"Burnside Bridge"


During the third part of the battle, General Ambrose Burnside's IX Corps tried to fight its way over a strongly defended stone arch bridge, called Lower Bridge or Rohrbach Bridge, over Antietam Creek. Burnside had 12,500 men who were opposed by about 400 men from the 2d, 15th, 17th, and 20th Georgia under Robert Toombs. Toomb's brigade was in positions on the bluff overlooking the bridge. The Georgians held off four Union assaults on the bridge and raking fire from Union artillery for over three hours.

A little after noon, Edward Ferrero's brigade consisting of the 51st New York, the 51st Pennsylvania, and the 21st and 35th Massachusetts was ordered to take the bridge. Ferraro, who had attempted to control drunkenness in his brigade by cutting of its whiskey ration (an unofficial but often followed tradition), ordered the New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians to make the assault.

Corporal Lewis Patterson, Co. J, 51 PA, a teetotaller, shouted to Ferrero, "Will you give us our whiskey, Colonel, if we take it?"

Ferrero answered, "Yes, by God, you shall have as much as you want if you take the bridge. I don't mean the whole brigade, but you two regiments shall have just as much as you want, if it is in the commissary or if I have to send to New York to get it and pay for it out of my own purse; that is if I live to see you through it."

The 2nd Brigade forced the bridge, winning Ferrero a promotion to brigadier, at the cost of two barrels of whiskey. Other units of the brigade were able to flank the position by effecting crossings at Middle Bridge and Snavely's Ford. The Confederate line broke, and retreated towards Sharpsburg. Burnside's troops, stopping to celebrate their victory, allowed A. P. Hill's troops, making a 17 mile (27 km) forced march from Harper's Ferry, to engage and force them back from the outskirts of Sharpsburg. Hill's success on the field was helped by the confusion caused by some of the Confederate troops' wearing Union uniforms captured at Harper's Ferry.

Below is a view of the bridge taken in 1995; it is virtually unchanged from its appearance in September 1862.

There is some question as to whether the name "Burnside Bridge" is in tribute to Burnside or is a dig at him for his being held up three hours trying to cross a bridge when both Snavely's Ford and Middle Bridge (both about 2 miles (3.2 km) down and upstream, respectively) were available.

Priest, J. M., Antietam: The Soldiers' Battle. Oxford University Press, NY, 1989.


Back to Antietam
Photo Credit (top): National Archives
Color photo by Peter Schwartz
Thanks to Kevin Bryne for noticing an error in the original picture
Created 30 SEP 1998; Modified 22 FEB 2004

http://schwartz.eng.auburn.edu/ACW/ant.docs/burnbrg.html