Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ultrarunning 150 Years After the Battle of Antietam

Yesterday (Monday 17 Sep) was the 150th anniversary of the battle of Antietam in the American Civil War.

1. First, a quick historical recap: The battle is considered the single bloodiest day in American history, in which some 23,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed, wounded, or missing. The battle is regarded as a tactical draw in that both sides remained on the field, but as a strategic Confederate loss since General Lee then abandoned his first invasion of the North and withdrew his army back to Virginia...and the war dragged on for another two and a half years (good battle summary here).

During the battle, the outnumbered Confederates were on the brink of disaster at various points during the day. The final Union attack came when Union General Ambrose Burnside finally was able to put his corps across the bridge that bears his name, and threatened to collapse the Confederate right flank. Just in the nick of time, Confederate reinforcements in the form of General A. P. Hill's Light Division completed their 17 mile forced march from Harper's Ferry (where they had received the surrender of the Union garrison) and fell upon the exposed left flank of Burnside's advance, crushing it and saving the day (again) for the Confederates.

2.  Second, the Ultrarunning part: I've twice on foot retraced the route of A. P. Hill's division from Harper's Ferry to Antietam, complete with fording the Potomac River at historic Boteler's (or Pack Horse) Ford. I blogged about my 2010 run here.  Last year (2011) the river was too high to attempt the crossing.

3.  So....that brings us to my 2012 iteration of the memorial run.  I've not been training well over the summer, so I knew that a 28 miler would be too much of a stretch.  So I ran a route that only included the fording of the Potomac River piece of General Hill's route.  I parked along the C + O Canal just downstream of the Rt 34 Bridge between Sharpsburg, MD and Shepherdstown, WV; ran back upstream and crossed the river on the highway bridge; ran thru the streets of Shepherdstown (a charming little college town!); German Street becomes River Road after leaving town; River Road to reach the WV side of Boteler's Ford; forded the river; headed back upstream on the C + O Canal to my car.

This route was some 5 miles or so.  The bank of the WV side at  the actual ford is on private property, so as I described here I entered the river a bit upstream and waded down to the actual ford.  The river was quite low--at the ford, where Hill's troops crossed, the water depth was literally not over knee deep.

Here are a few shots of the run:

C + O Canal Lock 38 from Rt 34 bridge
Limestone mounting step along German street in Shepherdstown
Historic marker on WV side of ford
Midriver, looking back to WV side
Midriver, looking ahead to MD side
Typical water depth in the ford
I'll post a couple natural history type shots tomorrow.

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