Burnside's Bridge (Antietam)

In 1836 the master bridge builder John Weaver put the finishing touches on Lower Bridge, a beautifully proportioned, 192-foot-long stone bridge over Antietam Creek. Twenty-six years later the bridge became the battleground for the bloodiest day of fighting in the Civil War. On that pivotal day, September 17, 1862, nearly five thousand Americans lost their lives in the rolling hills and farmland near Sharpsburg in the Battle of Antietam. Ever since, the bridge has borne the name of General Ambrose P. Burnside, commander of the Union troops that stormed the bridge under withering Confederate fire.

Burnside's Bridge is now under the care of the National Park Service, the three-arch bridge has been faithfully restored to its original condition, including the wooden coping that tops its walls.

LANDMARK PROFILE
  • Also Known As:
    • Rohrersville Bridge
    • Rohrbach's Bridge
    • Lower Bridge (Military Name)
  • Battlefield: Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg, Maryland
  • Location: Burnside Bridge Road, Sharpsburg, Maryland, previously known as:
    • Sharpsburg-Rohrersville Road
    • Sharpsburg and Maple Swamp Road
    • Rohrbach Bridge Road
  • Crosses: Antietam Creek
  • Map Coordinates: +39° 27' 2.36", -77° 43' 54.97"
  • Admission: Included with Entrance Fee to Antietam National Battlefield
LANDMARK DETAILS
  • Built: Between 1833 and 1836
  • Type: Stone Masonry Arch Bridge - 192' long, 12' wide, made from local Limestone and Granite, Three Arched
  • Construction:
Made of a faced rubble masonry of local blue fieldstone. Three elliptical arch spans are supported by the abutments and two six-foot-wide piers rising from the stream bed. The central span is 35 1/2 feet between the piers and the spans on either side measure 30 feet each.​
The piers are rounded out beyond the spandrel and arch faces from the springline of the arches to their bases. This was done to ease floating debris past the piers. These are terminated with stone laid to form conical caps which meld with the spandrel faces. The voussoirs of the elliptical arches are of common height and keystones were not used.​
The width of the road bed is 13'4" and the ends are splayed outward to facilitate entrance at the sharp road angle. The parapets are about 3 1/2 feet high with wooden coping to shed rain into the stream. The present coping is a restoration, replacing concrete additions.​
  • Architect: John Weaver
  • Cost to Build in 1836: $3,200.00, paid for by Washington County Commissioners
  • Owner in 1863: Washington County, Maryland
  • Current Owner: National Park Service (the U.S. accepted the title to the bridge on November 20, 1945)
  • Bridge Rededicated: Friday, April 21, 2017
LANDMARK HISTORY
Located on the Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg, Maryland, Burnside’s Bridge is an icon of the bloodiest one day battle in the American Civil War.​
Originally built to allow the movement of freight, animals, and people across the creek, with the intention of allowing farmers to take their produce and livestock to market in Sharpsburg, this bridge is one of 14 bridges built in that era over Antietam Creek in Washington County, Maryland. A County owned and constructed timber bridge was the predecessor of the bridge at this site.​
The bridge has two other names, one is "Rohrbach's Bridge", after a local farmer Henry Rohrbach who lived nearby. The second name, "Lower Bridge" is in reference to the Upper Bridge and Middle Bridge located further upstream.​
Crossing over Antietam Creek, the bridge played a key role in the September 17, 1862 Battle of Antietam (also known, especially in the South, as the Battle of Sharpsburg) during which 23,000 men died.​
The bridge proved to be a tactical resource to the Confederates during the course of the battle. U.S. General Ambrose E. Burnside, for whom the structure’s current name is derived, sustained heavy losses at the bridge while leading a corps of 12,000 men across Antietam Creek. When Burnside and his men attempted to cross the bridge on the morning of the battle, a group of about 500 soldiers from the 2nd and 20th Georgia regiments led under the command of Col. Henry C. Benning repelled the crossing. However, by early afternoon, the forces attempts to cross the bridge were finally successful. Once the Union army crossed the bridge, they were able to drive the Confederate troops back towards the town of Sharpsburg​
While Burnside’s choice to storm the bridge has been criticized, the geography of the area, especially the steep banks of Antietam Creek, its waist-deep water, and the pitted mountainside (the result of the excavation of limestone for the bridge) which afforded good cover for the Confederate riflemen, offered few alternatives.​
After multiple attacks were repulsed with great losses to the Union ranks, the Federal forces did seize the bridge but only after a strategically devastating delay.​
The bridge, which, prior to the Battle of Antietam, was known as the Lower Bridge, now bears the name of the General whose tactics and troops were destroyed there.​
