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.
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.
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.
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.
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 family suffered an even greater tragedy when their youngest daughter Carrie May died from disease brought by the armies.
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.
It’s so peaceful here now that it’s hard to imagine that horrific day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
One soldier writing about The Bloody Lane described the carnage as a “carpet of red, gray and blue.”
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.
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. 🙂