Antietam Things to Do Tips by mtncorg Top 5 Page for this destination
Antietam Things to Do: 71 reviews and 190 photos
Old Simon faces North
On top of a hill on the east end of Sharpsburg sits the Antietam National Cemetery. There were some 23000 casualties as a result of the one day battle here in 1862 - slightly more from the Union side. Some of those Federals have been gathered here to be interred in the grounds here - some 4776 Federals of whom 1836 are unknown. The setting is graced by solemn evergreens. At the center of the cemetery stands a tall statue - Old Simon - emblematic of all who fought to preserve the Union. Notice the statue is facing North towards the homes for most of the men who lie here. The soldiers are buried in plots that are clustered by the State the soldier was from, though the largest State - for a good third of the men here - is Unknown. There are more than 200 post-Civil war veterans - and their wives - also buried here. These graves are located at the northwestern section of the cemetery, except for several WWI African-American veterans, segregated in death - at the southwestern end - as they were in life. The cemetery was closed to new burials in 1953 but an exception was made for the burial of a nearby resident who was killed while serving in the US Navy in Aden, Yemen in the al-Qaida attack on the USS Cole - Fireman Patrick Roy.
Monument to Hawkin's Zouaves
Finally, you turn from Branch Avenue onto Harpers Ferry Road and head a short ways to the edge of Sharpsburg, where a signed short trail will take you to the tall monument of the 9th New York Regiment - Hawkins Zouaves. These men reached the edge of Sharpsburg and represented the farthest reach of the attacks of Burnside's IX Corps. Lee was lost if not for the timely arrival of A. P. Hill's division from Harpers Ferry. The 9th New York lost 63% of their forces here. There is a nearby monument to the 8th Connecticut who were crushed in the onset of Hill's flank attack. Division commander for both the 9th New York and the 8th Connecticut, Brig. Gen. Isaac Rodman, fell here, as well, and his mortuary cannon is close at hand.
With Hill's attack stopping the Federals on the rebel right, Lee's army had survived. Some think of Antietam as actually a tactical victory for the South, but it really was a close call. Knowing he could not afford to 'win' many more such victories - especially on 'foreign' soil - Lee withdrew two days later. McClellan had missed several opportunities both before, during and after Antietam, to punish the Rebel army. McClellan was hampered by always thinking he was facing twice as many enemy troops as there actually was. He saved an entire Union Corps from the fight knowing that Lee would eventually counterattack on massive scale. Lee actually had many less than McClellan on this day and while he might have been thinking about a counterattack, he had little resources left after this day to mount them with. It was time to retreat back across the Potomac into Virginia. Antietam was over.
Close up of the 23rd's Monument
Returning to where you turned left to get to the parking lot for the Burnside Bridge, now another left will take you to the last stages of the battle - on foot from the McKinley Monument, you can walk on the Final Attack Trail. You will find another row of regimental monuments along this new road - Branch Avenue - along with position tablets showing where the different Federal and Rebel units stood their ground upon. The monument to the 23rd Ohio is actually probably out of order with the next tip in a chronological order of what happened next in the battle, but driving-wise, it is next. Burnside Bridge had been captured and Union soldiers now attacked towards Sharpsburg in an effort to cave in Lee's right wing. If this attack had come earlier in the day when Lee was frantically shifting reinforcements to meet the various attacks on his right and center, the end might truly have come for the Army of Northern Virginia, but the capture of the bridge had taken too long. Even as it was, the Union attack almost succeeded. Just in the nick of time, A. P. Hill's division showed up from Harpers Ferry - covering 17 miles in less than 8 hours and coming in on the attack. Hill's men drove into the left end of the Union line, successfully putting an end to Union hopes for a decisive victory. The 23rd Ohio was involved in efforts to hold the line, as Burnside's force was pushed back closer back to the bridge.
We have already met the 23rd Ohio in Burkittsville where their charge had helped overwhelm the Rebel positions at Fox's Gap, their commander, Col. Rutherford Hayes - the future 19th President of the US - falling from a gunshot to the arm. The other President-in-waiting we met in the last tip, Sgt William McKinley, the will-be 25th President.
