Starting in 2011 to 2015; the National Parks Service will be celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War. Nonprofits and other organizations are planning countless living history and battle reenactments. My family and I decided to remember the Battle of Antietam this year by not going to a battle reenactment. There were two battle reenactments commemorating the Battle of Antietam this year one held on the weekend of September 8th and the other on the 15th. We decided to go to neither one; instead we felt that the best way to celebrate the lives of those who fought the battle was to walk in their foot steps.
DAY 1: Saturday 15th
On Saturday we spent the whole day at the Sharpsburg Heritage Festival and after wards visited Shepherdstown West Virginia only a few miles south of Sharpsburg. This was the first time we attended the festival and did not know exactly what to expect. First off there was several places to park, but it was difficult getting out of the festival once you got into Sharpsburg. If you wanted to travel south or towards the battlefield it took you some time since many of the streets were closed due to the festival. And everyone seemed to be having a yard sale.
Second there were an assortment of craft vendors and entertainment. The entertainment included Celtic to Civil War era music. Also attending the festival was the “Birds of Prey”, which is a program that helps educate folks about the owls and hawks living in and around Maryland. We didn’t stay long even though there were like 140 vendors many of them did not officially create the crafts they were selling. The highlight of the day was the “Birds of Prey” and the Civil War era music. Everyone who attended the festival seemed to enjoy the music and looking at the birds.
Also many folks brought their dogs; large and small to enjoy the sights and smells of the festival. The “Birds of Prey” unfortunately were not too thrilled having dogs around them. Especially those birds who have had bad experiences with dogs. After taking the photo of the folks in costume I noticed this poor hot pooch. One thing I would change about this event is that they should at least offer free bottles of water. For a bottle of water it was $1. For a mid September day it got hot. It got about 82 degree more or less, when it should hit the mid to low 70’s during this time of year. I can only image how it felt for those who wore their period clothing during the festival and reenactment.
We usually sleep in while traveling but not during this trip. We woke up early so that we could start our day early. We had breakfast in Shepherdstown and went to the local farmers market for some stuff then traveled north the Antietam. Again we had to travel around Sharpsburg and wait in line in order to travel to the battlefield.
Lucky for us we had traveled past the battlefield the day before and knew we would have to park on the grass once we got there. We are happy to say that a lot of people decided to devote their time and money to the national park instead of spending unnecessary money to the battle reenactments. Who really know where that money goes to because in most of the reenactment websites they do not really tell people where that money will be going. Will it go towards saving and preserving other historical landmarks or used to benefit some CEO? At any rate it is a lot of money to throw away for one short weekend to participate or visit a Civil War battle reenactments. Once we got a parking spot, right across from the “corn field” we walked to the visitor center to get a map and brochure.
Above are tomatoes and fresh flowers from the Shepherdstown Farmers Market. We did not buy anything since we had plenty of tomatoes and other stuff at home from our own vegetable & herb garden. Plus we already bought stuff from home to fix our lunches while touring the battlefield. Little did we know; we would not have time to eat until 2 PM and by the time we left to go home we would not be hungry any way to stop for dinner.
The National Park Service does offer an assortment of passes with various prices. Anyone 62 years or older can buy the senior life time pass for $10 bucks, if you volunteer for the national park service and if you are a member of the military you can get a pass. To learn more about the passes “click here“! Any way I was with someone who had one of the following passes and everyone in my family was able to get in for FREE.
At each stop like the “Sunken Road, Cornfield and Burnside Bridge” there is a park ranger who talks about a particular point in the battle. It occurred every 30 minutes I think. Our first stop after touring the encampments, listening to lectures and gathering brochures at the visitor center was the Bloody Lane or Sunken Road.
Unfortunately by the time we got to Sunken Road there were a lot of people and it was difficult to get a good photo. The next time we visit “Sunken Road” it will be one of the areas I’ll be sure to photograph better. But we were in time for the ranger lecture so that we wouldn’t have to wait for the next talk to begin. Then we walked to the tower which my mom and I walked to the top, took photos of the area and walked down. Did I mention I am afraid of heights. Yeah that was interesting!. When I know I’m up high I feel dizzy and just want the sensation to stop.
Then we walked from the tower all the way to Burnside Bridge. I don’t know how many people have ever walked that distance but I would say it was at least 1 to 3 miles. As my family walked we saw people following us, I guess they did not want to wait for 45 minutes for another bus to come by. Except the whole time we walked to Burnside Bridge, we saw at least one bus pass us. And all the driver did was wave at us. He didn’t even consider stopping for us so that we can get a lift.
The whole time we kept seeing people portraying the south, hardly anyone was portraying the north. Once we got to Burnside Bridge guess what we saw? More Confederates, but there was a small Union encampment on the other side of the bridge. From the look of things people were already packing up their stuff, probably getting prepared for the final battle reenactment at 3 PM, which was held on a private farm and away from the National Battlefield. We heard and saw smoke from the event around 11 AM that morning so we knew approximately where the event was taking place. Above is a group of Confederates getting their photograph taken. From what I overheard it was for the UK not AMERICAN but UK magazine “Skirmish”. Question why don’t we Americans have our own “Living History” or Reenacting Magazine. Sure we have magazines focusing on a specific time period but nothing like “Skirmish” where it discusses all aspects and periods of the hobby. Hint one of the “witness trees” are located just to the left of where this photo is taken. Right where the bridge ends and the path continues.
Finally an available bus picks us up from Burnside Bridge but unfortunately we had to drive around the town of Sharpsburg in order to be brought back to the visitor’s center. Hence for the backup! Then we walked to the cornfield feeling that we would not visit that spot once we reached our car. Good thing we were about 5 minutes into the rangers lectures. Today the cornfield is very peaceful and I can only image the fear and sounds of bullets and cannon fire rushing through the cornfield that morning in 1862.
After a brief lunch break we decide to visit the Pry House which was made into a field hospital after the battle. It also had a small encampment and activities but since we were unable to stop by early in the day we missed a lot of what was happening. Most of the folks who had camped out had already packed and only a select few still had their tents and gear out. Fortunately for us a family from Illinois was staying for another night and the mother talked about her impression. It ended up being a very interesting discussion.
Final stop of the day was the National Cemetery. I don’t know when it was supposed to close but it started to appear that they were closing up as well. There is very little parking so if you so happen to pass this spot make sure you’re the first one to visit this location so that you are sure to have a parking spot. This also is another location I will want to visit again in order to photograph it better.
Overall I think the trip is a success, in fact my family is still talking about it. My dad isn’t a big fan of going to historical landmarks and missing his football games, especially when his team is playing. But us girls are still talking about it and are planning to visit another battlefield and enjoy another 150th event.
We can’t wait to visit Antietam Battlefield again and aren’t sure if we will be available to go to the Annual Illumination held in December. I guess it depends on if we get snow and if we are free that weekend.