In the autumn of 1862, Gen. Robert E. Lee was on the move.
“We cannot afford to be idle,” he wrote, and pointed his Southern Army north toward Maryland.
Gambling against time, Lee divided his force, sending some to knock out Harpers Ferry, still then in Virginia, while he sparred with Gen. George McClellan at South Mountain.
Battle lines eventually were drawn along Antietam Creek, which snaked past the hamlet of Sharpsburg.
Here, in the misty dawn of Sept. 17, Union artillery crashed into a cornfield where Rebels crouched.
The field was lost and recovered again and again, said a survivor, “until the green corn that grew upon it looked as if it has been struck by a storm of bloody hail.”
Fighting continued down a sunken road now called Bloody Lane, and across a stone span remembered today as Burnside Bridge.
“The sun seemed almost to go backwards,” a rebel soldier recalled, “and it appeared as if night would never come.”
When it did, more than 23,000 soldiers lay wounded or dead.
The American Civil War was fought in 10,000 places — from Valverde, N.M., to St. Albans, Vt. Men who had never strayed 20 miles from their own front door found themselves soldiers in great armies fighting epic battles hundreds of miles from home. And none, historians believe, was more epic than Antietam.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of events that changed the United States. To commemorate one of the most defining periods in American history, three counties in the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area will be observing the 150th anniversary over a three-year period.
Washington County Museum of Fine Arts will lead the charge with a First Call Weekend, focusing on the Maryland Campaign of 1862.
Opening ceremonies for First Call Weekend will take place in the museum’s gardens at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 16. City Park will play host to re-enactors, demonstrations, exhibits and discussions Saturday and Sunday, June 17. The event is coordinated and sponsored by the City of Hagerstown and the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Named after the buglers’ first call for soldiers to assemble, the First Call Weekend is designed to give the public a better understanding of the role Washington County played in one of the most pivotal chapters in American history, said Todd Bolton, who heads the HCWHA sesquicentennial steering committee.
“Through music, living history, family and youth activities and much more, the weekend will provide an enjoyable and educational experience for all,” he noted.
A prelude to the weekend will be a Civil War Ball, hosted by the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday, June 15, under the stars in the Kaylor Atrium.
Music will be provided by the Second South Carolina String Band, a popular Civil War camp band that performs on authentic 19th century instruments. The band worked with filmmaker Ken Burns to provide period music for documentaries and also was selected by director Ron Maxwell to provide background instrumental music for the soundtrack of the movie “Gods and Generals.”
Persons attending the ball are invited to come in costume or attend as a spectator. Punch and refreshments reminiscent of the Civil War era will be served.