In September 1862, Gen. Robert E. Lee moved his Confederate army into Maryland so farmers in war-torn Virginia could complete their fall harvest. He also hoped that a military victory on Union soil would gain foreign support for the Southern cause. After several smaller confrontations, Lee’s ensuing campaign came to a head with the Battle of Antietam.
Confederate soldiers forded the Potomac River and entered Maryland near White’s Ferry. Cavalries then clashed in Poolesville, which was no stranger to Civil War action: In 1861, Union troops assembled here before being ferried into Virginia for the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, and in 1863, Confederate horsemen stormed through on their way to Gettysburg, Pa. Civil War exhibits are found inside the circa-1793 John Poole House.
Several miles due north, you’ll find the Monocacy National Battlefield. Well-known as the site of the July 1864 conflict dubbed “The Battle that Saved Washington,” Monocacy also played a key role during the Campaign of 1862. Ask at the battlefield visitor center for details about Lee’s “Lost Orders,” which were found in this area by a Federal private and given to Union Gen. George McClellan prior to the battle at Antietam.
On the first Saturday in December, Antietam National Battlefield is illumined with 23,000 candles, marking the number of soldiers, both Union and Confederate, who were killed, wounded or missing.
Photo By: National Park Service
Nestled at the foot of South Mountain, the town of Boonsboro forms a gateway to Civil War heritage sites and a welcome respite for Appalachian Trail hikers.
Photo By: Craig Moe
This now scenic bridge over Antietam Creek was once the site of intense fighting. Confederate soldiers held the area overlooking the bridge until Union General Ambrose Burnside's command captured the bridge and crossed the creek.
As dawn broke on Sept. 17, battle lines were drawn near Antietam Creek — Lee’s 41,000 soldiers faced a Federal army twice that size. By dusk, Union forces held the field, but more than half of the 23,000 casualties wore blue, not gray. Union dead were buried at the Antietam National Cemetery, with many Confederate soldiers laid to rest in nearby Hagerstown.
A thorough tour of the beautifully preserved Antietam National Battlefield — from Burnside Bridge to the “Bloody Lane” — can take several hours when a must-see visit to the Pry House Field Hospital Museum is included. Also plan to stop at the farmhouse where abolitionist John Brown planned a pre-Civil War raid of an arsenal in Harpers Ferry, W. Va. The raid, though unsuccessful, inspired many anti-slavery groups.
A few days after the cannons fell silent at Antietam, President Abraham Lincoln visited the battlefield. Then on September 22, Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, a major step toward the prohibition of slavery.
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The Monocacy Aqueduct, the largest such structure on the C&O Canal, was twice a target of Confederate demolition crews during the Antietam Campaign, but both attempts to destroy it failed.
The stone Monocacy Aqueduct carried the C & O Canal over the Monocacy River, allowing canal boats to transport goods to market. Confederate troops tried and failed to destroy the aqueduct on September 4 & 9, 1862.