Saturday, February 27, 2016

Antietam: Battlefield perspectives from the air in 1930

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On Dec. 2, 1930, an Army Air Force plane took off from Bolling Field in Washington and headed west to fly over Sharpsburg, Md. The mission: Take photographs of the Antietam battlefield, a beautiful, pastoral landscape. A sharp eye can spot significant changes on the battlefield since these photographs, available on the National Archives web site, were shot that winter day. In the above image, the modern visitors center did not exist -- it wasn't constructed until 1962. The iconic Dunker Church, destroyed in a violent storm in 1921, had been replaced by a gas station and a souvenir stand. Some of the original materials were used when the church was rebuilt in 1962 on its original foundation in time for the battle's 100th anniversary.  The West Woods are largely gone.  (Please note: I added the text overlays for locations to all these images.)

... this image provides a great perspective of the southern end of the battlefield and the village of Sharpsburg, Md., beyond. It was here on the afternoon of Sept. 17, 1862, that the Union IX Corps' attack stalled and was finally beaten back. The area beyond the tall monument for the 9th New York -- the Hawkins' Zouaves -- today is wooded and more developed. ...

... this cropped enlargement of the second aerial image shows the sloping ground on which the 8th Connecticut fought. The stories of Private Oliver Case and Corporal Robert Ferriss, killed in action here, are told on my blog. William Pratt, another private in the 8th Connecticut whose story is told on my blog, was wounded and taken captive on this ground. Today, a modern house occupies property near the monument that honors the regiment. ...

... this aerial image shows the national cemetery, which was dedicated in 1867. From that ground, Rebel artillery shelled the Union army and Robert E. Lee watched part of the battle. ...

.... and this aerial image provides an excellent perspective of one of the most hotly contested pieces of property of  the Civil War, David R. Miller's farm and the infamous Bloody Cornfield. At left are the West Woods, where the tall, white Philadelphia Brigade monument peeks out. In 1930, this area was more barren than its present-day appearance. (Hat-tip: Matt Hood for pointing out these images on Facebook.)

Did I miss anything interesting in these images? E-mail me at

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  1. It is amazing how the aerial photos make it appear as though the battlefield is essentially similar to flat Iowa farmland, rather than the wildly undulating terrina that it truly is.

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  2. Interesting observation Ted. My wife, who's from Iowa, said same thing.

  3. A great discovery John. Thanks for sharing. What is really interesting is the landscape without the modern Route 65 bypass. The other striking thing is a much more open landscape. Many fewer trees.

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  5. In addtion, I think the old camera technology doesn't allow for the sharp detail that would show the dips and slight-undulations over the landscape. I just visited last week and I saw how the terrain affected the battle on certain sections of the field.

  6. We were at Antietam today! Thank you for posting these. I was so upset that I left your book at home!