We left our former hometown of Richmond, VA and headed north. During the time that we were there, we had a wonderful stay with some dear friends. After all, we lived in the area for over 20 years and have great memories of our time there. While a vibrant growing city, it has retained a charm that resonates with visitors and residents alike. If you get a chance to visit, you should.
From Richmond, we decided not to drive the Bighorn through Washington, D.C. but to head toward Winchester, VA and stop at an Elks Lodge in Hagerstown, MD. The lodges always have friendly folks and many have places for RVers to stay. One of the folks there said that we were close to the Antietam National Battlefield, if we were “interested in that kind of thing.” So off we went to visit this historic site.
Antietam National Battlefield
The Visitor Center at the park is being renovated and, while not yet open, you can tell that it is going to be a great facility. Currently, a temporary building is housing the Visitor Center, which is in the shadow of what is going to be a much larger place for visitors. They have the typical Park Service film about the site and we both agreed that this was a good one.
The Battle of Antietam was the single bloodiest day in American history with over 23,000 men killed or wounded near the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland. The combatants were the Army of the Potomac, George B. McClellan commanding, and the Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee commanding. Well over 100,000 soldiers from many states gathered there 160 years ago on September 17, 1862.
It is easy to search the internet for the many details of this battle. The park itself has detailed displays that show the participants and the troop movements at Antietam. The auto route not only travels past the various monuments but there are many plaques detailing the officers and soldiers that were present that day.
The famous Dunker Church has been restored and the park shares the history of this building. The meeting house for German Baptist Brethern became a focal point during the battle with both sides vying for its higher ground. A well known artist of that time, Alfred Waud created a famous painting called, “Truce at the Dunker Church.”
The building, housing congregants known for how they baptized adherents, becomes a place for the armies to care for the wounded. The simple building reminds us that at one time some churches consisted of only benches and a single table to read Scripture to the attendees.
The land here is unremarkable, but pastoral. The battles here are named after a cornfield, a sunken road, and a stone bridge. The fields are expansive and dotted with monuments representing the soldiers and states from whence they came.
Over 5,000 soldiers died at the sunken road that would be known thereafter as “Bloody Lane.” There is a commemorative tower near the sunken road that adds a visual element and, if you climb to the top, a perspective of the battlefield.
The National Park provides information for a self-guided auto route. It starts at the Dunker Church and ends at the Burnside Bridge where a small group of soldiers from Georgia held off a large Union force for hours.
The land is quiet and serene now, but the realization of the number of Americans who died that day is stark and frankly unbelievable. Hundreds upon hundreds died every hour as our country faced the horrific consequences of a divided nation.
Antietam National Battlefield is a sobering place. Our visit there left both of us speechless and contemplative much like the time that we visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial.