We did this hike and picnic one year ago, and it worked out great, so let's see if the weather will be amenable once again this time.
Antietam battlefield at twilight
While the calendar says it is spring, the weather can be unpredictable, so please dress accordingly. Please read the entire activity write-up, especially the documents located by way of the links within the narrative.
We will meet at 10 AM in front of the Visitor's Center and begin our hike shortly thereafter, as we get our group together and obtain any pertinent advice on the trail from the ranger. It is requested that attendees post a profile photo, so that we know who you are and we can look for you at the event. This event is appropriate for all ages, and members may bring guests and young'uns.
The park admission fee is $4 per person and $6 per vehicle. Bring a picnic lunch that you can keep in a cooler inside your vehicle for our return.
The plan is to traverse the Three Farms Trail, the Bloody Lane Trail, the Sherrick Farm Trail, the Union advance Trail, and then go to the famous Burnside Bridge. The total distance will be about 7 miles on mostly level ground with some hills. Of course, the final path will be based on the trail conditions and on where the groundhog holes are. Yes, the groundhogs will have a say on our plan.
The cannons are silent now
After our hike, we will have an outdoor picnic lunch. Thus, bring your food and beverage with you and keep it in a cooler in your vehicle. Please bring a folding chair to sit on. I don't believe it will be cold enough for me bring hot apple cider to be heated over a fire, so I will not do this before our hike. While there is a prohibition against open fires at the park, the park ranger has given our group permission to do this in case you want to bring your propane or sterno cooker (no charcoal is allowed, however).
Of course, the weather has to be conducive to our hike and more so for our picnic. More information will be made available to all attendees as we get closer to the date of the activity. If there are any changes to our plans, they will be posted by 9 PM on the day before the hike.
This will be an up-and-back loop hike. If the ground is extremely challenging and the conditions warrant it, we will reduce the mileage. Remember that off-season hiking demands twice the energy as fair weather hiking; that is, if it is still cold or wet out out, one mile in such conditions equals at least two miles on dry terrain. Obviously, we will not know the trail conditions until it is close to the hike date, so we will decide then what our entire hike will consist of. One windstorm the night before can do much damage to the trail.
Children are welcome, but must be kept under supervision at all times. Pets are welcome on the hike, but must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times. Remember that we may be walking on sharp rocks and rugged inclines, so if your pet is not used to such conditions, then it would create a hazard to you and your pet.
As well as having radio contact capability with the park rangers, the leader and sweep will be in radio contact, and we will have at least one first responder with us trained in first aid and CPR.
This is Holly, the park ranger at Antietam, who likes to get into the spirit of the park. Her normal official adornment, however, is a grey uniform with a gold badge and a much smaller sidearm
Antietam. Few single words mean so much to our nation's formation. It was the bloodiest one day battle in American history. The area is called the land of lonely graves. But it was one of the most pivotal spots of our nation's history.
More than 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, or missing after twelve hours of savage combat on September 17, 1862. The Battle of Antietam ended the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia's first invasion into the North, and led to Abraham Lincoln's issuance of the preliminary Emancipation.
So many men died that the river ran red with blood for two days.
A painting of Burnside Bridge during that fateful battle
Burnside Bridge now
On the morning of September 17, 1862, with a huge force of 90,000 strong, the Army of the Potomac engaged the awaiting enemy. General "Fighting Joe" Hooker began the Union attack by confronting General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's men in the cornfield near Antietam Creek. Hooker's men attacked with intense firepower, including canister shot fired from cannons that turned the artillery field guns into giant shot guns. Each canister that was fired scattered 40 golf ball sized lead balls across the cornfield that cut the six foot tall corn stalks down as efficiently as a reaper. The Union slowly advanced across the 30 acre field and by the time they had finished their assault, the corn crop was covered by dead and wounded men from both sides. There were so many casualties on the ground that a person could walk from one end of the field to the other and never touch the soil.
Pennsylvania Light Artillery, Battery E. One of the wall of men at Antietam, who faced an opposing wall of men
The fighting then moved through the west woods near the Dunker Church where the Confederate line made advances. The fighting was confusing with generals and their troops misplaced throughout the multiple fronts of the expanding battlefield. Confederate troops now held the knoll where the Visitor's Center exists today and was defended by the center of Lee's line, which positioned themselves within a sunken farm lane that provided a natural trench to fight off advancing Union troops. During the intense fighting, the sunken lane was assaulted again and again and slowly filled with Confederate dead. After the battle the ominous scene became known as the Bloody Lane and is one of the most recognizable and notorious locations at Antietam.
