On September 17, 1862, dawn broke through the fog and brought a terrible battle to the once tranquil farmlands of western Maryland. The bloodiest one-day battle in American history, the Battle of Antietam would change the course of the Civil War and spur President Abraham Lincoln to deliver the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Walk in soldiers' footsteps and take in stories of incredible bravery and sacrifice at Antietam National Battlefield near the Washington Heritage Trail.
While several notable Civil War figures were present at the Battle of Antietam, including General Robert E. Lee and Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, you can find inspiring stories of heroism in some humble and unlikely places. Consider 15-year old Private John Cook, a bugler with the 4th U.S. Artillery Regiment. He volunteered to act as an artillery gunner after most of the others in his unit had been killed. Taking the ammunition pouch from a fallen artilleryman, Cook serviced the cannons and stood his ground under heavy enemy fire. Cook later received the Medal of Honor for his gallantry at Antietam.
On the northern end of the field, where over 25,000 men in blue and gray engaged in fierce battle, a monument now stands to honor Clara Barton. Losses for both sides were staggering - thousands were killed or wounded in the fighting at the infamous "Cornfield." After delivering a wagonload of bandages and other medical supplies to surgeons, Miss Barton went to work caring for wounded soldiers in the field. As she knelt and cradled the head of one man to give him a drink of water, a bullet passed through her sleeve and killed him. Undaunted, she moved on, an "angel of the battlefield" helping medical teams and tending to the wounded long after the last shot of the battle had been fired.
These and many other stories are told at Antietam National Battlefield. Drive the tour road for great views of the Battlefield, or follow soldiers' footsteps on one of several hiking trails for a more intimate Battlefield experience. Stop at monuments along the way to discover more stories of heroism. Visit in September when the National Park Service commemorates the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. To truly comprehend the scale of the battle, attend the Memorial Illumination on the first Saturday in December and view the Battlefield lit by the light of over 23,000 candles - one for each soldier killed, wounded, or missing at the Battle of Antietam. Visit the National Park Service website to plan your trip to Antietam National Battlefield, a place where thousands of men and women performed acts of bravery and sacrifice in the name of homeland and liberty.
- Copyright © May 2010 Jen Goellnitz.
- Copyright © 2010 woodleywonderworks.
- Copyright © 2008 George L. Smyth.