Burnside Takes the Lower Bridge
From National Park Service OnLine Books – Antietam Handbook
During the morning of the 17th, Confederate observers on the ridge north of Sharpsburg had spotted masses of Federals moving southward
beyond Antietam Creek. These were the four divisions of Burnside's IX Corps concentrating for the attack on the Lower Bridge.
Topography at the Lower Bridge heavily favored the few hundred Georgia men who defended it under the leadership of Brig. Gen. Robert
Toombs. The road approaching the east end of the bridge swings on a course paralleling that of Antietam Creek; in the last few hundred
yards before reaching the bridge, the road plunges into a funnel-like depression between the opposing bluffs of the creek. Toombs'
men were in rifle pits on the west bluff overlooking the bridge and the approach road.
Because of faulty reconnaissance, Burnside did not know that fords were nearby where his men could have waded across the stream. Instead,
the Federal plan of attack forced the advancing columns to pile into this funnel and storm across the bridge.
Soon after 9 a.m., the Federal divisions began to assault the bridge. One after another, their gallant charges were broken by deadly
short-range fire from Toombs' Georgians. By noon, when the agony at the Sunken Road was reaching its highest pitch, and despite repeated
orders from McClellan to get across Antietam Creek at all costs, the bottleneck at the bridge was still unbroken.
Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Isaac Rodman's Union division had moved slowly downstream from the bridge in search of a crossing. Rounding a
sharp bend in the creek, nearly a mile south, scouts came upon shallow water at Snavely's Ford. Late in the morning Rodman crossed
the stream and began to drive against the right flank of the Georgians guarding the bridge. About the same time, Col. George Crook's
scouts located a ford a few hundred yards above the bridge; there he sent his brigade across. Capt. Seth J. Simonds' battery was placed
in position to command the bridge.
At 1 p.m., the defending Confederates saw a sudden stir across Antietam Creek. Two regiments, the 51st New York and the 51st Pennsylvania,
marched swiftly out from the cover of the wooded hill and charged for the bridge. Supported now by converging artillery fire, they
quickly formed into columns and were over the bridge before Confederate artillery could halt them. Soon a wide gap split the Confederate
defense. Masses of Federal troops poured across the bridge while Rodman and Crook hammered the Confederate flanks. Burnside's men
had gained the west bank of the creek.
But again there was fateful delay as Burnside paused to reorganize. By the time he was ready to drive the Southern defenders from the
ridge in his front, 2 critical hours had passed.
Close to 3 p.m., the mighty Federal line moved slowly up the hill toward Sharpsburg, then gained momentum. "The movement of the dark
column," related an observer, "with arms and banners glittering in the sun, following the double line of skirmishers, dashing forward
at a trot, loading and firing alternately as they moved, was one of the most brilliant and exciting exhibitions of the day."
First brushing aside the depleted ranks in the rifle pits above the bridge, the Federals struck D. R. Jones' four lonely brigades on
the hills southeast of Sharpsburg—whence every other Confederate infantry unit had been withdrawn to reinforce the line to the north.
Unable to stem the massive Federal attack, Jones' men were driven back toward the town.
To halt the Federal tide, Lee shifted all available artillery south ward. By 4 p.m., however, the Federals were approaching the village
itself; only a half mile lay between them and Lee's line of retreat to the Potomac. Disaster seemed at hand for Lee's decimated force.
A. P. Hill Turns the Tide
But now came a great moment in Confederate military annals. A. P. Hill's notable Light Division, having hurriedly crossed the Potomac,
3 miles away, was driving hard toward the jubilant Federals charging on Sharpsburg. Some of Hill's artillery had already arrived from
Harpers Ferry with the cheering news that Hill's brigades of infantry were close by.
At Lee's urgent order, Hill had left Harpers Ferry early. Sensing the critical role they would play, urged on at sword point by their
grim commander, Hill's veterans had covered the 17 miles from Harpers Ferry to the Potomac in 7 hours. Hundreds of men had fallen
out, unable to keep the pace. Now, across the river, the stalwart survivors pounded on toward the sound of the guns.
