Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Meaning of Memorial Day

Fredericksburg National Cemetery
Each year on this weekend, I'm reminded of the powerful message of Memorial Day.

This morning, I thought about twenty-year-old Corporal William G. Smith, who was instantly killed with a bullet to the head while charging the railroad cut on July 1st, 1863 at Gettysburg. I think about his father Robert, a newspaper editor in Haverstraw New York, who set out on an ultimately unsuccessful journey to Gettysburg to recover his son's body. And I think of the unmarked grave where Corporal Smith's remains likely reside on Cemetery Hill today.

I think about the men of the 1st Minnesota, and their sacrificial charge on July 2nd, 1863 at Gettysburg. I think of the fifty-two Minnesotans buried on Cemetery Hill, and of the simple yet powerful memorial erected by their surviving comrades, the very first memorial erected on the Gettysburg Battlefield:
All time is the millennium of their glory.
I think of the 15,300 United States soldiers buried in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery, 12,000 of them unknown.

I think of these men and all that they lost, but I also think more broadly about the lessons they can teach us. Memorial Day was born out of a sad necessity. Some 700,000 men lost their lives in the Civil War (we will never know a precisely accurate number). The war resulted from the birth defects present at our nation's founding: racially-based slavery. Through four bloody years of savage combat, our ancestors saved our Union and ended slavery. Yet those four years created their own bitter legacies and lasting acrimony, and they failed to solve the issues of racial bias at the root of conflict.

In Gettysburg, site of Lincoln's call for a "new birth of freedom," we can find another, obscure cemetery that contains the remains of thirty African American Civil War soldiers. These men fought to preserve their country, and yet were laid to rest segregated from the cemetery where Lincoln spoke his immortal words. For years, stretching into the twentieth century, the black community in Gettysburg held its own, segregated Memorial Day observances.

It's a mistake to think we have moved beyond the legacies of this war. We need only to pay attention to the events and heated debates of the last year to understand this.

When I contemplate the meaning of Memorial Day, I often remember the poignant words Rufus Dawes of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry. In December of 1881, Congressman Dawes wrote to his wife:
My dear wife:--I have today worshiped at the shrine of the dead. I went over to the Arlington Cemetery. It was a beautiful morning and the familiar scenes so strongly impressed upon me during my young manhood, were pleasant. Many times that I went over that road, admiring the beautiful city and great white capital, with its then unfinished dome, going to hear the great men of that day in Congress. An ambitious imagination then builded castles of the time when I might take my place there. Now at middle age, with enthusiasm sobered by hard fights and hard facts, I ride, not run with elastic step over the same road, with this ambition at least realized, and with warmth enough left in my heart to enjoy it. My friends and comrades, poor fellows, who followed my enthusiastic leadership in those days, and followed it to the death which by a merciful Providence I escaped, lie here, twenty-four of them, on the very spot where our winter camp of 1861-1862, was located. I found every grave and stood beside it with uncovered head. I looked over nearly the full 16,000 head-boards to find the twenty-four, but they all died alike and I was determined to find all. Poor little Fenton who put his head above the works at Cold Harbor and got a bullet through his temples, and lived three days with his brains out, came to me in memory as fresh as one of my own boys of today, and Levi Pearson, one of the three brothers of Company A, who died for their country in the sixth regiment, and Richard Gray, Paul Mulleter, Dennis Kelly, Christ Bundy, all young men, who fell at my side and under my command. For what they died, I fight a little longer. Over their graves I get inspiration to stand for all they won in establishing our government upon freedom, equality, justice, liberty, and protection to the humblest.
 Dawes's words speak to me. For Memorial Day is not just a day to remember our deceased soldiers, but also a call to action to heed the lessons they might teach us. For what they died, I fight a little longer. Over their graves I get inspiration to stand for all they won.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Debate Continues Over St. Louis Confederate Memorial


My wife and I spent some time this holiday season visiting her family in St. Louis. While visiting the Missouri History Museum this week, we passed by the Confederate Memorial in Forest Park. Over the past year, this monument has generated a fair amount of controversy as the city considers proposals for its removal and relocation. Nick Sacco has covered this on his Exploring the Past Blog. It will be interesting to see how the debate turns out.

