MARIETTA - After planting flags and memorial markers next to the graves of soldiers who went to war from Washington County, a delegation of 23 local residents posed for a photo at Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg, Md.
As two of them held aloft a reproduction of the flag of the 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a Union Army regiment of which 23 of the soldiers interred there were members, the cold air wasn't the only thing bringing chills to the travelers.
"If you can believe there are ghosts of these people, their souls are still there, they actually got to see their regimental colors unfurled over their graves for the first time in 150 years," local historian Bill Reynolds said, recalling the moment.
Reynolds and fellow area historians Scott Britton and Dan Hinton organized the Nov. 3-4 trip on behalf of the Civil War Roundtable of the Mid-Ohio Valley, an effort started to commemorate and discuss the 150th anniversary of the war between the states.
On the first day, the group visited Antietam, where a number of local residents and individuals who joined the war effort in Washington County were killed and others laid to rest in what became a national cemetery adjacent to the battlefield. The next day they toured nearby Sharpsburg and Harpers Ferry, W.Va.
On Sept. 17, 1862, Antietam was the site of the bloodiest day in American military history.
"Twenty-three thousand casualties in a single day," said Britton, a member of the local Sons of Union Veterans chapter. "Basically just 11 hours, to make it even worse."
Compare that number - which includes more than 7,000 killed - to the just more than 18,000 men living in Washington County in 1860.
The impact of that day was felt by local residents who knew someone, directly or indirectly, who was killed or wounded in the historic battle or the clashes leading up to it, Britton said.
"There wasn't anybody in Washington County that wasn't affected," he said.
Among them was the 36th's commander, Col. Melvin Clarke, whose former home is now The Castle museum in Marietta, of which Britton is executive director.
"His death was one of the first, really, tragedies of the Civil War for the local community," Reynolds said.
The battle was the result of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee making a push north and marching his forces through the split state of Maryland in hopes of recruiting more soldiers, Britton said.
He was largely unsuccessful and the Southern forces had retreated to Sharpsburg, following a battle at South Mountain near Boonsboro, Md.
It was at South Mountain that Pvt. Henry J. Gibbons, a Salem Township resident, and nine other members of the 36th, made up of men from Southeast Ohio and formed in Marietta, lost their lives. An 11th died three weeks later from wounds he suffered in the Sept. 14, 1862, battle.
Despite the heavy casualties, Antietam was a victory for the Union, and President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation soon after, squarely framing slavery as the key issue in the war.
Much of the local group's focus was on the actions, movements and writings of the local soldiers who fought at Antietam.
"(We) as a group looked at it from a very personal perspective of where the units were deployed," Reynolds said. Reading letters and journal entries from the soldiers "kind of gave everybody that was on the trip a sense of how these guys spent their day."
In addition to the 36th, they discussed the 6th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, commanded by Maj. Rufus Dawes, a Marietta native. Dawes fought in 20 battles, leading a unit in a regiment known as the Iron Brigade "from the front" as Britton described it. He later returned to the area and served in the U.S. House of Representatives, facing off in three elections against Adaniram J. Warner, a member of the 10th Pennsylvania Reserve Infantry, who also fought at Antietam.
The battle unfolded in three phases, with Dawes first engaging Confederate forces in a cornfield. Another man with a local connection - former Marietta College student Robert McEldowney - fought there, on the side of the Confederacy.
"I'm guessing they probably would have known each other. They went to school at the same time," Britton said.
The fighting moved from the cornfield to an area known as the "Sunken Road," a well-traveled path worn into a virtual trench, with fences on either side. The Confederates were positioned there as Union forces approached.
"They came up over the crest of the hill and were almost firing at each other point blank," Britton said.
New Matamoras resident James Jackson Pool, a 22-year-old private in the 7th West Virginia Infantry, was either mortally wounded or killed in the attack on the Sunken Road, Britton said.
The 36th helped to secure a span now known as Burnside's Bridge and made their way up a hill occupied by Confederate forces. Clarke was killed by an artillery blast during that action, and another Washington County soldier, 18-year Oakley Hockingbury, was wounded and died two days later.
Clarke's body was returned to Marietta, where he was interred in Mound Cemetery. Hockingbury's remained at Antietam, his precise burial site unknown.
Marietta resident Barb Moberg, 61, said she appreciated the opportunity to see where Dawes, her great-great-grandfather, fought, as well as the presentations made by Britton, Hinton and Reynolds.
"I knew they knew what they were talking about and would make history come to life," she said.
Moberg said locating the graves of soldiers with local ties and planting the flags and markers next to them was very moving. Reynolds said he believes it's the first time a group from Marietta traveled to the battlefield to commemorate the 36th.
To Hinton, it's an appropriate response to the sacrifice that was made.
"Those guys did that for us, the same as they (soldiers) do today," he said. "They're laying a long way away from their homes."
The markers were obtained with the help of Washington County Veterans Service Officer Roy Ash, but Reynolds said the group was not allowed to leave them at the cemetery at Antietam. Plans are now being made to use them in a permanent memorial here.
The second day of the trip was spent following the movements of the 36th and other area troops in Harpers Ferry and elsewhere in the region.
The roundtable is planning a three-day, two-night trip in April to Pennsylvania in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, where local soldiers, including Dawes, once again played a prominent role. More details will be announced as they are finalized.