Burnside Bridge, Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg, Maryland.
Our theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is: Bridge.
Our instructions: This week, think about the things, places, or people that connect us.
Living in Virginia, I sometimes forget the Civil War took place (literally) in my backyard. From time to time, I succumb to fits of Civil War history, and revisit some of the key battlefields. My teenagers are (generally) good sports about it. Especially if the promise of ice cream is involved. Earlier this week, we made a quick day-trip to Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland.
It’s difficult to process the scope of what happened there on September 17, 1862. It was the single bloodiest day in American military history. Nearly 23,000 casualties (dead and wounded) in a span of 12 hours. From a military point of view, the battle was considered a draw, but President Lincoln and the Union claimed it as a victory. General Robert E. Lee’s retreat from Maryland gave President Lincoln enough political cache to issue the Emancipation Proclamation five days later.
And the dominoes began to fall.
Antietam also marked the first time photographs were used to bring the reality of war to the American people. Photographer Alexander Gardner (view his photos here) was the first to take photos of a battlefield strewn with war dead. The Civil War would no longer be romantic or remote.
I took this photo at Burnside Bridge, which spans the Antietam Creek. At the time of the battle, the bridge was known as Rohrbach or Lower Bridge. On the morning of September 17, 1862, a badly outnumbered pocket of Confederate soldiers (roughly 500 of them) prevented 12,000 men from General Ambrose Burnside’s Ninth Corps from quickly crossing the bridge and attacking Confederate artillery. The Union would eventually break through and cross the bridge, but the delay was enough for Confederate General AP Hill to arrive from Harper’s Ferry with reinforcements, and prevent the total collapse of Lee’s right flank.
Burnside Bridge is a physical bridge, but it represents so much more than that — it connects us to our national past.