Tour Stop 9 - Burnside Bridge
About 500 Confederate soldiers held the area overlooking the Lower Bridge for three hours. Burnside's command finally captured the bridge and crossed Antietam Creek, which forced the Confederates back toward Sharpsburg.
A Crucial Crossing, a General's Namesake, a Battlefield Icon
Known at the time of the battle as the Rohrbach or Lower Bridge, this picturesque crossing over Antietam Creek was built in 1836 to connect Sharpsburg with Rohrersville, the next town to the south. It was actively used for traffic until 1966 when a bypass enabled the bridge to be restored to its 1862 appearance.
For more than three hours on September 17, 1862, Confederate Gen. Robert Toombs and fewer than 500 Georgia soldiers manned this imposing position against three Federal assaults made by Gen. Ambrose Burnside's much larger Ninth Corps. Confederate General James Longstreet wrote of the action: "Gen. Toombs held the bridge and defended it most gallantly, driving back repeated attacks, and only yielded it after the force brought against him became overwhelming and threatened his flank and rear."
About 1:00 p.m., with Union soldiers crossing downstream and another attack made on the bridge, Toombs and his men had to retreat. However, the strong delaying action provided much needed time to allow Gen. A.P. Hill's Confederate soldiers, marching from Harpers Ferry, to arrive on the field.
"Repulsed Again and Again"
Throughout the early hours of the battle, Confederate Gen. Lee moved soldiers from this part of his line north toward the Cornfield and the West Woods. This shift resulted in one division, numbering about 3,000 men and commanded by Gen. David R. Jones, holding the southern end of Lee's line.
Fewer than 500 Confederate troops, commanded by Gen. Robert Toombs, lined Antietam Creek from this point southward to Snavely Ford. Col. Henry Benning commanded the men that were here guarding the bridge. A Union soldier, who attempted to cross the span, remembered that the Confederates "were snugly ensconced in their rude but substantial breastworks, in quarry holes, behind high ranks of cordwood, logs, stone piles, etc."
At about 9:30 a.m., the first of three major Federal assaults to take the bridge moved forward. The first attack, Toombs reported, "was repulsed with great slaughter and at regular intervals… other attempts of the same kind, all of which were gallantly met and successfully repulsed…" After defending the area for over three hours, the Confederates began to run low on ammunition.
A Union division, commanded by Gen. Isaac P. Rodman, moved downstream in an attempt to ford the Antietam. The combination of Rodman's troops crossing Snavely Ford on their flank, depleted ammunition, and a third Federal assault toward the bridge, eventually forced Toomb's men from their overlook. At about 1:00 p.m. the Confederates pulled back toward the Harpers Ferry Road to await the final Union attack.
Go to the next tour stop - The Final Attack
Did You Know?
Robert E. Lee's son, Robert Jr., was a private with the Rockbridge Artillery who fought at the Battle of Antietam