Each year thousands of visitors stop to visit Sharpsburg, Maryland, to visit the sites of the Battle of Antietam – the single bloodiest day of the Civil War. Must-see stops at the battle site include: the visitor’s center, Burnside Bridge, and of course, the bloody corn row. One cannot help but feel an eerie sense of loss and the horrors of war when walking along the bloody corn row – take your time in the visitor’s center to review period pictures taken of the corn field following the battle. Yet while these stops are ones that you should definitely see during a visit to the battlefield, there are lesser-known trails and sites that, if you have the time, will reward you for the effort.
One such trail is the Snavely Ford Trail. History buffs and nature enthusiasts alike are sure to enjoy this trail. Find your way to Burnside Bridge by traveling Highway 34 toward Boonsboro. Turn right onto Rodman Avenue, one of the many park roads you can drive along. From there, take a left to follow the signs to the Burnside Bridge site. The bridge is one of the must-see stops on the battlefield, and the Snavely Ford Trail can be found at the same location. Once you’ve visited the bridge and walked across to the monuments, come back to the Snavely Ford Trail.
The Snavely Ford Trail documents an important point in the Battle of Antietam and the Civil War itself. During the battle, General Rodman led his troops across Antietam creek and to the final action of the day, on September 17, 1862. General Rodman would lose his life before the battle ended. Along the way, you’ll find more recent historical evidence of once-worked fields and wire fencing to keep cattle in. (Battle information taken from the Antietam National Battlefield Site).
The flora changes depending on the seasons. In the spring, expect to see fragrant honeysuckle and other native wildflowers in full bloom and offering a light and fresh scent to the air. The trail winds along Antietam Creek, offering the delightful sound of running water, whatever the season. Canada geese and ducks can be observed rearing their young in the spring to early summer season. Year round, you will be witness to a number of songbirds, chipmunks, groundhogs and deer. And as spring turns to summer, the forest takes on a primordial feel, as the vegetation closes in on the path. There are several footpaths off the trail that lead to the creek below. Depending on the depth of the creek, you may be able to follow those paths down to rocky beaches to cool off and say hello to passing kayakers. As the trees drop their leaves in the fall, most of the vegetation dies back and access to the creek is easier to obtain. The air becomes perfumed with the easily recognizable autumn scent of leaves in a state of decay. The stark contrast of the running water, ice and snow can make winter a particularly picturesque, if chilly, time to make a visit. Whatever the season, you are sure to see plenty of wildlife to satisfy your craving for nature.
While other sites at the Antietam Battlefield can often receive more attention, there are overlooked gems to be found if you take a little more time in your journey. Naturalist and historian alike can find hours of discoveries on the Snavely Ford Trail at Antietam Battlefield. Travelers should be aware that overall the trail is easy, but there are several places with moderate inclines that might prove challenging for younger or older members of your party and in certain weather can prove slippery. If you have canine companions, be sure to consider bringing them along. The battlefield allows leashed dogs, and this one is a great one for mutts, especially if they like water.
(Except where noted, all information taken from personal experience on the trail).