After our talk with Mannie, Brenda and I hit the road on the 8.5 mile self-guided auto tour of the battlefield. Here are some of the highlights:
This modest church was built by the German Bretheren Baptists in 1852. Known as the “Dunkers”, these people were pacifists and didn’t fight in the war. The Confederate Army surrounded the church with cannon making it a focal point of several Union attacks during the battle. Dunker Church was destroyed during a windstorm in 1921. The effort to rebuild the church from many of the original materials was finished in 1961.
Much of the carnage of the battle took place in this 24 acre cornfield. The battle between Union Forces led by Generals Joseph Hooker General Joseph K. F. Mansfield and Confederate forces led by General “Stonewall” Jackson battled for over three hours and thousands were killed. Mannie Gentile told me that the cornfield changed hands between 14 and 24 times during the battle. As you look at my picture, keep in mind that in September, the corn is as high as an elephant’s eyes, making visibility difficult if not impossible. Nobody knows for sure but there were probably many “friendly” casualties at the cornfield.
The burning of Samuel Mumma’s Farm was the only deliberate destruction of property during the battle. Confederate soldiers were ordered to burn the farm to prevent Union snipers from using it as cover. This quote comes from the Antietam Battlefield’s website: “I do not see how any of us got out alive. The shot and shell fell about us thick and fast, I can tell you, but I did not think much about getting shot after the first volley.” The farm was rebuilt in 1863 and still stands today. The nearby cemetery houses the remains of Samuel Mumma and many other members of his family.
At first glance the “Sunken Road” looks like a great place to lie in wait for the enemy. That’s exactly what 2,200 Confederate Soldiers did. The road is six
feet lower than the surrounding land which left the Confederates very well concealed. A force of 10,000 Union soldiers attacked the road and the Confederates (reinforced to 6,000 men) held for over three hours. Finally, Union solders attacked from the south and were able to cut down the Confederate forces like sitting ducks. Finally, just after noon, what was left of the Confederate force withdrew to a nearby farm.
A mere 500 Confederate soldiers held General Ambrose Burnside’s much larger Union force at bay at the Lower Bridge for three hours. The Confederates were positioned where I took my picture from and had a “birds eye” view of everything Burnside tried to do. Finally, Burnside won the numbers game and captured the bridge forcing the Confederates to retreat back toward Sharpsburg and their potential escape across the Potomac River to Virginia. Burnside has been heavily criticized for his performance at Lower Bridge despite the fact that the Confederate force was positioned almost directly above him.
No visit to Antietam is complete without a visit to the Antietam National Cemetery. This cemetery is the final resting place for 4,776 Union soldiers along with the dead from four other wars.
It’s interesting that the Confederate dead were removed to be buried in Hagerstown and Frederick, MD and Shepherdstown, WV. No Confederate soldiers are buried in the National Cemetery.
I found the hallowed grounds at Antietam to be very inspiring. I thought about September 17, 1862 and I thought about all the battles that brave Americans have fought in my lifetime. This visit is my way of thanking them for all they’ve done. I hope you choose to visit too.