The Antietam National Battlefield honors those who fought in the bloodiest one day battle in United States History in which 23,000 soldiers were killed or wounded. Located in Maryland, we visited on a beautiful sunny day during our Spring Break trip following our Appalachian Trail Hike. We first visited the Visitor’s Center where we talked to two park rangers about how to best see the park in the one day we had to spend there. As always, they were very knowledgeable and helped plan our day. Talk to the Park Rangers at the Visitor Centers! They usually give good advice about how to visit by highlighting the important sites to see because they know the park best.
The kids also picked up their Junior Ranger packets. The Junior Ranger Program is something we have been participating in since our first family visit to a National Park. Almost every National Park Site has a Junior Ranger Program and generally the program is free or only a couple of dollars. Participants than fill out the packet by completing various educational activities and once finished earn a Junior Ranger badge, pin, or both, depending on the park. These pins and badges are wonderful free souvenirs and we treasure our collection.
We then watched the park information video located in the Visitor Center’s Theater. Generally speaking, the videos in National Park sites are very well done and give a wealth of information about the park you are visiting. It’s the first thing we usually do when we arrive at a park. We also toured the center’s exhibits before leaving to begin our walk around the park grounds. The area surrounding the Visitor Center is dotted with memorials to those who lost their lives in the battle. Each memorial is unique and it is worth walking around to see as many as you have time for.
Self Guided Car Tour
The park rangers had also suggested we take the 8 1/2 mile self guided car tour to eleven of the park’s major sites. Each site has exhibits which explain the importance of the stop. The exhibits on the car tour were especially informative and did a good job of making the history of the Civil War and this epic battle relevant to each of us. During the tour, we learned about a 15 year old Cincinnati native named Johnny Cook who was a bugler in the Union Army during the battle in Antietam. Cook later received the Medal of Honor for his valor. This was pretty impressive to all of us and especially meaningful to the kids.
Other highlights of our day include the self guided Cornfield hike. At the Visitor Center we picked up a pamphlet to read while walking a path with designated stops. Each stop had a write up of what occurred in this spot and how the opposing troops arranged their attack. This was the most meaningful part of my visit as I was able to better imagine what that horrible day must have been like. We also took a short drive to the Antietam National Cemetery where we explored the grounds. Our visit to Antietam was our first family visit to a National Battlefield site. It was a wonderful experience and important history lesson for each of us.
Have you been to Antietam National Battlefield? What did you think?