Driving Through History

Antietam National Battlefield
By Christina Breda
  |  Gorp.com
Antietam battlefield
Antietam at peace

The Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg, as the South called it) took place September 17, 1862, just two days after Union soldiers surrendered at Harpers Ferry. It was the first major Civil War engagement on northern soil and the bloodiest day in American history. Here, an army of 41,000 Confederate soldiers battled a Union force twice its size. Some 22,726 Americans were killed or wounded at Antietam—nine times as many as were killed or wounded in the D day invasion of World War II.

Although the battle is officially considered a draw, it is widely held as a strategic victory for the North, since the Confederates withdrew to Virginia. The battle also led President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which gave the war the twofold purpose of preserving the union and freeing the slaves.

What to Do

Antietam National Battlefield's 3,365 acres are dotted with 103 monuments, 500 cannons, and 300 War Department tablets, which detail troop movements and activity. Since they're scattered around willy-nilly, your best bet is to start at the visitors' center, which has a small museum, documentaries, and ranger talks. For a summary of the battle, check out the 26-minute film Antietam Visit, which is shown on the hour. In addition, a new one-hour Antietam Documentary is shown each day at noon in the visitors' center auditorium.

To tour the battlefield itself, you can either take part in a ranger-guided tour or guide yourself through an 8.5-mile driving, walking, or biking tour. Audiotapes are available for rent at the visitors' center. For a bird's-eye view of the battlefield and surrounding countryside, climb the observation tower, built in 1896 by the War Department.

Rangers suggest you plan on spending about four hours here: two to three hours for the tour, plus time in the museum and visitors' center. Plan to spend additional time if you want to hike or walk extensively.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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