Geologists at Radford University say the geology of Antietam helped make it the bloodiest battle of the Civil War

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The Battle of Antietam left 23,100 soldiers wounded or killed in the bloodiest single-day conflict in American history. Rifles downed most of the soldiers, but a pair of geologists say they have found an unexpected accomplice: limestone.

A survey of the 25 bloodiest battles of the Civil War by Robert C. Whisonant and Judy Ehlen, both geologists at Radford University, has found a correlation between high casualties and the Civil War's terra firma.

"Military people have known for thousands of years that you want to have the high ground," says Mr. Whisonant. "But there's a reason for the terrain, and that's geology."

At Antietam, for instance, the battle in Miller's Cornfield produced about half of the day's casualties. One reason: It took place on pure limestone, which proved to be a sign of heavy casualties in several battles, because it creates flat, open fields that proved deadly for the lines of riflemen that dominated 19th-century warfare. By contrast, a nearby struggle with a similar number of soldiers at Antietam saw fewer than half as many casualties, in part due to the dolomite rock that produced more rugged terrain.

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