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Students Learn from Past Battlefield Lessons

The bust of a female in Navy uniform from behind in the foreground and other military students blurred in the background (Image credit: Kelsey Gilbert)
 By Sharon Holland

Approximately 170 second-year medical students and 24 Enlisted to Medical Degree Preparatory Program (EMDP2) students from the Uniformed Services University (USU) F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine (SOM), along with nearly 65 students from USU’s Daniel K. Inouye Graduate School of Nursing participated in the Antietam Road March, an annual event that gives students a deeper appreciation for how advances made during the Civil War continue to shape the future of military medicine.

The march initially began in the 1980s as a means for USU’s first-year medical students to break in their new combat boots and took place throughout Rock Creek Park near the university’s campus in Bethesda, Md., but later moved to the Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Md., to incorporate lessons in military medicine.

Students took the march through history, learning about the battle, medical care of the times, and medical advances that came out of the Civil War, such as the field ambulance and the precursor to our modern day 911 system.  In the mid-1800s, then-Medical Director, Army of the Potomac, Maj. Jonathan Letterman, recognized that care on the front lines, medical logistics and evacuation assets under the direction of a physician were key to delivering battlefield care.  Letterman is known as “The Father of Battlefield Medicine.”

USU partnered with the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md., to ensure an authentic focus on the medical lessons-learned and innovations resulting from the battle.

The students divided into platoons, each taking a different path, and stopped at stations along the six-mile route to hear USU and museum faculty members discuss conditions, battlefield strategies and medical aspects of the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, which took place Sept. 17, 1862.  More than 23,000 men were killed or wounded.

Students also took a lunch break for MREs, or meals-ready-to-eat, and to rest their feet.

“I was an American History major in undergrad.  I've studied the Civil War previously but I've never had the opportunity to learn or view the war or a single battle from the medical lens,” said Navy Ens. Jasmine Scott, a class of 2020 SOM student. “It was a truly valuable experience to walk the hollowed grounds with my classmates and see firsthand the terrain that complicated not just the warfighting but the evacuation of the wounded and the rendering of medical care.”

A military student gets off a charter bus as a man in uniform and a woman in civilian attire look on. The Antietam National Cemetary sign is visible
Students, staff and faculty from USU’s F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine and Daniel K. Inouye Graduate School of Nursing arrive at the Antietam National Cemetery, one of the stops on the Antietam National Battlefield student road march.  (Image credit: Tom Balfour)

Military students stand in a field attentively listening to someone out of view. The sun is shining through the clouds. An old cannon is silhouetted.
Students receive a historical overview of the Battle of Antietam that took place Sept. 17, 1862. (Image credit: Kelsey Gilbert)

military students walk out of an old single room building and down a sidewalk
Dunker Church is one of the stops on the annual Antietam Road March, an exercise sponsored by the Department of Military and Emergency Medicine at USU. (Image credit: Tom Balfour)

military students sit in the grass and listen to a civilian man who is speaking
USU faculty and representatives from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine give lessons on military and medical aspects of the battle at each stop along the road march route. (Image credit: Tom Balfour)

military students walk up a slight hill through corn fields
Students walk through fields and farmland along the 6-mile route of the annual Antietam Road March in Sharpsburg, Md. (Image credit: Kelsey Gilbert)

military students sit in a barn and listen to a civilian man talk about the medical tools on the table in front of him.
Civil war battlefield anesthesia, surgery and amputation were among the lessons discussed during the road march. (Image credit: Tom Balfour)

Military students sit at the base of a tree and eat MREs for lunch
At the halfway point, students take a Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MRE) lunch break and rest their weary feet. (Image credit: Tom Balfour)

military students sit in the grass and listen to a man in civilian attire. there is a large statue of a man holding a flag. There are two fences behind the students and behind the man. The man has a service dog
Students learn about the battle that took place at “Bloody Lane” on Antietam National Battlefield. (Image credit: Tom Balfour)

Students walk down a depressed part of the land beside a fence.
A platoon of USU students makes its way down “Bloody Lane,” named so because of the vast number of casualties lying in the trench during the battle.  It was the single bloodiest one-day battle in U.S. history. (Image credit: Tom Balfour)

Military students stand attentively as a more senior Military person speaks. The base of a large statue is visible, it says Irish Brigade.
USU chaplain Navy Lt. Cmdr. Leroy Mack, talks to students about the role of chaplains on the battlefield. (Image credit: Tom Balfour)

military students cross a bridge over a shallow river
Students cross Antietam Creek using Burnside’s Bridge, which played a vital role in the Battle of Antietam as a greatly outnumbered Confederate force from Georgia held up the Union army for several hours, repealing multiple attempts to take it by force. (Image credit: Tom Balfour)
  
military students stand and listen attentively as a civilian man stands by a cannon and speaks
Dr. Dale Smith, professor of Medical History at USU, stands in the Antietam National Cemetery and explains why students are at the battlefield, provides learning objectives for the day and gives context for the battle and how it fit into the larger Civil War.  (Image credit: Tom Balfour)