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Old 06-28-2008, 04:37 PM   #1
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Antietam & Remberance--a ride for the 4th of July

Well, its Wednesday, 25 June and I've got enough hours these two weeks to take a whole day off and screw around (on the bike of course--this is a Family Forum).

Since I live in the DC metro area and have never been to Antietam battlefield, I figure, what the heck, lets go! This battle saw the largest number of American casualties sustained in any single day--0ver 23,000 killed, wounded, or missing--a record of blood and sacrifice that remains to this day. Sure, Gettysburg saw more over 3 days (over 50,000), D-Day and Anzio were carnage, but 23,000 in a single day boggles the mind. I grew up in a town of 2000; served on aircraft carriers that carried 5000. That would have been almost five carriers lost in one day. My God.

So, play hooky from work, fire up the 'Strom, and head west away from all the a-holes going the other way (Hey, ain't it great to criticize from the other side of the highway)!!

West on the Dulles Greenway, out Leesburg Pike, right on Charlestown turnpike (gotta think in mid-1800's terms, now).

Virginia's full of big smelly cities, but it's got some gems too. This is the main drag of Hillsborough--Right on the Charlestown Pike.

Cool little town--no tourist places here. When the Pike was a dirt wagon road, the houses weren't so close to the highway!

One of the victorian houses here.

Further on the old Harpers Ferry Road passes an iron furnace. I didn't stop to check out the timeframe, but this kind of stone furnace seems like it way active earlier than the Civil War.

I'm not a big Civil War buff; never been to this place before. But I gotta tell you--it makes an impression. I'm a 25 year Navy vet; never really studied Army tactics historical or otherwise. But this place, like some of the few other Civil War places I've been to, impressed the hell out of me. How men could march shoulder to shoulder into the kind of rifle and cannon fire these guys sustained is almost impossible to contemplate. As a squid, I've never been in ground combat; perhaps some of our recent vets who've seen their own horrific fights understand. But I am impressed by the courage and dedication of these men on both sides.

I've put some photos of the battlefield area below. Anything in italics is either from the Park Service flyers or a Civil War era quote.

The place is full of statues and markers. Most were placed after the war by veteran's groups who fought here. Because the southerners tended to have less money (losing a war does that to a person--if he's lucky enough to live) most of the markers are of union origin. This one is the 124th Pennsylvania Volunteers. It's amazing to think how both sides of the nation mobilized almost every man for the carnage. By the time this battle happened, (Sep 1862) everybody seemed to realize this war wasn't going to be a cakewalk; a lot of good people (both sides) had died. The Union was being soundly whipped (Second Manassas happend just weeks before), and Lee's Army of Northern Virgina moved north to force the Army of the Potomac into a decisive engagement--if Lee won, the war would be over and we'd now have two separate nations.

The battle started in the evening of 16 September, 1862. Next morning, Hookers Corps moved forward. Their goal was a small white building near the Confederate lines--a church build by pacifist German immigrants. (Some irony). This is the Dunker church today.

These two soldiers forever guard the Cornfield.

This is the infamous cornfield. It's still maintained as a field; the locals rotate crops and just harvested winter wheat.

This 24-acre cornfield saw some of U.S. history's most horrific fighting. For nearly 3 hours Hooker and Mansfield's Union forces battled Jackson's Confederates. Many regiments on both sides were cut to pieces. Hay's Louisiana Brigade were over 60-percent casualties in 30 minutes.

I cannot imaging marching through a tall cornfield into that maelstorm.

This northern attack pushed Stonewall's troops back perhaps a few hundred yards.

So the Union attacked in the center. This is looking down from the visitor's center towards the (in)famous Bloody Lane.

For about three hours 2,200 Confederates, later reinforced by another 4,000 men, held off attacks of a combined Union force numbering nearly 10,000. Finally, just after noon, this thin gray line collapsed and and fell back . . . . The Union has suffered too many casualties to pursue their advantage . . . . Seeing the dead in the road, an observer wrote "They were lying in rows, like the ties of a railroad, in heaps like cordwood mingled with the splintered and shattered fense rail. Words are inadequate to portray the scene."

Two views of the sunken road, "Blooky Lane." Quiet and bucolic now . . . .

In the afternoon, Burside's corps attacked the south end of the Confederate lines. After three hours of deadly fighting, they forced their way across this bridge.

This was the Confederate view--in those hours any trees would have been shot away. The Union literally attacked across an 8-foot wide bridge against a tall bluff . . . . with the results even a Navy guy would expect.

