• Kendrick Gibbs

Hurried to eternity - The bodies of two York County soldiers returned home after Antietam

The Battle of Antietam was the single bloodiest day in United States history, leaving families desperate for news of their loved ones in military service. The date September 17, 1862 was forever etched into the history books and seared into the memories of those who lost loved ones on the battlefield.


Approximately 23,000 men became casualties of war that fateful day. A majority of that number were dead and wounded. Nearly every house in the area surrounding Sharpsburg, Maryland had become a makeshift hospital and major towns near the battlefield teemed with the wounded, the maimed, and the dying. By mid-November, Frederick, Maryland had to construct four new buildings to help house convalescing soldiers who were still occupying tents miles from the battlefield.[1]


While field hospitals were being filled, the process of identifying and burying the dead began. Many of those killed-in-action were never identified and buried in anonymous graves all over the war-torn landscape. For some families with a small measure of good fortune, bringing their loved one home to bury in their local cemetery provided one means of full closure. As the Civil War worsened, embalmers began a steady trade in preserving the remains of soldiers from shipment to their families on the home front.

Embalmers like Dr. Richard Burr made a living by assisting families in returning their loved ones home for burial during the Civil War (LOC)

This became a reality for two families in York, Pennsylvania in the wake of the Battle of Antietam:


“Funeral of a Soldier – The body of Charles Shetter, son of Mr. Wm. F. Shetter, of this place, and a member of Capt. Maish’s company, was brought to this borough, and interred in the Lutheran burying ground on Duke Street, on Thursday evening last. The funeral was attended by a squad of soldiers with arms reversed, a number of his wounded companions in arms, the Vigilant Fire Co. and a large concourse of relatives and friends. The deceased was killed in the battle of Antietam; and is represented as having acted with the greatest bravery. In the early part of the action he received a wound, but in spite of it, he refused to leave the field and remained until the fatal shot hurried him to eternity.


The remains of Jacob Smith, of Captain Maish’s company, another of our brave soldiers who fell at the battle of Antietam were interred in this borough, on Thursday morning last.”[2]


Though first buried at a Lutheran burial yard on Duke Street, Shetter was moved to Prospect Hill Cemetery on George Street. Smith was buried in Prospect Hill earlier in the day before Shetter’s initial internment.


Sgt. Charles Shetter of Co. B in the 130th Pennsylvania was just 22 years old when he was killed, leaving behind his job as a blacksmith in the Borough of York. Jacob Smith of Co. K, 130th PA, also of York Borough, was only 18 when he fell on the field at Antietam. Unfortunately for the Smith family, this was not the only heartbreak they would experience during the Civil War, as Jacob’s younger brother was killed two years later at Weldon Railroad in Virginia during the Petersburg Campaign with the 107th Pennsylvania Infantry. His body was brought back to York and buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery.[3]


Charles Shetter's grave (Image courtesy of Neal Bellet via Find A Grave)

Jacob Smith's grave (Image courtesy of Sheila Strickler via Find A Grave)

Prospect Hill is the final resting place for many Civil War veterans from York County. Due to a presence of a large field hospital in York, placed there following Gettysburg in 1863, a soldiers’ lot was established for men who perished. More than 160 men are buried in the soldiers’ lot with the veterans of later conflicts scattered throughout the rest of the cemetery.[4]

Soldiers' Circle at Prospect Hill Cemetery (Image taken by author in July 2016)

[1] “More Hospitals At Frederick.” York Gazette, November 18, 1862.


[2] “Funeral of A Soldier.” York Gazette, September 30, 1862.


[3] Brandt, Dennis. “Brandt Civil War Database” York County History Center. https://www.yorkhistorycenter.org/library/military-records-documents (Retrieved 8/31/2019)


[4] “Prospect Hill Cemetery Soldiers’ Lot York, Pennsylvania” National Park Service Civil War Era National Cemeteries: Honoring Those Who Served. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/national_cemeteries/Pennsylvania/Prospect_Hill_Cemetery_Soldiers_Lot.html (Retrieved 8/31/2019)

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