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I am a lifelong student of military history with particular interest in the Battle of Antietam. I work for the federal government in Washington DC and have two teenagers who I love very much. I currently volunteer at the battlefield and devote much time to the study of this battle and the Maryland Campaign. I enjoy collecting notable contemporary quotations by and about the men of Antietam. These words often add a degree of color and character not found elsewhere in their stories. A feature of this blog is the presentation of some of these quotes. My perspective comes from a 28 year career in the U.S. Army. Travels took me to World War II battlefields in Europe and the Pacific where American valor ended the tyranny of Nazism and Empire. But our country faced its own greatest challenge 80 years earlier during the Civil War. And it was the critical late summer of 1862, when Robert E. Lee launched the Maryland Campaign that fortune could have gone either way. It is an incredible story of drama, carnage, bravery, and missed opportunities that culminated around the fields and woodlots of peaceful Sharpsburg MD. So join me as I make this journey South from the North Woods.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The "Other" Bridges Across the Antietam

There are actually five bridges that played a role in the Battle of Antietam. The Burnside Bridge is easily the most well known of the five but the others had important parts to play in this battle as well. Below is a brief history of each of these bridges and a photo that (with the exception of the Middle Bridge), was taken by me last Sunday, July 26th. According to Helen Ashe Hays in her book The Antietam and Its Bridges, (G.P. Putnam and Sons, New York and London 1910), a total of fourteen bridges were constructed by the commissioners of Washington County between the years of 1823 and 1863. All the bridges were made from the limestone deposits that are commonly found all over Washington County. Many of these limestone outcroppings are visible all around the Antietam Battlefield. Until 1830, the Commissioners of the Levy Court governed Washington County. They were responsible for the construction of the first five bridges. The first two bridges (Funkstown and the Leiterstown Road) were build in northern Washington County.

After the construction of these two bridges the commissioners contracted with Silas Harry to build the third bridge in the southern part of the county. This bridge was constructed for $1,800. It was located where the Boonsboro Pike crosses the Antietam near Sharpsburg at Major Christian Orndorff’s mill. Known originally as the bridge at Mumma’s Mill, and later as the Orndorff Bridge it is best remembered in Antietam history as the Middle Bridge. McClellan’s plan for the battle called for attacks against Lee’s flanks and at the right moment, the commitment of the Fifth Corps in a punch up the middle. In McClellan’s mind, this moment never came and the only action around this bridge during the battle, was skirmishing by Federal regular infantry battalions from Sykes Division and horse artillery from Pleasanton’s Cavalry Division against the Confederate forces of Nathan Shanks Evans brigade and the division of David R. Jones. The Middle Bridge is the only one of the five stone bridges near the battlefield that did not survive to the present. In 1889 after “forty days of rain” which precipitated the Johnston Pennsylvania flood farther north, the piers of the bridge weakened and it began to settle in the high waters. The bridge was condemned and torn down. An iron bridge replaced it before the modern overpass was built.





In 1829 an act was passed by the Levy Court that authorized the building of the next stone bridge near Samuel Hitt’s mill. This mill was later known as Pry’s Mill. The bridge was built by noted bridge builder John Weaver, constructor of 6 of the 14 Antietam bridges. Silas Harry, the builder of the Orndorff Bridge acted as John Weaver’s agent and was paid $1,413.66 for the work. The bridge was built on the point where the Keedysville road crosses the Antietam. This ford was the scene in 1755 where General Edward Braddock and colonial volunteer officer George Washington and their forces crossed the Antietam on their ill-fated journey to the west. This was the bridge also known as the Upper Bridge that was the crossing point for General Hooker’s First Corps on September 16th 1862.





In 1830, the old Levy Court was abolished and the new Board of County Commissioners carried on the work of supervising the county roads. The first bridge (number six in the series), built by them in 1832, was the stone bridge near the mouth of the creek at the old Iron Works below Sharpsburg. It is the largest of the Antietam bridges and the only one to have four arches. John Weaver was the builder of this bridge. It carried the road from Sharpsburg to Harpers Ferry and is located at the site of a large iron works complex first known as the Frederick Forge and later as the Antietam Iron Works. Munford's cavalry screened this bridge along the extreme southern flank of Lee's lines on the day of the battle. On September 17th, it was screened by Munford’s Confederate cavalry. Later in the day, elements of A.P. Hills Light Division were sent to the area to provide furthr protection to Lee's southern flank.





In 1833, the County Commissioners appointed a committee for “viewing the site of a bridge over the Antietam on the Sharpsburg and Maple Swamp road”. The contract for building the ninth Antietam bridge went to John Weaver at a cost of $2300. It is the most well known of the Antietam bridges. Known at various times as the Rohrbach, or Lower Bridge, history now accords it the name Burnside Bridge. Along this beautiful stretch of the Antietam was a scene of desperate fighting on September 17th, 1862 between the divisions of Ambrose Burnside’s Ninth Corps and the brigade of Georgians under Robert Toombs. This is the only bridge of this group that is not part of the road system of the area. It is now owned and carefully maintained by the National Park Service.





Finally the last bridge is one that doesn’t cross the Antietam at all, but its tributary, the Little Antietam. Located not far from the Hitt Bridge is the Pry’s Mill Bridge. George Burgan built this two-arch bridge for $1,650 in 1858. Its cutwaters, the upstream pier bulwarks designed to divide the current and break up ice flows and log jams, are unique in that they are shaped like the prows of ships. Both grist and sawmills operated at nearby Samuel Pry’s Mill. The wings and parapet of the bridge were rebuilt in the twentieth century. Like the nearby Hitt Bridge, Hooker’s Corps also used this bridge to cross the Little Antietam on its way to the battlefield.

2 comments:

  1. Jim,
    Always enjoy the things you cover. Keep posting! Just one question... Please double check the route Jackson's command used getting from HF to Sharpsburg. I believe all of Jackson's units used the Virginia (west) side of the river, not the east side. Jackson's men forded the Potamac at the Blackford/Packhorse/Shepherdstown Ford several miles up river to re-enter Maryland. Even McLaws' Division crossed from Maryland Heights to HF and used the HF-Shepherdstown Road in Virginia and recrossed to Maryland at Blackford Ford. Therefore, it's my understanding the Conferderates never used the bridge at the Antietam Iron Works. The only tactical/operational use that might have been made of the Iron Works bridge would have been the night of Sept 14-15 when Col Davis led the Union cavalry out of HF to the Maryland side of the river and eventually to Penn.
    Ron Dickey

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  2. You are absolutely correct Ron. Thanks for the clarification. Jim

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