Civil War Sites: Antietam - 1999 Tour

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Antietam Battlefield - 1999 Sharpsburg Festival: Our 1999 visit to the Antietam National Battlefield Park took place the weekend of the annual Sharpsburg Festival. The festival ran September 17-19, coinciding very closely with the 136th anniversary of the battle, which took place September 17, 1862. Southerners refer to the fighting that took place by the name of the town of Sharpsburg, while Northerners used the name of the Antietam Creek, running through the battlefield, to identify the battle.

During the Sharpsburg Festival, the town comes alive with Civil War re-enactors and special programs; even children can be seen skirting the streets in 1860's attire, playing with period toys. The center of town is blocked off to traffic, and vendors set up booths, offering anything from kettle popcorn, to antiques, to Civil War books. Main Street churches offer the most reasonably priced refreshments and have the most friendly wait staff. At noontime, marching bands in period dress provide splendid patriotic music, while at 5 PM one of the churches hosts a home-style dinner. Other activities include an organ recital of Civil War period hymns, a quilting exhibit, and living history exhibits.

As for the Battlefield Park, it has extended hours, and provides programs and hiking tours not usually available on any other day of the year. We were fortunate to participate in two of these "real time" hikes. These hikes, led by National Park rangers, are purposefully scheduled to coincide with the time of day when certain events took place on special locations within the park. The ranger is able to focus on what the land looked like, what the soldiers coming up a ridge or descending a hill might have been able to see, and what the weather felt like on the day of the battlefield, making the experience a very vivid and personal one for the participant in the hike. Cindy Seacord

Antietam Battlefield Tour: Keith Snyder, the Park Ranger who led our tours on the battlefield, was excellent. He is a veteran with military experience and was able to explain in great detail the significance of every step we took on the battlefield. He had numerous stories about specific individuals who gave their lives during the battle and these stories were inspiring and heart rending. John Seacord

Roulette Farm: This is a photograph of part of the Roulette Farm, which was recently purchased by the National Park Service and opened to the public for the first time. On this field about 5,000 Union soldiers marched toward the camera on their way to the "Sunken Road". Many of the structures on the Roulette Farm remain essentially unchanged since the days of the Civil War. John Seacord

Roulette Farmhouse: Our guide mentioned that this farm house is a structure unchanged since the Civil War, but I have to wonder about clean metal roofing and the fuel oil tank I saw on the other side of the house! John Seacord

Tour Group and the Roulette Farm: This photograph shows about one-third of the people in our tour group. Here you can see one of the original Roulette Farm structures that dates back well before the Civil War. This particular structure really is in the same condition that it was at the time of the Antietam battle. John Seacord

Roulette Farm: Here we are climbing a significant hill on the Roulette Farm. Beyond the crest of the hill is the "Sunken Road". From the visitor's center, the Roulette Farm appears to be almost as flat as a billiard table. One has to actually walk on this land to understand how the contours of the hills and ridges affected the battle. John Seacord

The "Sunken Road": Numerous Confederate soldiers were positioned in this old farm road. The fighting in this area was intense and casualties were very high. In some parts of the road bodies were piled on top of each other and it was possible to walk across the road without stepping on the ground as the bodies of soldiers literally covered every square inch of ground. John Seacord

The "Sunken Road": In this photograph we have the same view that the Conferate troops did of the advancing Federals. Note that the top of the ridge is only about 100 feet or so from the road. As the Union troops crested over the ridge, they were silhouetted against the bright sky. They were easy targets for the entrenched Confederates. The Federals had superior numbers, however, and wave after wave of Union troops crested over the hill and into the road. Eventually, the Confederates had to retreat. Imagine what it must have felt like to be a soldier in the Union Army cresting over the hill and knowing that you were going to be fired upon at close range. Imagine the feelings of the Confederate troops who had to defend this position without knowing how many thousands of Union troops there were just beyond the crest of the hill. John Seacord

