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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.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Intermittent Streams - Avenues of Approach

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Looking North on the Burnside Bridge
I spent much of Saturday hiking along the west bank of the Antietam with fellow guide and good friend Bill Sagle. We wanted to look at the points where four intermittent streams entered the creek.  The Antietam is fed by a number of such streams. Intermittent streams carry water a considerable portion of the time, but cease to flow occasionally or seasonally. They flow at lower elevations cutting through higher ground.  These streams are easily visible from the air by the trees that grow along their banks. They cut through the ravines that overlook the banks of the creek and form natural gateways away from the Antietam. The military term is avenues of approach.  As we walked the length of the creek, I realized how important these seemingly insignificant features are.  One need only look at the Carmen Copes maps to appreciate the degree of military activity that occurred around these four intermittent streams.

North of Middle Bridge
Stream 1
We began our hike at the Mumma Farm and the source of the first stream.  The stream begins at the Mumma springhouse.  It flows southeast to a pond on the Roulette Farm and then east for a quarter mile before making a slight turn to the southeast entering the Antietam one quarter of a mile north of the Middle Bridge site. While federal troops did not cross the Antietam at this stream, Richardson’s troops used its upper reaches as the staging area for his advance against the Sunken Road.

Stream 2
South of Middle Bridge
The second intermittent stream is the longest of the four. It begins on the Piper Farm and flows out of a depression near the northwest corner of the orchard in a southeasterly direction.  More often just a dry depression the stream bed crosses the Boonsboro Pike at the intersection with the Sunken Road and for the last quarter mile, flows through a very deep gorge behind the picnic area on Route 34.  It empties into the Antietam ¼ mile south of the Newcomer Barn.  The 1st Battalion, 12th U.S. Infantry and the 2nd and 10th U.S. Infantry of Syke’s Division used this streambed as an avenue of approach in their advance south of the Boonsboro Pike toward Sharpsburg. 

North of Burnside Bridge
Stream 3
The source of the third stream is a pond on the southeast corner of Sharpsburg.  This stream flows one half a mile in a southeasterly direction along the Burnside Bridge road. Passing between the Sherrick and Otto houses it empties into the creek just south of the new Burnside Bridge.  This stream has a constant source of water and flows year round.  This was the avenue of approach of Wilcox’s division.  Christ’s brigade advanced north of this stream and Welsh’s brigade advanced south of this stream on their attack towards Sharpsburg.   

Stream #4
Snaveley's Ford
The final stream has its source at a very small pond just each of Branch Avenue and 3/8ths of a mile south of the Otto Farmhouse.  The stream flows in a southerly direction 5/8ths of a mile and empties into the Antietam at Snavely’s Ford.  General Isaac Rodman’s division crossed at this ford and his division advanced northward along this stream as it linked up with the rest of the Ninth Corps to the north.

The intermittent streams of Antietam lay off the beaten path.  You can stand at the Mumma springhouse or look out across the Piper orchard and not realize that these seemingly unimpressive depressions are an important aspect of the Battle of Antietam.  However for serious students of the battle, they deserve your undivided attention.

5 comments:

  1. Jim,

    Another very cool battlefield exploration.

    Mannie

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  2. Thank you Mannie. There are lots of corners of the park that dont get explored as much as they deserve. These are some of them.

    Warm Regards
    Jim

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  3. Great stuff Jim. I think the stream from the pond you mention actually begins at the big spring in Sharpsburg itself. The stream crosses under Burnside Bridge road just after the first stop sign off Main St. The pond was created after the war, so during the war the stream would have been more continuous.
    Keep up the good work.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the clarification Tom. That makes total sense. I apprecite your clarification.

      Jim

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  4. Love these post! Don't own one but would absolutely love to...maybe one day:)

    ReplyDelete