After lunch at the Battleview (why did I order a whole cheesesteak?), I headed to the National Cemetery parking lot for the afternoon portion of the Anniversary Hike. Ranger Brian Baracz covered the fighting at the Middle Bridge and Ranger John Hoptak narrated the attack of the Federal IX Corps.
I have covered the Middle Bridge action in more detail in a previous post. Notable on this visit was the progress made by the battlefield's resident stonemason, who has nearly completed the wall running east from Rodman Avenue about 100 yards from Route 34. You can also see some of his handiwork along the Roulette Lane. This work is key to restoring the battlefield to its 1862 appearance, and it happens one rock at a time.
Moving east along the stone wall, we linked into the new Three Farms Trail that winds along Antietam Creek through the fields and woodlots of the Newcomer, Roulette, and Sherrick Farms. With the opening of this and the Bloody Lane Trail, you can now hike the entire battlefield along a series of linked trails.
As we passed along the creek bottom moving south, the arduous terrain confronting the advance of the IX Corps came into view. Not far from the creek, the terrain rises sharply perhaps 50-60 feet. How any troops could maintain order scaling such heights is beyond comprehension, and so it is no wonder the IX Corps consumed several hours deploying after taking the Rohrbach Bridge. From high ground on the Sherrick Farm, the nature of the terrain to the south is clear – a series of steep ridgelines and deep ravines rising steadily to the west. As John, Keith, and Brian pointed out, the IX Corps not only advanced quite a distance west from the bridge, they also climbed perhaps 400 feet to reach the area of the Ninth New York monument, only a stone’s throw from the Harpers Ferry Road.
We paused on the grounds of the Otto Farm, where John explained the predicament of Ambrose Burnside. Questions remain even today as to the nature of Burnside’s orders and exactly when he received them. McClellan’s two official reports of the action, one written shortly afterward and the other in hindsight, do not agree on either of these points. All of this is overshadowed by the legendary assault of A.P. Hill’s Division, which drove the IX Corps back to its start position after it carried its advance nearly to “the spires of Sharspburg.” While John argues convincingly that Burnside considered his attack a diversion in favor of the attempt to turn Lee’s left, he clearly had an opportunity to turn the tide of battle. I asked John if he thought the IX Corps had enough troops, even after Hill’s arrival, to carry the day on this portion of the field. He did, though his narrative of the action made it clear that more than mere numbers decided the day. Hill’s men were battle-hardened veterans, while some of the men under Burnside’s command had only just learned the manual of arms.
For a detailed discussion of the Final Attack Trail, which we covered on this portion of the hike, see my previous posts here and here. If you have not ventured onto this portion of the battlefield before, I think you will find it well worth the effort. And be sure to pick up Range Keith Snyder’s trail guide in the Visitors Center beforehand. The guides available for Antietam are a handy reference including maps, quotes from the men who fought here, and descriptions of the action for each stop on the trail.
On this final leg of the Anniversary Hike, Keith did not disappoint. One of the more colorful accounts of all Medal of Honor recipients at Antietam concerns a Captain of the Ninth New York, Adolphe Libaire. The Ninth, a zouave regiment attired in short blue jackets, baggy blue pantaloons, and red fezes, advanced under a galling fire. The color guard was shot down. Men who rushed forward to retrieve the colors also fell, and the advance faltered. Captain Libaire, undaunted, raised the colors, turned to his men and shouted “Follow me, damn you,” and led a final rush toward a stone wall that marked the limit of the regiment’s advance on that bloody day.
Later, as the IX Corps retreated under Hill’s devastating counterattack, Frank Whitman and Marcus Haskell both risked their lives to save comrades under fire. As Keith, a soldier himself, so aptly puts it, there is “no greater love” displayed by mankind than that shared between men in the midst of combat.
One final surprise awaited us before we headed home for the day. The owners of the Old Stone Mill (along the current Burnside Bridge Road) opened their home to us and allowed us to explore both the old mill building and the trace of the old Rohrbach Bridge Road that runs through their property. Craig Swain, over at To the Sound of the Guns, covered this part of the hike in detail, so I will commend you to his blog for a description of our visit. Craig also describes the closing moments of the hike, which ended once again in the National Cemetery with a few appropriate remarks that reminded us why we continue to gather on the great battlefields of that long ago war.
PS This post has taken much longer to publish than I anticipated. I hope to resume more regular posts this week when my shiny new laptop arrives from Dell.
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