Day 5: Can You Canoe Antietam Creek?

GWU

We left the air conditioning and other comforts of George Washington University, Mt. Vernon Campus, (above) and ferry on shorefollowed Lee’s 1862 invasion route into Maryland. First stop was at White’s Ferry which is near the location Lee crossed the Potomac River with a band playing “Maryland, my Maryland.” The Confederate soldiers were excited for at least two reasons. First, they were coming off their success at Second Manassas just a few weeks prior and they were eager to take the war to the northern soil.

potomac river crossingWhite’s ferry is a little larger than the ferry we rode from Augusta, Kentucky to Ohio but no less beautiful. It was a surprise to see the ferry was named after a Confederate general, Jubal Early. To me Early is most interesting due to his role defending Lee from any criticism after the war and as a promoter of the “Lost Cause.” He also led an attack on Washington, DC in 1864 near Monocacy. From the ferry we ventured though Maryland’s back roads to meet with Greg Mallet of Antietam Creek Canoe Company.

Greg’s company is located along side the High Antietam Bridge off Alt. Route 40 in Maryland, just west of bridge at put inTurner’s Gap. This Gap between South Mountain is where the Black Hats reportedly earned its name, the Iron Brigade by General Geo. McClellan. This particular drop in point on the creek is also home to a bridge that has seen the likes of British General Edward Braddock in 1755 and Stonewall Jackson march across its stone arches. Greg is a kind, patient and very interesting person; just a pleasure to have as our guide.

After a brief orientation, the group was on its way on an 8 mile float down the Antietam Creek. After a lunch on  an island in the stream, we made our way through the last 3 miles of the voyage which borders the battlefield. A few of the bridges are newer but most are stone arched built in the 1830s.

group in line caoe

group at burnside

Edwin_Forbes_-_The_Charge_across_the_Burnside_Bridge

Waterfalls, just challenging-enough rapids and wild life carried our attention to the focal point of the trip which was Burnside’s Bridge (originally called the Rohrbach Bridge). At this location thousands of Yankee soldiers attempted to secure the bridge for hours but were held off by 500 Confederate sharpshooters protected in the quarried bluffs to the right. It was a surreal experience to be able to float at the bottom of this bowl of history, like standing on the field of a stadium, and see a little more clearly the advantages the Georgians enjoyed up high and the incredible fortitude it demanded for Yankees to keep trying to cross that bridge (War time sketch of this action Right).

rorhbach camp

We said goodbye to Greg and hello to the very pretty Rohrbach Campground which is located 3 minutes away north of the bridge. It is listed as “primitive” which is fairly accurate but still very clean. What makes it most primitive? Perhaps a lack of showers but this astute group of MUHS adventurers located a place along the creek where there was a swinging rope and deep swimming area. So a refreshing swim and soak in the historic Antietam Creek cooled off the group (and helped with the growing odor). We were told that the campground site was used primarily as a staging ground for attacks on the bridge and then a hospital area after the battle.

Day 1 at Antietam concluded with letter readings at the camp site and down at Burnside Bridge. Brett read a letterfrom a Confederate soldier that spoke to the hopes of those soldiers crossing into Maryland near White’s Ferry that this could bring an end to war. From the Confederate sharpshooter positions above Burnside Bridge, Mr. Brian Taber (Below) read aloud a letter from a Yankee army surgeon to his wife describing the carnage he saw and treated following the action around bridge. A camp fire ended the day.

taber speaking

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