Looking toward the "Sunken Road": This photograph illustrates how just a few feet of positioning can make a dramatic difference. The crest of the hill falls off toward the right. The hill provided some protection for the advancing Union troops while at the same time giving the Union troops a clear line of fire toward Confederates in parts of the Sunken Road. Members of the 5th Arkansas were positioned in an area covered by the right half of the photograph. It is relatively easy to see why the 5th Arkansas sustained such heavy losses. John Seacord

Encampment at the Burnside Bridge: At the famous Burnside Bridge site, we visited a small encampment of Civil War re-enactors. There are a number of trails in this part of the Park and this is a beautiful place for a leisurely nature walk, especially on the Snavely's Ford path. At Snavely's Ford, one is only about a mile from the famous Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Cindy Seacord

The Burnside Bridge: The Burnside Bridge is recognized by many as the site of the third part of the Antietam battle. At this location, several hours were spent by Burnside's 9th Union Corps troops in an eventually successful yet deadly crossing of the Antietam Creek. Greatly outnumbered Georgia and Carolina troops used their superior defensive positions on the hillside overlooking the bridge and creek to stall the Union advance, and as the story goes, the creek ran red with the blood of the casualties. The large mulberry tree at the left of the bridge was part of the landscape during this battle. Cindy and John Seacord

Antietam National Cemetery: Antietam National Cemetery is located at the approximate location of the Confederate battery during the fight. This is also the location where purportedly General Lee met up with and did not recognize his son, covered with gun powder. Union soldiers were laid to rest here. Confederate Antietam burials took place at cemeteries in Frederick, Hagerstown and Shepardstown, Maryland. Cindy Seacord

Soldier Monument at Antietan National Cemetery: This is a closeup of the impressive statue visible in the previous photo. John Seacord

McKinley Monument: On our visit to the battlefield, we had seen signs pointing to the McKinley Monument, and had a hard time figuring out what all the hype was all about, when Keith Snyder, our Park Service guide, explained. During the Antietam battle, future president William McKinley of the 23rd Ohio served as a commissary officer. After McKinlay's assassination in the early 1900's, people got together to erect a monument in honor of his contribution to the war effort. He is probably the only commissary office so honored. Cindy Seacord

Group Ascending Hill onto the Shade Farm Property: Our real-time hike took us beyond the Burnside Bridge, up the hills onto private farmland made available to the public by the Shade family only for this and similar special occasions. On this ground, by 3 PM on the day of the battle, 8,000 or more Union troops had successfully crossed the Antietam Creek in preparation for a final assault on General Robert E. Lee, whose back was up against the Potomac. More significant casualties resulted at the Shade farmlands than at the bridge, and not many people realize this. Troops led by Isaac Peace Rodman, a Quaker from Rhode Island, as well as Sturgis and Wilcox, made their final push up this ridge. The park ranger, Keith Snyder, helped us visualize the slaughter that took place as Ambrose Powell Hill fortuitously arrived in the nick of time with nearly 3,000 troops from Harper's Ferry to repulse the Union advance. This allowed Lee's forces to escape across the Potomac, ending the battle. Union forces collapsed back to the bridge. Casualties on the ridge, in comparison to the 500 some at the bridge, numbered over 2,000 men. Cindy Seacord

Shade Farmland: This view is from the approximate placement of the 9th NY looking towards the park road at the top of the ridge. As noted above, this view is from private farm land and park visitors are not normally allowed here. Cindy Seacord

Looking from the Shade Farmland towards the Sherrick Farm: This photo gives some idea of the size of battlefield during the final hours of the day. John Seacord

Shade Farm - Scene of the Last Fighting of the Battle: This photo shows the approximate location of the arrival and fight of AP Hill's Confederate forces. General Hill's efforts stopped the Union advance here and kept the battle from becoming a rout. Thus the Battle of Antietam, although a technical victory for the Union forces, amounted to a tactical standoff. John and Cindy Seacord

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