Saturday, August 23, 2014

Antietam Battlefield (Sharpsburg, MD)

One of the advantages of living halfway between Baltimore and Washington, DC is the wealth of things to do, some of them fairly unique to the area. 

The focus for this post is the 152nd Anniversary of one of the many important Civil War sites within a day trip of our community, to be commemorated with demonstrations starting on the weekend of September 13-14, 2014 and continuing for the next week with historical talks and hikes.

The Battle of Antietam was fought on September 17, 1862 near Sharpsburg, MD (about 90 minutes away from us) and marked one of the first turning points of the war.

Confederate artillery with the mountains in the background

After the Union defeat at Second Manassas just two weeks earlier, the first Confederate invasion of the North was turned back in the bloodiest single day of the war with 23,000 casualties on both sides.

Though the battle itself was inconclusive, the result gave President Lincoln the confidence to issue the Emancipation Proclamation three months later on January 1, 1863.

The battlefield is in a beautiful setting in the mountains of Maryland, a stark contrast to the carnage that unfolded as the outnumbered Confederates, with their backs to the Potomac River, held off fierce Union attacks until they had the chance to withdraw.

The National Park Service no longer allows large-scale re-enactments on public battlefield sites, but smaller demonstrations of Civil War tactics and equipment are common on anniversaries (typically on the nearest weekend).

  • This year it's expected that the National Park Service will hold anniversary events at the battlefield on the weekend of September 13-14, 2014, with living history demonstrations and encampments. 
  • The nearby town of Sharpsburg, MD also usually hosts an all-day Heritage Festival with food, music and lectures, but it was cancelled for 2014.
  • On the anniversary of the battle itself, September 17th, there will be an all-day battlefield walking tour.

Union troops line up in preparation for their assault on Bloody Lane

Large-Scale Re-Enactments
There probably won't be private re-enactments such as for the 150th Anniversary but somewhat further away in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, The Battle of Cedar Creek holds an event every year in October sponsored by the non-profit organization that preserves the site.

Because so much of the Civil War conflict in this theater occurred as the two armies jousted between Washington DC and Richmond, there are many battlefields and historical sites within easy driving distance.

Confederates check the battlefield situation on their smartphones

In addition to Antietam and Gettysburg (PA), the National Park at Manassas, VA (Bull Run) is on the other side of DC past Dulles Airport, and further south in Virginia are battle sites such as Fredericksburg, The Wilderness, and Chancellorsville.

Minor battles also occurred at the Monocacy River near Frederick, MD and South Mountain just to the west.

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