Landscape Turned Red: Burnside Bridge

Along with Dunker Church and the Bloody Lane, another symbol of the Battle of Antietam is what is now known as the “Burnside Bridge”. Before the Battle is was known as the “Rohrbach Bridge”. On September 17, 1862, it was known as the “Lower Bridge”. After the battle it was renamed the “Burnside Bridge” after the Union General whose troops took the three arched, stone bridge that spans Antietam Creek as they drove Confederates back.

So I saw no problem in giving the bridge a new name: “Armstrong Bridge”. Sure it sort of sounds like Burnside. Both are two syllable words, both are compound words. It was only after inking the text that I realized the error. Instead of fretting over it or blaming it on a slight case of jet lag or the local pale ale I was sampling, I decided to embrace my mistake as if it didn’t happen. So I chose to embrace the mantra of Miles Davis who said, “Do no fear mistakes. There are none.” Besides, this just adds to the sketch. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

The bridge was built in 1836, to connect Sharpsburg to the nearby southerly town of Rohrerville. The bridge was in use for foot, hoof, and later auto traffic until 1966, when the bridge was restored to it’s Civil War Era appearance.

The battle over this crossing over Antietam Creek took place in the late morning. About 500 Confederate troops held the high ground on the westside of the bridge. Burnside’s Ninth Corps assaulted the important creek crossing. The rebels held until Union troops where able to ford the creek south of the bridge, forcing the Confederates to retreat and the North took possession of the stone bridge.

Using an old stone wall as my drawing table, I sketch Rohrbach Bridge, or whatever the bridge is called!
The Burnside Bridge seen for the Confederate side of the creek. The large tree on the opposite side of the creek is known as the Burnside Sycamore and is one of those “witness trees” which was alive at the time of the battle. I sketched the bridge to the left of the tree, along the stone wall.

At the end of the most bloody and most costly day in the history of American combat the destruction was astounding. The numbers are grime reminders: 23,000 killed. All this in a single day. Of all the soldiers that were wounded, roughly one out of seven died of their wounds. 2/3 of the 622,000 lives that were lost during the Civil War, died of disease.

One solider from the 9th Pennsylvania described the scene at Antietam as, “No tongue can tell, no mind conceive, no pen portray the horrible sights I witnessed this morning.”

James McPherson in this Civil War masterpiece, Battle Cry of Freedom wrote about Antietam, “The causalities of Antietam numbered four times the total suffered by American soldiers at the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944. More than twice as many Americans lost their lives in one day at Sharpsburg as fell in combat in the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Spanish-American war combined.”

And Antietam was just a warm up for a battle that took place less than a year later, around a small town in Southern Pennsylvania. This three day battle would have the highest death toll out of any battle during the Civil War and was the turning point in the war. This battle was the Battle of Gettysburg.

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