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An Enduring Symbol of Peace

Posted Aug 24 2008 5:07pm

On September 17, 1862, the Civil War saw its bloodiest one-day battle, at Antietam , just north of Sharpsburg, Maryland. About 23,000 men were killed, wounded, or missing in action, and the battle marked the end of the first attempt by General Robert E. Lee to push the war into the North. This number, by comparison, is about nine times more than the number of killed and wounded on D-Day, June 6, 1944. More soldiers fell on this one day than in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Spanish-American War combined. On average, every second of the battle brought one soldier's death.

Near the center of the battlefield stood an unassuming white church belonging to the Dunkers , a pacifist sect of the German Baptist Brethren so known for their practices of baptism by immersion.

During the battle, fighting occurred all around the church, which was used as field hospital for Confederate troops and then later as the site of a truce which allowed both sides to tend to their wounded and recover and bury their dead. Bullets and artillery rounds riddled the walls and rafters, and a steady stream of wounded soldiers were brought into its sanctuary because of its proximity to the Cornfield (owned by my fiance's ancestors and thus bearing his surname) where most of the morning's casualties occurred. But the Church survived, surrounded by death and destruction as its members held fast to their message of peace and nonviolence.

After the Civil War was over, the Dunker Church was repaired and remained an active house of worship until the turn of the century. After the Brethren constructed a new church in Sharpsburg proper, the old church saw decreased use and fell into disrepair. Eventually, it was leveled by a hailstorm in 1920, though the bricks and wood were largely salvaged between sales of the land. The site was briefly home to a gas station and souvenir shop until it was purchased by the Washington County Historical Society, who in turn donated the site to the National Park Service along with money to repurchase the salvaged materials. Completed in 1962, the rebuilt Dunker Church consists of most of the original bricks, door and window frames, some flooring, and a few original benches.

Scott and I have chosen October 25, 2008, to be married in the Dunker Church. It's a significant place for us and a powerful symbol of endurance and peace despite overwhelming odds, a fitting site to celebrate the persistence of our love and friendship and our union into a large and loving family. We couldn't be happier and hope that our families and friends can share the day with us.
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