If you’re planning a family vacation to the famous Antietam Battlefield (or Sharpsburg, if you adhere to the Southern name for the battle) you may be a bit disappointed to note that lodging is not what the town is famous for. If you intend to stay overnight, you might want to check out nearby towns and see if lodging is available, but doing this last minute is not recommended. Planning a day trip to Antietam and returning at the end of the day is a much better idea.
Looking at pictures of Antietam (or Sharpsburg!) will tell you that it is one of the most well-preserved Civil War battlefields on Northern soil. The reason for the two different names? When the war was fought in the Southern states, Southerners named a battle site after the closest city or town; Northerners, being unsure of the area, named it after the prominent body of water nearest to the field. No matter what the field was called, the high number of casualties was one unchangeable fact. From the “Bloody Lane” to the Dunker Church, many sites are still preserved for the curious Civil War enthusiast to come and explore.
If you have visited other battlefields you will notice that much of the fighting was done in fields, roads and pastures. Antietam, fought in September of 1862, is no exception. One of the first stops you may want to make is Miller’s Cornfield. During the battle, the cornfield made an excellent place for Southern shooters to hide and engage the foe. Anywhere you walk on this field could have been the place a soldier fell; they were said to have died very neatly, in straight lines, keeping formation even in death.
Stop by Dunker Church for a peaceful moment. Walking inside the quaint little church and seeing the reconstructed pews and pulpit, one wonders how such carnage could have covered the area. After exploring the grounds, you may want to hop over to one of Antietam’s most well-known and ominous sites; Bloody Lane. This is actually a road that had become a ditch from continuous years of travel. The Southern troops found it a great place to crouch and await the onslaught of the enemies.
Another must-see place on Antietam battlefield is Burnside’s Bridge. This picturesque bridge, known during the battle as Rohrbach’s Bridge, took General Burnside’s name when the crossing of his troops made it famous. Thousands upon thousands of his men, unable to cross all at once, were prime targets for soldiers hiding behind the natural camouflage of the forest. In modern times, crossing the bridge is an experience every Civil War history lover should have. It is easy to imagine how the area looked in Civil War times, because the scenery has changed very little.
At the Antietam Visitor Center, you will find a book shop, library, and museum, among other informative features. In summer months the center is open until 6:00 P.M., closing an hour earlier in autumn through spring. Check out www.nps.gov/anti to see when everything will be open when you plan to visit. Don’t forget to stop by the museum store for Antietam and Civil War related souvenirs and historical items. Guests who are under 16 will be admitted free; adults pay $4.00, and the fee includes everything on the Antietam battlefield.
Always remember Antietam battlefield attracts many other visitors, so if possible, you might want to consider arriving right when the park opens or just before it closes. This way you can go your own pace. Taking your time to stop and explore each battle site is much pleasanter if you are one of the only people on the field! If you do happen to go when traffic is heavy, walking is always an option; this way, you can still regulate your own pace. You can take a tour map along to see where your route will be taking you.
From Gettysburg, another famous Civil War site, it is 64 miles to Antietam. From Harpers Ferry it is a little less than 14 miles, and from Pennsylvania’s state capital of Harrisburg, the distance is 175 miles. Again, it is important to book a hotel either in your original destination town or try to find lodging outside of Antietam itself. Antietam’s lack of hotels in no way detracts from the experience, but does make it a bit more difficult for those who wish to stay overnight.
By Lacie R. Schaeffer