Thursday, October 23, 2014

Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland

One place we didn't want to miss, on our tour of Civil War battlefields, was Antietam, located near Sharpsburg, Maryland - just three hours south of where we are (temporarily) located in Pennsylvania.  It was following this Union victory that President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation designed to further weaken the Confederacy.

Antietam is considered the bloodiest one-day battle the United States has ever experienced.  There were more casualties in this one day than in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Mexican War combined.  Antietam had even more casualties than we experienced during D-Day.

We began our visit at the small museum explaining the battle that took place on September 17, 1862, a year and a half into the Civil War.  Confederate forces had won more of the battles, at this point in the war, and President Lincoln sorely needed a Union victory.

Antietam was General Lee's first foray onto Union soil and General George McClellan was trusted to repel this Confederate attack.

Lee placed his artillery line of the high ground adjacent the Dunker Church.  Many of the same generals who would fight at Gettysburg, the following July, were here at Antietam.  General Lee's youngest son, Robert E. Lee, Jr., was a member of the Rockbridge artillery.

Like the other Civil War battlefields we've visited, Antietam has it's share of military monuments........

.........and cannon.......

.........but what was surprising is the number of farms that were caught in the middle of this bloody conflict.

This farm lane served as a breastwork for the Confederate center.  For about three hours 2,200 Confederates held off the attacks of the combined Union force numbering nearly 10,000.  Finally, the thin gray line collapsed and fell back to the Piper farm.  The Union attackers had suffered too many casualties to pursue them.  Seeing the dead on the road, an observer wrote, "They were lying in rows like the ties of a railroad, in heaps like cordwood mingled with the splintered and shattered fence rails.  Words are inadequate to portray the scene."

500 Confederate soldiers held the area overlooking the Lower Bridge for three hours before General Burnside's command finally captured the bridge and crossed Antietam Creek, which forced the Confederates back toward Sharpsburg.

When the battle of over, the tiny town of Sharpsburg was overwhelmed by the number of casualties.  Of the nearly 100,000 soldiers engaged in battle, about 23,000 were killed, wounded, or missing but the Union Army held the field.

Most of the soldiers were buried where they had fallen.  Although, when troops came marching through Sharpsburg again, as they headed toward Gettysburg, they found many bodies still unburied and personal belongings scattered all over the field.  Later, a total of 4,776 Union soldiers were reinterred in the new National Cemetery.  A good one third of them are unknown.

Just a mile away from the battlefield is the Pry House where General McClellan had set up his headquarters to direct the Union troops.  The Pry family were a prosperous farming family who evacuated before the battle.

When they returned to their farm they discovered so much loss they could never financially recover, despite claims to the Federal government.  They sold their farm and re-located to Tennessee.

Following the battle, President Lincoln visited McClellan's headquarters where he admonished the General for being too timid and not pursing the Confederate Army.  This was General McClellan's last battle as leader of the Union Army.

Today, it is privately owned and dedicated to the medical advancements made during the Civil War.

It was the first war where a new type of wagon was used as ambulances.

No more Civil War battlefields to visit this year.  Soon we'll be headed home to Arizona.  But, I still have one more trip to share - Washington, D.C.!


  1. Fascinating places and a good history lesson. Thank you.

  2. Great tour-thanks! It has been a long time since we have been there.