On Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009, I joined about 25 somewhat adventurous souls and followed in the footsteps of men of the 5th Corps of the Army of the Potomac who crossed the Potomac River 147 years to the day earlier in pursuit of Robert E. Lee’s defeated but dangerous Army of Northern Virginia after the Battle of Antietam. (That’s right, Union Major General George McClellan did in fact execute a pursuit after the battle – you can look it up). The occasion was a fundraising event of the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association. Twenty-five bucks got us a guided tour of the battlefield including the crossing, followed by a reception at the Association president’s home in Shepherdstown hard-by the battlefield. The inaugural event last year drew 10-15 participants. This year, there were two groups of 25. I was in the 2:30 group led by SBPA board member Tom Clemens. Another group started off at 3:30 and was led by Tom McGrath, author of Shepherdstown: Last Clash of the Antietam Campaign. What follows here is a simple photo-essay. See also Jim Rosebrock’s fine post on his blog.
Dr. Clemens first gave us an overview of the battle along the C&O Canal towpath on the Maryland side of the river (click thumbnails for larger images).
Then we waded into and across the clear and fairly calm Potomac in the vicinity of Boteler’s or Packhorse or Shepherdstown Ford.
Here are shots up and down river, from about the middle.
Once on the (West) Virginia side, Tom re-oriented us at the intersection of the River and Trough Roads. Then we hiked to the ruins of the cement mill. Who knew the Rebels were Deadheads?
We moved further up to the cement mill kilns. About where Tom is standing, you can see a change in the color of the stone in a vertical line between the 3rd and 4th kilns. The three kilns to the right are wartime, the three to the left were added later. In these three kilns, Union soldiers took shelter from their own artillery fire coming from Maryland. At least one soldier was killed by a direct hit in these kilns.
The remains of the mill-dam are visible from the (West) Virginia side.
These bluffs played a critical and tragic role in the retreat of the Federal forces. An officer of one of the units, the 118th PA Corn Exchange regiment, was also present with the 71st PA at Ball’s Bluff, where he was captured. Talk about deja vue. You can read his accounts in this book.
Hikers head up a ravine and then towards the Osbourne farm, scene of the furthest Union advance. The Osbourne house shows evidence of the battle, and its fields were the scene of the repulse of the Federals.
All in all, a fine tour on a beautiful day. The SBPA is planning on a repeat next year, so mark your calendars.