antietam national battlefield: burnside bridge & the snavely ford trail

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).

Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center
Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center

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.

A bit of history about the bloodiest day in American history
a quote about the bloodiest day in American history

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.

a photograph by Alexander Gardner
a photograph by Alexander Gardner

There were many famous people involved in the Antietam Battle, including Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Union Army Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan.

famous people at Antietam
famous people at Antietam

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 Burnside Bridge overlook
The Burnside Bridge overlook
Burnside Bridge
Burnside Bridge

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.

Snavely Ford Trail
Snavely Ford Trail

We find a bench to take a rest, although we’re not really tired yet as we just started the hike!

me on a bench at Snavely Ford Trail
me on a bench at Snavely Ford Trail
Snavely Ford Trail
Snavely Ford Trail
the trail ahead - Snavely Ford Trail
the trail ahead – Snavely Ford Trail

I love the reflections of the bare trees in Antietam Creek.

Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
the Snavely Ford Trail
the Snavely Ford Trail
Mike on the Snavely Ford Trail
Mike on the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
late autumn trees along Snavely Ford Trail
late autumn trees along Snavely Ford Trail

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.

Snavely Ford Trail
Snavely Ford Trail

Finally, we do emerge from the forest, where we find fields of grass and the Final Attack trail leading off to the west.

The entrance to the Final Attack Trail
The entrance to the Final Attack Trail
The Final Attack Trail
The Final Attack Trail
Farmland at Antietam
Farmland at Antietam
Circling around to the beginning on the Snavely Ford Trail
Circling around to the beginning on the Snavely Ford Trail

We find this monument at our parking lot near Burnside Bridge, and we hop in the car to move on to our next hike.

Monument at Burnside Bridge
Monument at Burnside Bridge

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.

Looking out over the Final Attack Trail
Looking out over the Final Attack Trail

To the north, we can see Sherrick Farm and Otto Farm.

Otto Farm and the Final Attack Trail
Otto Farm and the Final Attack Trail

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.

me with a canon
me with a canon

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. 🙂

 

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18 thoughts on “antietam national battlefield: burnside bridge & the snavely ford trail

  1. It’s impossible to truly comprehend the extent of the brutality of war, especially when the sun is shining brightly and the land no longer bears the scars.

    1. That’s for sure, Carol. We did try to take a moment to reflect on it, but it was still hard to imagine. It is good to see the lay of the land because then you really can understand more of the battle. I learned a lot!

    1. Thanks so much, Jo! Sorry I wasn’t in touch much over the holidays. It was a busy, and to be honest, quite a stressful time. Dealing with my youngest has been quite difficult. We survived and hopefully things will be remedied over the coming months. Happy 2016 to you and Mick! 🙂

      1. No worries, Cathy! I surmised you had family stuff going on. Most people did, but I had a bit of a slump in the middle. Polish family arriving this week so it’ll be me being scarce 🙂 Hope it sorts itself out. Health and happiness, darlin’!

  2. Hard to comprehend the noise and stench of a battlefield many years later. It seems some countries are still fighting the same wars. Lovely autumnal images and I like the way you snuck a bench in 😉
    Your tree reflection in the creek is almost exactly like one I have of trees along our river! Funny how you guys call them creeks – I imagine a creek as much smaller – a beck here. HNY Cathy, hope there are lots of travels ahead 🙂

    1. It really is hard to imagine the horrors of battle on peaceful days such as these, Jude. You’re right, some people are still fighting the same wars, and in many ways, we are still fighting the war over racial tensions (and the dark cloud of slavery) to this day. I wonder when it will ever stop.

      I do love that tree reflection picture, Jude. Thank you! I’d love to see yours, so send me a link if you have one! So funny about the British vs. American English words used to describe things. They call it a creek here at Antietam, but sometimes I’m not sure what to call these small streams, creeks, rivers, etc. I guess it depends on the size, right?

      We have a big house renovation which will take up a lot of time, energy and money in the first several months of the year. Hopefully, we’ll get some travels in too. Our hope is Prague/Budapest and possibly out west somewhere here in the USA, and a lot of smaller weekend trips, especially to Philadelphia and some other close-by places. I’m still dreaming of Morocco, and if I can figure out a way, I’ll be there!

      1. House moving taking up the first part of our year too (hopefully) and most of our money 😦
        But after that, more travels! Here in the UK, but I also want to return to Australia and I know there are a few of us who would like to visit Morocco (Gilly and Jo) wouldn’t be fun if we could organise a trip together?
        Here’s an image of our river (and it took some finding! I could have sworn I had posted more reflections) I think it looks a bit like yours: https://smallbluegreenwords.wordpress.com/category/local-walkabouts/page/8/#jp-carousel-1085

      2. I found it! It looks so similar to mine. Isn’t it funny how we can remember so many of the pictures we take. I guess taking photos is a way to imprint scenes on our minds. 🙂

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