Thursday, March 17, 2011

Antietam

Last weekend we drove up to Antietam, the site of a Civil War battle that was the deadliest one day battle in American history. What started as a Confederate push into Maryland by General Lee in 1862 culminated into a 12 hour battle on September 17, 1862 where 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, or went missing.

This is a picture taken on the battlefield in the days after the battle by Alexander Gardner. It was the first time during the war that dead bodies were photographed and the people in the North who saw the pictures in the newspapers said they felt like the dead had been placed at their front doors.

The building in this picture is the Dunker Church. It was destroyed by wind in the early 1900's, but has since been rebuilt. It's not an active church anymore and is pretty bare inside (we got to go in), but interestingly enough, the day we visited the battlefield a wedding took place inside. I guess if you are a really big history buff...

It was a beautiful day when we visited and we were glad to be able to take a couple hikes around the battlefield and enjoy the weather and appreciate the history. Whenever I used to think of a battlefield for some reason I'd image a big field where you could see everything that took place right there. I've now come to realize how silly that is. These battles took place over miles of countryside, farms and sometimes even in the small towns. Visiting all these years later it's hard to image this peaceful place was witness to so much destruction.
The above picture collage pictures are taken from a lookout tower on the battlefield. It was built well after the battle but provided a great view for looking at all the areas of the battlefield.

Below is Robert and Julia in the visitor's center, checking out a drum and Julia wearing a Union military hat.
Below is the Burnside Bridge, one of the more recognizable landmarks from the battlefield, as seen at the time of the battle and the day we visited. It was named after the general that commanded the Union troops at the bridge, General Burnside (with conveniently distinctive side-burns). His troops were successful in seizing control of the bridge after fighting the Confederate troops for around three hours. The bridge was vital to get Union troops across the river to where the rest of the battle was taking place. The Confederate troops who were holding the bridge actually did a good job holding them off for that long because they were far outnumbered. Since the Confederate troops had the high ground and bunkers to fire from they were able to hold off the Union troops long enough for more Confederate troops to arrive from Harper's Ferry as reinforcements.

We downloaded a couple podcasts that you are suppose to listen to as you walk around some of the hiking loops in the battlefield, so we hiked a loop around Burnside Bridge and then another one nearby called the Final Attack. I'm glad I found the website with the podcasts before we went because it really added to the experience to hear so much detail about the battle as we were there, and it was free!
The bottom left picture is of the Antietam National Cemetery, the last stop of our trip. It was dedicated five years after the battle. All the Union troops buried in various places around the battlefield were dis-interred and laid to rest in this cemetery (Confederate troops were re-interred in three other cemeteries around the area).

The battle ultimately had no clear winner that day. The next day no fighting continued as both sides took care of their wounded and buried their dead. Then the Confederate troops withdrew and retreated back to Virginia, so the Union claimed victory since they had succeeded in stopping General Lee's push into Maryland. President Lincoln then took the opportunity to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.



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