Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Battle of Antietam

With a free day on the long weekend we decided to pick back up on our sight seeing adventures. 

We chose to visit Antietam to learn the history of the Battle of Antietam (or the Battle of Sharpsburg if you are from the South). 

This was the bloodiest battle of the civil war and the first on Union Soil.  General Lee was looking for a victory on Union soil to give a boost to the Confederate cause after winning in Manassas, Virginia. A move to northern soil would also give some of the South time to harvest crops and salvage what they could of their war torn states. 
There were more American casualties on this day, September 17,1862 than any other day in military history. The Union troops equaled 75,500 and the Confederates had only 38,000. Neither side had any idea how many the other had, the Union had grossly overestimated how many Confederate soldiers there were and the Confederates had grossly under estimated the Union side. The battle lasted all day, civilians had fled their homes and farms to flee the fighting, many came home to find nothing, their homes burned, their fields and crops trampled and littered with dead from both sides, broken cannons, dead animals, absolute devastation. Many later wrote that when they returned home all they had to live on for several days were army rationed crackers that they were able to find left behind or found with the dead. 

 This is how Antietam looks today, not to different than it did in 1862. The same farms are there, re-built and occupied. It is quite a small area and hard to imagine over 100,000 troops flooding these fields and fighting. When I visit these places I am struck by the relatively small area and the very little amount of cover that any soldier would have had. Many of the fallen soldiers were killed in a small cornfield and a narrow stretch of land that came to be known as Bloody Lane.

 Above is Bloody Lane where many soldiers were killed. When walking and driving through these battlefields there are monuments everywhere, generally placed there by a state to commemorate and honor their soldiers who fought there.
Burnside's Bridge 
The last part of the battle occurred just over this bridge. The Confederates were located on the far side of this bridge, the Union where we stood to take this picture. The Confederates held the high ground and by all accounts had the upper hand here, but it was their last strong hold, their only way out of Antietam was to flee from this bridge and back across the Potomac three miles away. Ultimately that is what happened. The Union soldiers charged across this bridge, losing many on the way as they charged directly into the Confederate canons and barrage of gun fire. The Union took heavy casualties, some units suffering almost total losses. Total number of casualties for the day, 22,719 troops. It would take months to bury the dead. Some soldiers who fought here marched through on their way to battle one year later and recalled that they came upon remains after remains that were buried in hasty shallow graves and were now being exposed, it was very haunting for many of them.

What a great place to live, I feel like we are living in history's back yard.

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