5831 Dunker Church Road, Sharpsburg, 301/432-5124,
HOURS: Oct.–early May 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m., May 8:30 a.m.–6 p.m.,
Jun.–Sept. 8:00 a.m.–7 p.m., Sept.–Oct. 8:30 a.m.–6 p.m.
COST: $4 per person, $6 per family
While most Americans have heard of Gettysburg—the Pennsylvania town that, in 1863, was the sight of the most costly battle of the U.S. Civil War, and the turning point of the conflict—not everyone has heard of Antietam National Battlefield. Yet Antietam was just as important a battle, and one that changed the character of the war.
Just west of Frederick, near the town of Sharpsburg, the forces of Union General George McClellan and Confederate General Robert E. Lee collided as the Union troops attempted to keep Lee from further invading Union territory north of Washington, D.C. On the morning of September 17, 1862, nearly 100,000 troops engaged in battle across the rolling farmlands and woods of this part of the state. Twelve hours later, the carnage ended, and some 23,000 Americans were dead, wounded, or missing.
It was the single bloodiest day of the Civil War; a day later, Lee’s troops withdrew to Virginia. Many of the surrounding towns were turned into makeshift hospitals, aid stations, and morgues; recent improvements in medicine and surgical procedures probably saved countless lives (details on this aspect of the battle can be gleaned at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick).
Begin your tour at the visitors center, located roughly in the center of the battlefield (which is spread out over some four miles of countryside). At the center you can watch two compelling films that set the scene for the brutal combat that took place here, and view photos taken by some of the earliest war photographers—some of which show dead soldiers splayed across the same, now calm and green landscapes you’ll be able to traverse.
The tour is self-guided, and done via automobile, bicycle, or on foot, but you can get a park ranger to ride along with you for a more in-depth explanation of the battle and its repercussions. The tour is lined with picket fences of the types built by the battle’s soldiers, as well as cannon and numerous monuments built to honor the soldiers of the various states who sent their young men here to fight for their respective countries.