On September 17, 1862, "the bloodiest day in American History," savage combat at the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland, left 23,000 soldiers dead, wounded, or missing. This Friday, on the 148th anniversary of the epic battle that blunted the first Confederate invasion of the North and opened the way to the Emancipation Proclamation, an all-day guided hike at Antietam National Battlefield will give visitors a close encounter with the action scenes.
Consult the park map for key locations and routes. The battlefield map is excellent for general use, although it was designed to facilitate self-guided auto tours and indicates key stops.
The Anniversary Battlefield Hike will take place from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Friday, September 17, 2010. It will feature a morning talk and then a battlefield hike divided into morning and afternoon segments.
Antietam's anniversary battlefield hike is an annual event that was inaugurated about nine years ago. Ranger Brian Baracz, who will guide the hike (assisted by two other rangers), says that he expects about 100-150 participants, including a number of repeat visitors, for this year's edition.
All visitors without passes must pay the normal park entrance fee ($4 per individual or $6 per family). Anniversary hike participants will not be charged additional fees.
Morning in the Cornfield
The day's activities will begin at 7:00 a.m. at the Miller Farm (Auto Tour Stop 4) where Ranger Baracz will give a 45-minute "Morning in the Cornfield" talk that provides an overview -- through the words of the soldiers -- of the action that took place on this blood-soaked tract of land. The many attacks and counterattacks that swept across the Miller Cornfield resulted in human carnage on a scale that staggers the imagination.
The Morning Hike
The morning hike, scheduled for 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., will get underway with a short presentation in the Visitor Center Theater. Participants will then move out on foot (no Segways or bikes allowed) to explore the fighting that took place at the Sunken Road (aka Bloody Lane), Dunker Church, Hagerstown Turnpike, and other hotspots at the north end of the battlefield.
The Afternoon Hike
Following a one-hour BYO lunch break, participants will assemble at 1:30 p.m. in the Rohrbach Campground Parking Lot (off of Burnside Bridge Road) to begin a 3.5-hour afternoon hike that will focus on the action at the Lower Bridge (aka Burnside Bridge) and the final Union attack toward the town of Sharpsburg.
A road repaving project at Antietam National Battlefield has necessitated some road closings, detours, and special arrangements. The Park Tour Road to Burnside Bridge has been reopened until September 23, so driving to the afternoon hike venue should not be a problem. Being on foot, anniversary hike participants will simply skirt any road detours encountered on the hike.
For additional details about the anniversary battlefield hike, phone Antietam National Battlefield at 301-432-5124. The Visitor Center is open 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. from Labor Day to Memorial Day (except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day).
Postscript: Another of Antietam's popular special events, the annual battlefield illumination, will take this year on Saturday, December 4.