Travel through history with Col. Allen West, as he takes you throughout the days leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg. Hear how General Robert E. Lee advanced on the North, winning initial skirmishes, and how the North cleverly retreated to the high ground in part one of special three part series commemorating the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg.
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A Father’s Day To Remember At Antietam
The battle that opened the door to my Army career
This past Sunday was Father’s Day, and I pray all you Dads had a wonderful day being honored and cherished by your children and grandchildren.
My daughters Aubrey and Austen are finishing a three-week trip to Beijing after returning with our Chinese exchange student Lin. They are having the time of their lives and getting an experience that will last a lifetime – and yes, they did email and text dear ole Dad.
My wife Angela went to her homeland of Jamaica to visit extended family and relatives in Montego Bay. So I was here alone in Washington on Father’s Day.
My morning started with a nice run from my Batcave to the Marine Barracks at 8th and I streets, past the Navy Yard, historic barracks row, past the Washington Nationals stadium to 4th Street, back to the National Mall, up Capitol Hill’s Senate side and through the local neighborhood, and then back to my humble abode. It was a great start to the day.
However, the real treat was yet to come. My motorcycle is at the Alexandria condo of my close friend, retired Marine Lt. Col. Neal Puckett. Neal and I met 10 years ago in Iraq when he arrived as my defense attorney. A father as well, he decided that Father’s Day this year was a great day for a motorcycle ride – to a Civil War battlefield.
See, growing up down south in Georgia, I visited many Civil War battlefield sites and remember the time my Dad took me to Andersonville, home of the brutal, Confederate prisoner-of-war camp. I will never forget that surreal experience. However, I had not visited a battlefield in quite a few years. Heck, my daughters and Angela have been to Manassas Battlefield – or Bull Run, depending upon which side of the war people fought.
Our journey into Civil War history
What battlefield did Neal and I choose? Antietam. So we mounted our iron horses Sunday morning around 11 a.m. and took off to see a memorable place in American history.
It was a perfect day for a motorcycle ride – not too hot and with a nice breeze blowing. The Maryland countryside was breathtaking, and finally we exited I-70 and began the ascent up and over South Mountain.
We went through the Middletown and Boonsboro, and I loved the sense of being in the “real” America, with flags on homes. The freshness of the air was intoxicating – and even the occasional smell of cow barns put a smile on my face. Finally, we saw Little Antietam Creek and then crossed Antietam Creek.
We saw the site markers designating unit positions, passed Antietam National Cemetery and entered the historic town of Sharpsburg. We then turned right, heading north on state Route 65 and, like a scene from a movie, saw Antietam Battlefield to the east on our right.
We parked and headed into the national park building. Both Neal and I know the Battle of Antietam well, but we were just in time for the 1 p.m. battle brief by the park ranger. She did a phenomenal job. Descendants of one of the families with a farm at the center of the battlefield were at the briefing.
During the Civil War, Gen. Robert E. Lee
’s Confederate Army decided to cross the Potomac River
and attack north into Maryland. He reasoned that their continued success would bring support from England and France.
The Union forces were somewhat demoralized until they found out Gen. George McClellanhad been placed in charge of the force. A Union garrison was 17 miles away at Harpers Ferry, and Lee decided to split his force to capture it. At Antietam, Lee was outnumbered, and as fate would have hit, two Union privates found a copy of his battle plan wrapped around two cigars.
The battle began early Sept. 17, 1862, with the Union attack in the north cornfield and toward the Dunker Church. The engagement went back and forth, and finally the Confederates drove the Union forces back. Next came the engagement at the Sunken Road, where the Confederates initially held the Union forces until a flanking maneuver turned the site into a horrific killing zone – “Bloody Lane.”
A shift in forces enabled the Confederates to hold on as Lee recognized his center had been broken and he committed a reserve force.
The third engagement at Antietam occurred at a singular stone bridge over Antietam Creek, the Burnside Bridge. Although they possessed a numerical superiority, the Union split its force into the fight against a Confederate front that dominated the high ground overlooking the bridge. Despite being devoid of senior leadership, the Union forces finally broke across the bridge and drove the Confederates back.
It all looked desperate for Lee until the Confederates saw the colors of Gen. A.P. Hill arriving from Harpers Ferry.
A deadly yet momentous battle
In the end, the Battle of Antietam was a standstill but a costly one – 23,100 dead, wounded or missing. Antietam remains the deadliest day in U.S. military history.
Lee could not press the advance into the North and retreated across the Potomac River. The support from England and France never came. Lee again crossed into the North the following year, coming to battle at Gettysburg, Pa.
Seeing Antietam as a victory, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and a decree accepting black soldiers into the Union Army. Robert Gould Shaw, a young Union officer wounded at Antietam, later commanded the first black regiment, the 54th Massachusetts. He led his troops into battle at Fort Wagner in South Carolina the following year and was buried there in a mass grave with his Colored Soldiers.
Bloody Antietam ended up being the catalyst that made the Civil War a moral struggle against slavery. It also enabled me some 120 years later to be commissioned into the U.S. Army.
Parents and grandparents, take the next generation of Americans to one of our many historic battlefields so they can learn how we came to be this great nation. The next generation must learn who we are, from whence we came, so we all can stand up for what we shall be in the future.
Steadfast and Loyal,
Allen B. West
A Call For Accountability For Snowden, IRS
Former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden and Internal Revenue Service officials involved in the grilling of conservative nonprofits have one thing in common in the eyes of Rep. Aaron Schock. They all broke the law and need to be held accountable for it.
The Illinois Republican told Michelle Fields of NextGeneration.TV that Snowden broke a promise to keep secrets about American data gathering secure and the IRS engaged in egregious political tactics that no one thought possible in America.
The controversy surrounding Snowden is different from the IRS scandal in one sense. “We’re rightfully upset that he broke the law, and I think he needs to be held accountable for that,” Schock said. “At the same time, what he exposed is an administration and an agency [that’s] going further than what they had told Congress they were going to do.”
Whistleblowers need to know they will be protected when they report government officials or programs run amok, Schock said. But they can’t be allowed to do it in ways that undermine national security.
Schock condemned IRS officials of multiple abuses. Their transgressions included asking religious groups to reveal the content of their prayers, pressuring conservative nonprofits to keep their members from running for office and demanding that pro-life groups not protest at Planned Parenthood facilities.
But he voiced even more displeasure with the Obama administration for its subdued response to the IRS scandal. The president must do more than push the head of the IRS out of his job to “root out the cancer that has infected the agency,” Schock said.
“There were people all over the agency doing this,” he said. “Somebody was clearly directing them from Washington, D.C. The president has shown no interest in getting to the bottom of that.”