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So, as readers should know, I took a road trip of some of the United States’ many beautiful National Parks. (You can find videos and blog posts about it here!) For this adventure, my friend Louisa and I chose to visit National Parks because we had never been, they had name recognition (Grand Canyon, Shenandoah) and there seemed to be a visit-able number of them. But the National Park Service runs a LOT more than just Parks- National Monuments, National Historical Parks, National Lakeshores, National Recreation Areas, and National Battlefields, to name a few. The road trip would have taken us a LOT longer if we had tried to visit all 411 NPS units! (As is, we only got to 26 of the 59 National Parks, but we had always known Hawaii, Alaska, and American Samoa were out of reach for our college-student budgets, and we still hope to do the Northwest parks someday! Plus, one got upgraded from a Monument to a Park while we were on the road.)

Anyways, I now work for a National Historical Park, and it’s helped me appreciate that the NPS does a lot more than preserve sites that are “oooh pretty.” A lot of important historic and cultural sites would have been paved into highways or malls if it weren’t for the NPS and the recognition that our heritage matters. I’m still quite glad that we chose the “oooh pretty” National Parks as the subject for our road trip (though many of them do have interesting history and cultural elements) because, well…. it’s a lot easier to stand somewhere and say “Check out these awesome rock formations and these great trees!!!” than it is to say “check out this totally ordinary looking cornfield where 23,000 people died in 12 hours!”

Which brings me to Antietam.

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The thing about Antietam National Battlefield is that, if it weren’t for the NPS, you would never know what happened here. It reminds me of my trip to Auschwitz II, where most of the buildings had been torn down and it was kinda just a field. Battlefields are like that: fields. In the very interesting orientation video (by the way, if you visit Antietam, you MUST watch the video- I’m not a historian and it put the battle in an easy-to-digest format) I learned that the armies actually fought through corn at some points of the battle. But again, if this site didn’t have memorials and plaques and helpful volunteers in tents, it would just be… a field.

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Dunker Church

I’m not going to tell the story of the battle in this post, because I am not a historian, and Wikipedia has it covered pretty well. I’m just going to share pictures from my visit and try not to get all poetic about the symbolism of visiting such a historic site on Memorial Day weekend.

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A memorial to one of the units (New York, I believe) that fought in the battle. 

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A memorial to Clara Barton, who was a nurse in the Civil War and went on to found the American Red Cross. I later learned that coins are left on military gravestones to show that the deceased are not forgotten (or to buy them a beer in Heaven… the stories vary.)

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Although most of the park is fields, the roads are lined with different styles of memorials, plaques, and statues of the units who fought and died there.

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Nearby is Antietam National Cemetery, where the Union dead from the battle were re-interred. Most were buried in shallow graves or abandoned after the battle. There are almost 5,000 people buried here (including a few from later wars) and almost 2,000 of them are unidentified. Because I visited on Memorial Day Weekend, every gravestone had a small American flag, and they all had a coin or two on them as well.

Although this visit was not taxing physically (there are a few hiking trails, but most people drive the tour route and learn a bit about each site from the map, audio tour, or volunteers) it was emotionally tough. It’s hard to be standing in a picturesque field surrounded by rolling fields and imagine thousands of human beings dying in agony.

Anyways, I know this post isn’t as entertaining or fun as others I’ve done, but I wanted to mark Memorial Day in a meaningful way, and I hope that readers will appreciate it.

Now enjoy your day off (or holiday pay!) 🙂

(Readers with sharp eyes may have noticed an increase in photo quality- I got a new camera! I don’t have any photo editing software, though, so I may have trashed the quality by downsizing the images in MS Paint…. WordPress just didn’t feel like uploading 8MB pictures.)

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4 thoughts on “Antietam National Battlefield

  1. Pingback: Antietam National Battlefield | The Great American Parks Trip

  2. Nice pictures! We visited Antietam – wow, it’s been 3 years now – and on the same trip we went to Gettysburg. You’ve got to go see that one, they have a great museum and really enthusiastic, knowledgeable guides. And again, an amazing experience imagining how it all unfolded.

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