CSA Brig. Gen. L. Branch died in Hill's attack on the 23rd, as his mortuary cannon nearby gives mute evidence.
Monument to President William McKinley
At the Burnside Bridge parking lot, at the right end, a tall monument beckons. Many battlefield monuments are not just heroism and sacrifice, but also timing and politics. That said, Sgt. William McKinley did show courage and valor in bringing food to his fellow soldiers of 23rd Ohio under fire. Dedicated in 1903, two years after McKinley was assassinated. The monument reflects a nation's grief more than any turning point in this battle. McKinley was the last President - there were five - who actively took part in the Civil War. He enlisted as a private, serving in the supply/quartermaster - wing of the 23rd Ohio Regiment (commanded for a time by another President-to-be, Rutherford Hays). By War's end, he was a major through acts of stolid bravery and devotion to duty. The importance of Federal soldiers following the Civil War was important for continued Republican control of the government, lasting most of the latter part of the 19th Century. Democrats were represented the South and Rebellion while the GOP stood for the Union and her soldiers. At election time, Republicans waved 'the bloody shirt' to remind voters which party was for the veterans and which was not. Add 'the bloody shirt' to McKinley's brave record here at Antietam - and throughout the War - along with his cowardly assassination - and the general explosion of battlefield monuments occurring at the birth of the 20th Century - here and on other fields - and the result is the monument here.
Two trails also take off from here. One goes along the Antietam Creek to Snavelys Ford, used by Union troops to get around the bottleneck of Burnside Bridge. Along the creek, you can see that the waters are a bit too deep to cross just anywhere. Also on the creek you will find yourself in a rural beauty belying the fact so many died or were scarred only a short distance beyond. The second trail is the Final Attack trail taking you on foot over the ground that Burnside's troops now covered after their successful capture of the bridge.
Burnside Bridge and Antietam Creek
Burnside Bridge is a scene that is one of the most dramatic from all Civil War sites. Countless photographers and artists have tried to capture the timeless scene of the graceful stone arches over the quiet waters of Antietam Creek. Union commander Maj. Gen. George McClellan hoped that his IX Corps, under Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, would sweep against the Rebel right at the same time Hooker and Mansfield were attacking the Rebel left. To do so, Burnside first had to cross over Antietam Creek. Several Union regiments tried attacking over the bridge from 9 AM on - the bridge was held by two stubborn Georgian regiments - 500 Federal and 120 Rebel casualties resulted from the actions at this bridge. It wasn't until 1 PM that the Federals were finally able to push the Georgians aside - several Federal units were also threatening the Georgian rear by using fords further down the creek - fords they probably should have used earlier in the battle. The time won by the Georgians allowed Lee time to recover and meet the new Union threat at a time when fighting was quieting down in the other areas of the battle.
Cross the bridge on the far side and see the regimental monuments put up by Federal survivors - 2nd Maryland, 21st and 23rd Massachusetts, 11th Connecticut, 51st Pennsylvania (one of two units that hav two monuments here at Antietam) and 51st New York - the latter two regiments who finally stormed the bridge in tandem.
Monument to New York's Irish Brigade
Located next to the Battlefield Tower is the Irish Brigade Monument. Some say that it is possibly the last monument to be placed here at Antietam - being dedicated in 1997 - though the State of New Hampshire would have one think otherwise. The NPS has a policy of enough is enough with regard to battlefield monument in an effort to 'preserve' the battlefields and allowing a visitor to interpret the battlefield with the bias of monuments. Gettysburg can be an example of when there maybe too many monuments, but here at Antietam, it seems to me things have not gone overboard. The monuments help me get more interested in the smaller pictures of the battle and in visiting several battlefields, one can remember some of the individual units from the memorials that crop up. Here, the Irish Brigade is such an example.
