Antietam by foot: Get out on the trails

All eyes now turn to Antietam… well those of us Civil War types at least.

If you’ve followed my trip reports since the early days of this blog, then you know I’m rather fond of the trails at Antietam.  I suspect most readers also know and love those trails.  But for those who haven’t been to Sharpsburg in recent years, access to the battlefield has changed – evolved – in the last decade.

Recall that when formed, the Antietam battlefield was built by way of easements along lanes.  Those touring the battlefield, be they Army staff officers or vacationing tourists, were bound to those roads on a concise driving tour emphasizing a rather neat morning-midday-afternoon phased interpretation.  Maybe this is a Ying-Yang thing, but the  “chapter-ed” interpretation and the early preservation efforts appear co-dependent to me.  Was the interpretation limited by the “Antietam Plan”?  Or was the “Antietam Plan” governed by the way the battlefield was interpreted?

Well, those old constructs are now being removed as contemporary historians identify the proper context and flow of the battle.  One factor aiding the full understanding of the Antietam battlefield is the gradual expansion beyond those easements of the “Antietam Plan.”  As we say often – to understand the battlefield you need to walk the battlefield.  That said, the battlefield at Antietam is now more accessible than when the National Park Service first took over the battlefield.  Not only has the park expanded to include farmland originally left out of official boundaries, the park has established a series of trails covering practically every corner of the battlefield.

This map, from 2011, does not depict a couple of other segments which have gone in this year.  A new trail connects the Zouaves monument with Branch Avenue.  There’s also an extension to the Joseph Poffenberger Farm off Mansfield Avenue.  One can easily set a day long hike agenda, leaving the car behind, and see this entire field on foot.

And one should get out and see this field on foot!

Even if you don’t attend the ranger led hikes later this month, on your next visit to Antietam, get out on the trails for your self-led tour.  Grab up a copy of the Trailhead Graphics Antietam map.  Print out cropped copies of the old War Department atlas of the battle.   Armed with those, you’ll see how “connected” this battlefield really is.

Antietam 25 Aug 12 030
Tidball’s Artillery position… with the Sunken Lane Tower in the distance

Instead of seeing some distinct “morning-midday-afternoon” phases, you’ll see how the actions on the field occurred with a great deal of proximity – both on the map and on the clock.  You’ll also see how the terrain played into the flow of the battle.

So if you visit Antietam this sesquicentennial month, get out there and walk the trails.  The walk is worth double the energy you will expend.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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