The Alexander Gardner photograph above is among the most famous/most recognizable in the vast annals of Civil War photography. It was taken on September 19, or maybe the following day. The dead soldiers were most likely Confederate troops from Parker's Virginia Battery or Joseph Kershaw's brigade of South Carolinians. But which unit they belonged to is irrelevant. What is important is that the photograph shows the horrific consequences of combat.
A larger-than-life copy of this photograph is what visitors see immediately upon entering the Antietam National Battlefield's Visitor Center. It is a sobering reminder of what happened on the once peaceful farming fields along the Antietam Creek just 145 years ago. Most visitors are familiar with this photograph. For those who are seeing it for the first time when they walk through the visitor center doors, well, most are struck by its gruesomeness, leaving many to just shake their heads in disbelief. A few, however, have quite a different and quite vulgar reaction.
Now, I have seldom used this blog to rant, but over the past two years, I have seen a number of visitors actually lay down on the floor of the visitor center, below this photograph and pretend as if they are one of the dead soldiers. A smiling friend, or worse, a parent takes their picture. It is just unbelievable. Now, this has happened maybe a dozen times since I have been at Antietam, and most of the time it was a kid who posed. But once I saw a grown man do it! I shake my head and wonder to myself what makes people think this is appropriate? And I have to wonder, too, if in 145 years from now, in 2152, if people will pose under a photograph of American soldiers killed in action during our present war in Iraq?