Where Walking the Field Pays Off: Southern Half of Antietam Battlefield

As fellow blogger Harry Smeltzer recovers from yesterday’s outing, I’m assimilating the experiences and information from the full day spent on the trails at Antietam.

Outstanding attendance, more than I’ve seen in previous years.  I don’t have the totals, but there must have been 80 or so at the morning start for the cornfield walk at 7 am.  My estimate on the 9 am tour was over 125.  And I must say while us old guys were in full attendance, the audience had a large number of younger folks.  Perhaps the Civil War enthusiast community is not aging out as some have predicted.

Morning rains prevented the rangers from hitting all the points for the morning hike. But as skies cleared in the afternoon, we covered the southern portion of the field, and we were treated to some of the field’s “off the beaten path” locations.  All better, as I find the southern half of the field more interesting (and much overlooked by historians).

As I review my photos, this one stands out as a reference point for further study:

Antietam 17 Sept 11 030

This photo was taken from the ridge line just northeast of the Burnside Bridge.  Just right of center is a white house which, I think, is the house at the stone mill.  Just below and to the right is the Sherrick Farm.

To the left of center is the Sharpsburg water tower, a convenient modern landmark.  In that direction is the Hawkins Zouaves monument, on the far ridge.  To the left of that, across the open fields, is the area where the final Confederate counterattack of the day, led of course by General A.P. Hill, crashed into the Federal Ninth Corps.

I’ve captured this line of sight against one of the Antietam Battlefield Board maps, showing the action at about 4:20 PM:

antietam-LowerBridge-marked

The green dot is the location where the photo was taken and the arrows showing the field of view.

Lots of wiggly terrain contour lines on the map.  Those tighten up near Antietam Creek where everyone knows the ground is steep.  But what isn’t fully grasped by the casual examination, is the presence of several additional ravines and elevations between the creek and where the final action took place.  Even the line of sight, in the photo above, conceals the elevation changes.

Here’s a view just 300 yards west of the first photo, on the west side of Antietam Creek:

Antietam 17 Sept 11 038

For emphasis, to get from the first site to this location, the visitor must walk down to Antietam Creek, cross the Burnside Bridge, and then walk up about 110 to 120 feet in elevation.  On that September day in 1862, from the position above the attacking force had to march down and back up a couple more times just to get in position to attack Sharpsburg. And of course that movement was far from “uncontested.”

Our ranger guides summed this up best – it was the terrain just as much as the Confederates that defeated Burnside’s Ninth Corps that afternoon.

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One response to “Where Walking the Field Pays Off: Southern Half of Antietam Battlefield

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