Antietam’s Bloody Lane Trail

4 10 2009

On September 18, 2009, I found myself at Antietam National Battlefield with time on my hands, and decided to fill it by walking the park’s new Bloody Lane Trail.  The 1.5 mile loop begins and ends at the park visitor center, and covers the attack and defense of the Sunken Road.  It was just about a perfect day, weather-wise, though it wound up being warmer than I at first thought.  So, I stopped into the VC bookstore and bought one of the NPS Bloody Lane Trail pamphlets for $0.99 (you can get a trail pamphlet for free at the front desk, but it’s bare bones).  Setting out about 4:00 PM, I snapped some photos along the way.  Click on the thumbs for larger images.

From the VC, I walked north to the New York monument.  From there I looked southwest towards the Sunken Road (the end of which is plainly marked by the red roof of the observation tower) and northeast toward the Mumma (m-you-ma) Farm.

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Here at the monument the pamphlet gives a quick overview of the battle’s morning phase, and an only slightly less general description of Sumner’s 2nd Corps and what transpired through the end of the fighting in the Sunken Road.

I decided to follow the instructions dutifully; though I had walked the grounds before, the official NPS trail is a little shorter than the tours I had been on.  So I walked from the NY monument generally east to the Mumma Farm lane, and then made a left toward the picturesque farm, stop #1.  The farm buildings were burned during the battle, and only the stone spring house (and spring) are wartime structures.  Right about where the spring house sits on the gravel lane, I followed the trail right (southeast).

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At the head of this path is an NPS wayside marker.  The trail took me towards the even more picturesque Roulette Farm.  Along the way I saw one of the many outcroppings that litter the field, all oriented about 23 degrees east of north – I guess glaciers don’t zig or zag much.

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The trail brought me to the bucolic Roulette Farm’s (stop #2) outbuildings, and inside one was a surprise – a limber (or was it a caisson missing a chest?) in disrepair.  I don’t think this is an original.  Regardless of budget constraints, I can’t imagine the NPS storing a 145-plus-year-old item like that in a shed.  I got a couple of nice shots of the house and a fuzzy one of the barn – it’s a new camera and this is the first time I used it.  It has about a dozen pixies flying around inside, and I think they make the camera shake when they get rambunctious.

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The trail snakes around the barn and continues straight while the Roulette Lane makes a right and continues southwest to the sunken lane.  The Three Farms Trail shoots off to the northeast, and then the ground gets really interesting. 

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As I walked towards the line on which the Irish Brigade (among others) advanced on the Sunken Road, I was confronted with this hill and the sudden disappearance of the top of the observation tower.  It comes back into view at the top of this hill (stop #3).

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The ground still rises from this point, and I made a right turn southwest toward the Sunken Road.  Using the Irish Brigade as an example, they were deployed from left to right across this scene.  The ground leveled off as I approached the #4 tour stop, but still the lane is not visible in front (though it is to the left, toward the tower).  However, unfurled colors and bayonets would have been plainly visible to the men in the lane.

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Continuing  on I descended into the lane (stop #5), where I could view the Confederate positions left (southeast) and right (northwest).

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At this point I took a detour from the tour, which leads northwest toward the Roulette Farm lane, to take a walk up the tower.  Unfortunately I’ve been having knee problems more severe than usual, and only made it up 21 steps.  So deciding discretion was the better part of valor, I descended (not as easy as it sounds) and proceeded back to where the trail joined the lane.  Here you get a good idea of the terrain, not just in front of the lane…

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…but behind it…


…and in it.  Note that the Sunken Lane descends toward the Roulette Farm Lane, then ascends sharply towards where the trail turns right (north) off the Sunken Lane.

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It was in this area (stop #6), left and right of the Roulette Farm lane, that French’s division – the brigades of Weber, Morris, and Kimball – took their heavy casualties before Richardson’s division and the Irish Brigade even reached the field.  It’s true: you can look it up.

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From there it was a nice walk back up and across the Mumma Lane to Tompkins’s Battery and the visitor center.

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You can check out the experiences of other bloggers with the Bloody Lane trail, from around the same time,  here and here.

