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Posted on May 13, 2008 in War College

Virtual Tour Antietam: The Civil War’s Bloodiest Day

By David J. Eicher

The Antietam Virtual Tour
Click for larger image. The Antietam battlefield represents one of the more pristine areas among Civil War sites, with tracts of land owned by the government running alongside roads, and relatively little spoilage from modern buildings in and around the site. The adjacent town of Sharpsburg is still tiny, a grid enclosing only a half-square mile and with a population of 659. Before traversing the fields, visitors will want to check out the Antietam Visitor Center and its museum, located off Dunkard Church Avenue (Old Hagerstown Pike) just short of a mile north of town (you’ll see signs as you approach Sharpsburg).

After you walk around the Maryland, New York, and Ohio monuments near the Visitor Center, you’ll be ready for the major tour points of the field.


Dunkard Church. David J. Eicher.Tour Point 1 — The Dunkard Church: Across the road from the Visitor Center is a small, white church building. This is the Dunkard Church (also called the Dunker Church), the meeting house of a small sect of German Baptist Brethren who believed in fully immersing their converts, thus attaining the name Dunkers. The church had been built in 1851 by the Samuel Mumma Family along with others of the community. The Dunkard Church was an important landmark in the early and middle stages of the battle. Prolonged, repeated attempts to capture this ground came from both sides. High ground around the church was held by Confederate Maj. Gen. Stonewall Jackson, who posted his 8,000 troops here early in the morning of the battle. Texans under Brig. Gen. John Bell Hood fought around the church in the morning before the position was taken by charging Federal troops under Brig. Gen. George S. Greene. Confederates retook the ground, then lost it again during a thunderous artillery volley. Heavy casualties lay scattered around the church and surrounding grounds in the wake of the battle. A violent storm in 1921 demolished the original church, but in 1962 the structure was reconstructed using in part original materials.

Joseph Poffenberger Farm. David J. Eicher.Tour Point 2 — The Joseph Poffenberger Farm: The night before the battle, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s I Corps camped in and around this house and outbuildings on the northern end of the battlefield. Hooker made his headquarters here and formulated and launched the initial attack at Antietam from this position. The woods in this area, dubbed the North Woods, separated the Poffenberger property from those around it, including the David R. Miller Farm and the adjacent cornfield to the south. At 5:43 a.m. on September 17, Hooker sent his men in their battle lines toward the little white church on the Old Hagerstown Pike, toward the Rebels. Hooker wanted the men of Brig. Gen. John Gibbon’s “black hats,” the men of the Iron Brigade (see "Legendary Combat Units," July 2008 ACG), to move down the Pike and strike into the Southerners. As the lead column on the left set out — the men of Brig. Gen. James B. Ricketts — they approached the cornfield ahead of them and, just at first light, met a thunderous fire by Confederate artillery from ahead. As the battle raged, waves of men set off from the Poffenberger Farm and then retreated to it, while shells struck around the premises. Wounded and dead struggled back to the property, turning the area into an aid station and a makeshift morgue. Nurses tended the wounded here, and you will see a monument to Clara Barton, commemorating her service on the Antietam battlefield. However, a description of the cellar in the house Barton wrote about shows she did not work as a nurse here, but at the Samuel Poffenberger House, to the southeast.

Miller farm and cornfield. David J. Eicher.Tour Point 3 — The David R. Miller Farm and Cornfield: South of the Joseph Poffenberger Farm, east of the Hagerstown Pike, stands this famous farmhouse and the adjoining Cornfield. The Cornfield marks the site of some of the heaviest fighting at Antietam and indeed some of the heaviest action of the entire Civil War. More than one after-action report described, as did Hooker’s, how the corn in this field had been cut down by bullets “as if by a scythe.” The Cornfield covered 30 acres, and through much of the battle, lines of Confederates and Yankees crossed through it. Walked through by men from more than a dozen different divisions of infantry and struck by rounds of artillery fire for hours, the field was transformed into “hell on Earth.” Maj. Rufus Dawes of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, one of the Iron Brigade units, wrote about his experience in the Cornfield. “There is a rattling fusillade and loud cheers. ‘Forward’ is the word. The men are loading and firing with demoniacal fury and shouting and laughing hysterically, and the whole field before us is covered with rebels fleeing for life, into the woods. Great numbers of men are shot while climbing over the high post and rail fences along the turnpike. . . . A sharp cut, as of a switch, stings the calf of my leg as I run. . . . As I entered the field, a report as of a thunderclap in my ear fairly stunned me. This was Gibbon’s last shot at the advancing rebels. The cannon was double-charged with canister. The rails of the fence flew high into the air.”

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