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Sesquicentennial Of Battle Of Antietam Commemorated

Antietam National Battlefield

National Park News

Between last Friday and yesterday, more than 17,000 visitors came to the park to attend events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, the largest (and bloodiest) single day battle of the Civil War, including commemorative programs, living history demonstrations, and battlefield tours and talks. 

On September 17, 1862, the Union and Confederate armies of George B. McClellan and Robert E. Lee fought for 12 savage hours along Antietam Creek in western Maryland.  By the end of the day, Lee’s first invasion of the North was over and more than 23,000 men were dead, wounded or missing.  Abraham Lincoln took advantage of the victory to issue his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, and what before the battle had been a war only to save the Union, was now a war to end slavery as well.  The Civil War, and the United States, would never be the same.

Park staff planned nearly 300 interpretive programs and presentations over the course of the four-day event, including “real-time” walks on the anniversary that drew upwards of 700 participants each.  Among the speakers – a who’s who of notable names in Civil War scholarship – were Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard University (This Republic of Suffering), Pulitzer Prize winning historians Mark Neely (The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties) and James McPherson (Battle Cry of Freedom), James Robertson, the former executive director of the U.S. Civil War Centennial Commission, and former NPS chief historian Dwight Pitcaithley and chief historian emeritus Ed Bearss.

A ‘Company Street’ area was established near the visitor center, with a family and youth tent offering hands-on activities for all ages, Union and Confederate living history encampments with more than 400 participants, the Virginia and Pennsylvania traveling Civil War exhibits, and the main ceremonial and speakers’ stages.

Events on the battle anniversary date included a commemorative ceremony featuring the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) and the United States Army Brass Quintet, with remarks delivered by McPherson, Associate Director for Cultural Resources, Partnerships and Science Dr. Stephanie Toothman, and Major General Mark Bowman, director of Command, Control, Communications and Computers for the Joints Chiefs of Staff. 

The conclusion of the ceremony was marked by a moment of silence, followed by the ringing of the bell of the U.S.S. Antietam in honor of those who fell in battle.  The commemoration weekend concluded at Antietam National Cemetery with a reading of the names of all 3,354 soldiers, Union and Confederate, killed or mortally wounded at the Battle of Antietam that are buried in the National Cemetery and three local Confederate cemeteries.

The event was managed under the incident command system to support activities for the events, public and employee transportation to the events, and law enforcement and security.  Over 170 National Park Service employees from 25 different parks and offices were part of the team.  There were no law enforcement incidents related to the event.  National and local media interest was strong, with stories about the battle and anniversary events playing on CBS Sunday Morning, Rock Center with Brian Williams, National Public Radio, and the front page of USA Today, among others.

Anniversary programming at Antietam National Battlefield continues throughout the week, culminating on Saturday, September 22nd with a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.  The ceremony includes remarks by Dr. David Blight, professor of American History at Yale University, and Robert Stanton, senior advisor to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar (and former director of the National Park Service).


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