antietam: the bloody lane trail

Saturday, November 14:  We drive back to Antietam Visitor’s Center and begin the 1.6 mile walk along the Bloody Lane Trail.  This trail winds through the historic Mumma and Roulette Farms, following in the footsteps of Union soldiers as they advanced toward the Sunken Road.  At the Sunken Road, we can see the Confederate position in what has been known since the battle as Bloody Lane.

The story of the Mumma and Roulette families shows how they, as well as others in the community, suffered severely when the opposing armies converged on Sharpsburg.

Before the battle, Samuel and Elizabeth Mumma and their ten children fled the farm.  As dawn broke on September 17, 1862, Confederate commanders feared Federal soldiers might capture the farm and use the buildings as cover to fire at their men.  Thus, soldiers from North Carolina were instructed to set the home on fire.  Throughout the morning, smoke and fire billowed from the burning farmhouse.

Mumma Farm
Mumma Farm

To receive compensation, the Mummas had to prove the fire was set by Union soldiers.  Since it was set by the Confederates, the family received no money for their losses.  With the help of other local families, the Mummas rebuilt their home and lived on their 186 acre farm until they sold it in 1885.  After changing hands several more times over the years, the National Park Service bought it in 1961.

Mumma Farm
Mumma Farm

We leave the Mumma farm and head next to the Roulette Farm. It’s a gorgeous day, but now that it’s getting late in the day and the sun hangs low on the horizon, it’s quite cold.

the trail to the Roulette Farm
the trail to the Roulette Farm

Thousands of Union soldiers tramped through the Roulette Farm as they marched toward the Sunken Road.  As the troops from the 130th Pennsylvania neared the house, an artillery round smashed through the family beehives on the west side of the house; the bees promptly went after the soldiers, encouraging them to speed through the orchard toward the entrenched enemy, according to a pamphlet on The Bloody Lane Trail by the National Park Service.

the Roulette Farm
the Roulette Farm

Extensive damage was caused by the Union forces.  Because it was the Union forces that did the damage, William Roulette filed a claim and received compensation for damage to the beehives, fences, crops and the use of the farm as a hospital.  His claim also stated that 700 dead soldiers were buried on his property.

the Roulette Farm
the Roulette Farm

The Roulette family suffered an even greater tragedy when their youngest daughter Carrie May died from disease brought by the armies.

the Roulette Farm
the Roulette Farm
the Roulette Farm
the Roulette Farm
the pond along the Mumma/Roulette Education Trail
the pond along the Mumma/Roulette Education Trail
the Mumma/Roulette Education Trail
the Mumma/Roulette Education Trail
autumn tree
autumn tree
the pond along the Mumma/Roulette Education Trail
the pond along the Mumma/Roulette Education Trail

We leave the Roulette Farm and head uphill to the Sunken Road.  This is the center of Union battle lines that were over 700 yards wide.  Every step of this trail now follows in the footsteps of the Union soldiers, many going to meet their tragic fate.  Over 70% of General French’s division, who led the march, had never experienced combat before.

uphill to the Sunken Road
uphill to the Sunken Road

It’s so peaceful here now that it’s hard to imagine that horrific day.

farmland on the way to the Sunken Road
farmland on the way to the Sunken Road
Mike following in the steps of the Union soldiers
Mike following in the steps of the Union soldiers

At the crest of the hill is where the Unions met the Confederates and blasted away at each other at point-blank range for over 3 hours.  Here, the 69th New York Infantry lost 62% and the 63rd New York Infantry lost 59% killed and wounded.

According to the pamphlet, one soldier wrote how “The air was now thick with smoke from the muskets that not only obscured our vision of the enemy, but made breathing difficult and most uncomfortable…we were forced to breathe this powder smoke which the coating of nose, throat and eyes almost like fire.”  A member of the Irish brigade said that their lines of battle “melted like wax before the fire.

me at the corner leading to the Sunken Road
me at the corner leading to the Sunken Road

General John Caldwell’s brigade replaced Meagher’s famous Irish Brigade, and it was these soldiers that would eventually break through and drive the Confederates from the Sunken Road.

the tower overlooking the Sunken Road
the tower overlooking the Sunken Road

About 2,200 Confederate soldiers waited in the Sunken Road, placing their muskets on the fence rails which they had knocked down and piled up for protection.  They hunkered down in this local short cut worn down by years of wagon traffic and erosion.  Just before the Union advance, Commanding General Robert E. Lee appeared briefly to encourage his men.

