Our 2017 Road Trip, Part 7: The War on Antietam

Colonel Christ.

We missed a Civil War monument in our previous chapter: Col. Benjamin C. Christ, 50th Pennsylvania Infantry.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. For 2017 our ultimate destination of choice was the city of Baltimore, Maryland. You might remember it from such TV shows as Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire, not exactly the most enticing showcases to lure in prospective tourists. Though folks who know me best know I’m one of those guys who won’t shut up about The Wire, a Baltimore walkabout was Anne’s idea. Setting aside my fandom, as a major history buff she was first to remind skeptics who made worried faces at us for this plan that Maryland was one of the original thirteen American colonies and, urban decay notwithstanding, remains packed with notable history and architecture from ye olde Founding Father times. In the course of our research we were surprised to discover Baltimore also has an entire designated tourist-trap section covered with things to do. And if we just so happened to run across former filming locations without getting shot, happy bonus…

Also previously: Sunday morning we toured the grounds of Antietam National Battlefield, infamous site where September 17, 1862, marked the highest single-day body count in the history of U.S. soil. Today the grounds hold far more than monuments, though travelers would do well to arm themselves with context by stopping at the Visitors Center first.

Funny thing about that: coming from the north as we were, the Visitors Center would’ve required a 290-degree left turn if we’d seen it, but we didn’t. For the first leg of our tour, we did the best we could without it.


Without the official brochure, 90% of Antietam is an easy but lengthy cornfield maze.

We kept driving till we found a labeled entrance, unaware that the road to Bloody Lane is Point 8 of the total 11-point Antietam experience. All we knew is we saw paths, monuments, constructs and parked cars, a scene that resembled a good place to start. The lack of facilities and employees did seem odd.

Battle Fences!

They also had battle fences. Lots and lots of battle fences.

In the distance you’ll note an observation tower, which provided the best vantage for Antietam panoramas, a combination of natural beauty and cultivated fields surrounding what was once the setting for too much bloody wartime carnage.

rolling hills.

Rolling hills and tilled fields.

Tower View Road!

The road to Point 9. We wouldn’t be ready for that for a while.


Inside view from the top. Whenever I take photos from a narrow tower, one of these shots is a must.

To the north of the observation tower, Anne and I spied a set of what appeared to be cannons with no path cleared to them. I looked and thought, “Oh, hey, cannons.” Anne looked and thought, “Oh, hey, more Civil War stuff! I wanna see.”

Tower View Cannons!

Did these cannons bear signs with more lessons to teach us? No way to tell from this distance…

After we descended the tower, Anne headed straight for the cannons. Ever the dutiful husband and somewhat curious to see how this would play out — and, y’know, not wanting to miss out if she did discover something cool — I followed several steps behind. So far we’d paid $0.00 for the Antietam experience, but we insisted on getting our money’s worth.

To my chagrin, well into our side quest of a few hundred feet, I realized whatever farmer owns the acres around the tower had decided the world needs less corn and dedicated this part instead to growing nothing but thorns, thistles, barbs, brambles, and possibly baby ninja blow darts. Whatever these growths were meant to be, they were mercifully shorter than my socks, but left dozens of tiny, sharp implements stuck all over my socks, above the ankle and inside my shoes in moderately torturous quantities. This, my least favorite field of all time, taught me to appreciate those autumn craftsmen who thoughtfully flatten the corn paths in their October corn mazes instead of expecting runners to hack their own way through and potentially turn into human porcupines.

Hundreds of winces later we arrived at the cannons and found they weren’t real. The treasures at the end of our dangerous outdoor dungeon path were decorative replica cannons. No signs, no warning labels, no indication that they killed or injured anyone of note, unless you count our feet. But at least now we knew.

Prop Cannon!

And knowing is half the prop battle. The other half is knowing who to sue for failing to put up a sign labeled “CAUTION: MEANINGLESS PROPS. ALSO, BEWARE OF FIELD.”

We returned to the safety of flatlands, each picked a dozen thistles out of our footwear, and drove back the way we came in hopes of locating a Visitors Center. Sure enough, it was back the way we’d come, but much easier to see when driving from the south. The parking lot was nearly full, but we found a space on the far end and joined the crowds milling around.

Union Reenactor!

Out front, a Civil War reenactor told stories to the kids, presumably not describing the bloodshed in excruciating detail.

Antietam bell!

More for the name than for any Civil War relevance, posted on their lawn is an original bell from the aircraft carrier USS Antietam, which served in the Korean War and was later used for humanitarian missions till it was decommissioned in 1963.


Hey, kids! Come take a look at our convenient ACTUAL CANNONS not surrounded by deathtraps or Chaotic Evil rogue plants!

Right across the street is Point 1, Dunker Church. Confederate troops were stationed there the morning of September 17th and later besieged for hours by the advancing Union army. On the 18th, once the dust had settled for the moment, a truce was called out front so both sides could tend to their wounded and bury their dead.

Dunker Church!

Hundreds of bullet holes eventually cleaned up nicely, but it hasn’t held regular services in over a century.

Inside the Visitors Center we paid our official admission dues and were then permitted to enjoy the air conditioning and a series of display cases containing authentic artifacts from that day.

Dunker Church Bible!

A battle-damaged Dunker Church Bible.

Henry Kyd Douglas.

Officer’s coat belonging to Henry Kyd Douglas, then age 21, youngest member of General Stonewall Jackson’s staff. Subsequently captured at Gettysburg, Douglas would later practice law in Maryland and was part of an effort to relocate soldiers’ graves from Antietam to a dedicated Confederate cemetery in Hagerstown.

McClellan flag!

US flag carried throughout the war on the person of Union General George McClellan, a gift from his niece.

Also, there’s a gift shop that doesn’t just sell Union merchandise.

Union hat!

But as for me and my house, we side with UNION.

A guided tour was scheduled to leave soon, but group tours don’t tend to be our thing. Beyond all the monuments depicted in Part 6, we didn’t cover the entirety of Antietam, so rest assured there’s plenty more to see if you make your own way there someday. Anne did want to see one more site before departing for lunch.

On that notorious day, hundreds of Confederate troops stood firm at what was once called Lower Bridge. On the other side of the river, Union forces led by Major General Ambrose Burnside fought for three hours from a disadvantageous position till, hundreds of casualties later, they won, crossed Antietam Creek at last, and forced the next set of Confederates they came across into retreat. The place where the tide of battle turned was later renamed Burnside Bridge.

Burnside Bridge!

This 1836 bridge still had cars crossing it daily as late as the 1960s until a new bypass was built for the sake of preserving it. Now it’s safe to walk on it.

Antietam Creek!

The view of Antietam Creek to the east.

On the north side of the bridge is Burnside Sycamore, a tree that’s stood in the same spot since at least 1859 and shows up in vintage photos taken days after the battle. Sources conflict as to whether it was a few years old at Burnside’s side or whether it predated the bridge itself.

Burnside Sycamore!

Steel cables have been installed to reinforce it and keep its long legacy going for as long as possible.

So far no vandals have damaged Burnside Sycamore or introduced legislation to turn it into grilling chips. Apparently as of this past Sunday morning the same can no longer be said about that Robert E. Lee statue I mentioned in Part 6. According to that article, the 2003 statue has drawn the public ire of a Democratic congressman who serves in Maryland, who was born in New Jersey, and who is running for President in 2020 and is therefore required by current DNC bylaws to hop aboard at least one hot-button political bandwagon in order to be considered primary-worthy.

To be continued!

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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