Day Trip: Antietam
Editor’s Note: This is a continuing series on local places of interest to visit for little or no cost.
Antietam Battlefield is just a short drive from Jefferson County; however, many who live locally rarely take the time to visit this beautiful national treasure.
A few miles into Maryland across the Potomac, one can find rolling fields that hold a piece of our nation’s history.
The battlefield was the site of the bloodiest one day battle in U.S. history. Taking place along what is known as ‘Bloody Lane,’ 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after twelve hours of savage combat on Sept. 17, 1862.
According to historical accounts, the Army of the Potomac, under the command of George McClellan, mounted a series of powerful assaults against Robert E. Lee’s forces near Sharpsburg.
The morning assault and Confederate counterattacks swept back and forth through Miller’s Cornfield and the West Woods. Later, towards the center of the battlefield, Union assaults against the Sunken Road pierced the Confederate center after a terrible struggle.
Late in the day, the third and final major assault by the Union army pushed over a bullet-strewn stone bridge at Antietam Creek. Just as the Federal forces began to collapse the Confederate right, the timely arrival of A.P. Hill’s division from Harpers Ferry helped to drive the Army of the Potomac back once more. The bloodiest single day in American military history ended in a draw, but the Confederate retreat gave Abraham Lincoln the “victory” he desired before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.
Visiting Antietam, one can imagine the soldiers traversing the fields hoping to avoid enemy fire.
Visit Burnside’s Bridge that crosses Antietam Creek where those Federal forces collapsed.
Tours can be taken either as guided tours offered by the National Park Serivce, or one can travel by vehicle and stop and read all of the informational markers that can be found throughout the battlefield.
Some key spots to see include the visitor center, Dunker Church and the National Cemetery. During the summer months and weekends during the spring and fall, stop and visit the Pry House Field Hospital.
A visit in early December (usually the first Saturday) allows one to see a spectacular sight in the Battlefield. This year, Dec. 3 is the day when the Antietam National Battlefield, in cooperation with the American Business Women’s Association and the Washington County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, will host the annual Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination in honor of those soldiers who fell during the Battle of Antietam. In all, there are 23,000 candles – one for each soldier killed, wounded or missing at the Battle of Antietam The Illumination opens to the public at 6 p.m. The driving tour through the park is approximately 5 miles long. If the event needs to be rescheduled due to weather, the following Saturday, Dec. 10 is the make up date.