I first ran across the Confederate Memorial on one of my earlier visits to the city, and ended up doing a bit of research about the monument's erection. Here's what I wrote back in January of 2013, before the controversy erupted:

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My most interesting discovery during the week though was two monuments located in Forest Park, just a few hundred yards away from the Missouri History Museum and a stone's throw from one another. These two monuments speak strongly to the divided nature of the war years in St. Louis, and also to the struggle over the memory of the war.

General Franz Sigel Statue, in Forest Park, St. Louis.

During the war, St. Louis was a city with divided loyalties. Many residents had southern roots. Yet the growth of finance and industry before the war created many strong ties to the North, and St. Louis's expanding population of German-born Americans remained staunchly Unionist and antislavery. The first monument we ran across spoke to this population of German immigrants - it was an equestrian statue of General Franz Sigel.

Sigel obtained his first military experience in his home nation of Baden, and participated in the 1848 Revolution. When the Revolution was suppressed, Sigel fled, eventually settling in New York in 1852. He made a name for himself in the German-American community, writing for the New Yorker Staats-Zeitung and the New York Times. In 1857, Sigel moved to St. Louis, and at the outbreak of the war proved instrumental in rallying German-born Americans to enlist. He became a Colonel in the 3rd Missouri and fought under Lyon. In August of 1861 he was promoted to Brigadier General, a position he earned in no small part to his value as a recruiter of German-Americans. Sigel served throughout the Civil War, but never gained much success as a military commander.

The statue was unveiled in 1906. It was sculpted by German sculptor Robert Cauer and cast at the Lauchhammer Foundery in Lauchhammer, Germany. The inscription at the base of the monument reads: "To remind future generations of the heroism of German-American patriots in St. Louis and vicinity in the Civil War of 1861-1865. General Franz Sigel."



Nearby, we came across the Confederate Memorial in Forest Park. At first, I was somewhat surprised to find a Confederate Memorial here. Missouri divisions ran deep, but St. Louis remained a Union stronghold throughout the war, despite the presence in the city of southern sentiments. When we arrived at the monument though, I began to understand: this monument, dedicated in 1914, sought to set in stone (quite literally) the Lost Cause mythology of the war.

Confederate Memorial, Forest Park, St. Louis.
The statue features bronze statuary depicting a southern family sending a young man off to war, above which sits a relief carving of the "Angel Spirit of the Confederacy." The back side of the 23 foot tall memorial features two engraved quotations. The first was written by Robert Cattlett Cave, a St. Louis minister who had served as a Virginia soldier in the war:
To the Memory of the Soldiers and Sailors of the Southern Confederacy.

Who fought to uphold the right declared by the pen of Jefferson and achieved by the sword of Washington. With sublime self sacrifice they battled to preserve the independence of the states which was won from Great Britain, and to perpetuate the constitutional government which was established by the fathers.

Actuated by the purest patriotism they performed deeds of prowess such as thrilled the heart of mankind with admiration. 'Full in the front of war they stood' and displayed a courage so superb that they gave a new and brighter luster to the annals of valor. History contains no chronicle more illustrious than the story of their achievements; and although, worn out by ceaseless conflict and overwhelmed by numbers, they were finally forced to yield, their glory, 'on brightest pages penned by poets and by sages shall go sounding down the ages.'
The inscription oozes Lost Cause mythology at its finest. We did not fight to protect slavery, this monument states, but rather to protect the right of self government guaranteed by the Declaration and the Constitution. And, it continues, we would have won if not for overwhelming numbers. If one inscription does not drive the point home - another inscription quotes Robert E. Lee:
We had sacred principles to maintain and rights to defend for which we were duty bound to do our best, even if we perished in the endeavor.
After viewing the monument, I hoped to find out more about how it came to be when I returned to New York. So far I have yet to locate any newspaper coverage of the construction and dedication, but I have found some information about the monument in Katharine T. Corbett's In Her Place: A Guide to St. Louis Women's History, published in 1999. The monument was dedicated on December 5, 1914, and was funded by the Ladies Confederate Monument Association of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It's construction came not without a bit of controversy though. It took several years of advocacy on the part of the UDC to succeed in placing the monument. Government officials objected to any memorial that commemorated Confederate military forces.

