Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sharpsburg tour

The Battle of Sharpsburg, Md., on Sept. 17, 1862, was the bloodiest single day in American history. Antietam Creek flows east of the town, which is why the Yankees called the battle Antietam, and thus the site is now called Antietam National Battlefield Park.

I first visited the battlefield with my wife in 1989, and have since visited it several more times, especially since 2003, when we moved to Hagerstown, Md., about 15 miles north of Sharpsburg.

So it was great fun to tour the battlefield Monday with my friend Jeff Quinton, a South Carolina native who now lives in Baltimore and blogs at Inside Charm City.

Our first stop was at the Visitors Center where we went into the theater and watched the first ten minutes of a 30-minute video, "Antietam Visit." I'm sorry, but that video sucks. Instead of explaining the battle as such, the video instead focuses on Lincoln's post-battle visit to McClellan's headquarters. Boring.

We were so bummed out by the video I forgot to take Jeff into the museum, which is cool and very informative. Instead we went up to the observation room and then outside to get a view of the battlefield -- north to the Dunker Church, the Mumma Farm and the Cornfield, and then around south to the Sunken Road.

While we were walking over the Cornfield (site of the bloodiest carnage of the battle) Jeff stopped to Twitter a message to his friends telling them he was at this spot, which is quite famous among Civil War history buffs.

Just south of the Cornfield is the plaque commemorating Colquitt's Brigade, which included my great-grandfather's regiment, the 13th Alabama Infantry.

The Sunken Road -- also known as "Bloody Lane" -- was another scene of grim carnage. This photo of Jeff is shot looking west, and you can see the Sunken Road in the background.

It's a little less than 1 mile from the Cornfield to the Sunken Road, and so that part of the battlefield isn't hard to comprehend.

However, Burnside's Bridge, at the south end of the battlefield, is down in the creek valley about a mile and a half south of the Sunken Road, which has always made it difficult for me to arrange in my mental map of the landscape. It all seems logical when you see it on the map, but when I'm actually on the terrain, the southern edge of the battlefield seems some disconnected from the rest.

After we left Sharpsburg, we took a ride up to Turner's Gap on South Mountain, scene of a key battle on Sept. 14, 1862 (and Colquitt's Brigade also fought there). Then we went down the east side of the mountain and went in search of the monument to Union Gen. Jesse Reno, who was killed during the battle. We made a few wrong turns before finally finding it at Fox Gap, about a mile south of Turner's Gap.

The most amazing thing at Fox Gap was the North Carolina monument, which was dedicated in 2003. It's absolutely beautiful, but it's off in the middle of the woods and I doubt 1,000 people see it in a year. If you'll click on the picture to enlarge it, you'll see the base of the monument bears the Confederate motto, "Deo Vindice."

All in all, a very interesting day, and I got a mild sunburn out of it. During our tour, I got Jeff to shoot some video, but when I spliced the video segments together, the result was about 5 minutes long and more than 100MB, so I can't get it to upload properly. Maybe later.

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