Antietam Battlefield: ‘The very landscape turned red.’

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SHARPSBURG — Probably the most significant real estate purchase in Maryland this summer has been the 44 acres purchased by the Civil War Trust on June 30. Like a missing piece of puzzle, the 44 acre tract has always been privately owned right in the middle of the Antietam (Sharpsburg) Battlefield. Author Stephen Sears writes, “the battle…took a human toll never exceeded on any other single day in the nation’s history.”  On Sept. 17, 1862 at Antietam, 23,000 soldiers, Union and Confederate, were killed, wounded, or missing in the Cornfield, by Dunker Church, and  while crossing the bridge, today part of the National Park. That number is twice the population of the entire City of Cambridge.

Inaccessible to the general public and in private ownership were the 44 acres in the middle of preserved land owned by the National Park Service and the Civil War Trust.  That triangular-shaped parcel, the epicenter of the battlefield, is described by historian Dennis Frye as “the bloodiest ground of the bloodiest day in American history.” Dr. James Robertson Jr., biographer of Stonewall Jackson, calls the parcel “a holy memorial to the American courage and sacrifice, consecrated by the blood of patriots.”

Historian Robert Krick says, “For half a century I have described the savage maelstrom of battle on that field to tour groups gathered along its boundary, without access to the ground.” He calls the acquisition “one of the most spectacular preservation coups in memory.”

The fear that the land would be sold for inappropriate development was a reality; it had happened elsewhere. Instead, the owner offered the land to the Civil War Trust for $575,000; a fair price, says Jim Lighthizer of Maryland and the president of the Civil War Trust. The challenge was to raise the funds in a 90-day period. Jim Campi of the Civil War Trust staff said they were extremely pleased with the extraordinary response. Large and small gifts came in to meet the deadline.

Mr. Lighthizer calls this “one of the most priceless parcels of hallowed ground you and I have ever had the chance to save.” This historic battlefield is two and a half hours away from Cambridge.

In Pennsylvania, the more famous battlefield of Gettysburg is immortalized in the Gettysburg Address. But historians explain that the battle of Antietam “not only altered the course of the war, it turned the tide in American history.”

Five days after the battle, Abraham Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, but the war would drag on until June 2, 1865 when Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of Confederate forces west of the Mississippi, signed the surrender terms offered by Union negotiators. The last Confederate army ceased to exist after Smith’s surrender, bringing a formal end to the bloodiest four years in U.S. history.

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Purchased by the Civil War Trust is the area in yellow above.

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