Confederate Memorial, Forest Park, St. Louis.
To get around this injunction, the UDC held a public competition calling for designs that did not depict a soldier in Confederate uniform, nor any object of modern warfare. Models of each submission were displayed in the new St. Louis Public Library. George Julian Zolnay's winning design - with it's young man in civilian clothing headed off to war - met the requirements. The UDC raised the $23,000 for the monument and presented it as a gift to the city. Not wanting to expend any money on a monument to treasonous Americans, city councilmen passed an ordinance requiring the UDC to pay for the upkeep on the monument.

By 1914, the Lost Cause version of the Civil War was in the ascendancy. The following year would bring the release of Birth of a Nation. In 1917, the Virginia Memorial would be dedicated at Gettysburg, the first of the Confederate state monuments on the battlefield.

Today, the Confederate Memorial that stands in Forest Park not only honors the memory of the soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy. It also stands as a testament to the effort to win the battle over the memory and to rewrite the meaning of the war. Taken together with the monument to Sigel that stands not too far away - it reminds us that St. Louis was a divided city during (and after) the Civil War.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The American History Guys Discuss Confederate Symbols

Happy Holidays everyone. I haven't had much time to post much in 2015, but I'm still here!

I'm late to the game on this, but if you haven't already listened to this BackStory with the American History Guys show on Confederate symbols, it's absolute must. The show provides easily one of the most thoughtful commentaries on Confederate symbols that I've heard this year.

For those of you unfamiliar with BackStory, it's one of the best public radio programs around. On each show, historians Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh provide three centuries of historical context to the events, debates and issues of our modern world.

Enjoy.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Considering the Legacy of the War at Sunset

Last night I attended Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park's summertime Friday series, "History at Sunset." This week's excellent program, delivered by the park's chief historian, John Hennessy on the Spotsylvania battlefield, encouraged the audience to think about the complicated legacy of the Civil War, the competing narratives of its historiography, and the role battlefields can play in helping us understand the war not just through a microscopic focus on battlefield tactics and soldier stories, but in also presenting the story of the war from a broader view. Hennessy used a pair of binoculars as a metaphor for the challenges of interpreting the war. We often look through the small lenses to obtain a close up, detailed portrait of war, he said; we zoom in on faces and belt buckles. However, doing so can sometimes detract from the larger issues that the combatants fought over - principally slavery. Hennessy encouraged us to flip the binoculars around, look through the larger lenses, and grasp the larger patterns and stories that may not appear so evident at extreme magnification. We must consider both views, he concluded, when interpreting history.

As the audience of about 120 wound its way from the Bloody Angle to the McCoull Farm and back, Hennessy offered several stories that challenged standard narratives of the Battle for the Mule Shoe on May 12th, 1864. Along the way, he argued that no historical event has been more carefully presented to the American public than the Civil War. In the years after the war, individuals in the North and South sought to craft a narrative of the war to facilitate reconciliation. This narrative emphasized that soldiers on both sides displayed honorable virtues, such as courage, valor, and chivalry. It sought to present a simplified depiction of the war, and to downplay the war's complexities. As John B. Gordon once wrote: "The unseemly things which occurred in the great conflict between  the States should be forgotten, or at least forgiven, and no longer permitted to disturb complete harmony between North and South."

The carefully crafted narrative of the Civil War had little room to consider the ultimate cause of the war, human slavery. Yet in the past half century Americans have increasingly questioned the dominant narratives of the war. As new individuals and groups have gained voices through various movements to expand political and civil rights, they have used those voices to challenge old assumptions, and add new stories to our understanding of the war.

 It was a beautiful evening on the Spotsylvania battlefield, but also an evening that required grappling with difficult and complicated questions. This proved especially true in light of the public conversations of the last month over the place of Civil War memory in our society today.

Freeman Tilden wrote that the chief aim of interpretation is provocation, and in this Hennessy certainly succeeded. Listen to the entire program, an audio file is embedded below, and it's well worth your time. The original audio file is courtesy of Ted Schubel.


