Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Antietam Battlefield and a Sad Farewell

    My wife and I were invited down to Maryland for our grand nephew's graduation from High School. His mother passed away a little over a year ago. My wife and her niece were very close, so we took the week off to go. Besides his graduation, his father retired from the Aberdeen Police Department after 26 years service.  As his son plans to join the Air Force, Larry has decided to move back to Mississippi to be close to his family. In the years we visited them, I came to love the area. And while there I would visit a bookstore in Havre De Grace that was mainly a history with a very large military history section.  When I went to visit it this time, the store was no longer there. The building was completely empty, not even any bookcases. At that point the finality of my time visiting Maryland hit me.

    I did tell my wife that one day I was going to visit the Antietam battlefield. When we did go, besides Donna, Larry, his son, and another grand nephew came along.  When we arrived, the first thing that struck me is the undulating ground of the entire battlefield. It makes it quite easy to realize why the battle tended to have units blundering into each other. Also, it is easy to see that commanding an army on this ground would be extremely difficult to control. Of course, the fact of how far McClellan's HQ was from the field itself wouldn't help the matter.
The Dunker Church. This is a replacement; the original blew down during a storm in 1921.

The line where 1st Corps lined up on at the start of the battle.

"The Cornfield" from where the Union troops would have entered it from.

The Pennsylvania monument in the West Woods. Larry stands at the base of it.

The ground the 2nd Corps crossed when approaching "the Sunken Road". Between the two trees can be seen a black line. That is the fence line delineating  the Sunken Road.

The Sunken Road. The photo doesn't do justice to what a great defense line this was.  The road  is about five feet deep.  The left side of the road is the direction the Union troops came in from.

The Burnside Bridge, from the Confederates vantage point.

Donna stands at the end of the bridge. You can see the ridge line the Confederates  fired from in the background. The bridge is wide enough for 4 men to cross abreast.

Unfortunately I forgot to bring my good camera and had to use my cellphone to take the pictures.

Larry is a big history buff, and I got to play tour guide filling him in with "interesting information". He seemed to be totally engrossed in the entire story of Antietam; unfortunately everyone else lost interest once they realized they were going to be looking at pretty landscape, and not seeing a reenactment.They spent the time playing on their cellphones!


  1. Life does move on, both good and bad, with us or without us.

    There is nothing like walking an old battlefield that you have read about to get a better feel for it.

    I've been to Gettysburg as a side trip to Cold Wars and driven past Brandywine when it was closed but never made the effort to go the extra miles to Antietam. Always short on time!

  2. I've been watching the movie "Tombstone" quite a bid recently. The best line to me is when Doc Holliday tells Wyatt "There is no normal life, Wyatt: there's just life." The last couple of years we have lost too many close friends.

    I've been to Gettysburg,too. Looking at the ground Picketts Charge took place on, it is incredible that the Confederates actually reached the Union line.

  3. Thank you John. This was really interesting. I totally agree with your point about walking a battle field to truly appreciate the difficulties. As wargamers we are so used to fighting across flat terrain and having a birds eye view of the battlefield that we totally forget that normal real life terrain can hide an army.

  4. The tour center at the battlefield has a large panoramic window at the top of it. A park ranger gives a lecture of the battle, pointing out the different key parts of the battle.The lecture hall is on the second floor of the building. Of course, you only can see about half the battlefield.As he explained how different units blundered into each other, it was easy to see why it happened. Once the battle began, at least on the Union side, this battle was fought by the brigade, division and corps commanders. With McClellans HQ behind the lines, I believe he lost direct command of the army once the battle was joined. There is an observation tower on the field. I went to the top, and there, in the middle of the day, was a deer feeding, perhaps 200 yards from the tower. When I got to the bottom of the tower, I tried to find the deer. The folds in the ground hid the deer from sight on the ground. This trip does have me thinking of how to recreate such conditions playing solo games.

  5. Unfortunately, besides maybe the picture from the Burnside Bridge looking towards the Confederates line, the pictures don't capture the difficulty of the terrain facing the two armies.