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Burnside Bridge at Antietam Battlefield - Then and Now

By Edited Sep 1, 2016 0 0

Burnside Bridge is a historical landmark located within the Antietam National Battlefield located in Sharpsburg, Maryland. This structure is a small crossing built of stone and today is primarily associated with its role in the American Civil War.

Building Bridges to Cross Antietam Creek

In Sharpsburg, Maryland a bridge was built in 1836 to serve as a crossing over Antietam Creek. Its original intent was to be a way for farmers to bring their produce and livestock to local markets. Built by John Weaver, considered to be a master bridge builder at that time, the bridge contains three arches and is 12 feet (3.7 meters) wide and 125 feet (38 meters) long. It was made of granite and limestone and, at the time, cost $3,200 to build.

Originally, the bridge was called Rohrbach Bridge (named for a farmer in the town), although some referred to it as “Lower Bridge”. The bridge is located at the bottom of a hill. There were five bridges that crossed Antietam Creek and played a role in the war; two of those were known as the "Upper" and "Middle" bridges. Of the five, Middle Bridge did not survive the Civil War. 8

This small crossing served as an operational bridge until 1966 when it was permanently closed to traffic. While it has long been closed to any sort of vehicle, the bridge is open for pedestrians and is one of the stops people can visit as they tour the Antietam National Battlefield, run by the National Park Service (NPS).  

Due to its prominent role in the battle that occurred at Antietam, Rohrbach Bridge became known as Burnside Bridge.

Burnside Bridge, December 2012
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Burnside Bridge in 2012. Originally named Rohrbach Bridge, this structure was a major point in the Battle at Antietam with both armies fighting hard over control.

Burnside Bridge During the Civil War

Once the U.S. Civil War began, many locals in several cities and towns across the country were heavily affected by the Union and Confederate armies' arrival. Sharpsburg is one farming community that suffered severe pain and devastation. It is this location where the two armies met and had a major battle. The Battle at Antietam occurred on Sept. 17, 1862 and was a fiercely-fought battle, and is listed as the bloodiest one of the Civil War. 

There were several hours of intense fighting with significant losses on both sides. In total, approximately 23,000 men were wounded, killed or listed as missing in action by the time it was over. One of the places on the Sharpsburg farmlands where the two armies clashed occurred at Rohrbach Bridge. It is here hours of battle took place as the Union Army, specifically the Union Ninth Corps under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, sought to capture Rohrbach Bridge. He had received orders from Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan to "carry the bridge, then to gain possession of the heights beyond.” 9

The Confederate Army's 2nd and 20th Georgia regiments fought back hard to keep control of the bridge each time Union soldiers tried to cross. The Union Ninth Corps eventually prevailed, but in the end, 500 Union soldiers had been killed or injured.

This part of the battle at Antietam is considered to be pivotal in determining the outcome of the battle at Antietam. Burnside said he received the order to attack from McClellan at 10 a.m., but McClellan said he ordered it at 8 a.m. That two-hour time span has been “hotly” debated. We may never know exactly what transpired.

At the end of the day, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army was forced to retreat back to Northern Virginia, thus failing in taking Maryland.

[ Related Reading: American Civil War Battles Fought in Virginia ]

Crossing over Burnside Bridge
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

I took this photo while crossing over Burnside Bridge on Dec. 21, 2012. This sycamore tree at the other end is a witness tree to the battle.

Is Burnside Bridge Haunted?

Rumored to be one of the most haunted Civil War locations, it is speculated a lot of paranormal activity occurs on and in the vicinity of Antietam Battlefield. While Burnside Bridge's history will forever be associated with the devastating battle that occurred at Antietam, many have said they believe Burnside Bridge and the land around it to be haunted.

There are reports that park rangers, Civil War reenactors and visitors have witnessed some strange occurrences relating to paranormal activity. These include blue balls of light, ghostly figures, sounds and scents. Some have even claimed to have heard a phantom drum playing. Some Civil War reenactors who have spent the night at Antietam report seeing strange things happening at the stone crossing.

If bridges could talk, Burnside Bridge would most definitely have a number of stories to tell. Additionally, if the bridge could indeed speak, many people would be interested in asking it some questions.

Burnside Bridge
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Standing at another angle to view Burnside Bridge

One story, published by the Herald Mail in September 2012 during the 150-year anniversary of the battle, reports an author on site telling ghost stories tells of a dead Civil War soldier taking part in living history reenactment, possibly thinking it was a real battle. 4

It is believed many soldiers died at or in the vicinity of the stone crossing and were hastily buried in unmarked graves. Some speculate the ghostly activity occurring at Burnside Bridge comes from the restless souls of these Civil War soldiers.

(I’ve visited Burnside Bridge two times, once in December 2012 and again in July 2014. Neither time did I witness any odd occurrences or feel any ghostly presences.)

Haunted or not, when visiting the landmarks at this former battlefield, it does give off a haunting feeling when you stand on the bridge, or anywhere at Antietam, and imagine exactly what transpired on that September day back in 1862. It's chilling to think between the Union and Confederate armies 100,000 men came together and engaged in battle for about 12 hours. Almost a quarter of them did not live to see the next day.

Burnside Bridge/Antietam Creek
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Standing on Burnside Bridge looking over Antietam Creek.

Sharpsburg, Md. is located near both the West Virginia and Virginia borders.

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Bibliography

  1. "Facts about Burnside’s Bridge during the Battle Of Antietam of the American Civil War." History.net. 19/01/2016 <Web >
  2. "Maryland Campaign." Encyclopedia Virginia. 19/01/2016 <Web >
  3. "Burnside Bridge." GraveAddiction.com. 19/01/2016 <Web >
  4. Caleb Calhoun "Author shares ghostly encounters near Antietam National Battlefield and Gettysburg." Herald Mail. 16/09/2012. 19/01/2016 <Web >
  5. "Ghosts of Antietam's Battlefield and the Bloody Lane." U.S. Federal Highway Administration. 19/01/2016 <Web >
  6. "Haunted Maryland The Antietam National Battlefield." PrairieGhosts.com. 19/01/2016 <Web >
  7. "Antietam Battlefield - Burnside Bridge." National Park Service. 19/01/2016 <Web >
  8. Jim Rosebrock "The "Other" Bridges Across the Antietam." South From the North Woods. 19/01/2016 <Web >
  9. "The Bridges of Washington County." Arlington Magazine. 19/01/2016 <Web >

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