Streetwise Professor

June 2, 2018

A Day at Antietam

Filed under: Civil War — The Professor @ 6:39 pm

Ever since I was 9, and my grandparents took me on an epic road trip to Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Richmond, Petersburg, the Seven Days, Fredericksburg, Spottsylvania, Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Antietam, and Gettysburg, visiting Civil War battlefields has been an important pastime for me.  I’ve been to every major field multiple times, and the site of pretty much every action worthy of the name battle at least once (with the exceptions of Jenkins’ Ferry, Olustee, and Poison Spring).

If you had to ask me to choose just one to go to, I would pick Antietam/Sharpsburg, where I visited today (for the 11th time, give or take).  Why? Several reasons.

It’s relatively compact.  I walked the entire field in about 5 hours.  And I mean the entire field.  From Cornfield Avenue to the North Woods (Poffenberger Farm) down the old Hagerstown Pike to the West Woods, into the West Woods all the way to the line of Sedgwick’s furthest advance, over to Dunker/Dunkard Church, up the Smoketown Road back to the Corn Field.  Then over to Mumma’s Lane up to the Sunken Road, into the field where Richardson’s division charged, and then over to the end of the road where Barlow and the rest of Caldwell’s brigade broke the line.  The only drive was from there to the other side of the Boonsboro Pike, where I walked most of the road down to the 40 Acre Cornfield (where Gregg turned the Union left after Hill’s epic march from Harpers Ferry), into the cornfield, and then down to Burnsides’ Bridge. All in all ~11 miles.

It is sobering to think that one can walk in half a day an area that saw the greatest slaughter that has occurred on any single day in American history.  The concentration of carnage was awful–and only seeing how small the battle area is can make that plain.  The contrast between the tranquility and quiet of the field today (where often I heard only the chirps of birds, and was accompanied only by gophers, rabbits, and deer) and the chaos and noise that prevailed 156 years ago is also somewhat eerie.

The Battlefield Park also encompasses virtually the entire area in which fighting took place, and the landscape is relatively unchanged–it is one of the best preserved and most complete fields, and most vistas are free of modern visual pollution.  One can therefore get a more comprehensive and undistracted perspective of the battlefield than is possible anywhere else.  Further, it is much less crowded, and much less touristy than Gettysburg. Sharpsburg the town is charming, and again, much less touristy than the Pennsylvania burg an hour’s drive north.  Not a ghost tour sign in sight.  Thank God.

Unlike Chickamauga and Shiloh, which are densely wooded, much of the ground at Antietam is open and rolling, giving pleasing perspectives and panoramas.  Further, one gets a great sense of the role that terrain played in the battle.  For instance, one can walk over the crest where the Irish Brigade advanced immediately in front of the Sunken Road and see how close the Confederate line was, and understand how devastating the shock would have been as the Union line took fire once it became visible from the road, a mere few yards away.  One can visualize how short the distance between the lines was (there, and a little to the north where French’s division charged), and remark at how intense the fire must have been to make it impossible to charge successfully over so few yards.  (The only comparable place I can think of is The Nek at Gallipoli–and there the Turks had Maxim guns to mow down the Australian Light Horse as they tried to cross the 30 yards between the trenches.)

The vistas and ability to appreciate the terrain is perhaps best on the southern part of the field, where the IX Corps advanced after crossing the Antietam.  I had given that area short shrift in previous trips, but made up for it this time.  Here the country is almost completely open, with several prominent ridge lines that allow one to observe and imagine the scope of the struggle.

Here’s a panorama view taken from just north of the 12th Ohio monument, overlooking the 40 Acre Corn Field where Gregg’s brigade smashed the IX Corps left, and turned the tide of the battle.  (Although it should be noted that Gregg’s brigade gets too much credit–Archer, Branch (who was killed) and Toombs also played pivotal roles in stopping the final Union advance.)  If anyone’s interested, I can post the rest of the album of photos I took today.

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  1. I live in Maryland and have been to many Civil War battlefields. 11 times is a lot to Antietam! If you have never been during the Antietam Luminaries (Dec 1 2018 for this year) I recommend. 23,000 candles for every casualty. Really puts the numbers in perspective. What a bloody day indeed.

    Comment by Daniel Rust — June 3, 2018 @ 7:17 am

  2. Slightly off topic but watched American Sniper after bumping into your review recently – had not watched it on release because of the film critics reviews. I think you described it well, a great testimony the many types of sacrifice that people make for their country – and lowers my opinion of those who scorned the movie.

    Comment by isp001 — June 4, 2018 @ 2:26 am

  3. Why’s it called Antietam rather than Sharpsburg?

    How do you pronounce it? Ann Thai Tam? Auntie a Tam?

    Comment by Green as Grass — June 4, 2018 @ 7:19 am

  4. @SWP…Sometime ago, I had replied to a post you had made about the Battle of Stone’s River. Something happened to your blog and that post was lost.
    Thus, this comment is off-topic to Antietam but within the topic of Civil War battles:
    Union major general William Rosencrans, who was at Stone’s River, did the math on the number of shots taken and number of hits made by those shots at that site. He calculated that it took 20,000 rounds of artillery to hit 728 men. And, he calculated that his troops fired 2,000,000 cartridges, resulting in 13,832 hits. So it took 27 cannon shots to cause 1 artillery hit, and 145 rifle shots to cause 1 infantry hit.

    Comment by Richard Whitney — June 4, 2018 @ 12:06 pm

  5. Green-
    It depends on what reports you read. For the CSA it was the Battle of Sharpsburg.

    It’s pronounced, Ann-Tee-Tem.

    I’d love to see the photos.

