Sharpsburg and Antietam National Battlefield are accessible only by car, although once you're there, the village itself is very easy to cover by foot. Sharpsburg is on MD-34, which connects with US Interstate 70 via MD-64 and US-40.
Sharpsburg is a small town, founded by a settler in 1763 after the French and Indian War, who named the settlement after then Maryland governor Sharpe. With less than 1,000 residents, it would be an overlooked quaint village if not for hosting one momentous and terribly bloody day in American history.
The Battle of Antietam
The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest day in American Military History. 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after twelve hours of savage combat on 17 September 1862. The Battle of Antietam ended the first Confederate invasion into the North and led to Abraham Lincoln's issuance of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
The Battle of Antietam was the culmination of the Maryland Campaign of 1862, the first invasion of the North by Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. Following a defeat at South Mountain, General Lee considered ending his campaign in the North and withdrawing to Virginia, but upon hearing of General Stonewall Jackson's victory at Harpers Ferry, he decided to make a stand at Sharpsburg.
The Confederate commander gathered his forces on the high ground west of Antietam Creek with Gen. James Longstreet's command holding the center and the right while Stonewall Jackson's men filled in on the left. Union General George McClellan focused the Union forces upon the left flank of the Confederate Army along the Sunken Road, and hammered away in brutal stalemate. Union General Ambrose Pierce led the planned assault upon the Confederate right flank seven hours into the battle, after General Lee had already transferred many troops to the left flank, but was held up in capturing the bridge that bears his name by a small Confederate force from a higher defensive position. After taking the bridge, General Pierce paused for two hours to reorganize his forces, delaying his assaults upon the Confederate right flank. By the end of the day, General McClellan's assault had failed to break either flank, leaving a large portion of his central forces out of play, leaving the brave efforts of his men in the fight nullified by his overly cautious assault. General McClellan left the battle embarrassed and in poor standing with the President. The tactical stalemate remained, both armies were decimated (nearly 1/4 of the men fighting), and Sharpsburg was nearly destroyed. General Lee, seeking to avoid a drawn-out battle of attrition with the larger Union forces, withdrew across the Potomac, ending his strategic campaign in the North.
This bloody battle, despite the underwhelming tactical performance by Union generals, marked a strategic turning point for the North, as General Lee would from this point be forced to fight on Confederate soil. Perhaps even more importantly, the "victory" here gave President Lincoln the opportunity to make his Emancipation Proclamation, thereby making the war no longer just an attempt to restore Union sovereignty over the South, but a greater cause of ridding the United States of the evil practice of slavery. This gave the Union an important boost in morale, and helped keep foreign powers leery of supporting the cause of slavery from aligning with the South.
Antietam National Battlefield
- Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center, 5831 Dunker Church Road, ☎ +1 301 432-5124. 26 Oct-8 May 8:30AM-5PM daily, 9 May-29 May 8:30AM-6PM daily, 30 May-20 Sept 8AM-7PM daily, 21 Sept-25 Oct 8:30AM-6PM. $4/person, $6/family, valid for three days.
The battlefield is maintained by the National Park Service, and you can experience it in a number of ways:
- Explore the museum exhibits in the visitor center
- View the 26-minute introductory film "Antietam Visit" which is shown on the hour and the half- hour, except from noon to 1:00PM
- Join a Park Ranger for a battlefield talk
- Browse the Museum Store
- Take the self-guided 8 1/2 mile auto tour through the battlefield. The tour has 11 stops and begins at the Dunker Church
- Take a self-guided hike on the Cornfield, Final Attack, Union Advance, Antietam Remembered, Sherrick Farm or Snavely Ford Trails
- Visit the Pry House Field Hospital Museum, +1 301 416-2395, summers: noon-5PM daily.
Sharpsburg is not a town full of activities for travelers beyond visiting the battlefield, but it is right by the C&O Canal, which is a great place for biking, walks, camping, canoeing, and kayaking.
- Antietam Battle Anniverary. 12-14 September. The most busy weekend in Sharpsburg every year hosts musical performances, including Civil War field music, vendors, a full-day guided hike of the battlefield, special lectures, and a whole host of other activities.
- Clara B Gifts, 6508 Sharpsburg Pike, ☎ +1 301 432-2691. A small gift shop right on the edge of the Battlefield, where you can buy souvenirs and greeting cards.
- Antietam Cafe & Wine Bar, 111 W Main St, ☎ +1 301 432-0711. The place to eat in Sharpsburg, with a full bar and crab cakes that attract favorable reviews.
- Battleview Market - Diner, 5331 Sharpsburg Pike (1/2 mile south of Antietam Battlefield), ☎ +1 301 432-2676. 6am-10pm. Homecooking at its best! Homemade soups, Subs, Sandwiches Wraps, Fresh Fried Chicken. Burgers fresh from the local meat market daily. Serving Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. Eat in or Carry Out. Box Lunches available for large groups touring the Battlefield.
- Nutter's Ice Cream, 100 E Main St, ☎ +1 301 432-5809. Extremely high quality ice cream, and an incredible bargain for high class ice cream if you are used to city prices! Cash only.
- Captain Benders, 111 E Main St, ☎ +1 301 432-5813. M 4PM-midnight, Tu-Sa 11:30AM-1AM, Su noon-midnight. Pretty much the only bar in town is actually one of the best in the region. It's no tourist trap, has some really good cocktails, and a full pub menu.
- Pete's Tavern (West Main Street), ☎ +1 301 432-2591. Small town gem. Daily specials on homemade soups and sandwiches. Pool, Shuffle Board, on and off sale liquor and beer. Open Daily at 10 AM, 12 Noon on Sundays. Cash Only
- Jacob Rohrbach Inn, 138 W Main Street, ☎ +1 301 432-5079, toll-free: +1-877-839-4242, fax: +1-877-839-4242, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. An exceptionally charming, historic Bed & Breakfast (1804), offering a multi-course daily breakfast, free WiFi, and antique furnishings. Double: $130-185.
- The natural "next stops" for visitors interested in Civil War sites are the incredible national battlefield at Gettysburg (one hour away) Monocacy (half hour) and Harpers Ferry (half hour).
- Next door is the original Washington Monument at Boonsboro.
- Crystal Grottoes offers underground cave tours, minutes from Sharpsburg.
- The closest cities of any real size are Hagerstown and Frederick.