Thursday, November 22, 2018

Climb with me to top of Antietam's War Department tower

The War Department tower at the east end of Bloody Lane was built in 1897 to provide 
a panoramic view of the battlefield. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
The Irish Brigade monument, dedicated in 1997, and the War Department tower at Bloody Lane.
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Tablets on the ledge of the tower note battlefield
 landmarks. They were made from an old cannon tube.
Shortly after it opened in 1897, the War Department tower at the east end Bloody Lane at Antietam was a hit with visitors. Before monument dedications, veterans of the battle ascended the iron steps to the small observation deck, where they enjoyed a spectacular view of the field. Over the years, longtime battlefield guide O.T. Reilly, who claimed he witnessed the battle when he was 5 years old, frequently took tourists to the top of the nearly 60-foot tower.

"The observation tower at ... 'Bloody Lane' is a great help to the proper view of the field and should be visited by all," the Altoona (Pa.) Tribune noted on Sept. 21, 1903.

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On the observation deck ledges, bronze tablets note distances to battlefield landmarks such as the Dunker Church and Bloody Cornfield. The tablets were made from a repurposed cannon tube  "whose power doubtless [was] felt during the most bloody struggle" of the Civil War, according to an account in a Philadelphia newspaper in 1897. The cannon was melted at a foundry in Baltimore, where it lost "its present identity," the report noted, "only to reappear in another condition of far more peaceful utility."

Early on a frosty Wednesday morning, only one visitor enjoyed the panoramic view from the tower. (Insert guess here.) Here's what you missed.

Inside the tower, a warning  ... and a wreath left to honor the Irish Brigade.
The iron steps leading up to the observation deck.
On a fall morning, the tower casts a lengthy shadow in William Roulette's field. The Irish Brigade
attacked from right to left here on Sept. 17, 1862. To the left, Bloody Lane. 

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-- Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 7, 1897

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