view of the Sunken Road from the tower
view of the Sunken Road from the tower

For more than three hours, the combatants fired away at one another at point-blank range. Greatly outnumbered, the Confederates tried to reinforce the hollowed out road with little success.  At about noon, after numerous Federal assaults, the thin gray line of Confederates broke.  Union forces seized the road and drove the Southerners toward the Piper Farm.

view of Bloody Lane Road from the Tower
view of Bloody Lane Road from the Tower
fields around Bloody Lane
fields around Bloody Lane

Union General Israel Richardson was mortally wounded as he tried to reposition some artillery and with the breakdown of the command structure, the Federal push toward Sharpsburg faltered.  Thus, after three hours of fierce fighting, little had changed.  Neither side held the Sunken Road, the Union forces fell back toward the Roulette Farm and the Confederates regrouped around Piper Farm.  A total of 5,500 soldiers were killed or wounded during the fighting in and around the Sunken Road, today known as Bloody Lane (National Park Service: Bloody Lane Trail: Attack and Defense of the Sunken Road).

the Bloody Lane
the Bloody Lane
Along the Bloody Lane
Along the Bloody Lane
fences along the Bloody Lane
fences along the Bloody Lane
Monument at Bloody Lane
Monument at Bloody Lane

One soldier writing about The Bloody Lane described the carnage as a “carpet of red, gray and blue.”  

leaving the Bloody Lane
leaving the Bloody Lane

I’m quite moved by all this history, and although it’s hard to imagine that day now, we do take a moment to reflect upon that fateful day.  I think it should be required for all students of American history to visit these and other battlefields and monuments in the United States.  I know Europeans often laugh at the brevity of “American history,” but no matter how short our history is, it’s still our unique story. All of us should try to appreciate the costs of freedom that are often paid dearly with the lives of young men (and nowadays, women).

I’ve never even been to Antietam myself, and I live about as close as a person can get to this area.  I’m glad I got to come today to explore and learn more about this battle that played such a large part in the Civil War.

Completing the loop back to the Visitor's Center
Completing the loop back to the Visitor’s Center
fields of Antietam
fields of Antietam
fences in Antietam
fences in Antietam
fences and autumn trees
fences and autumn trees

After our two hikes today, we head to Sharpsburg to The Jacob Rohrbach Inn, change clothes and head to Shepherdstown for our anniversary dinner at The Press Room.

Me toasting our anniversary at the Press Room in Shepherdstown
Me toasting our anniversary at the Press Room in Shepherdstown

After a delightful dinner, we queue up in Sharpsburg at Nutter’s Ice Cream for a special top-off to our anniversary meal.  It’s so cold outside, it’s hard to get up the courage to eat ice cream, but that doesn’t stop the hordes of people standing in line for their treats.  We actually take ours back to the inn to eat in the warmth of the common room.

We plan to head back to Antietam tomorrow as there are several more hikes that beckon.  🙂

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15 thoughts on “antietam: the bloody lane trail

  1. You live in an area with so many historical sites – so many places to visit our past – what a treasure for you! I think the western part of the country is less diligent about preserving that history.

    1. I know there is so much history here, Carol, and yet there are so many places I haven’t even been. I’m hoping to make more of an effort to appreciate these places in the coming year, and to learn more about our history.

      Happy New Year to you!! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Carol. Yes, I do need to have a cocktail hour. I’ll really need a drink after Friday, when we are moving Adam down to Richmond. I hate to say it, but it will be a huge burden lifted off us, and who knows how long he will continue to be a burden. I love him, but it’s time to get going already!!! As I said to Jo, adult children should NOT be living with their parents. It’s not a good situation, no matter what!

  2. You seem to find some lovely old inns to stay in and when I went to look at the web site you linked, I was very impressed at how reasonably priced this one is. Lovely cosy lounge area too, and you and Mike are looking good!

    1. There are lots of great bed & breakfast inns all over the USA, especially on the east coast where there is so much history, Jude. I thought it was quite expensive, but it was a special treat and not something we would do that often. Thanks so much, I’m glad you liked it. When you come to visit me in Virginia, you’ll have to check it out! 🙂

      1. I love the character inns and think they are well worth the extra, though the cheap motels serve their purpose too at times. I’d love to visit your region, but goodness knows when! Canada, Australia and New Zealand beckon too…

      2. Yes, Jude, we sometimes go for cheaper hotels and sometimes for nice bed and breakfast inns, depending on the occasion. You have a lot of places on your bucket list, as do I. I guess slowly, slowly we’ll get to them all! 🙂 Happy weekend!

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