Suddenly the head of Hill's column appeared on the road to the south. Hill rode up to Lee's headquarters at the Oak Grove, then quickly
to D. R. Jones, whose exhausted troops formed the last defense line in front of Sharpsburg. Hill's five brigades now rushed toward
the Federal flank. Confusion gripped Burnside's men as this unexpected onslaught plowed into their lines. Men broke and started to
run. In moments the tide had turned. The Federal lines, sagging from the overwhelming charge of the Southerners, and with gaping holes
cut by artillery, fell back across the hills to the sheltering banks of Antietam Creek.
Powerful Federal artillery continued to thunder across the hills; heavy blue columns could still be seen in overmastering strength
across Antietam Creek and far to the north. But the Federal commander had called a halt.
An hour and a half after the timely arrival of A. P. Hill's division from Harpers Ferry, the battle ended. With sunset, the firing
died away. That night, the tired men lay on their arms in line of battle. Neither side would admit defeat; neither could claim the
Taken from the Antietam National Battlefield Web Site
“The Battle of Antietam, or Sharpsburg, on September 17, 1862, was the tragic culmination of Robert E. Lee's first invasion of the
North. That one fateful day more than 23,110 men were killed, wounded, or listed as missing. Approximately 4,000 were killed, and
in the days that followed, many more died of wounds or disease. The peaceful village of Sharpsburg turned into a huge hospital and
burial ground extending for miles in all directions.
Burial details performed their grisly task with speed, but not great care. Graves ranged from single burials to long, shallow trenches
accommodating hundreds. For example, William Roulette, whose farm still stands behind the Visitor Center today, had over 700 soldiers
buried on his property. Grave markings were somewhat haphazard, from stone piles to rough-hewn crosses and wooden headboards. A few
ended up in area church cemeteries. In other cases, friends or relatives removed bodies from the area for transport home. By March
of 1864, no effort had been made to find a suitable final resting place for those buried in the fields surrounding Sharpsburg. Many
graves had become exposed; something had to be done.
Establishing a Plan In 1864, State Senator Lewis P. Firey introduced to the Maryland Senate a plan to establish a state, or national,
cemetery for the men who died in the Maryland Campaign of 1862. On March 23, 1865, the state established a burial site by purchasing
11¼ acres for $1,161.75.
The original Cemetery Commission's plan allowed for burial of soldiers from both sides. However, the rancor and bitterness over the
recently completed conflict and the devastated South's inability to raise funds to join in such a venture persuaded Maryland to recant.
Consequently, only Union dead are interred here. Confederate remains were re-interred in Washington Confederate Cemetery in Hagerstown,
Maryland; Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Frederick, Maryland; and Elmwood Cemetery in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Approximately 2,800 Southerners
are buried in these three cemeteries, over 60% of whom are unknown.
An Arduous Task
In an effort to locate grave sites and identify the occupants, no one was of more value than two area men: Aaron Good and Joseph Gill.
In the days, months, and years following the battle, these men freely gave of their time and gathered a large number of names and
burial locations. The valuable service provided by these men cannot be overstated. The dead were identified by letters, receipts,
diaries, photographs, marks on belts or cartridge boxes, and by interviewing relatives and survivors. Contributions totaling over
$70,000 were submitted from 18 Northern states to the administrators of the Antietam National Cemetery Board. With a workforce consisting
primarily of honorably discharged soldiers, the cemetery was completed by September 1867.
On September 17, 1867, on the fifth anniversary of the battle, the cemetery was ready for the dedication ceremonies. The ceremony was
important enough to bring President Andrew Johnson and other dignitaries. President Johnson proclaimed, "When we look on yon battlefield,
I think of the brave men who fell in the fierce struggle of battle, and who sleep silent in their graves. Yes, many of them sleep
in silence and peace within this beautiful enclosure after the earnest conflict has ceased."
