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160th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam

September 7, 2022

160th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam

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By Crystal Schelle, Journalist. 

This year commemorates the 160th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, and special events are planned to shine a light on its importance in American history.

Thick fog blanketed the town of Sharpsburg in the wee hours of September 17, 1862.
Hours later Union and Confederate soldiers would clash in what would be named the most bloodiest single-day battle of the American Civil War — the Battle of Antietam. After 12 hours, there were 23,000 soldiers killed, wounded or missing.

Although it would be two more years after Antietam before the war would officially end, what happened in the cornfields of Sharpsburg that fateful day would continue to have significance for years to come. First, it was the first time Confederate troops fought Union troops on northern soil.

Just a few days later that President Abraham Lincoln would issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1863 “that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free." However, this only applied to Confederate states, not to the border states who sided with the Union. But its importance was that it showed that the war was no longer just about preserving the Union, but about slavery. On Jan. 1, 1863, Lincoln would officially issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

After the battle, Lincoln would fire Gen. George B. McClellan whose tepid actions resulted in only one-third of his troops onto the battlefield. McClellan’s Union troops outnumbered the Confederate troops two to one. Some historians believe that if the Union general would have used all of his troops, it would have been a more notable victory. Lincoln replaced McClellan with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who would continue to lead troops until the war’s end.

The battlefield officially became the Antietam National Battlefield Site in 1890. It was taken over by the War Department in 1933 before being redesignated in 1978. In the more than 44 years since its redesignation, battlefield officials have taken steps to make the area feel and look, as much as possible as it did in 1862, including reestablishing the cornfields. Currently, the Visitor Center is under renovation and is expected to reopen this fall with new exhibits.

To recognize the significance of the Battle of Antietam, several activities are scheduled in and around the area. Here are a few highlights:

● Saturday, Sept. 10 — A symposium commemorating the 160th anniversary of the battle titled, “Exposed to the Fire of Slavery and Freedom,” at Frederick Community College’s JBK Theater. Doors open at 8:15 a.m. Talks start at 8:30 a.m. Programs are free and open to the public. The event is in partnership with Shepherd University George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War.
● Friday, Sept. 16 — Prelude to the Battle hike focusing on the events the evening before the battle. The hike begins at 6 p.m.at the Visitors Center.
● Saturday, Sept 17 - Sunrise at Antietam. Experience what the morning was like hours before the battle. The talk is at 6:45 a.m. at Tour Stop.
● Sunday, Sept. 18 - Sculptor Toby Mendez will unveil the Clara Barton Memorial Model at 12:30 p.m. at Newcomer Homer.
Both Saturday and Sunday
● Five battlefield hikes — 8:30 a.m. Battle of the Cornfield, Tour Stop 4; 10 a.m. Massacre in the West Woods, Visitors Center; 11:30 a.m. Struggle for the Sunken Road, Visitors Center; 2 p.m. Attack and Defense of the Burnside Bridge, Tour Stop 9, 3:30 p.m. The Final Attack, Tour Stop 9.
● Ranger Guided Driving Tour - Car caravan tour of the battlefield at three stops. 10:15 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. Meet at the Visitor Center.
● Overview of the Maryland Campaign, which discusses the battle. Talks are at noon, 2 and 4 p.m. at Visitor Center.
● Weapon firing demonstration. Living history program demonstrating artillery and infantry. 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. Visitor Center.
● Grand Army of the Republic, living history volunteers will portray members of the Grand Army of the Republic and discuss veterans' commemorations in the years following the battle. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dunker Church.
● United States Sanitary Commission, Living history volunteers tell the story of the Commission and the role it played in improving the lives of the Civil War soldier. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday at Mumma Farm.
● Civil War Music, listen and learn about the music of the era, every 45 minutes beginning at 10:45 a.m. at Mumma Farm
● Civil War Photography, a demonstration of the wet plate photographic process that was used by Alexander Gardner to record the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam. 11:45 a.m. and 2:25 p.m. at Mumma Farm
● The Emancipation Proclamation, Learn about this important outcome of the Battle of Antietam, 1:15 p.m. at Mumma Farm.

For a complete list of scheduled events, go to https://www.nps.gov/anti/index.htm

Photo: NPS