Saturday, October 11, 2008

Day 40, Sat, Oct 11, Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland

It was here, south of the Antietam battlefield, that Robert E. Lee retreated with his shattered army and made a successful crossing to the safety of Virginia (now West Virginia).
I drove the two short miles from the battlefield to this location on the Potomac near where Lee would have crossed his army. Of course, in those days this railroad tressle did not exist nor was there any other bridge across the Potomac. They had to use ferry boats or build a temporary pontoon bridge to get their soldiers, their wounded and their horses and supply wagons to safety.
On this day, the area was alive with visitors old and young, many on bicycles or on foot, enjoying this Columbus Day holiday weekend. Few, if any would be thinking of the great suffering which took place near here in September 1862.

Here is the "Sunken Road" which first served as a brastwork for the Confederate center but soon became an open grave for hundreds of the dead and wounded. For over 3 hours the brave soldiers of the Confederacy of never more than 6,200 men held off a Union force of nearly 10,000. When the thin grey line finally collapsed the Union attackers had suffered too many casualties to pursue. Seeing the dead in the road an observer wrote, "They were lying in rows like the ties of a railroad ... words are inadequate to portray the scene."

These monuments line the edge of the "Cornfield." It was here for 3 hours that "some of U.S. history's most horrific fighting took place. Many regiments on both sides were cut to pieces.

"Dunker Church built in 1852. This modest house of worship for pacifist German Baptist Brethren became a focal point for Union attacks the morning of the battle."

Needing rest for her painful knee, Linda remained at the hotel in Chambersburg while I drove down across the Maryland state line to the Antietam National Battlefield at Sharpsburg.

This is a large, well maintained military park honoring one of the most bitterly contested battles of the Civil War.

I elected to take the self-guided auto tour. The location pictured here is refered to as the West Woods.

It was here at around 9:30 a.m. that Union forces led by Gen. Edwin Sunmer suffered 2,200 in killed and wounded in about 20 minutes from combined Confederate artillery and infantry fire.

On September 17, 1862, the most savage 1-day battle of the Civil War took place here on the banks of Antietam Creek near the village of Sharpsburg, Maryland.

Lee had crossed the nearby Potomac with the intention of striking deep into Pennsylvania, but a copy of his plans had accidently fallen into Union hands and McClellan had his army in positioned on the east side of the creek, prepared to strike Lee on both flanks and then in the middle.

Of the three bridges Union forces used to cross Antietam Creek this was by far the most hotly contested.

There were nearly 100,000 soldiers engaged in this battle. As darkness finally brought an end to the fighting, battle lines had not shifted significantly, but, there were 23,000 killed, wounded or missing. It proved to be the bloodiest day of the entire Civil War. Like Gettysburg, the Antietam battlefield became a national shrine.