If you are traveling in and around Hagerstown, Maryland here is a place to consider visiting if you are free early in the morning or later in the evening; Antietam National Battlefield.
I stumbled upon this sacred place because I woke up early thinking I would catch the sunrise on the lake in Greenbier State Park, however to my disappointment, the park was closed.
As I paced back and forth (metaphorically in my car), I wondered what on earth do I do now?!
The golden hour was no longer golden, the sun already over the horizon, and the beautiful colors and fog was disappearing faster than I could think.
If you don’t already know, I am obsessed with the morning light. I can’t get enough of it!
There is just something so special about the creamy pastels, warm rays of light, and fading blue that blends together, creating soft and dreamy light that you can’t possibly Photoshop. It’s just something you have to experience.
Discouraged, I drove back to the hotel with a disgruntled look on my face until I saw a big brown sign that read, Antietam National Battlefield Next Right.
Not having an active GPS, I punched on the gas and got off on the exit, hoping that I would still have time to go and make it back to our hotel by 0845. It was already 0620.
Minutes passed like hours as I drove down a windy Maryland back road that eventually led to one of the most beautiful locations I’ve ever seen.
If you aren't paying attention, you are bound to miss the exit because all that you see is a narrow road that leads to a small hill overlooking a valley.
Once you are there, you will notice a small visitor center on top of the hill, trails that you can drive or walk to, and several statues with names carved into the side, reminding us of those who fell on that dreadful morning during the Battle of Antietam.
Anyways, once you are there, here are some things you need to know:
- If you have a Military ID, it’s free to park and to explore just like any other National Park.
- Parking prices vary, and the park doesn’t technically open until 0900.
- There is no gate, meaning that you can drive right up to the visitor center that overlooks Antietam Battlefield.
- Make sure you bring water because it’s hot, even at 7:00 a.m.
- Bring a long lens (I used a Canon 28-300mm f/3.5 - f/5.6) because you will want to compress the foreground with the background in order to bring the colors, fog, and trees together.
- If you go in the morning, be aware that your shoes will be drenched from the dew on the lawn.
With that said, as soon as I arrived, I immediately grabbed my camera bag, took a swig of water, and headed towards the hill overlooking the battlefield.
Not sure what lens I would be primarily using, I immediately realized that the Canon 28-300mm f/3.5 - f/5.6 would be perfect because anything wider would only allow you to get a couple shots with little variety.
With a longer lens, I was able to compress the foreground and background, which in turn brought all of the colors, emotion, fog and trees together into one of the most remarkable sights I’ve ever seen.
Lucky for me, I was the only one there (6:30 a.m.), which I am extremely grateful for because it allowed me to breath it in, absorb the experience and imagine what could have happened more than a hundred years ago.
For those who don’t know, here are a couple quick insights about the battle of Antietam.
September 17, 1862 was one the bloodiest days in American history; 22,717 dead, wounded, or missing.
This was a crucial battle for President Abraham Lincoln, as it was a strategic victory for the Union, which in turn gave Lincoln the confidence to announce the Emancipation Proclamation.
Growing up, my dad would always tell us stories of the Civil War, hoping that one day we would be motivated as much as he was; to learn more so that we could carry on future conversations.
Though I don’t have the knowledge he does about military history, I do know that while I was standing on top of the hill overlooking a battlefield that laid claim to thousands of men, I felt a sense of gratitude, love, and devotion for those who lost their lives 155 years ago.
You don’t have to know much about the battle of Antietam to go, you just need to know enough.
One of the greatest moments you can ever experience will come when you just let those moments come to you. Breathe it in.
Let the feeling move you.
I’m not much of a history buff, but the feeling and mood of just being there shook my soul.
It was though I could hear the canon’s firing, men shouting, and black powdered rifles echoing through the dense fog. But in the midst of it all, everything was still.
As tragic as it was, the events that occurred here forever changed America and its future.
I’ve learned that if you take time to make beautiful the places where you stand, you will come to appreciate what the landscapes around you have to offer, which is often more than just beautiful light...
Just on a side note, we stayed at the Hampton Inn that’s closest to Hagerstown, MD (about 30 minutes) from Antietam National Battlefield.
The Hampton Inn offers a free continental breakfast, and is close to several restaurants including Taco Bell and Waffle House.