Lauris announced that “it was the bloodiest day of the Civil War.” I had to look it up, because somehow it seemed that Gettysburg held that title, but Lauris was right; the bloodiest one day battle in American history occurred at Antietam, with 23,000 soldiers killed, wounded or missing after twelve hours of combat on September 17, 1862. (In comparison, Gettysburg involved the largest number of casualties in a single battle, however, those 46,000 - 51,000 were casualties during three days of battle.) The Battle of Antietam ended the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia's first invasion into the North, and led to the issuance of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln.
|The Antietam Maryland Monument|
As common with the National Battlefields, the Visitor Center is a good place to start your visit. In addition to securing a map of the driving tour of the battlefield, the exhibits and movies provide a needed refresher for those of us who last discussed Antietam in high school some twenty years ago. Plus there’s a good view from the second floor, providing a sort of bird’s-eye-view of the immediate vicinity of the Cornfield & West Woods, and Bloody Lane. The latter also has an observation tower, with a different perspective and a slightly different view.
|Titled: miniature cannons behind a large cannon|
The self-guided 8 ½ mile auto tour features 11 stops, and begins at the Dunker Church. Built in 1852, this German Baptist church became a focal point for Union attacks the morning of the battle. We stopped at the North Woods where Union Gen. Hooker’s men spent the night before the engagement at Poffenberger farm. We paused at the Cornfield, 24-acres that saw over 60% casualties for some brigades. And then the West Woods, where in 20 minutes over 2,200 Union soldiers were killed or wounded.
Such incredible numbers, and so hard to comprehend with blue skies overhead, green grass underfoot, the first spring roadside flowers blooming.
Recently Lauris asked “why do we only visit battlefields?” I reflected and realized we have spent considerable time at historical sites such as Richmond, Petersburg, Chickamauga and Chattanooga, even though interspersed with parks and scenic areas. This surprised me, as I’m really not a history buff; I prefer unique geological formations, impressive views, and bird/flower/nature-watching over signs about events that unfolded years ago. After thinking about it, my answer to his question was, that I'm trying to provide each family member with engagement during our travels (history for Roberts, nature for me, education & exercise for the boys). The emphasis on battlefields has been unintentionally heavy recently, but in my defense the battlefields often contain a bit of everything, including the nature & solitude that I'm craving. I’ll have to think about his point on future trips – I want a healthy balance, and it might be time to give the battlefields a rest.
|Near the Roulette Farm|
At Mumma Farm and Cemetery we took a hike. The easy, 1 mile Antietam TRACK trail loop features interpretive exhibits about the Mumma and Roulette Farms as it traverses the fields, streamside, woodland and pond habitats. The boys enjoyed a small break from more serious discussions to enjoy the quiet of the countryside: the small creek, a stone wall, the cows.
Back on the driving tour you’ll pass the stop where the Union armies advanced, and soon you’ll reach Bloody Lane. Once known as Sunken Road, this is the spot where 2,200 Confederates held off nearly 10,000 Union soldiers for three hours before falling back to the Piper Farm.
Crossing over Highway 34 the tour continues to Lower Bridge and the scene of the Final Attack, before ending at the Antietam National Cemetery. At first the Union dead were buried where they fell on the battlefield, but later they were re-interred on this hill along with soldiers who died in hospitals or combat in the region. Confederate soldiers were buried in Hagerstown & Frederick MD, and Shepherdstown VA (now WV).
Back to September 17, 1862; the battle ended about 6pm with no major shift in the lines of battle. Of the 100,000 troops involved, about 23,000 lay dead, wounded or missing. Late the next evening Gen. Robert E. Lee forded the Potomac to Virginia, and ultimately, the field was left to the Union Army.
The surrender at Appomattox Courthouse wouldn’t come for another 2 ½ years….