At dawn on September 17, 1862, the bloodiest day in American history, Union Gen. McClellan's troops confronted Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's army near a creek known as Antietam in Sharpsburg, Maryland. Brutal combat ensued at the Dunker Church, a house of worship for German pacifists, bloodied The Cornfield, and swept down the Sunken Road - later called the Bloody Lane - and by evening crossed the Stone Bridge over Antietam Creek and concluded in a Final Attack and Union victory just beyond the bridge.

The Battle of Antietam was Robert E. Lee's first invasion of the North following Confederate victory at Manassas II. It was part of a coordinated set of attacks that included Harper's Ferry and Shepherdstown in West Virginia and South Mountain in Maryland. The defeat at Antietam caused the Confederates to retreat back to Virginia. Armed with a solid Union victory, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves and allowed them to escape to Union camps to aid the war effort. Furthermore, it discouraged the British - who had built warships for the Confederacy and ran the Union blockades - from further involvement.

It was here at Antietam that a U.S. Patent Office Clerk named Clarissa Harlowe Barton was declared 'the angel of the battlefield.' Clara Barton, as she is known, rode out to the Antietam battlefield with wagons filled with medical supplies. She tended wounded men on the battlefield and was grazed by the bullet that killed a soldier she was tending. After the War, Barton founded the American Red Cross, and there is a monument to her on Antietam Battlefield.

Visiting the Antietam Battlefield

Your best bet to tour Antietam Battlefield is to start at the Antietam National Battlefield Park. Here, there is a staffed park office featuring a film, guided tours and demonstrations, a self-guided driving tour, hiking trails, an artillery display, a museum and a gift shop. The 8-1/1 mile Antietam Battlefield Driving Tour is available at the park office and features 11 stops with hiking trails at each of the sites of major battle actions. The trails consist of mowed grass track on scenic, somewhat hilly terrain. The quaint, historic town of Sharpsburg is adjacent to the battlefield and features restaurants and bed and breakfast accommodations.

An app is also available from Civil War Trust that features a Battle Overview and tours of the major battle areas. This excellent resource contains driving directions to all stops as well as readings, photographs and interactive media describing the background and battle actions.

Visit Civil War Trust and National Park Service for battle details and information about the preservation of this battlefield.

Pictured at the top: The Maryland Monument at Antietam Battlefield was erected by the State of Maryland 'to her Sons, Who on this field offered their lives in maintenance of their Principles.'

antietam new york monument hikers

The State of New York erected the New York Monument at Antietam Battlefield 'in commemoration of the Services of its officers and soldiers in the Battle of Antietam, Sept. 17, 1862.'

antietam the cornfield hiker

The Miller family fled their home when war came to their farm, and the most intense fighting of the Battle of Antietam occurred here at The Cornfield.

antietam mumma farmhouse

The Mumma family fled their farm before the battle, and the Confederates set their house on fire so it could not be used by Yankee sharpshooters.

antietam final attack

The final battle occurred here near the stone bridge called Burnsides Bridge as Union troops marched across these fields pushing the Confederates back.

antietam the observation tower

With a climb of 70 steps to the top, the Observation Tower at Antietam offers spectacular views of the battlefield. The tower was built by the War Department in 1897 as part of a battlefield park that included artillery, roads, fences and battle tablets that still can be seen today.

antietam harley riders

Antietam National Battlefield Park offers hiking and biking along scenic park roads and trails.