Bloody Lane then
Bloody Lane now
As the sun rose the next day one final opportunity presented itself for the Union. For some reason, Lee had not retreated during the night and had held his line hoping to resume the fight the next day. General McClellan had reserve troops ready to come up to reinforce the Union lines and could have overrun the outnumbered troops of the Army of Northern Virginia but chose not to take action. The overly cautious McClellan wanted to wait until still more reserves could travel to the area to reinforce him. Lee was not going to wait another day to be even more outnumbered by the Union. Instead, he guided his men south, under the cover of night, back across the Potomac River and into the safety of Virginia. Despite several lost opportunities to destroy Lee's army, the Union claimed a great strategic victory at Antietam.
The outcome of the Battle of Antietam had a major impact on the course of the war to the benefit of President Lincoln and the Union. With Lee's failed invasion of the north, Lincoln proceeded to issue the Emancipation Proclamation concerning slavery. Although the announcement did not immediately have an impact on the lives of slaves, it changed the course of the war for both sides of the conflict. The Union now had two reasons to fight the war, with preserving the Union being the first and freeing the slaves as a new second moral incentive. The southern cause depended on bringing in a European ally to help fight the north but when the Emancipation Proclamation entered the political landscape of the war, both England and France withdrew their potential support. The Union was also now free to recruit black soldiers and over 200,000 volunteered, putting the South at an even greater disadvantage as the war dragged on and men became the most precious resource. Without doubt, the Battle of Antietam became the political turning point of the war.
When the Visitor's Center was being built in 1962, during the Cold War, a solid concrete fallout shelter in the basement was made in case of nuclear attack.
It seems as if the specter of war would forever haunt this area. There were actually two battles at Antietam, the first taking place a long time before the Civil War engagement, whereby Indian tribes slaughtered one another in the very same place.
When historians dug beneath the ground, they found artifacts from the Civil War. And when they dug deeper, they located archaeological finds from the Indian battle.
This area has seen terrible destruction and the taking of countless lives, yet it paradoxically provided the catalyst for the birth of our nation. It is hallowed ground, to be respected and treasured, and it is an ingrained part of our nation's soul.
Here is a brochure with park information and a map of the trails:
Heaps Upon Heaps Were There in Death's Embrace
Our nation was not prepared to comprehend the great carnage that took place at this very spot (that is the shadow of my big head there - sorry about that)
The above photo shows one of the wooden rail fences with three bullets still in it. In the words of General Israel Richardson, Missiles of death were flying thickly. And in the words of one Confederate soldier, The balls rained upon us from every direction except the rear. Those were large bullets indeed!
Wear hiking boots or other appropriate footwear. There are gopher holes along the trail and other obstacles along the way. This is a 7-mile hike. While we are not going up and down mountains, be aware that it is across fields and beside rivers.
Just in case it is still cold, here is some information on sensible articles of clothing that one should wear during cold weather or off-season outdoor events, follow this link to an article on this topic:
Letter to Hikers - Winter Hiking Gear - What to Bring and Wear
Burial crew of Union soldiers
No one will be left behind, as we will have a sweep and be in radio contact at all times. The activity is dependent on safe weather, as hiker safety is the top priority. If the event is canceled due to inclement weather, all will get an email the evening before, no later than 9 PM. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at any time.
This ornery creature will be beside our trail where it meets the Antietam Creek (that's where he goes for a drink) so it is smart to give him the right of way
Here are the directions to the national park:
Here is the weather report for the park updated in real-time with each Doppler sweep:
Keep in mind that this will be a demanding hike over rugged terrain that is classified as a strenuous hike. I say this not to discourage anyone from coming, but rather to ensure that you are aware of what you are getting into. Know your limitations. Yes, it will be captivating and scenic as well as of historical import, but we will have to work on the trail, as we walk the very same path that soldiers once traversed, culminating to Burnside Bridge beside the Final Attack Trail.
Moreover, I will request that we get either a military historical interpreter or the artillery sisters to meet us (following our walk) at the Eastern end of Bloody Lane to give us a presentation of the battle of Antietam. However, I will not know for sure if we have an interpreter or historian assigned to us until the day of our hike, as they are all volunteers. After the presentation, we can have our picnic. Note that there is also a first-rate (free) movie on Antietam that we can see in the Visitor Center auditorium, and, of course, we can also visit the gift shop - where there are great gifts.