After the war, the U.S. Government acquired the bridge and adjoining land.​
Monuments were at one time placed on the bridge's end parapets which had been squared off for this purpose. Beginning in 1955 and concluding in 1966, the National Park Service’s infrastructure improvement program known as Mission 66 brought several updates and repairs to the bridge.​
The improvements included the removal and relocation of some of the closely placed monuments. During the restoration of 1964-65 the parapets were also returned to their original condition. A nearby bypass road was constructed so that by 1966 vehicular traffic across the bridge could be stopped, and the original farm lanes were allowed to grow over with grass. Today, the old road bed is closed to all vehicles, but can still be discerned.​
Today, only foot traffic is allowed across Burnside's Bridge. It remains as one of the most photographed bridges of the Civil War.​
BRIDGE DAMAGE / REPAIR LOG
  • 1933-1934: Immediate work was necessary in order to ensure that the bridge wouldn't become impassable due to the failure of the sidewalls, which were in danger of collapsing. Restoration would involve placing reinforcements over the arches, repointing all the stonework, rebuilding portions of the sidewalls, which had failed, and paving the roadway with bitumized macadam, which was similar to the surface of the roadway at the time. The estimated cost of repairs was $7,500.
  • 1940: Repairs initiated which involved repointing the mortar, replacing the concrete coping with wood coping, removing the four monuments on the corners of the bridge, reconstructing the corners to their war-time appearance, and resetting the monuments on new bases
  • 1941: On the east end of Burnside Bridge, nine feet of the bridge knocked down, and repairs initiated.
  • 1947: On June 24, 1947, a contract signed with B.L. Smith of Boonsboro and the NPS for the repair of the bridge's arches, included the repointing of the mortar. During repairs, Smith noticed that the bridge shook when trucks went over it. In response to this warning from Smith, Superintendent Coleman recommended to the Superintendent of Washington County Schools that school busses should be rerouted so as to not put children in danger. The Maryland State Road Commission objected to permanently closing Burnside Bridge, so the Superintendent had a sign placed at each end of the bridge and at approach road intersections that stated that the bridge was unsafe for vehicles weighing more than three tons.
  • 1953: Superintendent Doust stated that a section of the bridge had collapsed. B.L. Smith repaired the right wing and nearby bulging sections on Burnside Bridge. By March, the repair of the bridge was completed.
  • 1955: Recommendations for making the bridge safe for travel yet allowing it to retain its original appearance consisted of building cofferdams to strengthen the piers, removing the macadam from the road surface, and putting reinforced concrete over the arches, which included the removal of the old mortar and the application of a strong concrete mix. Dramatic repairs occur on the bridge to in order to insure the load carrying capacity. Stone work was repointed with plain Portland cement, which was not historically accurate.
  • 1956: C. William Hetzer, Inc. of Hagerstown, MD began repairing and stabilizing the bridge in March 1956
  • 1963-1965: Automobiles were prohibited from being driven over Burnside Bridge; Efforts by the National Park Service were made to restore the bridge to its 1862 appearance. The National Park Service restores Burnside Bridge by repointing the piers and arches, also resurfacing the drive; Part of Mission 66 Infrastructure Projects.
  • 1974: Burnside Bridge underwent another restoration after the C&O Canal and Antietam National Battlefield separated into two parks.
  • 1988-1989: Burnside Bridge underwent another rehabilitation from 1988 to 1989. The stone masonry piers were repaired, the stone masonry was cleaned and repointed, the roadway over the bridge and the approaches were resurfaced, and rip-rap was installed on the east bank of Antietam Creek, extending from the bridge to 130 feet north of the bridge.
  • 2003: During Hurricane Isabel in September 2003, a large tree limb fell and landed on the parapet of the downstream side of the bridge:
  • 2014: Repair work conducted on the bridge after a section of the stone bridge facing upstream collapsed. Along with the repairs to the stone wall, the central-span bulge on the upstream wall was repointed, and the wood coping was reconstructed.
  • 2015-2017: Restoration after Flood Damage; Bridge closed for major repairs to the historic structure to ensure the long term structural stability, completed in two phases. Phase 1 - focused on in-stream work to strengthen the stone piers and arches. Portable dams were installed in the creek to divert the water during this phase. Phase II included repairs that required selectively dismantling and rebuilding sections of the bridge walls, project took 15 months to complete, final cost: $2,200,000.00
ADDITIONAL PHOTOS



