Over all the years since the Battle of Antietam, various branches of the United States Military have used the battlefield for teaching and training in leadership, strategy, logistics, etc. From time to time, our Antietam Battlefield Guides organization has assisted, and that is a great thrill for all of us who have ever participated.
But more often, Army or Marine groups come on their own with their own instructors. It is not at all a rare experience to see a busload or two of young adults experiencing the unique setting and landscape that is Antietam/Sharpsburg.
Just recently, as I was driving south on the old Hagerstown Turnpike, I happened upon two columns of marines beginning an exercise – moving in lines to the north on each side of the road. So I drove right down between them.
It was a rather warm and humid day, and they were fully equipped with gear and packs beyond the conditions of the day. So it was going to be a severe training exercise of the body as well as the mind.
I met a couple of the leaders in the visitor’s center who were not on the hike, and I learned from them that they were from Quantico and that the recruits were on a seven-mile hike with instructors teaching at varied locations.
Three hours later, as I was finishing with my guest, there they were at the Burnside Bridge. They had dropped their equipage, crossed the bridge, and were sitting in the shade of the witness tree – the giant sycamore – being instructed about the battle at that location. A number of them were taking off their boots and socks and dealing with some sore feet as the teaching was going on. And they had quite a walk yet remaining to get back to the visitor’s center area.
Seeing this reminded me again of the impressive nature of the way the Confederates in particular could cover so many miles – especially Stonewall Jackson’s men, who covered 57 miles in three days just a week before the battle. This was a march from Frederick to Harpers Ferry. And also, at the south end of the field, we are mindful of the impressive nature of A.P. Hill’s men who covered 17 miles in about seven hours to arrive just in time to save Lee from possible destruction. I suspect also that they were not nearly as well fed as our modern marines from Quantico.