Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dunker Church - The Battle at Antietam

The Battle of Antietam, which occurred on September 17, 1862, near Sharpsburg, Maryland and Antietam Creek, was the bloodiest day in American History and a turning point in the Civil War. 

At the end of the day, 22,717 were dead, wounded or missing (12,401 Union and 10,316 Confederate). 3,654 were dead (2,108 Union and 1,546 Confederate). Although it ended up more of a draw, than a Union Victory, it was positive enough that President Lincoln felt he could issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which he did on September 22, 1862, less than a week later. This discouraged the British and French governments, which had outlawed slavery, from recognizing the Confederacy.

There were basically three separate battles. 

The first battle, early in the morning, in the north, opened with an attack by the Union's Joseph Hooker. His objective was to capture the plateau which was occupied by the Dunker Church. Hooker had about 8,600 men and the Confederate defenders, under Stonewall Jackson, had about 7,700. There were about 12,500 casualties in this battle: 8,500 in the nearby cornfield and 4,000 in the West Woods. Dunker Church is probably the most visible symbol of the Battle of Antietam. More on this later.
Picture taken by Alexander Gardner, hired by Matthew Brady to take photos two days after the battle. This picture with Dunker Church, perhaps the most famous of all the Antietam photos, marks the beginning of photojournalism. 
Judy, near the same spot where Alexander Gardner's picture was taken. 
The beautiful Maryland Monument near Dunker Church.
Dunker Church viewed from the Maryland Monument.
The second battle, at the center of the Confederate line, started mid-morning. William H. French (Union), with about 5,700 men, attacked about 2,500 of D.H. Hill's men (Confederate) located defensively along a sunken road worn down by years of wagon traffic. French's division suffered 1,750 casualties in under an hour. After 3 1/2 hours, there were over 5,600 casualties (3,000 Union and 2,600 Confederate). Because of the horrific casualties, the sunken road became known as bloody lane. 
A photo by Alexander Gardner at Bloody Lane. 
Bloody Lane as it looks today.
Bloody Lane viewed from the observation tower.
The third battle, to the south, started in the afternoon. Ambrose Burnside of the Union, with 12,500 men, attempted to cross a bridge over Antietam Creek which later became known as Burnside Bridge. 
Burnside Bridge
A brass plaque showing the Union troops storming Burnside Bridge: on the Maryland Monument.
Burnside Bridge
That's as far as I want to go in describing the battle. I did want to learn more about Dunker Church.  

The Dunkers originated in Germany in 1708 near the village of Schwarzenau. They called themselves New Baptists to distinguish themselves from Anabaptist groups such as the Mennonites and Amish. The original group was often referred to as the Schwarzenau Brethren, to distinguish them from other religious groups also known as "Brethren." When they immigrated to the U.S. they referred to themselves as German Baptists, to distinguish themselves from various English baptist groups. They emigrated to the U.S between 1719 and 1733 and there are now seven different denominations that trace their origins to the Schwarzenau group. In 1836, they took on the official name "Fraternity of German Baptists" or unofficial "German Baptist Brethren." But the common term for them in the U.S. was "Dunkers" because they "dunked" or baptized by full immersion. They were distinct from Lutherans and Methodists, who baptized by sprinkling, Mennonites who baptized by pouring, and Baptists who did a single backward immersion. By contrast, the Dunkers used a triune baptism in which the person being baptized would kneel in water and then be immersed, face first, three times: (1) in the name of God the Father; (2) the Son; and (3) the Holy Ghost. 

The Dunkers practiced the washing of feet, praying over the sick and anointing them with oil and they believed in a universal salvation, after the judgment and punishment described in the New Testament. Ironically, they were against war and against slavery. They emphasized simplicity and humility in their lives which was reflected in the simple architecture of their churches. Churches had no steeples because they were considered immodest or unworldly. Wooden benches were around a central stove. There were no decorations on the ceiling or the walls. The presiding elder and his ministers did not use a pulpit, but rather a long table at the front of the church where they laid their effects, including a Bible, a pitcher of water and a glass. They sat on a single bench behind the table.
Dunker Church, viewed from the back.
View of the front of the church from the front door. The long table used by the ministers is to the right.
Judy sits on the bench behind the long table. 
The little white church at Antietam, built in 1852, was known as the Mumma (pronounced "moo-maw") Church of the German Baptist Brethren because the land on which at sat was donated by member farmers Samuel and Elizabeth Mumma (whose farm was also burned to the ground by the Confederates to prevent Union sharpshooters from using it against them). Services were held Sunday morning. They had congregations segregated by gender. The men entered the main door and the women and children entered through a door on the left side. 
Men entered through the front door on the right side. Women and children entered from the side door to the left. 
The entrance of the women and children is at the back, as viewed from the long table.
After the Battle of Antietam, extensive repairs were made to the church and it was rededicated in 1863. The congregation moved to a new church in Sharpsburg in 1916 and the old church was abandoned. The U.S. Government purchased the church in 1951 and it was restored to its pre-Civil War appearance by 1962. Most of this information came from a wonderful article by the Church of the Brethren Network located here
View of the women's entrance to Dunker Church.


  1. The number of dead in the Civil War is tragically astonishing. I like the contrast of war and the simple, clean lines of the Dunker church.

  2. We tend to romanticize all wars not in our own lifetime, including the Civil War. It was important to preserve the Union; however, as in all war, it came at a tremendous cost that we can't begin to fathom. I loved the juxtaposition of that peaceful little church and the various monuments to the cannons and battlefields. Life is rarely peace or war, is it?

  3. I visited Antietam Battlefield in 1985 on my way to Virginia. There was pouring rain that day and I didn’t see much of the battlefield. I spent my time in the Visitor’s Center and watched a fascinating film about the battle. I also toured the museum and bought some books and postcards. To anyone who has never been to Antietam Battlefield, I would say it’s well worth a visit, even if the weather is really bad.