Antetam National Battlefield - Burnside Bridge - Civil War Reflections

Source: National Archives

We parked our rental car and walked over to the edge of a small but steep bluff. It was almost straight down to a one lane stone bridge over the Antietam Creek. The creek is about 35 yards wide in this area.

The historical marker overlooking the creek told of the Georgia units that were in rifle pits just below us in the side of the bluff. The rifle pits were originally a stone quarry. The Georgia Boys held the bridge with help from Confederate artillery, which were located on hills to the west of the bluff/bridge. There were three attempted attacks by Union troops that were repulsed even though the Confederates were outnumbered about 5 to 1.

Ultimately three things happened in this area. One, Union forces forded the Antietam further south and began to flank the right of the Confederate Line. Two, Union forces forded the Antietam further north and began to flank the left of the Confederate Line. And three, the Confederates began to run out of ammunition and two Union regiments, the 51st Pennsylvania and the 51st New York charged over the bridge.

The Confederates beat a hasty retreat, but some were captured and others killed when they left the bridge area.

The Confederates continued their retreat up a series of hills and ravines to a more secure line of defense. The Union forces got over the bridge and stopped for resupply of ammunition. The Union bridgehead had been delayed with just a smattering of troops for about 2 hours.

All the Union IX Corps plus another division crossed the bridge and started a buildup of a battle line that stretched about a mile long. The last phase of McClellan’s battle plan for the southern part of the battle was about to unfold…

About Civil War Reflections

Vernon has been a Civil War buff since childhood, but had been inactive in Civil War history for over two decades. However, in the early 1990s his interest was rekindled after watching Ken Burns’ “Civil War Documentary” on PBS. He particularly became interested in the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) and decided to learn more about this epic struggle.
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