The Battle fought on the Sunken Road – Bloody Lane
This lane was known by the local farmer’s as “The Sunken Road” which they used to bypass Sharpsburg. It had been worn down by years
of weather and traffic. It was the site of such bloody carnage that the name of the lane changed to “Bloody Lane.” It was photographed
by Alexander Gardner on September 19, 1862 two days after the battle and when shown to the public in October of 1862 in New York City
established a legacy of war photography that endures today. It brought the war home.
“Major General D.H. Hill was the commander of the Confederate division. He positioned all of his soldiers (about 2600 men) along this
road waiting for Major General William French and his division of Union soldiers (about 5000 men) to come over the hill so they could
attack. The Union soldiers did not realize that Sunken Road had six angles but was all one road. Hill knew this and hid all his men
throughout these angles. When French's men came over the rise, Hill's men staggered them with a powerful volley delivered at a range
on less than one hundred yards.
Soon, the troops which include famous Irish Brigade, clashed in a raging fight that lasted more than three hours. The farm road was
soaked with blood as the Confederates were struck and knocked out of line, forming what seemed to be perfect rows of dead men in the
road behind them. The surviving Confederate soldiers fled as the Union surged forward, stepping over the dead Confederates along the
way. Determined to stop the advancing Union troops, Confederate Major Generals Hill and James Longstreet helped line up cannons along
a ridge. Lee's army could have been split in half and doomed by a successful thrust against the Confederate center. The Confederates
even tried a counterattack, but it was halted. The fighting along Sunken Road (Bloody Lane) finally ceased from confusion and exhaustion
on both sides. Casualties, in the end, totaled to about five thousand. For nearly four hours (about 9:30 am to 1:00 pm), Union and
Confederate soldiers fought a harsh, bloody battle on Sunken Road. Because of the horrific amount of blood on this road after this
particular battle was over, it was nicknamed Bloody Lane. It was told that the Blood was literally "flowing like a river". This battle
was one of the bloodiest battles fought at Antietam.”
Taken from www.cyberlearning-world.com
"There's not much there. It's just a field, really. But people come every day, sometimes from far away, to stand and look.
They park their cars on a road that rises and dips with the rolling hills. They step out and glance around. They bow their heads to
read the sign and then straighten up to stare out at the field. There's a split-rail fence and, in the distance, some farm buildings
-- a white silo, a fading barn. In between there's hay -- 30 acres of tall green stalks of grass topped with tiny seeds. When the
breeze picks up, the stalks begin to quiver, then shake, then sway back and forth like sea grasses caught in gentle waves.
It's beautiful to watch, hypnotic and mesmerizing, but that's not why the people stand there for so long. They're staring at the grass
but they're seeing something else, something that hasn't been there for 133 years. They seldom speak. When they do, it's usually in
a hush, nothing loud enough to drown out the drone of the crickets.
This field of hay is called "the Cornfield" because that's what it was at dawn on September 17, 1862. By noon, though, the corn was
gone, cut to the ground by bullets and cannon shells, and the field was covered with thousands of dead or broken men. It was the bloodiest
part of the bloodiest day in this country's history -- the Battle of Antietam. Nearly 23,000 Americans were killed, wounded or missing
in action outside Sharpsburg, Md., that day -- nearly four times the American casualties on D-Day. When the sun set and the battle
ended, the two opposing armies were still in about the same positions they'd been the previous night. Yet something was won that day,
something so profound that George F. Will once called the Battle of Antietam "the second most important day in American history."
July 4, 1776, gave us the Declaration of Independence. September 17, 1862, gave us the Emancipation Proclamation.”
