Ah, the aroma of a fine cigar made
sweet tobacco of the south. How many men have enjoyed them over the
After a fine meal, with a snifter of brandy, or relaxing on one’s front
porch watching the last of that magnificent southern sun fade away into
the twilight sky. But did three cigars lead to the bloodiest single day
in American history? Apparently so as two great armies were to meet at
the woods and cornfields near Sharpsburg Maryland.
George B. McClellan, commander of the
Army of the Potomac, forever cautious and convinced his foes were more
numerous than his, once again exercised his wariness upon learning of
E. Lee’s first invasion of the north. Much to the frustration of
Lincoln, McClellan had yet to score a glorious victory for the union,
due to his inactivity in pursuing the enemy.
As the Army of the Potomac and Lee’s
of Northern Virginia somewhat paralleled each other crossing into
Union pickets observed a small packet lying on the ground. Since this
previously occupied by Confederate pickets, the Union sergeant and
figured they must have found something of value. Much to their delight,
they did find something of value, three cigars wrapped in paper. Quite
a rarity and valuable discovery, it wasn’t until later they realized
true value of this treasure. The paper wrapped around the cigars was a
copy of Lee’s general order 191. This document provided troop strength
and intended movements of his army and was carelessly dropped upon
Upon receipt of this document, McClellan
quoted as saying, “If I can’t whip Bobby Lee with this, I shall gladly
go home.” He would have his chance on September 17, 1862.
The battle of Antietam, or Sharpsburg as
Confederates referred, was actually three separate little battles
place almost simultaneously. As the battle rages for numerous hours
the morning, fresh federal troops converge on the sunken road, so named
for its indented appearance on the earth due to the high travel of
This road was soon to take on the macabre nickname, the bloody lane.
natural breastwork was defended by desperate Confederates; exacting a
toll upon the Union ranks.
A belated support attack just south of
saw murder in the thousands as Union soldiers attempted to cross
creek. Union General Ambrose Burnside, instead of having his men cross
at a shallow ford one quarter mile south, bottlenecked his troops as he
attempted to cross about ten thousand men over a bridge that could hold
six men across. The Rebel troops had an easy day of it, whereas the
had no cover and were herded like cattle trying to cross this
History has renamed this bridge and his blunder to the Burnside bridge.
By late afternoon, the battle ended.
both sides would claim a victory; strategically it was a draw. Lee
back to Maryland, and McClellan, typically did not pursue. As both
exited the field, they left a total of 23,000 men killed, wounded, or
Thus ended the bloodiest day in American history.
The battlefield looks much today as it
138 years ago. With the exception of some woods having been removed,
a few monuments, one can stand and peer at the same landscape that bore
witness to that horrific event. Today, one can see what those before us
saw, perhaps even bear first hand witness to a sampling of what those
As the bloody lane became a mile long
for Confederate dead, many seem to have stayed on. Visitors have
the sound of gunfire when in the area of the bloody lane while others
smelled the unmistakable scent of black powder that seems to emanate
out of nowhere. One visitor to the park saw what he thought was a
of Confederate re-enactors only to realize that was not so when they
vanished before his eyes.
An elementary school day trip became
an experience for some of those youngsters one spring day. After the
tour, they were invited to wander the area of the bloody lane for a
time before their departure. Upon their return, they mentioned to their
chaperone that they heard what sounded like chanting, that seemed to
in volume and intensity, emanating from all around them. When asked
it sounded like, they assimilated it to what sounded like the Christmas
song ‘Deck the Halls’. The youngsters said it sounded somewhat like “Fa
La La La La”.
The area in which they stood saw the
and decimation of the New York Irish Brigade. When asked if the chant
“Fahaugh A Balaugh”, most enthusiastically confirmed while some
unsure. This was the Irish Brigade’s equivalent of the ‘Rebel Yell’;
“Clear the Way”.
The Burnside Bridge isn’t without its
tales. Drum cadences are heard from time to time, calling into action
brave men of a time passed. Torturous shouts and screams have taken
a park visitor by unwelcome surprise, reminding us of the bloodshed
this creek span.
Visits to the National Park, at the very
will offer a beautiful view and a reverence to those who fought and
in a most tumultuous time in our nation’s history. Perhaps if you’re
enough, or unlucky, depending; you may just get more from your visit
anticipated. Perhaps you will hear, firsthand, the events that bestowed
the area around Sharpsburg, Maryland the dubious honor of hosting
single bloodiest day.