31 October 2010 by Published in: Battlefield stomping 5 comments

Last week featured another of my infamous banzai runs. On Thursday night, I was scheduled to speak to the Hagerstown Civil War Roundtable, so I drove over that morning. Now, it’s about 350 miles from my house to the meeting place/hotel, so it took me about 5.75 hours to make the drive. I went straight to the Antietam National Battlefield, where I met up with fellow blogger and friend John Hoptak. This was my second visit to Antietam in two weeks. Along with three friends, I had spent a weekend stomping the battlefield with old friend Dr. Tom Clemens just ten days earlier.

John and I spent most of our time together hiking the portion of the battlefield where the Ninth Corps fought. First, we walked the newest trail, which leads to the spot where the Ninth Corps attack formed up, and to a new overlook high above Burnside’s Bridge on the Union side. We then walked most of the Final Attack Tour trail. That ground is remarkably difficult ground, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount about that part of the battlefield from my last two visits. First, and foremost, I’ve come to understand and appreciate the fact that Burnside’s men had it much rougher than I ever imagined. There really was no option but for his men to storm the bridge that bears his name–trying to wade the creek would have slowed his men’s approach and they would have had to have crossed a slippery creek bottom in leather-soled shoes, and the banks of the creek would have become impassable, slipper quagmires in no time flat. They would not have been able to scale those banks. The way that the Ninth Corps finally carried the bridge was really the only viable option.

I also never realized how difficult the terrain that the Ninth Corps had to traverse to reach its final positions during the battle. The closest terrain I’ve ever seen is at Perryville–it’s one ridge and valley after another, and they’re usually quite deep. It’s up and down, up and down, and often steep. Because the Otto farm–where most of the Ninth Corps fight took place– was in private hands until recently, it was impossible to come to a real appreciation for the terrain. Now that I’ve walked that ground, I’ve really come to appreciate how the terrain drove the action, and I’ve also come to realize that the ordeal of the Ninth Corps has been badly overlooked by the public for many years. Too many people think that the battle ended with the storming of Burnside’s Bridge, but that fails to account for the ordeal of the rest of the Ninth Corps, or the good fortune of Robert E. Lee’s army in having A. P. Hill’s Light Division arrive just in the nick of time to repulse the lead elements of the Ninth Corps from the streets of Sharpsburg that day.

Like the Wheatfield at Gettysburg, I don’t have a good handle on the confused, chaotic, bloody fight in the West Woods at Antietam. So, at my request, John and I walked the West Woods trail. I had never walked that trail previously, and I now have a little better understanding of how things played out in the chaos of the West Woods. I still have a long way to go before I feel like I really understand what happened there, but I came away with a much greater appreciation of that fight. The woods are much wider than I ever realized–they’re not a narrow band like the East Woods–and there are deep ravines that run through the woodlot that are not evident or visible from the road.

That night, I gave my presentation to the Civil War Roundtable, which was attended by old friends Ted Alexander and Stephen Recker. I gave my talk on the retreat from Gettysburg. The venue is particularly appropriate, because the hotel/convention center is actually on a portion of the battlefield for the July 10, 1863 Battle of Funkstown, which I featured prominently in my talk.

Friday morning, I did some talking head stuff for a video on the role of the City of Hagerstown during the Civil War. The film is primarily intended to be a marketing piece for the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and I spent my time discussing both the Battle of Hagerstown (July 6, 1863) and the wounding of Ulric Dahlgren during that fight. The film is scheduled to premiere on the next anniversary of the battle, and I hope to make it to that premiere. I will keep folks advised as I know more about it. After spending an hour or so filming, I changed clothes, made a brief stop at one of the fabulous Wonder Book and Video stores in Hagerstown, and then drove the 350 miles home.

In all, I was gone for 34 hours. I spent 11-11.5 of those 34 hours driving. I drove 700+ miles. I hiked more than four miles on Thursday afternoon over some difficult ground. I gained a better appreciation of a portion of the Antietam battlefield that not enough people get to see, and I spent some time with some good friends. It was quite a trip, but boy, was I tired by the time I got home.

I took lots of photos during the trip with Tom Clemens, and I intend to post some of those photos here in the next couple of days. I will also go into greater detail about that trip then. I surely do love the Antietam battlefield.

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Comments

  1. Mike Peters
    Sun 31st Oct 2010 at 9:54 pm

    Eric,

    Did you find anything at Wonder Book and Video?

    Mike

  2. Wed 03rd Nov 2010 at 9:35 pm

    Antietam is one of my favorite battlefields. I was lucky enough to have grown up in the area and I have been to Sharpsburg many times. I am always amazed about A.P. Hill’s Corp and that amazing force march from Harpers Ferry to save the day for the confederates. The ground they covered is no easy terrain–and to arrive and be pitched into battle right away, is an amazing feat.

  3. Dennis Graham
    Tue 09th Nov 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Thanks for talking to us, Eric. That was the best presentation on the retreat I have heard, even on a tour.

    I was interested in you comments on some of the trails. My friend and I have attempted every NPS trail at the park. The Final Attack Trail was no problem. The West Woods Trail we had to turn around because one spot was too steep with too many rocks and roots. We went back and traveled some on the highway until we rejoined the trail further on and returned to Dunker Church. Snavelys Ford Trail had a major obstacle: a stump in the middle with a steep hill on one side with the creek on the other. We returned to the beginning and started from the end of the trail near the McKinley monument, thus making it to the ford. Believe in or not, my chair is able to make it up the hills over the erosion logs going at full speed. Other trails, like the Cornfield, are fairly easy.

  4. Tue 09th Nov 2010 at 6:16 pm

    Dennis,

    Many thanks for the kind words–I really appreciate them.

    I agree with your assessment of the hiking trails. The Final Attack trail is probably the most difficult, because of the terrain, but it’s certainly not horrible. If you can manage it in your chair, you’re doing very well. Then again, very little seems to deter you. :-)

    Be well.

  5. Chris Evans
    Wed 17th Nov 2010 at 6:14 pm

    Great and interesting post. Really enjoy reading about the battlefield stomping. Will we be seeing pictures of the trip to Antietam soon?
    Chris

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