September 13, 2019 by Mel
Today was one of our planned trips. We got up early and after some breakfast headed out to Antietam National Battlefield visitor centre. We got there as the centre opened and watched the 25 minute introduction film. The full version of the film is available on YouTube I’m lead to believe…..
After the film we looked around the museum and shop and then went up to an observation room. The room had full windows on 3 sides which allowed you viewing points of much of the battlefield. We listened to the Rangers orientation talk and then decided to buy the auto tour cd. I’m really glad we did as the cd is amazing, not only directing you around the battlefield but also giving you a step by step commentary of the battle.
The first location on the tour is the Dunker Church. Built in 1852, the Dunker Church was a modest house of worship for pacifist German Baptist Brethren which became a focal point for Union attacks during the morning of the battle. The church had collapsed due to decay but has been rebuilt to replace the original church. Many of the original furniture pieces still remain in the church today.
Our next stop was North Woods. Union Gen. Joseph Hookers men spent the night before the battle on the Poffenberger farm. At first light the Union attack advanced south from here towards Jackson’s lines.
On walking along the monuments, we heard the crickets in the fields. The brochure had said to stay on the paths so as to avoid ticks and snakes. Seriously, anyone who knows me knows I have a phobia of snakes. So, not taking any chances, I was sticking to the toad and paths….. Jamie and I turned to see this little fellow on the road and I have to say I made a hasty retreat back to the car !!!
Further on, we next went to East Wood. A small engagement took place in this area the night before the battle. The fighting also opened here early on September 17 as Union and Confederate soldiers exchanged deadly musket volleys, vying to control these woods.
Next was a crucial and well known area of the battle, the Cornfield. This 24 acre cornfield saw some of history’s most horrific fighting. For nearly three hours Hooker and Mansfield’s Union forces battled Jackson’s Confederates. Many regiments on both sides were cut to pieces. Hay’s Louisiana Brigade suffered over 60% casualties in 30 minutes.
Coming back on ourselves we next went to West Woods. Around 9.30 am Gen. Edwin Sumner’s Union soldiers advanced into the west woods. The combined firepower of the confederate artillery and attacking infantry drive them back. In 20 minutes over 2200 Union soldiers were killed or wounded.
The next brief stop was at Mumma Farm and Cemetery. Mumma farm was the only deliberate destruction of property during the battle. Confederate soldiers were ordered to burn the farm structures in fear the Union sharpshooters would take advantage of their elevated positions. The Mumma family rebuilt the home in 1864.
We followed the trail of the Union advance to the Sunken Road, otherwise known as Bloody Lane. For about three hours 2200 Confederates held off the attacks of nearly 10,000 Union soldiers using the cover of the sunken road. This was successful until they were caught on the flank turning the lane into a bloody alley. The confederates, at least those still standing, beat a hasty retreat back to Pipers Farm however the Union had suffered far too many casualties to pursue. We were amazed by the terrain around the Sunken road and could certainly see how the Union would be held back by the exceptionally defensible area.
Our next stop was to visit Burnside’s Bridge. About 500 Confederate soldiers held the area overlooking the bridge for three hours. Burnside’s command finally captured the bridge and crossed Antietam Creek, which forced the confederates back towards Sharpsburg. We spent quite a while at the bridge. It is a beautiful location although the climb was bit of a chore. I was particularly inawed by the tree near the bridge which was named Burnsides Sycamore. The tree was a young grow at the time of the battle and still stands today having witnessed the battle unfold. This is evidenced by the trees alternative name of ‘the witness tree’.
Finally we drove further along to the site of the final attack. After taking the lower bridge (Burnside’s bridge), Burnside moves across the fields from east to west, pushing back the Confederate right flank.
Throughout the day we were constantly surprised by how widespread the area of battle was. We hadn’t realised how vast the battle had been. The ground was continuous undulating terrain meaning that the actual fighting would have been very close as it would have been impossible to see over distance. The battle itself is declared as one of the bloodiest single day battles in American history with over 23,000 killed or wounded.
The auto tour was definitely worth it and by the time we had stopped to take photos etc, completely by fluke, we finished our tour at the same time the actual battle would have ended. Tomorrow we have another of our planned visits which is to South Mountain National Battlefield.
After having some dinner at the Texas Roadhouse again, we are now resting back at the hotel absolutely exhausted.
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