I’m not trying to look at the proverbial glass half-empty, but there’s precious little coming out of this pandemic that I’d personally characterize as a so-called “positive.” After all, hundreds of thousands of lives have been snuffed out by COVID-19 in our country alone, millions infected, economies likely ruined for years to come, rampant unemployment, anxiety everywhere, and countless lives impacted in ways we cannot yet even fathom.
Still, as glass-half-full friends like to tell me, there’ve been some positives to emerge even from this ordeal. For me, it’s been getting an opportunity to see more of Maryland than I ever have, and to get reacquainted with some special parts of our state.
Needless to say, Maryland lives up to its unofficial moniker of “America in Miniature,’ with its awe-inspiring mountain ranges and hiking trails to urban centers, historic points of interest and rural getaways, to breathtaking beaches and coastline. Over the past few months, I’ve trekked from the scenic heights of Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland to Chesapeake City by the Delaware line to the Eastern Shore’s Assateague Island.
Not to sound like an overzealous tourism office flack but I can honestly say as a lifelong Marylander, I’m astonished by the splendor of our state.
Recently, I visited the Antietam National Battlefield, right outside of the Washington County hamlet of Sharpsburg, a little more than an hour from Baltimore. Anytime you feel gloomy about the times we’re living in, I recommend a visit.
I know a number of Baltimoreans who’ve never even heard of Antietam, but I first visited the battlefield about a decade ago. For the uninitiated, Antietam is the site of the Civil War battle in which Northern and Southern forces clashed for the first time on Union soil.
Simply put, it was the mother of all American bloodbaths.
Antietam is infamous because its date — Sept. 17, 1862 — was the bloodiest day in U.S. history, with a total of 22,717 dead, wounded or missing, far more than Pearl Harbor, 9/11 or D-Day. Also, the Union’s strategic victory there gave President Lincoln the confidence and political capital to proceed with the Emancipation Proclamation, theoretically liberating more than 3.5 million slaves in the South.
You could say the genuine birth of American freedom occurred in the blood-soaked meadows and cornfields of Antietam.
Even if history’s not your passion, you can’t help but be moved by visiting such Antietam sites as the Dunker Church, where Confederate forces took defensive positions to gain the strategic high ground. Or “Bloody Lane,” where subsequent photos of the carnage awakened countless newspaper readers to the horrors of war.
The spot at Antietam that always grabs me by the throat is Burnside’s Bridge. A stone crossing over Antietam Creek, Burnside’s Bridge was the scene of fierce fighting for hours. Scores of troops were mowed down there. But when you walk across the bridge and along the nearby creek, you’re touched by the serenity of this picturesque setting. Only in your mind’s eye can you hear the sound of incessant gunfire and the cries of dying young soldiers calling out for their mothers. This is holy ground.
And therein lies the incongruity of Antietam, that such a naturally beautiful and tranquil landscape was the scene of so much bloodshed and savagery.
This pandemic goes on, but we will somehow survive it. Now is the time to see Maryland and its rich history. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
Alan Feiler, Editor-in-Chief