Fred and Jan's Excellent Adventure 2008 travel blog

After making a short side trip back to West Virginia to get another ABC picture, we spent the day exploring Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland to learn about the horrible battle there on September 17, 1862. Fred chose a delightful route to get to the park, traveling on some small country roads from Pennsylvania that took us through a small covered bridge and for awhile into both Catoctin Mountain Park, run by the national park service, and Maryland’s Cunningham Falls State Park; both were so pretty with forested areas, more rocky streams, and fishermen fishing at catch and release locations. We also rode past tons of bright orange turk’s cap lilies lining the sides of the back roads, alternately through forested areas and by pastures with grazing cattle, some soybean and corn fields, by stone homes, traditional barns with tall silos, and many types of fences: stone fences, the traditional five rail vertical post style, and the 19th century zigzag style. We could see the long South Mountain, part of the northern Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance as we rode into Sharpsburg. At Antietam, also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg, we viewed two excellent orientation films, enjoyed a picnic lunch at the Visitor Center, learned how Clara Barton was deemed the “angel of the battlefield” for her efforts to help both Union and Confederate wounded, and toured a small museum which focused on several large diorama paintings created shortly after the battle by an artist who witnessed the scenes. We were then mesmerized for over two hours by a ranger who led us on a driving tour all over the battlefield; he was so knowledgeable and passionate about giving us both sides of the story. With over 23,000 casualties, Antietam was the bloodiest one day battle of the war. During the tour, we stood at the cornfield battleground, walked on Bloody Lane at another sunken road battleground, and learned about the last battle area at Lower Bridge which crosses Antietam Creek. At the cornfields, thousands on both sides died; at the sunken road, it was mostly Union troops who died, but the South also lost many men there as well. The North almost won at the bridge, but the Confederates finally pushed Burnside back. The battle was tactically a stalemate, but since Lee retreated back across the Potomac after the battle, the Union was considered victorious, and General McClellan claimed such to President Lincoln. We learned that the effects and lasting impact of this battle were widespread: it reshaped the logistics of field medicine, made feasible the Emancipation Proclamation on September 20, 1862, influenced how Europe would perceive the war, and also how the nation would memorialize battlefields in the future. Antietam National Cemetery, created as a burial ground, soon became a place of national remembrance as well. I know Fred and I will remember what we learned at all the Civil war sites we’ve visited the past few weeks. We will spend the next few days touring Gettysburg, and I am sure that will bring even more lasting memories.

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