Excerpted from an article in the Washington Post , July 30, 1995 by Peter Carlson
The Dunker Church
"The Battle of Antietam, fought September 17, 1862, was one of the bloodiest battles in the history of this nation. Yet, one of the
most noted landmarks on this great field of combat is a house of worship associated with peace and love. Indeed, the Dunker Church
ranks as perhaps one of the most famous churches in American military history. This historic structure began as a humble country house
of worship constructed by local Dunker farmers in 1852. It was Mr. Samuel Mumma, owner of the nearby farm that bears his name, that
donated land in 1851 for the Dunkers to build their church. During its early history the congregation consisted of about half a dozen-farm
families from the local area.
During The Battle
On the eve of the Battle of Antietam, the members of the Dunker congregation, as well as their neighbors in the surrounding community,
received a portent of things to come. That Sunday, September 14, 1862, the sound of cannons booming at the Battle of South Mountain
seven miles to the east was plainly heard as the Dunkers attended church. By September 16 Confederate infantry and artillery was being
positioned around the church in anticipation of the battle that was fought the next day.
During the battle of Antietam the church was the focal point of a number of Union attacks against the Confederate left flank. Most
after action reports by commanders of both sides, including Union General Hooker and Confederate Stonewall Jackson, make references
to the church.
At battles end the Confederates used the church as a temporary medical aid station. A sketch by well known Civil War artist Alfred
Waud depicts a truce between the opposing sides being held in front of the church on September 18, in order to exchange wounded and
bury the dead. At least one account states that after the battle the Union Army used the Dunker Church as an embalming station. One
tradition persists that Lincoln may have visited the site during his visit to the Army of the Potomac in October 1862.
As for the old church, it was heavily battle scarred with hundreds of marks from bullets in its white washed walls. Likewise artillery
had rendered serious damage to the roof and walls. By 1864 the Church was repaired, rededicated and regular services were held there
until the turn of the century.
After the War
The congregation built a new church in the town of Sharpsburg. Souvenir hunters took bricks from the walls of the church and a lack
of adequate maintenance weakened the old structure. In 1921 a violent storm swept through the area flattening the church.”
Excerpted from the National Park Service Antietam Battlefield information.
The land and church ruins were put up for sale and purchased by Sharpsburg resident Elmer G. Boyer. He salvaged most of the undamaged
material of the building and in turn sold the property. The new property owner built a home on the foundation of the old church and
in the 1930’s operated a gas station and souvenir shop on the site. This structure was removed in 1951 when the property was purchased
by the Washington County Historical Society. They in turn donated the site, then just a foundation, to the National Park Service.
The Church was restored for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle in 1962 on the original foundation with as much original materials
as possible and now stands as a beacon of peace on the battlefield.
Sharpsburg, founded in July 1763 by Joseph Chapline, Sr., is the oldest town in Washington County, Maryland. The Run follows one of
the eight original streets of the town that had 187 lots on 300 acres. The first lots were sold in 1764. About 100 years later Sharpsburg
gained fame as the location of the Battle of Antietam. From about 1832 to 1924 it was an important point on the Chesapeake and Ohio
Canal. Today it is a quiet, residential town attracting visitors interested in Colonial history, the Civil War, and the C&O Canal
The part of the Run through Sharpsburg follows the route Civil War veterans walked when they returned to the Battlefield for visits
and reunions. The Run enters town at the intersection of Sharpsburg Pike (Rt. 65) and Main Street (Rt. 34) and passes three notable
structures. On the northeast corner stands the Holy Trinity Memorial Evangelical Lutheran Church, built 1944 after a fire destroyed
an earlier building. It is the current home of the first church in Sharpsburg that was built in 1768 further east on Main Street.
On the southeast corner is one of Sharpsburg’s houses listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The stone part of the Piper
House was built in the late 1700s. It was the town home of the Piper family whose home on the Battlefield was used as Confederate
General James Longstreet’s headquarters.
The gas station on the southwest corner is on the site of a house reputed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad. The stone
labeled as a “slave block” is more probably a carriage stepping stone.
