Monday, January 07, 2019

New And Noteworthy; The Dunker Church on the Antietam Battlefield, A Clear and Concise History

September Mourn: The Dunker Church of The Antietam Battlefield, Alann Schmidt and Terry Barkley, Forward and Appendix by Ted Alexander, 155 pages, 3 maps, 60 black and white images, bibliography, index, Savas Beatie Publishing, $19.95.

Civil War Librarian: Among the things that are taken for granted by frequent visitors to Civil War battlefields are the wartime structures that have been preserved by the National Park Service. The Dunker Church has even been on a U.S. Postal Service stamp.

The authors have done a splendid job of describing how the Dunker Church, on the Antietam Battlefield, was first built, used a a worship center, shot up during the battle, used briefly as a first aid station during and after the battle, used again as a worship center, destroyed by both souvenir hunters and high winds, stored in a garage and finally rebuilt on the battlefield. Though it was not the intention of the authors, they have put the building in a new field of American Civil War studies: the natural environment of the war and the desolation it created on the natural environment.

Additionally, the authors have placed the church building and its worship community in the social environment of the war. The Dunkers, their beliefs and practices, their agricultural methods and markets, and their social conduct are cogently and concisely presented and discussed in September Mourn.

All of this is accomplished in 155 pages, the authors do not belabor any on point or story.   The authors do not use jargon to describe the Dunkers, their beliefs and practices.  As part of a worship service was footwashing practiced?  Is that the single mode or the double mode? Schmidt and Barkley describe this event and its intended outcomes in just three pages.  The narrative style allows the story to be accessible to readers in high school and up. For those looking for a model of public history writing which sets forth the story of a community and its religious beliefs, or social and environmental history, September Mourn is a fine example.

The Authors: Alann Schmidt spent fifteen years as a park ranger at Antietam National Battlefield and presented hundreds of programs on the Dunker Church to park visitors, Civil War seminars, community groups, churches, and Brethren Heritage tours. Alann earned degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, Shippensburg University, Shepherd University, and the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science. While illness forced him into early retirement, he still serves as a pastor for the Churches of God and helps foster pets for rescue groups. He and his wife Tracy (and their many cats) live on their family farm near Fort Littleton, Pennsylvania.

Terry Barkley served as archivist and museum curator at Bridgewater College in Virginia, a Brethren-related institution and holds degrees and a graduate certificate from the University of North Alabama, The Citadel, University of Alabama, and Harvard University. He retired in 2012 as director of the Brethren Historical Library and Archives (BHLA) at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Illinois. That same year he delivered the 150th anniversary commemorative lecture on the Dunker Church of Antietam Battlefield at the Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren in St. Louis. Terry has also lectured in the Dunker Church at Antietam National Battlefield. He is an independent scholar and musician and lives in Lexington, Virginia. This is his fourth book.

From The Publisher:  The Dunker Church is one of the most iconic structures of the American Civil War. Surprisingly, few people know much if anything about its fascinating story or the role it played within the community of Sharpsburg and its importance during and after the Battle of Antietam. September Mourn: The Dunker Church of Antietam Battlefield by Alann D. Schmidt and Terry W. Barkley rectifies this oversight in the first book-length study of its kind.

On September 17, 1862, two mighty armies grappled across the rolling hills, fields, and woodlots surrounding Sharpsburg, Maryland. The combat left more than 23,000 Union and Confederate soldiers killed, wounded, or captured, repulsed Lee’s invading Virginia army, and paved the way for the Emancipation Proclamation. Ironically, in the epicenter of that bloodiest day in American history stood a small whitewashed building dedicated to peace, equality, and the brotherhood of man.

The German Baptist Brethren, or Dunkers (Dunkards) as they were colloquially known, built the Mumma Church of the Manor congregation in 1853 just nine years before Antietam. In addition to being a house of worship with important ties to the local community, the history of the Dunker Church is interwoven with such notable figures as Stonewall Jackson, Clara Barton, Abraham Lincoln, and even Mark Twain. The structure was heavily damaged during the battle, housed torn bodies as a hospital in its aftermath, and suffered a complete collapse before undergoing the long and arduous process of being rebuilt.

Schmidt’s and Barkley’s impressive September Mourn is based upon years of meticulous research from both a Church of the Brethren (Dunkers) and a National Park Service perspective. The authors establish the importance of the structure to Sharpsburg and its citizens, its role during the battle and its aftermath, and how it helped establish tourism and education for future generations of Americans.

The Dunker Church can finally take its place alongside the Alamo and Shiloh churches as one of the most notable houses of worship in American military history. September Mourn: The Dunker Church of Antietam Battlefield is a must-read for anyone interested in the full story of the monumental battle and the community who lived through it.

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