by The Associated Press, carried by the (Hagerstown) Herald-Mail
The final attack on the bloodiest day of the Civil War was literally an uphill battle.
Now a trail at Antietam National Battlefield lets hikers feel the strain that soldiers from both sides experienced marching over hilly farm fields toward a meeting that ended with the Union failing to corner Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
"When you have an opportunity to see the 200-foot change in elevation, when people come out here and walk, they can see the terrain stopped the Union advance as much as the Confederate soldiers did," said Brian Baracz, a park ranger and historian. "You don't get much of an idea from your car."
The Final Attack Trail officially opens next month during a weekend of activities marking the 133rd anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg. More than 23,000 men were killed, wounded or reported missing at the Western Maryland site on Sept. 17, 1862, in the bloodiest one-day clash of the War Between the States.
The 1.7-mile trail is the fourth at Antietam. A planned fifth trail will create a network of footpaths across the 3,288-acre park.
The Final Attack Trail winds through a cornfield where the day's last engagement took place, starting at about 3:40 p.m. Lee's 2,800 troops were retreating, aiming to cross the Potomac River to safety. Union Gen. Ambrose Burnside's 8,000 soldiers were moving through the 40-acre cornfield on a course that would cut off Lee's line of retreat.
Then Confederate Gen. A.P. Hill arrived from the south with 2,500 troops. Burnside's troops were driven back in a nearly two-hour clash that resulted in 3,470 casualties, according to the park's Web site. There were twice as many Union casualties as Confederate.
The next day, Federal and Confederate leaders struck an informal truce so they could gather their wounded and dying. That evening, Lee began withdrawing his army across the Potomac.
The fighting took place on land that remained in private hands until three years ago, when the National Park Service acquired 136 acres of the Shade Farm. The field is dotted with monuments erected by veterans organizations and states with soldiers who fought there.
"Most of the troops were from New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Ohio, and we get a lot of letters from folks in those areas wanting to see this. It's really important for them to be able to walk in the footsteps of the soldiers," said Superintendent John Howard.