The detritus of war littered the fields, woodlots, and roadways around Sharpsburg. Both armies, winded from the desperate fighting of America’s bloodiest day, collected themselves, began the process of burying their dead and removing their wounded, and awaited whatever might come next.
For many, the scenes of the battlefield proved unnerving. Informal truces broke out along the lines to clean up the scene, at least as much as possible under the circumstances.
McClellan staffer David Hunter Strother joined his chief on a trip to the west side of the Antietam. He recorded in his diary the scenes he saw:
In every direction around men were digging graves and burying the dead. Ten or twelve bodies lay at the different pits and had already become offensive. In front of this wood was the bloody cornfield where lay two or three hundred festering bodies, nearly all of Rebels, the most hideous exhibition I had yet seen. Many were black as Negroes, heads and faces hideously swelled, covered with dust until they looked like clods. Killed during the charge and flight, their attitudes were wild and frightful. One hung upon a fence killed as he was climbing it. One lay with hands wildly clasped as if in prayer. From among these loathsome earth-soiled vestiges of humanity, the soldiers were still picking out some that had life left and carrying them in on stretchers to our surgeons. All the time some picket firing was going on from the wood on the Hagerstown turnpike near the white church.