Last Saturday Brenda and I took a drive to Martinsburg, WV to visit my son Alan. Despite the cold, gloomy weather, we decided to detour to the Antietam Civil War battlefield outside of Sharpsburg, MD on our way home. I’ll leave the Civil War History to people far more knowledgeable than me but I will say that Antietam is the single bloodiest battle in American History. Over 23,000 Americans (Union and Confederate) died during the 12 hour battle on September 17, 1862. This exceeds even the death toll from D-Day on which somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 Americans perished.
The battlefield’s focal point is the Visitor Center. The Visitor Center’s Theater offers a 26 minute documentary entitled “Antietam Visit” every hour, on the hour. This film recreates the battle as well as President Abraham Lincoln’s visit to General George McClellan, the Union Commander. There is also a new, one hour documentary about the battle that’s narrated by James Earl Jones. This film is shown daily at noon.
Because of the time of day, Brenda and I had to choose between seeing “Antietam Visit” or listening to the Ranger Talk”. We’ll return someday for the movie but we’re both glad we chose to hear from the ranger. Due to the poor weather, there were very few people at the Visitor Center and Brenda and I were the only ones to show up for Ranger
Mannie Gentile’s talk. The talk was held at the Visitor Center’s observation room which offers a spectacular 270 degree panorama of the battlefield and the surrounding country. Mannie spent 20 minutes telling us about the battle and what it meant to America. We learned more from him than we could have learned by spending an entire day reading history books or internet articles. We came away understanding that Robert E. Lee knew he couldn’t win the war without intervention from European leaders. By staging, and winning a major battle on Union turf, Lee believed he could convince England and France to enter the war on the Confederate side. The Union victory at Antietam gave President Abraham Lincoln the confidence to deliver the Emancipation Proclomation on September 22. Since most European Countries had recently banned slavery, England and France were in the position of not being able support the Confederacy. Although it would take almost two more years, The Battle of Antietam was the beginning of the end of the Civil War.
The Antietam Battlefield’s Visitor Center also hosts a small museum with murals depicting the battle and a limited number of battle artifacts and a very well stocked gift shop. The Visitor Center’s fee is $4.00 for an individual and $6.00 for a family. Winter hours are daily from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM and summer hours are somewhat extended. The Visitor Center is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. If you visit on a nice day, don’t forget your picnic basket because the Battlefield has a very nice picnic area.
Map of the Battlefield Area: