Michael Epstein’s spectacular recreation of the Battle of Antietam stirs up feelings of rage and despair in those of us who have always wondered why so much of human conflict ends in the death of courageous, if blindly devoted, soldiers on both sides of disputes.
In this one-day affair, 23,000 men were killed, maimed or wounded defending a cornfield, a sunken road and a bridge.
Magically bringing archival and confected photos to an unending and at times literal still-march across the screen, Michael Chin’s camera and Eric Epstein’s visual-effect wizardry draw us closer to the carnage than mere listing of the fallen in newspapers published far removed from the fields of death ever could.
President Lincoln derided his ever-cautious General McClellan’s failure to finish off the Confederate army, letting so many of its soldiers escape back to the South. For his part, the Union General wrote “the battle was a masterpiece of art.” Surely he meant the art of war, as there was little “truth” created on the blood-drenched battlefield September 17, 1862.
The Confederates’ General Lee made a huge miscalculation when he assumed that the good folk of Maryland were “being held in the Union against our will” so would join his ill-equipped, under-fed troops once his bold invasion began. Much to his chagrin and eventual retreat, the “oppressed” failed to share his wisdom and stayed home. Why does that sound so familiar?
Still, five days later, Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Southern blacks would be free if the Union prevailed in the Civil War. That was enough to keep England and France from entering the fray and—following the grudge match in Gettysburg—led to the formal rebirth of a country which had intentionally sanctioned slavery and land-grabs from its indigenous population.
On reflection, the most unsettling feeling stems from the realization that the slaughter in Maryland would rematerialize a century later at a location whose name sounds amazingly similar: Vietnam. Sadly, the results of that “victory” would be largely the same. JWR