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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.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"But a Hop, Skip and a Jump"

Confederate staff officer Henry Kyd Douglas said that crossing the Antietam was "but a hop, skip and a jump". Armchair generals for years have wondered why Ambrose Burnside did not send the Ninth Corps wading across the creek instead of trying to cross the bridge. See for yourself what Antietam Ranger Brian Baracz discovered when he forded the creek last Friday during the Antietam Battle Anniversary Hike. Narrating the crossing is Ranger Keith Snyder.

7 comments:

  1. Jim, I'm glad you captured this clip as icing on a beautiful day at Antietam. I tend to stand like a door post in awe of what the Rangers present. It is always interesting to see what new twist they add each year.
    Ron Dickey

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  2. Ron, it was another great weekend! See you soon.

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  3. Wonderfully interesting blog. As a part time armchair general I wondered this same question standing on that bridge. However, the conclusion presented by the Ranger seems rather sparse and superficial. As small bank on the far side prevents hundreds/thousands of Union soldiers from crossing a small creek under fire. Was the stream too deep then because of rain? Or some other impediment. I sticking with Burnside was stubborn and and/or and idiot until I read something more plausible. In the meantime I will read up more on this subject. Thanks for sharing! :)

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  4. Thanks for your post. I would offer this in response. This year it has been uncommonly dry. In 1862, it had rained the night before the battle so the creek was more like waist deep. At that depth, soldiers have to worry about keeping the paper cartridges dry that are stored in a cartridge box on their belt. There was more of a current; the bottom was undoubtedly strewn with rocks, and other debris making the crossing more treacherous. And once a few hundred soldiers clamber up the opposite bank it gets very slippery and muddy over there.

    Burnside was a West Point trained officer. He studied engineering and understood terrain and topography. His plan to capture the opposite shore was to send Rodman across at a ford further south and outflank the defenders thus avoiding a head on assault on the bridge. Unfortunately, General McClellan wanted more of an immediate diversion on his left so a direct assault on the bridge was required. Crook and Kingsbury actually tried to wade across the creek north and south of the bridge but were driven back by the Confederates. Ultimately Sturgis launched Nagle and Ferraro's brigades directly against the bridge and only secured it because Toombs and Benning ran out of ammunition and were threatened by Rodman's division that had finally crossed at a ford south of the bridge. This move made the Confederate position untenable just as Burnside originally planned.

    Thanks for your comments. I hope to hear from you again soon. Regards. Jim

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  5. Kudos to the people who organized this experiment. I have long wondered about this. Back in grad school I wrote about the Col. of the 21st Mass (Ferrero's brigade) who studied the creek after the bridge was taken and felt it easily could have been crossed. So, I've always wondered. I suppose Col. Clark wasn't thinking about the banks. Very enlightening. Thanks.

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  6. Historicist
    Thanks for your comment. The depth, and ease of fording the creek at the bridge continue to generate much interest and discussion. By the way, Historical Digression is a great blog and I have added it to my list. Regards Jim.

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