Friday, June 26, 2015

The First Confederate Flag Memorialized at Gettysburg

On July 3rd, 1887, twenty-four years after the battle, the first Confederate flag appeared on a monument on the Gettysburg battlefield. Erected at the Angle at the very center of the Union battle line, it honors the Army of the Potomac's First New York Independent Battery. The Confederate flag appears in a bas relief depiction of the climax of Pickett's Charge on July 3rd, 1863. Delivering the dedication speech, Congressman Sereno E. Payne reflected on the rebel flag:
Alas, the scars remain; and there is much that, although forgiven mayhaps, cannot be forgotten. And yet, pressing forward to the things that are before, let us endeavor to forget the things that are behind. Better that the captured emblems of that memorable struggle be hidden away, until the slow tooth of Time shall have eaten away the last shred, than that they be brought into the light of day, to awaken dying enthusiasm of other days, or to enkindle old animosities. Let our anger slumber with these embattled flags. One bright, glorious, significant flag--the Stars and Stripes--is enough for us. Its thirteen stripes, reminding us of the throes of the Revolution, its thirty-eight stars not one lost or clouded or dim, all set in the field of Union blue....
I find myself reflecting on the Confederate flag today. The media attention surrounding it has reached a frenzied pitch following the tragic, racially motivated terrorist attack at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston last week. Political leaders in South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, and Virginia, have acted to remove the 150-year-old symbol from statehouses and license plates. Retailers such as Walmart and Amazon have announced that they will no longer sell Confedeate flag merchandise.This all seems like positive progress to me. Yet I was reminded last night of how far we have to go.

While perusing Facebook, I came across an announcement from Gettysburg National Military Park. The announcement read, in full:
The bookstore at Gettysburg National Military Park's Museum & Visitor Center will continue to sell a wide variety of items that feature both the U.S. and Confederate flags, as well books, DVDs, and other educational and interpretive media where the image of the Confederate flag is depicted in its historical context. However, effective today, the bookstore will no longer sell stand-alone items that solely feature the Confederate flag, including display and wearable items. This only affects 11 out of 2,600 items carried in the bookstore. No other changes will take place on the battlefield: this includes monuments and wayside exhibit panels. In addition, all ranger-led interpretive programs and all living history programs and demonstrations will continue as normal. We remain committed to providing the public with the same historically accurate and authentic programming that you have come to expect. Please visit our website for more information.
An appropriate response I felt, and a reasoned and carefully worded statement to explain the response, designed apparently to offend no one. And yet... it did. At last check, this post had drawn over 2,000 likes, 1600 shares, and 1600 comments. And the comments.... oh the comments. If you want to see how far some individuals will go to stretch, twist, and invent "history" to fit their own world view, it's worth a read. If you don't want to be appalled or angered by ignorance and racism, I would skip it.

Let's be clear. The Confederate flag from its very beginnings was a symbol entangled with slavery and white supremacy. Modern white supremacy groups have not "twisted" the meaning of the flag. Ta-Nehisi Coates summed this up best in a recent Atlantic article. If you want to know about the causes of the Civil War, each Southern State did us all a favor by explaining very clearly in their ordinances of secession in 1861. The State of Mississippi perhaps offered the most direct explanation in A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union:
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.
History can be personal and difficult, and I understand why individuals get upset and defensive over the legacy of their ancestors. I trace my own lineage back to the earliest Dutch settlers of New York's Hudson Valley. These ancestors owned slaves.

I believe that for those who become fascinated with history, the initial appeal is one of simplicity and nostalgia. I am certain that such feelings drew me into the study of the Civil War as a freshman in high school. We live in an incredibly complex society, and, on the surface, the past appears to be a simpler time. We are drawn to ancestral stories of glory and honor, and to periods where we can clearly define right and wrong, good and bad.

Yet the true past was just as complex a world as ours, and real history is not hero worship. The Confederacy fought for slavery, yet in its struggle against the United States, it did not have a monopoly on racism. Many in the North did not support the cause of Emancipation, and Abraham Lincoln himself clung to impractical schemes for the colonization of freed slaves during the early years of the war. Real history seeks neither to elevate or denigrate individuals, causes or movements of the past. It seeks to understand them, to place them within proper context. At its best, history can help us use the past to understand our own modern world.

Congressman Payne wanted to banish the Confederate flag from our memory. We can't do that, and we shouldn't. The flag reminds us of our nation's challenging legacy on race - and of a war that cost the lives of 750,000 Americans. It should be studied, and understood for what it represented, and continues to represent. Places like the Gettysburg battlefield, and the wonderful museum at its Visitor Center, are appropriate places to display and study these symbols. State House grounds and government-issued license plates are not.

