Monday, November 29, 2021

Touring Antietam National Battlefield

We had a full day to spend adventuring with my Mother-in-Law and Ron, but weren't quite sure what activity would work given our constraints. We wanted to do something Covid-friendly, which suggested we needed to be outdoors, but the cold and blustery conditions gave us pause. After a bit of discussion, we came up with a plan: we'd visit Antietam National Battlefield and do an audio guided driving tour.

While all of us had toured the battlefield at Gettysburg, none of us had spent any meaningful time in Antietam. We figured we could spend the majority of the time in our warm car, yet hop out as needed to snap pics and get closer to any monuments and sights.

After a delightful 90 minute drive to Sharpsburg, Maryland we found ourselves at the visitor's center in time to listen to most of a ranger talk and then catch most of an informational movie.

The talk, movie and audio driving tour all covered essentially the same content: what lead up to, happened on the day of, and followed the Battle of Antietam. Hearing this information essentially three times in a row may seem like tedious redundancy. And for some, that may be the case. In hindsight, I'm glad we caught all three presentations.

For one thing, it's hard to process the full series of events that took place on September 17th, 1862. Hearing the events recounted multiple times, vastly increased my chances of appreciating what went on during this bloody day of battle.

Additionally, each of the presentations brought along a unique set of insights. The ranger talk, brilliantly delivered in frigid temps, challenged the notion that George McClellan was a timid solider. He laid out the case, at least for this one battle, that McClellan's reputation for lacking bold action was undeserved.

The movie (found on YouTube here), emphasized the international role of the Battle of Antietam, a factor I'd never considered. Britain and France were apparently one large Confederate victory away from recognizing the CSA as a legitimate county. Had Lee been victorious at Antietam, French and British recognition could have lended significant backing to the Confederacy. In actuality, the loss at Antietam helped pave the way for the Emancipation Proclamation and helped keep Europe neutral.

The audio car tour, provided by Action Tour Guide, provided us with in-context commentary that shared a number of fascinating details. The audio tour was a bargain at $5.99, and I'd absolutely recommended it if you decide visit Antietam. The tour app is GPS powered, so occasionally it would get confused and either clip some narratives or repeat others. Still, the quality of narration and storytelling more than make up for a bit of glitchiness.

After the Ranger Talk and Movie we piled in the car and did the audio driving tour. We made our way through notable battle locations, viewed countless interesting monuments, and generally took in the sights of the now placid countryside. It was a fascinating and engaging way to spend the day and more than exceeded our expectations for an accessible and unique DC day trip.

You'd think that after hearing the battle recounted three ways and driving the grounds, I'd be ready to move on to another battlefield. And yet, I'd gladly go back to Antietam. When the weather warms up, perhaps I can convince Shira to walk the battle field with me to better appreciate the scale of the events. Or maybe we can use historic maps to find specific locations on the battlefield where special moments unfolded. There's much more to learn about this battle, and we've only begun to scratch the surface.

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