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12 responses

4 10 2009
Jim Rosebrock

Some beautiful pictures. This trail opens up parts of the battlefield to the public that make one really appreciate the terrain and the approach of the Federal forces toward the Sunken Road. Those 99 cent trail guides sure arer a bargain and add a lot to the hiking experience. Looking forward to seeing you again soon.
Jim Rosebrock


4 10 2009
Harry Smeltzer


If you have a similar essay on the trail let me know and I’ll link to it.


4 10 2009
Dana Shoaf

Nice photo essay, Harry. I think the rolling ground at Antietam causes the view to change from step-to-step more than any other battlefield I’ve been on.


4 10 2009
Harry Smeltzer


Nothing beats walking the ground. Other tours I’ve been on swung further east to the other side of a stream where Richardson’s brigades formed up. The top of the observation tower is good to judge the changes in elevation and for orientation (or orientating, as the Army likes to say), much like we used to use the old National Tower at Gettysburg.

Unfortunately, Manassas has no such notable landmark. That’s a pretty rolling piece of real estate as well.


4 10 2009
Tom Clemens

Nice pics Harry. Yes, a caisson missing a front chest, and not original.


4 10 2009
Harry Smeltzer


That’s what I thought. It’s pretty cool that it’s there, and I’m wondering if maybe the NPS is exhibiting a bit of a sense of humor by leaving it where it is. On second thought, nahhh.


4 10 2009
Art Bergeron

Back before the park opened this trail, my wife and I walked out in front of the Sunken Road a ways to try to understand the terrain over which the Irish Brigade had attacked. We did this because of a description of the undulations in the land in a letter by one of the members of the 29th Massachusetts. It was exactly as he had written it. We gained a much better appreciation for the action by doing this. Who knows? We might even have stopped very near a spot he mentioned as having given the men a momentary escape from the musketry coming from the Confederate line.


4 10 2009
Harry Smeltzer


Yes, the 29th MA was second from the right of the brigade line, and there is a little rise in the ground in front of the lane that provided cover for a longer period for them than the rest of the brigade. This is refelcted in their casualties, which were but a fraction of the other regiments.


4 10 2009
Scott D. Hann

One of these days, I’d like to walk that ground again this time carrying the original sword of Captain Henry Sibley of the 29th Massachusetts. According to the regimental history, he “had a narrow escape from death” at Bloody Lane.


4 10 2009
Rea Andrew Redd

Nice coverage of the trail Harry. With the National Regiment, I’ve pitched a tent on the Mumma Farm twice and a couple of years later did an on-the-clock September 17 hike with a NPS ranger. For me, it may be the most intriguing part of the Antietam NMP. In April Stephen Recker gave me a tour from the Pry House, over the Antietam crossings and then up through the Mumma and Roulette farms. We found what appears to be a photographic match of the farm the Barton used as a hospital and it is not the one where the Barton monument is (north of the Cornfield).


12 10 2009
Chris Evans

Excellent post. Great text and photographs I have always found the Bloody Lane portion of the Battle of Antietam to be very fascinating and moving. I enjoyed the book that came out last year , ‘Unfurl Those Colors: McClellan, Sumner, and the Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign’ by Marion V. Armstrong Jr. and the portion that covered Richardson’s tough assaults on the Bloody Lane. ‘My Brave Boys: To War with Colonel Cross and the Fighting Fifth’ by Mike Pride also had some vivid accounts of this portion of the battle from the Union regimental perspective.


13 10 2009
Gerard Mayers

Another good booklet deailng with the Sunken Road and the Irish Brigade is the booklet put together about 12 years ago by Joe Bilby and Steve O’Neill titled “”My Sons Were Faithful and They Fought” and published by Longstreet House.

The booklet has information on the Irish Brigade not found anywheres else.

However I dis agree somewhat with how both authors have the Irish Brigade coming in to attack the Confederate defenses in the lane… they have the Irish attaching the Confederate defense in the area where the tower stands today… much much too far (IMHO) to the east for when Barlow puts the 61st/64th NY Vol Inf astride the lane in that classic flanking maneuver.


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