I am sure that some will mourn the loss of their ability to purchase a Confederate Flag shot glass at Gettysburg National Military Park bookstore. I will not.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Photos - Fredericksburg National Cemetery Illumination


Last night, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park held it's 20th annual National Cemetery Illumination to commemorate Memorial Day. This wonderful event is a partnership involving Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and other helping hands (nearly 1,000 volunteers all told). The beautiful cemetery was lit up with more than 15,300 candles--one light for each soldier resting at peace on the heights made famous during the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg. In addition to the illuminaries, NPS staff and volunteers stationed themselves at various points throughout the cemetery to share individual stories of fallen soldiers.


The United States Congress created the National Cemetery in July of 1865, just three months after the end of the Civil War. It became the resting place for more than 15,000 United States soldiers. Most of these are Union soldiers who died in camps near Fredericksburg due to disease, or in one of the four major battles and countless minor actions that took place around Fredericksburg during the war.  Roughly 100 of the graves are 20th century soldiers, and a few spouses, but the cemetery closed to new burials during the 1940s. About 12,000 of the 15,000 soldiers buried here have not been identified.



According to Fredericksubrg & Spotslyvania's twitter feed - last night's commemoration seemed on its way to an attendance record, with more than 6,600 people with an hour left to go.


The illuminaria is a fitting way to commemorate fallen soldiers on Memorial Day. The tradition harkens back to the very origins of Memorial Day, a holiday that grew out of emerging traditions of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Snowy Hike on Antietam's Three Farms Trail

This past weekend I traveled through Maryland and Pennsylvania, and on Sunday morning I spent a few hours at the Antietam National Battlefield. After nasty weather over the past several weeks, Sunday turned into a beautiful, spring-like day; perfect for a hike on Sharpsburg's snow-covered fields.

The Antietam National Battlefield has established excellent hiking trails for the intrepid battlefield tourist. The park's trail system allows a visitor with enough time and stamina to explore the entire battlefield, from the North Woods to Snavely's Ford, on foot. On previous visits, I had explored many of these trails. On Sunday, with only a few hours to spare, I decided to seek out one that I'd not previously experienced.

The Three Farms Trail does not explore areas where intense combat took place during the Battle of Antietam. However, it takes hikers to some of the quietest and most beautiful locations on the battlefield.As its name implies, the path winds its way through three farms that existed during the 1862 battle. It begins at the William Roulette farm, and passes through the secluded fields and buildings of the Joseph Parks and Joshua Newcomer farms. As you make your way south along the west side of Antietam Creek, you pass over terrain traversed and occupied by elements of the 2nd and 5th corps of the Army of the Potomac during the battle on September 17th, 1862.

A view taken from near the Visitor Center on the Dunker Church Plateau looking toward the Mumma (left) and Roulette Farms (right), and beyond to the South Mountain Range. The Mumma Farm Lane runs across the middle of the view.

You cannot access the trail head readily via car. First, you must hike a portion of the Bloody Lane Trail which begins at the Visitor Center, and visits the Mumma and Roulette Farms. More than 5,000 United States soldiers commanded by Brig. Gen. William French passed over these farms on their way to attack Confederate forces in the Sunken Road on the morning of September 17th.  

The Battle of Antietam brought a great deal of suffering to the Roulette Family. Their farm endured extensive damage as a result of the thousands of soldiers that tramped over it. During the battle the farm became a field hospital, and William Roulette later claimed that some 700 soldiers were buried on his property. The family's youngest daughter, Carrie May, later died of a disease likely brought by the armies.



A second view of the Roulette Farm House and its springhouse and kitchen.
This view was taken from the ravine through which French's division emerged onto the battlefield.




After passing these farm buildings, the Bloody Lane Trail follows the Roulette's old farm lane. The start of the Three Farms Trail is found at the location where the farm lane curves to the southwest.

The Roulette Farm Lane can be seen in the foreground. In the distance, the Bloody Lane observation tower rises up above the ridge line. Cresting that ridge, United States soldiers recoiled from a withering fire delivered by Confederates resting in a sunken road on the opposite slope.
The trail head for the Three Farms Trail leads to the northeast away from the Bloody Lane.

The Three Farms Trail connects Antietam National Battlefield's northern and southern trail networks. From the Roulette Farm, it winds its way southward, part of the way along Antietam Creek, until it connects with the Sherrick Farm Trail south of the Boonsboro Pike, modern day Route 34.


