Burnside Bridge at Sunset
Washington County boasts the most famous stone arch bridge in the United States, one that played a key role in the Civil War’s Battle of Antietam. To this day, Sept. 17, 1862, remains the single bloodiest day of battle in American history, with more than 23,000 casualties. According to a Union private, “In a second the air was full of the hiss of bullets…the whole landscape for an instant turned slightly red.” That morning, Union Gen. Ambrose Burnside received orders from Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan “to carry the bridge, then to gain possession of the heights beyond.” The bridge in question, then known as Rohrbach’s Bridge, had been built in 1836 across Antietam Creek. But its 12-foot width quickly turned into a deadly bottleneck for the soldiers attempting to cross it, and some 500 Georgians were able to hold off the Union army for three hours—hours that some historians say may have altered the outcome of the battle. Regardless of whether the event changed history, it did succeed in permanently changing the bridge’s name. Today, the Burnside Bridge stands on Antietam National Battlefield and is open only to pedestrians. The far end of the bridge is shaded by a towering sycamore tree that somehow survived the battle unharmed. The tree appears as a sapling in photos of the battlefield taken by famed photographer Alexander Gardner, and it continues to grow 150 years later.
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