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:
The view from the 20th New York Monument was equally impressive with the lighting.
Ranger Mannie Gentlie was kind enough to snap a photo of our 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.