The year was 1937, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the bloodiest day in US history to that time. In Hagerstown, Maryland the Washington County Historical Society, and the United States Antietam Celebration Committee were working together to host a celebration marking the event. Scheduled for September 4th through the 17th 1937, they planned on the celebration having something for everyone, parades, music, a carnival, household and farm exhibits, a livestock show, trains, and even blimps and airplanes! The only thing that they really seem to have missed was anything actually dealing with the Civil War or the 25,000 plus soldiers killed or wounded on that day (Sept 17th, 1862). It was more like a state fair than a memorial anniversary.
But still there would be bills to be paid, and what better than a new commemorative half dollar, just like so many other events had. (Yes SO many others) So with a friendly Senator in their pocket, Millard Tydings (Democrat from Maryland), and some back scratching in the halls of Government, the Act of June 24th, 1937 authorized the production of 50,000 half dollars to mark the anniversary.
William Marks Simpson was chosen to design the new coin. The obverse shows the bust of the two commanding Generals, Major General George B McClellan and General Robert E. Lee, facing left. Below the busts are their names and to either side are the mottoes IN GOD WE TRUST and LIBERTY. The country name UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is above the bust and the denomination HALF DOLLAR is below them. The outer inscriptions as separated by five stars, two on the left and three on the right. These stars represented McClellan’s and Lee’s ranks respectively.
The reverse shows a peaceful view of Antietam Creek Bridge (Later renamed Burnside Bridge after Union General Ambrose Burnside.) Around the scene is the legend SEVENTY-FIFTH ANNIVERSARY BATTLE OF ANTIETAM 1937. In the sky above the scene is the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM and below is THE BURNSIDE BRIDGE and the date of the battle September 17th 1862.
The committees must have been pretty sure of the passage of the authorization act because they had the designs finished and approved by the Fine arts commission by April 16th, more than two months BEFORE the Act was passed. Even with this preliminary work done early it took some time before the cons were delivered. The committees had hoped to have them before August 1, but they did not arrive until the 12th. Still unlike many commemorative halves at least these arrived before the event.
Coins were sold at the celebration and by mail at the reasonable price of $1.65 each. But by this time collectors were pretty much fed up with the flood of commemorative half dollars coming out of the mint. (There had been eighteen different issues in 1936, plus continued issuance’s of several designs from years before that.) Although the authorized coinage was 50,000 (A much lower figure than many others.). Sales were flat and 32,000 coins were eventually shipped back to the mint for remelting. This meant the final mintage for the Antietam half was only 18,000.
This article was written by club memeber Michael Schmidt, and featured in the September 2015 eddition of The Chatter, which is the monthly newsletter for the Old Fort Coin Club out of Fr. Wayne, IN