Saturday, November 14: After lunch, we head to Antietam National Battlefield, where there are plenty of good hikes and a tragic history. First we stop in at the Visitor’s Center where we see exhibits about the Battle of Antietam, also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg. I always amaze myself with how little I actually know of American history, even though it was drilled into me as a child and I have lived nearly my whole life in Virginia, the state which I consider, as a native Virginian, to be the hub of ALL American history!
The doomed battle was fought on September 17, 1862, near Sharpsburg, Maryland and Antietam Creek as part of the Maryland Campaign. It was the first major battle in the American Civil War to take place on Union soil and was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with a combined tally of dead, wounded, and missing at 22,717 (Wikipedia: Battle of Antietam).
The first quote we see when we walk in reveals the writer’s shock that such horrors could have actually happened on that ill-fated day.
Two days after the battle, Alexander Gardner took this photo of dead Confederate soldiers and a crippled artillery limber in front of the simple, white-washed Dunker Church. Standing out against the dark West Woods, the church was a landmark for attacking soldiers.
Antietam was the first American battlefield photographed before the dead were buried.
There were many famous people involved in the Antietam Battle, including Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Union Army Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan.
The battle was a very complex one with multitudes of divisions led by various generals on both sides. Whole history books have been written about it. Although the battle was tactically inconclusive, the Confederate troops withdrew first from the battlefield, making it, in military terms, a Union victory. It was enough of a victory to give President Abraham Lincoln the confidence to announce his Emancipation Proclamation, which discouraged the British and French governments from supporting the Confederacy (Wikipedia: Battle of Antietam).
The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by Lincoln on January 1, 1863. In a single stroke, it changed the federal legal status of more than 3 million enslaved persons in the designated areas of the South from “slave” to “free”. It had the practical effect that as soon as a slave escaped the control of the Confederate government, by running away or through advances of federal troops, the slave became legally free. Eventually it reached and liberated all of the designated slaves (Wikipedia: Emancipation Proclamation).
Antietam Battlefield is so sprawling that it has at least nine hikes ranging from 1- to 3-mile distances, with most hikes at around 1.6 miles. We decide we’ll try to do as many of them as we can, but it turns out we only have time to do 2 today and 2 tomorrow before we have to return home to Virginia.
We drive first to the Burnside Bridge. Here about 500 Confederate soldiers held the area overlooking the bridge for three hours. Burnside’s command finally captured the bridge and crossed Antietam Creek, which forced the Confederates back toward Sharpsburg.
The bridge is closed today for repairs, so we take the Snavely Ford Trail, which follows Antietam Creek for much of its length. The hike is mostly flat and shady except for one uphill climb at the end of the trail.
We start off in the forest. Most of the leaves have fallen off the trees by now.
We find a bench to take a rest, although we’re not really tired yet as we just started the hike!
I love the reflections of the bare trees in Antietam Creek.
I’m usually not that keen on forest walks, preferring walks with sweeping vistas, so I keep asking Mike how long before we’re out on the open battlefields we saw while driving in.
Finally, we do emerge from the forest, where we find fields of grass and the Final Attack trail leading off to the west.
We find this monument at our parking lot near Burnside Bridge, and we hop in the car to move on to our next hike.
We leave Burnside Bridge Road and turn onto Branch Avenue where we stop at an overlook. We can see the Final Attack Trail in the distance, but from this parking spot, we’d have to bushwack through a ravine to get to it. We realize we should have entered it near where we originally parked. We decide to save it for tomorrow.
To the north, we can see Sherrick Farm and Otto Farm.
And of course, I have to have my picture taken with a cannon, something I’ve been doing my whole life as I grew up near Yorktown Battlefield, where General Cornwallis surrendered and America won its independence from England.
We return to the Visitor’s Center to park and venture out to explore the Bloody Lane Trail. It’s already quite a cold and blustery day, so as the sun sinks on the horizon, the cold whips through us as if we’re frail and flimsy cornstalks. Brrr. 🙂