WPA Today   


WPA Poster

Antietam National Battlefield

     The Battle of Antietam took place on September 17, 1862, and is known as the bloodiest day of the Civil War.  General George B. McClellan and his Union forces faced off against General Robert E. Lee and his Confederate Army at Sharpsburg, Maryland.  When the fighting was done, well over 3,500 men were dead, and another 19,000 wounded.

     The WPA helped preserve the history of the Battle of Antietam with physical restoration, road improvements, cemetery work, and by assisting with museum activities in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of Antietam (1937), for which both President Roosevelt and Civil War veterans were in attendance (see photos below).  This is yet another example of the New Deal's contribution to the preservation of our national heritage.  Other examples include the Washington Monument near Boonsboro, Maryland (the first monument to George Washington, and restored by the CCC), Fort Frederick near Big Pool, Maryland (also restored by the CCC), and Fort McHenry (repairs, upkeep, and restoration by the WPA).  

     The National Park Service (NPS) is actively researching its New Deal history pertaining to Antietam National Battlefield.  As is always the case (in all my experiences anyway), they were welcoming of public inquiry.  They were kind enough to drive me around to a few areas of the park and also allowed me to examine some archival materials.  Without their assistance, the richness of the photo display below would not have been possible.  I encourage everyone to visit Antietam and, where possible, talk to the NPS staff. They have fascinating "tid bits" of information about the National Battlefield.

Photo credits: Unless otherwise noted, all black and white photos were taken by the federal government (either the WPA or the National Park Service), are in the public domain, and provided courtesy of the National Park Service.  All color photos--unless otherwise noted--were taken by Brent McKee.  Click here for more information on photo credits, permission to use, and exhibit descriptions.

Above: Union artillery at the Battle of Antietam, September 1862.  The caption for this photo reads, "Capt. J. M. Knap's battery. Penn. artillery (Banks Corps) on battlefield of Antietam. Sept. 1862." 
Photo by Alexander Gardner, provided courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.  

Above: President Lincoln and General George McClellan at Antietam, October 3, 1862.  Photo by Alexander Gardner, provided courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. 

Above: Fallen Confederate soldiers at the Battle of Antietam, September 1862.  For whatever reason, wars fascinate us and are probably the most researched topics in the historical field.  But, at the end of the day, as William Tecumseh Sherman said, "War is hell."  Photo by Alexander Gardner, provided courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. 

Above: 75 years later, during the New Deal, extensive work is initiated to improve the National Battlefield. This picture did not have a caption but was among other WPA photos.  It appears to show a WPA worker--or perhaps a private contractor working with the WPA--rolling a street on the perimeter of Antietam National Cemetery.  Exact date unknown. 

Above:  These workers seem to be shoveling debris from a deteriorated--and removed--section of the wall around Antietam National Cemetery.  The intact section of wall that we see on the left appears to be recently restored, but it's hard to tell from this photo.  Exact date unknown.  

Above: The caption for this photo reads "WPA Project No.3583.  Repointing cemetery stone wall and rebuilding sections - 1939."  

Above: This photo shows the WPA work sign.  The caption reads, "Entrance to utility area on west side of cemetery being improved.  WPA Project No. 3583."  

Above: More work on the cemetery wall.  Caption reads: "Northwest corner of stonewall where cornerstone was laid, April 25, 1940."

Above: A nice view of the workers repairing another section of the cemetery wall.  Exact date unknown. 

Above: The Antietam National Cemetery wall today.  Photo taken 2011. 

Above: Another view of the cemetery wall.  Photo taken 2011.

Above: The caption for this photo reads "Antietam Battlefield personnel and WPA force at the cornerstone laying, April 25, 1940, in northwest corner of cemetery wall."  Another photo indicated that one of the women pictured here is a National Youth Administration Assistant.  

Above: Caption reads, "Laying tar on parking space at New York plot."  Date unknown. 

Above: Caption reads, "Eliminating curve on Richardson Avenue by WPA force.  Project No. 3583, January 1940." 

Above: Caption reads,  "Showing bad condition of Upper or Hooker Bridge on road leading from Keedysville to Eakles Cross Road."  Date unknown. 

Above: Much of the WPA's roadwork is still present at the battlefield, such as this retaining wall and gutter.  As you can see, the National Park Service has recently repointed these sections.  Photo taken 2012. 

Above: More WPA stonework that has been recently repointed.  Photo taken 2012.

Above: This section of road was raised by the WPA, to keep it above an area prone to flooding.  Photo taken 2012.

Above:  According to the Park Service, the stonework around this monument was a WPA creation. Also, in a May 4, 1941 Baltimore Sun article, it was reported that President Roosevelt had approved $36,728 for the WPA to perform "clearing, grading, landscaping, rebuilding bridges, paths, walls and resetting monuments."  ("Two Maryland Projects Approved By Roosevelt," p.21, emphasis added).  I don't know if this particular monument was one of those reset by the WPA, but it seems likely.  For the Civil War buffs out there, this monument reads: "Maryland: 1st Maryland Artillery.  Ewell's Division.  C.S.A. The battery under the command of Capt. Wm. F. Dement occupied a position in the field in the rear of this marker. The monument to the Maryland troops is near the Dunkard Church."  Photo taken 2012. 

Above: According to a Baltimore Sun article, a WPA project was approved to restore Burnside Bridge to its original wartime appearance.  This would involve replacing concrete coping with wood coping, repainting, removal of monuments, and reconstruction of bridge corners ("WPA Project Planned For Burnside Span," September 18, 1940, p. 24).  Photo taken 2012.

 The WPA helped prepare for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam.  Some of the preparation involved examining and classifying artifacts, and creating displays.  Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland Archives.  

Above: In attendance for the 75th anniversary were some Civil War veterans.  The caption for this photo reads, "September 16, 1937.  Gathering of Union and Confederate Veterans on the occasion of the National Antietam Commemoration." 

Above: The caption for this photo reads: "September 16, 1937.  Union Veteran Jos. M. Showalter, 124th Pennsylvania.  Confederate Veteran John W. Cumb, 22nd Virginia."

Above: President Roosevelt gives an address at the Antietam commemoration on September 17, 1937.

Above: Before the WPA worked at Antietam, its short-lived predecessor, the Civil Works Administration (CWA), also performed historic preservation work here.  The caption for this photo reads, "C.W.A. Historical Survey Group, 1933-1934."  

Above: The Public Works Administration was also involved in historic preservation at Antietam.  The caption for this photo reads, "PWA Project FP 420.  War Correspondents Memorial Arch under repairs." Exact date unknown.  So, Antietam National Battlefield received attention from the WPA, NYA, CWA, and PWA.  
Website Builder