    Comment by Matt Carson — June 4, 2018 @ 12:12 pm

  6. I went to Volgograd/Stalingrad in 2003. I was still pretty green with the Russia thing, so my level of expertise on the battle was mediocre. I walked myself to complete,exhaustion around the city and monuments. I really liked it and think it’s worth it for an interested person to go there. Mamaya Kurgan is nearly unmatchable. Also, when you walk around town, you stumble upon small monuments that say how many were kilted in that spot. It’s extraordinarily sobering.

    I’ve never been to any Civil War sites. You always inspire me to keep them on my bucket list.

    Comment by Howard Roark — June 4, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

  7. Only McClellan could have had the amazing good fortune that one of his men found Lee’s plan wrapped around three cigars, and still barely beat Bobby Lee the next day. But it ended Lee’s invasion of the North, and gave Lincoln space to promulgate the Emancipation Proclamation.

    That ended any chance of the British recognizing the Confederacy.

    Comment by Henry Barth — June 4, 2018 @ 9:57 pm

  8. But I think Lee nonetheless underestimated McClellan. I think that Lee assumed at the commencement of his northern invasion that the Army of the Potomac was in chaos and with low morale (following its defeat at the second Bull Run) and that it would take McClellan, because of his excessive caution, at least 3 or 4 weeks to revitalise it into a viable opposing force? By that time Lee expected the Army of Northern Virginia to be on the Susquehanna!

    That’s not what happened of course – Sharpsburg was less than a day’s march north of the Potomac and Lee got nowhere near the Susquehanna (at least not in 1862). But perhaps I am wrong and it’s not that Lee misjudged McClellan, he misjudged the resilience of the men of the Army of the Potomac?

    Comment by Jan Hards — June 4, 2018 @ 11:29 pm

  9. @Green as Grass – I think it’s pronounced Ann Tee Tim – Americans will correct me.

    Antietam was the name northerners gave to the battle after the river creek next to which the battle was fought. Southerners named it for the nearby township of Sharpsburg. I’m not sure if the northerners consciously preferred naming battles after rivers while southerners deliberately preferred town names? Note the same distinction was made in relation to the battles of Bull Run/Manassas and Stones River/Murfreesboro. I wonder if the alternate battle names persisted after the war as northern and southern historians respectively insisted on maintaining the names their section had initially adopted? Maybe once all the confederate statues have come down the SJWs will try to erase the southern battle names?

    Comment by Jan Hards — June 4, 2018 @ 11:45 pm

  10. @Jan Hards

    You have it generally correct. And since the North won, most of the battles are generally best known by the northern name. Interesting exceptions are that two of the Unions biggest victories, on the same day, Vicksburg & Gettysburg are named for towns. Shiloh is another weird one, not sure who’s name that was; I just think it is simpler than “Pittsburgh Landing” and it and was both the name of a church at which much of the battle occurred and the name itself is biblical.

    Also, as you are likely aware,the Union armies were named for rivers, too. The Army of the Potomac in the east and the Army of the Tennessee in the west & Army of the Ohio. The Confederates tended to name theirs for states (Army of Northern Virginia; Mississippi, etc). Of course some rivers have the same name as states, adding to the confusion.

    I have always pronounced it Ann Tee Tem or Ann Teet am; I suspect depending on regional accents and differing enunciation rules – all three will work. The first two syllables will get you there. 😉

    Comment by JavelinaTex — June 5, 2018 @ 8:01 am

  11. It looks like we have a well-versed crowd here. But for any who are interested in the military history of the conflict Shelby Foote’s anthology is non pareil.

    Comment by Default tranche gamma — June 5, 2018 @ 8:02 am

  12. @Jan, @Green, @Javelina–1. Ann Tee Tem–the stress is on the middle syllable.

    When writing the post, I was thinking of including the lyrics from a Scott Miller song (“The Amtrack Crescent”):

    Better say Manassas if you say Bull Run
    Or in Virginia you won’t get along with anyone
    But just across the river you can change your tune
    Like all the politicians there in DC do

    My default is to go with the name used by the victors. Easy in a case like 1st and 2nd Manassas, or even Shiloh (“Pittsburg Landing”). Harder in cases like Antietam/Sharpsburg or Stones River/Murfreesboro where the battles were effectively draws.

    The triumph of the North in the war means that in most official recognitions (e.g., the names of battlefield parks) the Northern name prevails, although there are exceptions (e.g., Manassas Battlefield Park). As Miller sings, the Southern names have persisted in the South, but are pretty foreign to the Northern ear.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — June 5, 2018 @ 12:37 pm

  13. Thanks all, I had always assumed (wrongly, don’t know why) the stress was on the last syllable: ann tee a TAM. I stand better informed.

    @ Richard – those stats ring true. At Salamanca in 1812 two million musket rounds were issued to Wellington’s army, which is about 40 to 50 per man. In the subsequent battle, the French suffered 6,000 casualties. Artillery was less effective in 1812 than 50 years later (and less numerous at Salamanca), black powder small arms much the same. If we say the artillery inflicted a third of the French losses, and musketry the other two thirds, that says it required five hundred musket shots to inflict one casualty.

    At Rorke’s Drift in 1879, around 100 riflemen fired 20,000 rounds at 4,500 Zulus; next day they found 300 bodies. A Martini-Henry slug was a fearsome thing, but if we assume that 50% of the hits were kills and an equal inflicted wounds such that the wounded Zulu crawled away overnight, that still means it took 20,000 round to inflict 600 casualties at point-blank range, which is 33 rounds per kill.

    These weapons were remarkably ineffective. My favourite period quote is from 1800ish by a British army officer who said that you could count yourself very unlucky to be hit at 200 yards’ range by a musket bullet **that had been aimed at you**.

    Comment by Green As Grass — June 14, 2018 @ 5:55 am

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