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Antietam National Battlefield

September 19, 2005

If you want to digest Civil War history, Antietam National Battlefield is one of the best places to do it in Washington County.

But there's something to remember when visiting a battlefield: Without a story, it's just a big plot of land with endless trees, rows of corn, wheat fields, and a few farm buildings and churches. You need some sort of guidance on the field.

There's more than one way to tell the story of the bloodiest single-day battle of the Civil War and the National Park Service at Antietam takes several approaches.

There are two movies shown seven days a week, both with realistic battle re-enactments. The 25-minute film is a good overview of the battle's significance to the outcome of the war. The film is shown throughout the day, every half-hour, except at noon.

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The second film, narrated by James Earl Jones, has detailed graphic representations of soldier movements throughout the day of Sept. 17, 1862, in addition to spoken vignettes from soldiers. It lasts an hour and is shown daily at noon.

A small museum features vintage clothing, artillery and medical equipment.

A brochure in the visitors center guides you to 11 tour stops on the battlefield, including the three main areas of activity during the battle: Miller's cornfield, the Sunken Road and Burnside Bridge.

The first stop on the tour is Dunker Church, "the focal point of a number of Union attacks against the Confederate left flank," according to the Park Service's Antietam Web site. The Confederates used the church as a medical aid station at the end of the battle.

Plaques scattered throughout the route give quick synopses of the regiments that fought.

A recorded guide to the battlefield is sold on CD or cassette tape.

Park rangers also give 30-minute talks at the visitors center.

Private guided tours with a local historian also may be arranged by calling 800-417-9596.

Park entry is $4 per person or $6 for a family. Field guides, on CD or cassette tape, may be rented or purchased.

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