The Irish Brigade was comprised of three New York regiments (New York 69th - which served in a more modern war recently in Iraq 2004-2005; New York 63rd and New York 88th) comprised of Irish Americans - many of whom hoped to comprise a future Irish army that could be used against continued occupation of Ireland by the United Kingdom. Other regiments were also to serve alongside the Irish at various times of the War, as well. Here, at Antietam, the Irish suffered losses of over 60% in unsuccessful attempts at dislodging the Rebels from the their Sunken Road position. Their efforts did continue to keep the pressure on until other efforts succeeded. The division commander for whom the Irish belonged, Maj. Gen. Israel Richardson, fell here shortly after the survivors of the Irish Brigade were withdrawn - he didn't die until a month later following his wounding from bursting artillery fire. His mortuary cannon stands mutely nearby. The Irish Brigade went on to more battles where casualties were again severe - Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg (where there is another memorial to the brigade).
Battlefield Tower and Irish Brigade Monument
At the end of Bloody Lane, rises a 300 foot high stone tower that was originally erected in 1896 by the War Department to give visiting Army officers a better chance to study the battle here at Antietam - the practice of the Staff Ride, where officers visit the battlefield to learn from the actions is carried on today both here at Antietam and at nearby Gettysburg. The tower was turned over to the Park Service in 1933 and now you, too, can go up and gain a better overall perspective of the battlefield and the terrain involved.
Monuments Line the Sunken/Bloody Lane
Leaving the Visitor Center northward, go right on Smoketown Rd and right again on Mumma Lane, passing Mumma Farm on your left. Turn left at the next intersection - Richardson Avenue and approach the next main contested ground - the Sunken Road, or as it was know after the battle, Bloody Lane.
As the Union II Corps advanced into battle, after crossing the Antietam Creek via fords near the Pry House, the lead division lost touch with the two other divisions behind. Corps commander, Maj. Gen. William Sumner was ahead with the first division, unaware the other two were not close behind. As a result, the lead division went on to get slaughtered in the West Woods. The other two veered off to the southwest and instead of supporting the lead division in the West Woods, they attacked the Rebel center defended by Maj. Gen. D. H. Hill. The Sunken Road - 'sunken' being a result of leading to a grist mill and years of heavy wagons moving over it - was a natural trench for the Rebel defenders, plus attacking Union soldiers had another cornfield to move through, plus a small hill to come out over, perfectly silhouetting them against the sky for the Confederate sharpshooters. The results were as bloody as the scenes earlier in the morning further to the north in the Cornfield, a little over a half mile away. Here, the battle raged for almost four hours until the Confederate line was broken following a mistaken withdrawal by a group within the Road. When that unit pulled out, Union troops were able to fire flanking fire down the Rebel lines within the Sunken Road with the Bloody Lane as the direct result. "The corn-fields in the front are strewn with their dead and wounded, and in the first ditch occupied by them, the bodies are so numerous that they seem to have fallen dead in line of battle, for their is a battalion of dead rebels." USA Brig. Gen Nathan Kimball.
Note the mortuary cannon for Confederate Brig. Gen George Anderson, killed when he climbed out of the Sunken Road to observe what was happening around him.
Visitor Center and the 20th NY Monument
For many, the Visitor Center will be the first stop in exploring the battlefield here at Antietam. Picking up the Park brochure, you can follow the map inside which gives the route of an 8.5 mile auto tour of the Park, including stops at some of the most important sites. Inside the Center, you can watch a couple of films which are regularly shown to further educate you on what happened here and why it is important. You can look through the exhibits, ask questions of the knowledgeable staff or join in on one of the Park ranger battlefield talks.
The restored Dunker Church at Antietam
Troops of Maj. Gen. Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson used the ground around the Dunker Church to fight off the attacks of the Union I Corps and later the XII Corps, which actually captured the ground for a short time. The church was heavily damaged by the battle and souvenir hunters afterwards. Eventually it fell down in a storm in 1921, but has been restored by the NPS. You can visit the interior and witness the simplicity which is inherent in the Dunker faith. Dunkers were of German heritage and were so-named for the way they performed baptisms - by total immersion, or dunking, as opposed to sprinkling of water.
Across the way, the proud Ohio State Monument soars in commemoration of the Ohioans who fought on the fields here by the Dunker Church and elsewhere on the battlefield of Antietam.
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