Born March 11, 1857 in “a little log cabin” in Keedysville, Md., Oliver Thomas Reilly was one of 10 children born to Edward Reilly and Mariah Lantz Reilly. At the age of 5, O.T. Reilly stood “in the midst of both armies during the retreat from South Mountain of the Confederates and the advance of the Union Army.” He was “an eyewitness to the Battle of Antietam from the Union Signal Station” on nearby Elk Ridge. The memory of that single event made such a profound impression on the boy that it shaped his entire life..
Sharpsburg’s scribe, O.T. Reilly, wrote thousands of short news items in the local Sharpsburg papers between 1887 and 1942.
A battlefield guide from age 15, Reilly declared on his calling card, “Get O.T. Reilly, the best guide, nearly 65 years experience … has been over the battlefield with many high ranked officers of both armies [Gens. Hooker, Burnside, Franklin, and Longstreet included] and thousands of men who fought in the battles.”
Secure in his knowledge of the battle, he was known for challenging the memories of the veterans he met. A week before the battle’s 25th anniversary, the inaugural issue of the Antietam Wavelet featured a column by neophyte reporter Reilly, beginning an amazing run of weekly columns that lasted 55 years.