Monday, November 3, 2014

Antietam National Battlefield

We certainly had a full day on Saturday touring this battlefield, and ending our day with a brief stop at Harper's Ferry.  Antietam, in Maryland, is located about 60 miles northwest of Washington D.C.  It will be one battlefield which I will not forget.  This was one of the bloodiest battles during the war, because it happened over only 12 hours.  General Lee brought about Confederate 40,000 troops to this September 17, 1862 battle against George McClellan's Union troops of 60,00.  When it was all over, there were about 23,000 men dead, wounded, or missing.  Needless to say, memorials abound in this battlefield.

Upon arrival to this area we spent some time at the visitor's center to see the exhibits and hear one lecture by a park ranger.  Both were quite helpful in understanding the battle as well as the Maryland Campaign.  What was quite sobering to me was a picture taken by a photographer one day after of the war dead.  By the time of the Civil War photographers could follow armies, take pictures and develop them in field darkrooms.  From the visitor's center we took a driving tour of the battlefield, which had 9 major stops.
The Dunker church was one of our first stops, it was a church of the German Baptist Brethren, built in 1850 (a wind storm destroyed it after the war, but it has been reconstructed since then).  The religious group was called "Dunkers" because of their practice of full immersion baptism.  That place of peace and love saw some very fierce fighting between the two armies in the early morning hours of September 17, 1862.
At site 4 is a 24-acre cornfield.  It saw some of U.S. history's most horrific fighting, which took place over three hours.  One Confederate brigade suffered over 60-percent casualties in 30 minutes.  Another horrific scene was played out on a sunken farm road, which served as the breastwork for the Confederate Center.
On this lane for about three hours 2,200 Confederate troops, later reinforced by additional troops, held off a combined Union force of nearly 10,000 troops.  Finally just after noon, the gray line collapsed.  At the Visitor's Center we saw a painting done by one of the soldiers ( artist James Hope) which portrays this scene of carnage.  The wounded and dying are lying heaped on each other in rows, as later described by an observer.  According to him "words are inadequate" to portray the scene.
 Pictured above is Lower Bridge, which crosses Antietam Creek.  Confederate soldiers held the area overlooking the bridge for three hours until the Union Army captured the bridge and forced them  to retreat to the town of Sharpsburg.  Amazingly no civilians were killed, those living in the farms around the battle site left their homes when the fighting began.  I will write more on our day at Antietam in my next posting.

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