letter, he references other deaths, and talks about having "bad dreams" and wishing his dreams could be good dreams about his wife.

The letter and belt are on loan from the collection of Nicholas P. Picerno, an expert on Nye's Civil War units.

Civil War map of Laurel

In addition to the Nye materials, the Laurel Museum is unveiling a Civil War display panel as a prelude to its larger Civil War exhibit that opens in February 2013. A panel in the museum's current exhibit will show a map of Laurel in 1862 with Civil War sites indicated, including encampments and Laurel's Civil War hospital. The exhibit panel will also feature quotes from Henrietta Stabler Snowden and Aunt Becky, the woman who was the matron (head nurse) at the Laurel Hospital, which was located at 377 Main St.

Aunt Becky cites the death of a soldier guarding the railroad at Laurel.

Snowden, whose husband, Nicholas, was killed in the Battle of Port Republic in Harrisonburg, Va., in June 1862, noted, "I used to think I never knew what trouble was until this war broke out. …"

The panel, a snapshot of Laurel in 1862, reveals that even as battles were raging at Antietam and other places, the town was beginning to experience the war's impact. The Laurel Historical Society also plans to install a historic marker on the site of Laurel Hospital in the fall.

The exhibit was researched, designed and curated by Laurel Historical Society members Marlene Frazier and Karen Lubieniecki, with support from a grant from the Anacostia Heritage Trails Area.

The Nye materials and panel mini-exhibit will be on display through December and will run concurrently with the museum's current exhibit, "True Life: I am a Laurel Mill Worker," also on display through December. The Laurel Museum is located at 817 Main St. Admission is free. Hours are Wednesdays and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and Sundays, 1-4 p.m. Groups are welcome by appointment. The John Calder Brennan Research Library is open on Mondays and by appointment. For more information, contact 301-725-7975 or info@laurelhistoricalsociety.org or go to laurelhistoricalsociety.org.

Excerpt From George Nye's letter of Oct. 1, 1862, to his wife, Charlotte:

"It is singular how any one will seem to charge their nature when in battle. When Captain Furbish was shot he stood just by the side of me [He]he was shot in the head and fell like a log — he never spoke. Not but a minute or two after, I heard a ball strike and looked around and his Lieut had his hand on his breast and was falling over. but an instant or two later I heard a thug (the noise a bullet makes when it strikes a person) and looking over my right shoulder saw one of my boys James D. Eaton falling shot through the head. I looked more calmly on the field of carnage then I could a few years ago to have seen a sheep killed — The finer feelings of man are stunted at such times and I felt when I saw our boys taking in prisoners that there was a quicker way to dispose of them.

I think if I live to get home that my finer feelings will soon get back into their right channel again. I don't believe Davis will ever emancipate the slaves — if he should issue such a proclamation his life would not be worth much in my opinion.

(Quoted with permission from the collection of Nicholas P. Picerno)

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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