As history knows, after this day of horrific carnage, Lee fell back across the Potomac. McClellen, the Union commander, did not pursue--for which history has tended to judge him harshly. Lincoln certainly did. But Lee was stopped, and did retreat. The Union was preserved, for now at least. Nine months later, Lee would invade the North again. But that's another story.

This "victory" convinced Lincoln that the time was right to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. The war was officially no longer just about state's rights, but about a whole people's freedom too. In addition, the Proclamation ensured that England (which had outlawed slavery centuries before) would not recognize nor support the Confederacy.

From my perspective, this was the result that I saw . . . . .

The inscription tells it all. That's why they were there, in both blue and gray. That's why we all join. Sure, we want the GI bill, we want to gain skills, we need a job. Those are all reasons. But the real, underlying reason why our young men and women join the military, with the potential of ending up like so many on this century-old battlefield, is written here:

"Not for themselves but for their country"

The National Cemetary at Antietam has more recent residents, too. Some died in combat; others lived and wished to be buried among these honored dead.

So the next time you see a young man or woman in a miltary uniform, of any service, shake their hand and salute them. Same goes for an old geezer in an American Legion hat. It doesn't matter what you or I think of current politics, or any politics for that matter. The people in this field marched knowingly into a place of terrible carnage; they believed they were doing it for the nation and their families. They were willing. So was the geezer; so are the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines today. Thank God for that.

Enough. Let's go ride some more.
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ORexpat screwed with this post 06-29-2008 at 08:37 AM Reason: Correct poor spelling
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Old 06-28-2008, 05:08 PM   #2
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Nice pics - I don't get there often enough. Looks like you took the road from Sandy Hook to Sharpsburg. For future reference, there's a great ice cream place on the right just before you turn onto Sharpsburg's main drag.

Where did you start from?
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Old 06-28-2008, 05:12 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by MichaelJ
Nice pics - I don't get there often enough. Looks like you took the road from Sandy Hook to Sharpsburg. For future reference, there's a great ice cream place on the right just before you turn onto Sharpsburg's main drag.

Where did you start from?
I saw the place, but didn't stop. Should have. I actually went back to NoVa that way. Passed the furnace on the way home.

Started from Springfield. Parkway to Greenway to 7 to 9 to Shepherdstown to Sharpsburg.
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Old 06-28-2008, 06:37 PM   #4
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Excellent destination. Most of the important Civil War battlefields are within an easy day's drive of DC, in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Two or three days in the area is enough time to see quite a few. I have done a couple of vacations there, most recently in the '80s with a law school buddy who is a serious Civil War buff. I wished at the time that I could have done it on a motorcycle. The area is laced with little back roads and beautiful scenery that would make for great exploratory ridding.
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Old 06-28-2008, 07:10 PM   #5
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Thanks for posting the pictures. I usually get to Antietam and Gettysburg several times ayear. I am constantly amazed at the feats of the Blue and the Gray.
How about Stonewall hustling his foot calvary up from Harper's Ferry and slamming them into battle?
Antietam- bloodiest single day in the Civil War
Gettysburg- bloodiest three days iirc
Both battles hinged on circumstance... Joshua Chamberlain's bayonet charge at the Round Top?
Incredible stuff
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Old 06-29-2008, 06:22 AM   #6
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Thanks for posting this one. Great history lesson. I've been to Shiloh, TN and Pea Ridge, AR but have not been to Antietam or Gettysburg.....yet. On the list for sure. It is sobering and gives one cause to reflect on the times.

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Old 06-29-2008, 07:49 AM   #7
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Another view of bloody lane

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Old 06-29-2008, 08:24 AM   #8
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Thanks for the history tour.... we love those reports on here

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Old 06-29-2008, 08:36 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Staxrider
Thanks for the old photo. Looking at the curve of the hill behind, it looks like the photographer was standing within about 50 feet of where I took my photo.
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Old 05-08-2013, 06:39 AM   #10
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Revived to reference when I make my Civil War Battlefields ride in June! Thanks
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Old 05-08-2013, 08:18 AM   #11
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Mike, you're welcome. I still remember that ride, and Antietam, years later and even though I've moved to the left (best) coast.

Some things, I believe, need to be remembered . . . .
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Old 05-08-2013, 05:51 PM   #12
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Thanks for reviving this thread. I've been to Fredricksburg, Chickamauga,Shenandoah, Shiloh , and a few smaller sites. I'd like to go to all the ones up north. It's amazing to see how close together a lot of these battles were.
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