Antietam National Battlefield | WEST WOODS

West Woods stop on the Antietam National Battlefield Tour

West Woods stop on the Antietam National Battlefield Tour

ANTIETAM NATIONAL BATTLEFIELD TOUR

STOP 5:  WEST WOODS

Allow 10 minutes for a visit
Add 30 minutes to hike the West Woods Trail

The fifth stop on the tour of Antietam National Battlefield is at the West Woods. Attractions at this stop include wayside exhibits that detail the events that took place here, the Philadelphia Brigade Monument, a mortuary cannon, and the trailhead for the West Woods Trail, a 1-mile trail that circles through the forest where the fighting took place.

The Battle of Antietam began at dawn on the morning of September 17, 1862, with most of the early fighting taking place at the David Miller cornfield a quarter mile to the northeast of the West Woods. The grounds of the cornfield changed hands a half dozen times before Union general Joseph Mansfield’s 7,000-man 12th Corps arrived around 8 AM and pushed the Confederates off the cornfield for good and into the West Woods and the Dunker Church area. Soon thereafter, the fighting came to a brief halt while generals from both sides moved reinforcements into the area.

Reinforcing the exhausted Union troops was the 2nd Corps under the command of General Edwin Sumner. His three divisions had crossed Antietam Creek earlier and were now marching towards the East Woods with substantial ground between them, which eventually caused the divisions to become separated. The first to emerge from the East Woods was General John Sedgwick’s division of 5,000 men, with Sumner accompanying them. The men continued across the cornfield towards the West Woods, encountering the remnants of Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s men.

Because the other two divisions of Sumner’s 2nd Corps were nowhere to be seen, there was no support on the left or right flank as Sedgwick’s division marched into the woods in pursuit of the Confederates where they hoped to drive them south and attack the Confederate left flank near Dunker Church. What Sumner didn’t know was that the Confederates had a battery of cannon to the west of the woods on Hauser Ridge and that Confederate reinforcements were moving towards the West Woods from the south (General John Walker’s division) and the southwest (General Lafayette McLaws’ division), directly towards his exposed left flank. When the fighting began, Sedgwick’s men were stacked three brigades deep, and those to the rear could not return fire without shooting their comrades in the back. This effectively cut the Union firepower by two thirds. Within thirty minutes of fighting, Sedgwick lost over 2,000 men (killed or wounded).

West Woods Battle Map

West Woods Battle Map

The Union soldiers who survived began pouring out of the West Woods towards the North Woods. The Confederates chased after them but were quickly stopped by Union artillery. Furthermore, General Robert E. Lee had moved so many men north of Sharpsburg that the center of his line along the Sunken Road was no longer well defended, and the action was shifting in that direction. In fact, that is where the other two divisions of the Union 2nd Corps were heading. Lee needed to move men back south as soon as possible.

The most interesting feature at the West Woods tour stop is the Philadelphia Brigade Monument. At 70 feet in height, it is the tallest monument at Antietam National Battlefield. During the fighting in the West Woods, the brigade lost more than 550 men. After the war, surviving members formed the Philadelphia Brigade Association and purchased the property for the placement of a monument. The extra land was turned into a park, now known as Philadelphia Brigade Park. The monument and park were dedicated in 1896. The land was purchased for $1 in 1940 by the National Park Service for inclusion in Antietam National Battlefield.

Philadelphia Brigade Monument at Antietam National Battlefield

Philadelphia Brigade Monument at Antietam National Battlefield

Also at the West Woods tour stop is a mortuary cannon for Confederate general William E. Starke. This type of monument marks the position where a general was killed or mortally wounded. The Starke mortuary cannon is one of six such memorials at Antietam. Three are for Confederate generals (George B. Anderson, Lawrence O’Bryan Branch, and Starke) and three for Union generals (Isaac P. Rodman, Israel B. Richardson, and Joseph Mansfield).

Mortuary cannon for Confederate general William E. Starke at Antietam National Battlefield

Mortuary cannon for Confederate general William E. Starke at Antietam National Battlefield


Stop 6: Mumma Farm | Stop 4: The Cornfield | Battlefield Tour Home Page


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Last updated on May 22, 2023
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