Natural Beauty and Heartrending Tragedy Combine for an Unforgettable Experience
Dead men tell no tales, and on September 17, 1862 there were over 4,000 tales that would never be told.
In rural western Maryland lies Antietam National Battlefield. There you’ll find gently rolling countryside, dense woods teaming with wildlife and the site of the American Civil War’s bloodiest one-day battle.
During the fierce fighting that raged for 12 hours, the number of dead, wounded or missing Union and Confederate soldiers totaled more than 23,000; the largest single-day casualty count in American history. But this staggering statistic is one part of the story of Antietam. First, and foremost, is the recognition that each individual soldier was someone’s husband, son, father, brother or friend.
Beyond the casualty count are stories of selflessness, heroism, brutality and plain dumb luck. The latter involved a copy of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s plans dropped by a courier and found by two Union soldiers. The plan, stuffed in an envelope and wrapped around three cigars, gave Union General George Mclellan the exact location of Lee’s army.
The Battle of Antietam also saw medical breakthroughs. Union Army Doctor Jonathan Letterman created triage, centralized field care and employed field ambulances, none of which had ever been used on a battlefield before.
Another first came courtesy of photographer, Alexander Gardner. Because of the enormous number of bodies still lying out in the open days after the battle, he arrived before even a fraction could be buried. Thus enabling Gardner to take the first battlefield photographs; showing unburied corpses. For the first time, the public saw the true cost of war, which forever altered its perception in the minds of the American people.
These facts and more can be explored at Antietam National Battlefield. First watch an introductory film narrated by James Earl Jones at the Visitors Center. Next view approximately two-thirds of the battlefield from the observation room and discover museum artifacts. One of the daily talks by Park Rangers will give you an excellent overview of the battle and its aftermath.
Then get up close and personal with the battlefield itself. On a misty overcast day much like September 17, 1862, my husband and I slowly drove the eight-and-a-half mile battlefield in our car, listening to a CD. At each of the 11 stops on the audio tour, we digested factual and disturbing information about what took place.
If you opt for this tour, allow time to get out of the car and walk the land. The Corn Field and the Sunken Road are especially haunting, as some of the heaviest fighting took place in these areas. Climb the tower at one end of the Sunken Road for a stunning 360 degree view of the landscape.
A 375 mile (six-and-a-half hour) drive from New Bern, Antietam National Battlefield is one of the best preserved of the Civil War, and well worth the effort.
If You Go
Hours: Open year round 9:00am to 5:00pm
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Entrance Fee: $5 per individual or $10 for a family
The America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass – age 62 or older – can be obtained at the park for $10. This is a lifetime pass for US citizens providing access to, and use of, Federal recreation sites charging an entrance fee.
Tour CDs are available from the book store, or you can hire a licensed battlefield guide for a more personalized experience.
GPS Address for Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center:
5831 Dunker Church Road
Sharpsburg, Maryland, 21782.
Phone: 301-432-5124 or visit: NPS.gov/Anti
By Contributing Author: Penny Zibula, Six Legs Will Travel