1617728180644.png

Burnside Bridge, Witness Tree at center.
Alexander Gardner, September 1862, LOC.

1617728219311.png

View from west, Alexander Gardner
September 1862, NPS.

1617728672300.png

Alexander Gardner
September 1862, NPS.

1617728656972.png

Alexander Gardner
September 1862, NPS.

1617728642969.png

Alexander Gardner
September 1862, NPS.

1617728585380.png

Location & Topography
NPS Survey, 1986, LOC

1617728569732.png

Site Plan
NPS Survey, 1986, LOC

1617728550836.png

Bridge Plan
NPS Survey, 1986, LOC

1617765324224.png

Flooding conditions at Antietam's Burnside Bridge in 1996. NPS Photo

1617728476287.png

View from Western Shore
©Michael Kendra, May 5, 2012

1617728459254.png

Looking East
©Michael Kendra, May 5, 2012

1617728439479.png

Freeze/Thaw Damage January 17, 2014, NPS Photo

1617765742234.png

Repair work begins on the stone piers,
as water is pumped away from the portadam.
March 2016, NPS Photo


ADDITIONAL READING
  • Burnside's Bridge: Antietam by John Cannan, 2001.
  • If you see a book written by Dr. Phillip Thomas Tucker, Ph D. about Burnside's Bridge, just look for a better book!
RELATED LINKS

https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/DownloadFile/560432

6CD866A8-FB7A-4EAE-BFF8-759FB5D2698B.jpeg

Workers work late into the night. repairing stonework by floodlight.
November 2015. NPS Photo.

citation information The following information is provided for citations.
Article Title:
Burnside's Bridge (Antietam)
Author:
Mike Kendra @CivilWarTalk
Website Name:
CivilWarTalk.com
Publisher:
CivilWarTalk, LLC
URL:
https://civilwartalk.com/threads/burnsides-bridge-antietam.184070/
Original Published Date:
April 7, 2021
Full Citation:
CivilWarTalk, "Monuments, Structures, and Other Points of Interest: Burnside's Bridge (Antietam)" CivilWarTalk.com, accessed , https://civilwartalk.com/threads/burnsides-bridge-antietam.184070/
 
Last edited:

James N.

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I scanned the entry and failed to find mention of an interesting piece of trivia I found out during the 125th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Antietam - the bridge is only one of over FORTY similar bridges (and even culverts) in Washington County, all built in the 1840's by the same contractor. For the event we utilized another of these.
 

Bruce Vail

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Jul 8, 2015
I scanned the entry and failed to find mention of an interesting piece of trivia I found out during the 125th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Antietam - the bridge is only one of over FORTY similar bridges (and even culverts) in Washington County, all built in the 1840's by the same contractor. For the event we utilized another of these.

A number of these 1840s structures a still in use for normal car traffic today. Its fun to drive the roads around Sharpsburg and spot them.
 

CivilWarTalk

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I scanned the entry and failed to find mention of an interesting piece of trivia I found out during the 125th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Antietam - the bridge is only one of over FORTY similar bridges (and even culverts) in Washington County, all built in the 1840's by the same contractor. For the event we utilized another of these.
I did actually see that mention, but didn't include it, there is so much trivial info that just seemed un-necessary detail. One of my few edits from the many many included details...
 

Fairfield

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Dec 5, 2019
This type of small, arched bridge--sometimes over a stream and sometimes over a dry "gulch" was common in the Highlands of Scotland after the '15 (a Scottish rebellion against England in 1715). The Wade Bridges (as they were called) enabled the English to move more easily with equipment through lands that had previously been formidable.

1617842891288.png
 

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