SHARPSBURG, Md. - -- Imagine negotiating a road where your feet never touch the ground. Instead, you walk each step on a corpse traveling more than a mile. The scene is not fiction; nor is it a dream. The bodies were here at Bloody Lane Sept. 17, 1862.
Marine officers with 5th Battalion, 10th Marines walked this road and more last week when they ventured here on a "staff ride" to study the Battle of Antietam.
The ride was scheduled to educate the Marines on their artillery past during the Civil War and offer a sense of battalion camaraderie, explained Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Bill Leitheiser.
"It gave my officers a chance to get out of garrison and on the battlefield. And also allow the staff NCOs to run the battalion for a couple of days," he said.
More than 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or considered missing at Antietam on one day. This tops both "9-11" and "D-Day," when the Allies invaded Europe during World War II. Many of the Marines said it was hard imagining that many fallen Americans on one battlefield.
"The blood was everywhere," explained Executive Officer Maj. Bill Blackwood. "Imagine looking at a field and seeing blackbirds on the ground. That's how the bodies lay - everywhere."
Blackwood said the battalion chose Antietam over other battle studies because of artillery's major role during the conflict. He said the Confederate and Union Armies used their cannons in many ways like today's Marines use the Howitzer. He explained that terrain features, gun placement and fire-direction played a key role in battle then; much like it does for artillery units today.
Joining 5/10 and leading the battlefield
discussions was retired Marine colonel and now a U.S. Army War College department head, John Moore.
"This was a battle where Union General George McClellan could have crushed General Lee's Confederate Army," said Moore, who's studied the Civil War since he was six. "McClellan had Lee in position to destroy him and the Confederate campaign. The war could have ended two years earlier."
Moore said what he brings to the table is the human touch. He tries to relate a little more than the physical guns and equipment. When he accompanies a "staff-ride," he wants people to hear the battle, smell the smoke and death and walk the soldiers' steps.
For Sierra Battery's Commanding Officer Capt. Ricardo Miagany, the study not only presented a human touch, but also many elements he can relay back to his Marines.
"It's confusing. It was very hard," Miagany said. "But when you put the elements together and physically see the layout of the land and the positions of the armies, you can really tie the battlefield together. I can tell my Marines land and how it played into maneuver warfare; just as it does today."
The Marines covered many of the battle's highlights throughout the two-and-a-half days spent here. They read the names of Maj. Gen. George McClellan, Gen. Robert E. Lee, Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill, and Maj. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (just to name a few); walked the paths of Harper's Ferry, Antietam National Cemetery and the Upper and Lower Bridges; and studied the importance of gaps, draws and flanks. Leitheiser said this was just a portion of the events, but none of it could have been possible without the Marine Corps University Foundation. He explained that a trip with such magnitude has some costs. MCUF paid the majority of them.
It's back to business as usual this week for the 2d Marine Division officers at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Like always, the battalion supplies a ready, trained artillery battery for the Unit Deployment Program in Okinawa, Japan. 5/10's Tango Battery is there now. The unit also played a large role in the last Combined Armed Exercise at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif. They also took their turn this spring as the division "quick reactionary force."