Outstanding Day at Antietam!

Early this morning a made the weather check.  Looked like a rain day for the 147th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam.  But what do the weathermen know?

It was an OUTSTANDING day to be on the trails.  Temperatures remained moderate.  Cool, not cold.  And barely a few sprinkles of rain all day.

At my first steps out of the car, I was met with a layering of clouds, coupled with natures equivalent of back lighting.  Here’s a view of the Sunken Road from the Visitor Center this morning:

Start of the Day
Start of the Day

The view from the 20th New York Monument was equally impressive with the lighting.

Morning Overcast at the 20th New York Monument
Morning Overcast at the 20th New York Monument

Ranger Mannie Gentlie was kind enough to snap a photo of our trail group.

Trail Group
Trail Group

Down front you see our National Park Service Ranger guides – Kieth Snyder, Brian Baracz, and John Hoptak.  I’ve conversed with John through his 48th Pennsylvania blog, and it was good to finally meet him in person.

Here’s Mannie, working up a set of photos:

Mannie Far Afield
Mannie in the Field

The morning half of trail day was spent, logically, on the northern section of the field where most of the morning fighting occurred.  At several locations we stood on the actual ground where the events were being described occurred 147 years earlier… to nearly the minute.  Normally I’d break down the trip, stop by stop.  But first off, there were by my count twelve stops.  Second off, mark it on your calendar for next year, as you should really experience the tour in person.

The “theme” topic offered this year during the Ranger presentations was the Medal of Honor awards from the battle.  At each stop, we were offered the stories behind those awards.

The afternoon half covered the southern part of the field, mostly the V and IX Corps sectors.  The terrain on that part of the battlefield is more strenuous on the hiker, but worth the time.  Most visitors doing the “drive by” end up passing up several interesting points in route to the Burnside Bridge.  One of those stops I suggest is the Final Attack trail.

Final Attack Trail - Artillery Ridge Stop
Final Attack Trail - Artillery Ridge Stop

Everyone recalls the arrival of A.P. Hill.  Few recount that drama of that event was in response to the advance of Burnside’s IX Corps across the valley beyond the trees in the photo above.  As John Hoptak pointed out at the stop, this was the only point on the field that any corps commander aligned and advanced an entire command with a coordinated plan.  And the attack nearly succeeded.  “Hard Luck” Burnside.

Another advantage to these anniversary hikes at Antietam is one often gets to see places that are normally off limits.  This year Mr. and Mrs. King, owners of the Stone Mill along the modern Burnside Bridge Road, allowed our group to visit the mill.

Stone Mill
Stone Mill

The creek that feeds the mill forms a draw with high ground north and south.  In the afternoon, around 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., elements of Jenkins’ Confederate Brigade held the ground around the mill.  To the north was Garnett’s Brigade, in and near what is today the National Cemetery.  To the south were Drayton’s and Kemper’s Brigades holding the high ground where the Zouaves Monument now stands.  Into the draw, parts of Wilcox’s Federal Division advance as part of Burnside’s general assault.  With the mill standing a few hundred yards from Sharpsburg and the Harpers Ferry Road, this was certainly important ground.

The original Burnside Bridge Road, or more accurately the Rohrbach Road, actually passed beside the mill.  A trace of that road exists today, passing between the mill and the miller’s house.  The portion seen here is the paved driveway.  Just past the trees, the road trace is unpaved and continues for about fifty feet.

Original Road Trace
Original Road Trace

From the mill site, our hike traced back up to the National Cemetery for a closing.  There our guides reminded us not only of the magnitude of the battle, and the impact on the course of the war, but also two important current events.  Today an unknown soldier, who’s remains were found last year in the cornfield, was properly laid to rest in Saratoga National Cemetery, New York.   Such serves as a link for us to the events which occurred 147 years ago.

Second, also today President Obama awarded, posthumously, Sergeant Jared Monti the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan in 2006.  Rather fitting on a day we remember for so much valor, heroism, and bravery at a battle 147-years ago, that we also honor one who demonstrated those same qualities during more recent events.

September 17

As I prepare for a Antietam anniversary visit to hit the trails, one of my thoughts is toward the quirk of fate that brought the two armies together on September 17.   Consider for a moment some important September 17ths in American history:

September 17, 1630 – the city of Boston was founded by the Puritans.  One of their number, John Winthrop, is known for the famous “City upon a Hill” sermon (given at a later date of course).

September 17, 1787 – the U.S. Constitution is presented for ratification, with the preamble mentioning the desire to “form a more perfect union.”

September 17, 1814 – Francis Scott Key completed what became the Star Spangled Banner.

September 17, 1862 – The battle of Antietam – the field I will walk today – was fought, leading to the Emancipation Proclamation among other things.

September 17, 1944 – American and British paratroopers land in Holland in an unsuccessful operation to, in addition to freeing that nation from occupation, bring a war against fascism to a close.

September 17, 1983 – Vanessa Williams, an African-American, is crowned Miss America.

I leave it to the reader to draw connections and opinions, and keep mine offline.  But it is interesting how events often intersect in time.