This rutted road trace remains visible on the landscape today. In 1862 it connected the
Parks, Newkirk, and Kennedy Farms to the Boonsboro Pike near the Middle Bridge over Antietam Creek.
Along the way, the recreational trail joins the deep-cut trace of an old roadway as it makes its way toward the Joseph Parks farm. In 1862 this road connected the Parks Farm with the Boonsboro Pike to the south, and the Kennedy and Newkirk Farms to the north.

The Joseph Parks Farm today. Both the barn and the home in the background date to the 1830s, though both have seen alterations over time.

Eventually, the path climbs a hill and emerges into a clearing occupied by the historic buildings of the Joseph Parks Farm. According to a Cultural Landscapes Inventory completed by the National Park Service in 2011, both the main house and barn were initially constructed around 1830, though both have undergone alterations. This land was long owned by the Mumma Family, who originally built the house and farm buildings. In 1861, the Mummas sold the farm to Phillip Pry. Pry owned another farm on the opposite side of Antietam Creek, which became Maj. Gen. George McClellan's headquarters during the battle. Pry operated this property as a tenant farm, and historians believe that the tenant at the time of the battle was Joseph Parks. On September 16th, United States Soldiers crossed the creek near the farm to protect the middle bridge. The following day, Union infantry and cavalry traversed the property, artillery batteries established positions on the farm to fire against Confederate positions on Cemetery Hill, and its likely that the homestead became a field hospital. Just five days after the Battle of Antietam--photographer James F. Gibson captured a view of the Parks farmstead in a view entitled "Antietam, Md. Another view of Antietam Bridge."

Gibson photographed the Parks Farm from heights on the eastern side of Antietam Creek,
overlooking the Middle Bridge.
A zoomed-in view of the previous photograph, focusing on the Joseph Parks Farm.
The house and the barn still stand today.

Moving on from the Parks Farmstead, I neared the Boonsboro Pike. Here the trail continues on past the Newcomer Farm, crossing the pike to eventually link with the Sherrick Farm Trail. Instead of completing the trail, I chose to turn aside here onto the Tidball Trail, which ascends a steep ridge line to the position of Captain John C. Tidball's Battery A, 2nd United States Artillery during the battle.


After crossing the Middle Bridge before noon on September 17th, Tidball's men hauled their six rifled cannon by hand up this steep ridge, where they expended some 1,200 rounds of ammunition protecting federal troops positioned near the Bloody Lane and supporting Burnside's advance to the edge of Sharpsburg that afternoon.

The views obtained from Tidball's position, I think, are some of the best you will find on the Antietam Battlefield. From this one position you get a good view of the terrain over which the 2nd Corps assaulted the Sunken Road, the ground over which Burnsides' 9th Corps advanced in late afternoon against the Confederate right, and an imposing view of the rolling, open terrain that McClellan's soldiers would have had to cross to attack the Confederate Center on the outskirts of Sharpsburg. Many--including myself--have criticized George McClellan for not crossing his reserves over the Middle Bridge on September 17th to attack Lee's center when one more push could have potentially crushed Lee's army. Viewing the terrain from this vantage point, however, I saw the tremendous obstacles to such a movement.

The Antietam Battlefield is surprisingly compact, but the rolling nature of the terrain rarely allows you such a sweeping view of the battlefield. Here are a few of the shots that I snapped in this location:

From the ridge line looking back toward the Parks Farm.
Another view of the Parks Farm. I took this picture as I ascended the ridge line toward Tidball's position.
A view from Tidball's position toward the surprisingly close Bloody Lane Observation
Tower, just four-tenths of a mile away.
A view looking southwest across the Boonsboro Pike toward Antietam National Cemetery
(marked by the evergreen trees on the hill in the right background).
A close-up view of Cemetery Hill - with the National Cemetery to the left of the road.
Lee's center rested on that ridge line on September 17th, 1862.
A zoomed-in view looking southwest toward where the final advance of Burnsides' corps was turned back by Confederate reinforcements. The distant hill in the left background marked the farthest advance of the 9th Corps.

Running short on time. I did not complete the Three Farms Trail after viewing Tidball's position. Instead, I struck out across country to the Bloody Lane, and completed my hiking circuit back to my car at the Visitor Center. After a brisk two-hour hike, I started back on my way home to Virginia. If you have the time, hiking is the only way to truly understand a battlefield like Antietam, and the Park Service has done a great job creating these trails that provide access to the under-visited locations on the field. The different views and terrain features you will observe while hiking will likely change your perspective of the battle.