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Civil War Tour: Antietam National Battlefield

Photography: James T. Parks

To this day in the 21st century, September 17, 1862 remains the bloodiest single day in American history. After Robert E. Lee’s victory at the Battle of 2nd Manassas, he launched the South’s first invasion of the North, which became known as the Maryland Campaign. The Army of the Potomac, under George McClelland and Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia faced off at Sharpsburg, MD near Antietam Creek on that fateful September day. After the fighting was over, history records American casualties totaling almost 23,000 men.

In the morning, Union forces attacked first on the Confederate left flank through a Cornfield, which was largely leveled by the fusillade of bullets fired from both sides. The second Union assault charged the Confederate center, where bodies piled high in a sunken road, becoming known as “Bloody Lane.” In the third assault, later that afternoon, Union forces flooded across Antietam Creek at a stone bridge, which later gained the nickname, “Burnside’s Bridge.” The Union Corp Commander was Ambrose Burnside. In terms of gains and losses, the battle was essentially a draw. When McClellan failed to renew the attack on the following day, Lee withdrew back to Virginia, enabling Lincoln to claim a victory. The President issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation five days later.

The Antietam Battlefield has been preserved to appear much the same as it did in 1862. Our tour begins at the Visitor Center, where a wide panoramic view of the battlefield provides an overall context of the armed struggle. Afterward, tour participants ride their mounts on dedicated paved roads through the three major sections of the battlefield, stopping at each location. A climb to the top of the observation tower provides an aerial view of the entire battlefield’s rolling landscape. In addition to the historical stops of Day 2, the byways in this bucolic section of Maryland are a delight to experience in their own right.

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