Sunday, April 7, 2013


April 7, 2013


Sharpsburg, Maryland (JFK+50) John F. Kennedy became the 8th sitting president to visit Antietam National Battlefield 50 years ago today, April 7, 1963.  

The presidential visit came just a week after President Kennedy's journey to Gettysburg.

JFK left Camp David by US Army helicopter accompanied by Mrs. Kennedy, Caroline and JFK Jr.  Also, along for the trip were Ted and Joan Kennedy, Lem Billings, Ralph Horton, and James Reed.

The tour guide was Acting Superintendent of Antietam National Battlefield, Robert L. Lagemann.  

The tour lasted about 90 minutes.

Note:  The JFK Library has a 16mm silent color film titled "Visit to Antietam Battlefield 7 April 63" available for viewing at the following link:

              Robert L. Lagemann & JFK
                              Antietam NMP
                      Sharpsburg, Maryland
                                April 7, 1963

The Battle of Antietam, named after the creek that was the scene of the last part of the fighting on September 17, 1862, marked Confederate General Robert E. Lee's 1st invasion of the North.*

*Although a state where slavery was legal, Maryland did not secede from the Union.

The battle began at Dunker Church along the Hagerstown Pike.

                        Dunker Church
                        Antietam NMP
            Photo by Chris Light (2005)

The fighting then quickly spread to the "Corn Field" with perhaps the most intense fighting of the day coming at the Sunken Road, later christened "Bloody Lane."

                           Bloody Lane
                         Antietam NMP
              Photo by Sswonk (2008)

The last phase of the battle was at Burnside's Bridge across Antietam Creek.**

                       Burnside's Bridge
                        Antietam NMP
             Photo by Chris Light (2005)

**During JFK's visit to Antietam, his car crossed over the bridge, but beginning in 1966 Burnside's Bridge was closed to all vehicular traffic.

The day following the battle, both sides took time to bury their dead & on the night of September 18, Lee's Army of Northern Virginia recrossed the Potomac back into Virginia.***

***I have rephrased this from my high school lecture as I used to say "Lee retreated back into Virginia."  One time a student, with a puzzled look on her face, raised her hand and asked, "But why didn't Lee's men go back to Virginia with him?"

The Battle of Antietam, according to the National Park Service, is the "bloodiest one day battle in American history."  

Of the 100,000 engaged, 23,000 soldiers on both sides were killed, wounded or missing in less than 12 hours.  Six generals were killed.

On September 22, 1862, just 5 days after the battle, President Abraham Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

The 1st sitting President of the United States to visit Antietam Battlefield was Abraham Lincoln who came in October 1862 to encourage Major General George B. McClellan to pursue Lee's retreating army.

Andrew Johnson visited on the 5th anniversary of the battle, September 17, 1867.  He was accompanied by U.S. Grant, General-in-chief of the army, who returned as President on October 15, 1869.

President William McKinley, who served in Company E of the 23rd Ohio regiment at the Battle of Antietam, came back on Memorial Day, May 30, 1900, for the dedication of the Maryland State Monument.  

His guest included former CSA General James Longstreet.

President Theodore Roosevelt visited on October 13, 1903 and his cousin President Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 17, 1937, then again in 1944.

President John F. Kennedy was the 7th sitting US president to visit on April 7, 1963 followed by President James E. Carter ,the 8th and to this point, the last to visit Antietam in July 1978 when he was accompanied by Civil War author Shelby Foote.

President Carter traveled to Antietam by motorcade from Harper's Ferry along Route 230 but at one point was detained for 20 minutes while a herd of cattle crossed the road.


                        You Tube Video*

       Some scenes of graphic violence.