At the Public Square, sits the library and Town Hall in the building that was the International Order of Red Men Hall. Just around
the corner on Mechanic Street is the famous Nutter’s Ice Cream Shop. The most famous building in town is at 100 West Main, known as
the Grove House, a hotel and tavern, the in-town headquarters of General Robert E. Lee where he held a war council. Across the street
at 101 West Main is the Sharpsburg Arsenal in what is probably the oldest brick building in town, built between 1791 and 1793. It
has been a tavern and a funeral home.
The three churches on West Main were all used as hospitals after the Battle, and all were rebuilt because of damage sustained. Christ
Reformed United Church of Christ has the famous 16th Connecticut Regiment memorial window at its front.
Just before the end of Main Street, the Run passes a small park-like area on the right, the site of General Lee’s tent headquarters.
As the road curves toward Shepherdstown, the Run passes the train station, now a museum and home for a model train group, close to
the original site of the station that brought Civil War veterans to town to walk down the avenue shaded by Norway maples. Those trees
no longer stand; new trees have taken their place, and new visitors travel the old route.
Vernell Doyle – Antietam Guest House, member of the Washington’s Way West Heritage Alliance.
Ferry Hill Plantation
- Childhood Home of Henry Kyd Douglas
Ferry Hill Plantation stood on the bluffs above the canal across the Potomac from Shepherdstown,
The river crossing at Packhorse Ford, located about a mile downstream from Shepherdstown, could not meet the needs of a growing population.
Thomas Van Swearingen began operating a ferry in 1765. This location provided easy access to towns on both sides of the river including
Charles Town and Harpers Ferry, VA and Hagerstown, Frederick and Baltimore, MD. In 1775 Van Swearingen had constructed a "Ferry Inn"
at the landing on the Maryland side of the river. The community that grew as a result of the ferry became known as Bridgeport.
John Blackford acquired interest in the ferry and adjoining acres through an inheritance from the Van Swearingen family when he married
Sara van Swearingen in 1812. Looking for an ideal location to build a home and start his family he decided to build the house high
on the bluff overlooking the Potomac River. The land was fertile, and the nearby river, with a convenient ferry crossing, would facilitate
delivery of his crops to market. Eventually the farm would grow to over 700 acres.
In 1833 Blackford sold 41 acres, 3 rods, 1 perch (5 1/2 yards) to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company. John Blackford continued to
operate the ferry, however, now the canal would also be utilized to transport goods.
As transportation needs grew the ferry was proving inadequate. Franklin Blackford sold the ferry and surrounding property to the Virginia
and Maryland Bridge Company and by 1850 a toll bridge was constructed.
It was its location that drew attention to Ferry Hill Place again in 1861. Henry Kyd Douglas lived there with his parents, the Reverend
Robert Douglas and his wife Helena. When war broke out Henry enlisted in the Army of the Confederacy. The Federal Army looked upon
the family with mistrust. The family was held under house arrest for most of the war. They were instructed to keep the shutters closed.
One stormy evening a shutter was blown open. The Union Officers saw this as an act of treason, implying the Reverend was signaling
to the Confederates across the river. Reverend Douglas was arrested as a spy. Although he was never formally charged, he was held
at Fort McHenry for several months before being allowed to go home.
The property passed on to Nannie Cowen, a daughter of John and Helena, who with her husband ran a pig farm from 1914 through 1928.
Times were hard but the Beckenbaughs continued to struggle on. They opened a restaurant in 1948. Even after they sold the property
it remained a restaurant until 1974
The link with John Blackford was severed in 1951 when the house was sold to Frederick Morrison. It provided a perfect location for
a restaurant. Many students from Shepherd College recall enjoying an evening of dining and dancing at Ferry Hill. It was during this
period that extensive changes were made to the house. The imposing columns facing the river were added. The wall separating the kitchen
from the dining room, and the servant's staircase were removed. An addition was added to the back of the main house and many of the
out buildings were torn down.
Because of its location along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, it served as the Headquarters of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National
Historical Park from 1979 until 2001.
Historic Ferry Hill Place still stands in an idyllic location proudly overlooking the Potomac River, waiting for the next stage of
its life to begin.