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Antietam National Battlefield officials bracing for thousands of tourists

Sesquicentennial celebration of the battle from Sept. 14-17 could generate thousands of dollars

August 08, 2012|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com

In September 1862, a majority of Sharpsburg residents fled their homes as Union and Confederate soldiers converged on the town to wage war.

Now, almost 150 years later, Antietam National Battlefield officials are bracing for an influx of another sort.

Susan Trail, a National Park Service ranger and superintendent at the battlefield, said Wednesday during a Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce breakfast that thousands of tourists are expected to attend the sesquicentennial celebration of the battle from Sept. 14-17.

“It’s going to be packed,” she said. “I think we’re going to see a lot of people here throughout September.”

Trail said she didn’t want to predict how many people might attend the anniversary because there’s no way of knowing. But to put things in perspective, she said, Shiloh National Battlefield in Tennessee received about 100,000 visitors at the park during its 150th anniversary in April.

“That was our first indication that something big might happen here,” she said.

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Antietam officials are trying to establish a shuttle service to cut down on traffic, Trail said. Those shuttles will take people to stops along the battlefield, where rangers and volunteers will offer tours.

Trail said the park also will have stations focusing on historical highlights of the Civil War, such as slavery and battlefield photography. In addition, renowned Civil War experts Ed Bearss and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson are scheduled to speak.

She said officials are in the process of trying to find volunteers to read the names of the dead during a ceremony at Antietam National Cemetery on Sept. 17.

“We’re going to do a reading of the names of all the soldiers — North and South — who were killed at Antietam or mortally wounded,” she said. “We’re working very hard to make that list as complete as possible.”

Tom Riford, president and chief executive officer of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said a Michigan State University study determined that people who visited Antietam pumped $19.3 million into the local economy in 2010, and the sesquicentennial celebration undoubtedly will generate thousands of dollars more.

He said the impact of that spending creates jobs for 250 local people, particularly in the hospitality industry.

“What that means is 250 families have a job for mom or dad,” Riford said.

The Battle of Antietam was fought on Sept. 17, 1862. To this day, the battle’s 23,110 casualties make it the bloodiest single day in American history.

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