The Bloodiest Day in American Histtory
Overview: Fought on September 17, 1862, there were more American casualties, Federal and Confederate, on a single day, than any day before or since, including Gettysburg, Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, or even 9-11.
History: I could not begin to describe the ebb & flow of the battle here in the hike description, but in general terms the intent of Lee's Maryland Campaign was to obtain supplies and damage Union morale ahead of the mid-term elections. Almost immediately on the defensive, the Confederates were pushed back, west, from Frederick, MD, through South Mountain, towards the small village of Sharpsburg, around which the battle was fought. McClellan sought to cut Lee off from re-crossing the Potomac River, but committed his forces piecemeal. Still, the Confederates were on the ropes until the mid-afternoon arrival of A.P. Hill, straight off a 17-mile force march from Harpers Ferry, WV, saved the day. In 10 hours of fighting, there were 22,717 casualties, including 3,654 KIA. McClellan, always over-estimating Confederate strength, did not press his 3:1 manpower advantage, allowing Lee to slip away the next day. McClellan's lack of aggressiveness led to his ouster two months later. But the most important result of the battle was five days later, when as direct consequence of the Union victory, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Hike: There are many miles of trails on the battlefield. This hike links the various trails together in a sequence which follows that of the battle. If you begin at 7:00 a.m., and take your time, you will hit each of the battle's important points at the same time of day they historically occurred. The battlefield can also be driven, but it is only by walking it -- seeing how subtle elevation changes make a huge difference in line-of-sight, tactics, etc. -- that you can really appreciate why Antietam happened as it did. If you are in the area, and don't have a full day, all the trails can each be hiked in about an hour.
0.0 mi.: This hike begins at the North Woods parking area, following the Cornfield Trail for about a mile to the Indiana State Monument. In the Cornfield's 1/8th square mile, there were thousands of casualties.
1.0 mi.: Cross Dunker Church Rd., onto the West Woods Trail. At the 15th Massachusetts Monument, turn east towards the Philadelphia Brigade Monument. You could continue on the West Woods Trail to the Dunker Church, but the Philadelphia Brigade Monument is not to be missed. Continue east on the access road, turn south on Dunker Church Rd, until you arrive at the church. Feel free to go inside: It is no longer used for worship. (Or, as I did, to get out of the rain.) After visiting the church, cross the road to the Maryland Monument, following the curving path to the New York, monument, then the Visitor's Center. (Entrance is $4/person; $6/family.) There is a short, well done, movie about the battle, filmed using re-enactors on the actual terrain. There is also a museum, souvenir shop, and bathroom.
2.0 mi.: Head straight across the field behind the Visitor Center -- it's allowed -- towards the gap in the split rail fence. Turn left on the road towards Mumma Farm, where you will pick up Bloody Lane Trail. Pass by the Roulette Farm, turning south by a line of woods. Note the hill in front of you, shielding you from Confederate guns. As you walk up the hill, note how the confederate line comes into view on your left. When you crest the hill, in full view of the entire Bloody Lane, you are less than 100 yards from Confederate guns. When you reach Bloody Lane, walk up it to the tower, noting the Confederate perspective. In the roughly 12 square acres you walked the last five minutes, there were over 5,000 casualties in 3.5 hours. Make sure you climb the tower: You can see the whole battlefield from the top.
3.0 mi.: The Battle of Antietam was basically divided north and south, morning and afternoon, with only scattered mid-day action in the center, the next sector you will hike. The trails are well out of the way, requiring back-tracking, so walk south along Rochardson Rd. until you cross Sheperdstown Pike. Turn left on Sherrick Farm Trail, the most-trail-like trail on the battlefield. (It is narrow, muddy and rooted, along the shore of Antietam Creek, whereas the other trails are wide paths cut through various fields.) Keep an eye out for deer.
4.6 mi.: At the next paved road, cross Antietam Creek on the modern bridge. Immediately turn right on Union Advance Trail, clockwise up the hill. Note the various views of the old stone bridge (Burnside Bridge), and the bluff on the opposite side, from which a single Confederate regiment held back Burnside's entire IX Corps for most of the day. After reaching the end of the hill, turn north along the creek, picturing how exposed, and canalized, the Federal troops were in attacking the bridge. Cross Burnside Bridge, turning left up the paved path. Was there an easier way across Antietam Creek? Of course there was.
5.3 mi.: Turn left on the Snavely Ford Trail. In a mile you will arrive at the easier, undefended, way across Antietam Creek. It was not until the Federal troops finally crossed Burnside Bridge that a Union division also crossed Snavely's Ford. Continue on the trail, up the draw, until you break into the open.
6.9 mi.: You are now on Final Attack Trail. To the west a few hundred yards, is the limit of the Union advance, prior to the arrival of A.P. Hill's Confederates. The line you are walking is where they pushed the Union back to in the battle's final hour. At the two cannons, turn right, proceeding down hill to the McKinley Monument, at the parking area above Burnside Bridge. Though the route is 7.4 miles, you could easily increase that several miles, as I did, diverting to view the monuments, info plaques, etc.
National Cemetery: After your pickup, stop at the National Cemetery in Sharpsburg. Only Federal troops from the Civil War, and a few U.S. soldiers (and occasional wives) from subsequent wars are buried there. Confederate dead were buried in Hagerstown. Brave men, all.
This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.