Antietam National Battlefield – The Battle and Afterwards


There’s a picture of Antietam Creek, above.

Antietam means “Swift River” in a Native American language but to most Americans, it means the bloodiest one-day battle in the Civil War-23,000 killed. Not even D-Day had as many casualties. Antietam National Battlefield in Western Maryland is just minutes from Shepherdstown, WV where I’m staying. I drove over the Potomac Bridge and went through Sharpsburg, MD.

Ranger Keith Snyder gave a dramatic, inspiring talk about the battle. As we looked out the huge glass walls, he reminded the audience that people lived and farmed here. Most were pro-union, though the state of Maryland was divided on the issue.

September 17, 1862. The two armies met on this quiet open rolling landscape with a couple of farms growing corn. Robert E. Lee decided to fight a battle here for a couple of reasons. It was right after the second battle of Manassas and the South was winning the war, so it was time to move north. He wanted to give Virginia a break—two thirds of the Civil War was fought in Virginia and he wanted to draw the battle away from Washington.

Lee divided his army and sent some soldiers to Harpers Ferry to liberate it from Union hands. And this is where Ranger Snyder gets more dramatic as he talks about the minute-by-minute strategy. In fact, the battlefield and pamphlets are divided into morning, mid-day and afternoon. After all those losses on both sides, the outcome is indecisive. But President Lincoln decides that the North has won and issues the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Ranger Snyder ends the story here. But not me.

ANTI-landscapeThe park offers an 8.5-mile drive with 11 stops. The roads are lined with monuments from all the states. A couple of farms have been saved and locals rent out the space to grow crops and graze their stock. There are short walks from almost every stop. Most visitors seem to drive through and slow down just to read a couple signs. It feels like going around Cades Cove with Northerners. In Cades Cove, many people never get out of their cars but at least they pull over when someone wants to pass.

ANTI-ObservationtowerBut as always, I want to know what happened to the battlefield after 1862? In 1890, the War Department saved five battlefields to train soldiers. As the museum sign said, “The most significant artifact is the landscape.” Antietam was then 65 acres; now it’s over 3,000 acres. The War Department built an Observation Tower where you can survey the whole battlefield.

In 1933, all battlefields were transferred from the War Department to the national Park Service to preserve and protect our nation’s history.

This is a good place to end as I wish everyone a Happy Veterans Day!

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