Saturday, January 18, 2014

Antietam's Burnside Bridge temporarily closes after section of wall falls into creek

(NPS photos of bridge)

The famous Burnside Bridge at Antietam National Battlefield is temporarily closed after a section of stone wall on the upstream side fell into Antietam Creek

Engineers and others will conduct a preliminary evaluation of the pedestrian bridge on Tuesday, park Superintendent Susan Trail told the Picket this morning.

At that time, they may be able to determine whether it is safe to reopen the historic structure. And they may discuss a more comprehensive bridge assessment, Trail said.

Recent bitterly cold weather from the so-called "polar vortex" and other systems are believed to be a contributing factor.

"We have had this rapid freezing and thawing the past couple weeks," said Trail. “We all have been in such strange weather.”

While the wall section is well above the creek, water from the roadbed of the bridge may be a culprit.

Burnside Bridge was a key part of the battle and remains a popular stop today, according to the superintendent.

“I would say the majority of our park visitors make it down to Burnside Bridge and walk over the bridge. It certainly is the iconic structure of the battlefield. It is imminently recognizable."

The site's current bucolic setting is incongruous to what occurred on a bloody afternoon during the Battle of Antietam.

Ambrose Burnside
On Sept. 17, 1862, America's bloodiest single day, a small force of Confederates on high ground for three hours defended the critical crossing against troops belonging to Ambrose E. Burnside's 9th Corps.

Critics say Burnside did not do adequate reconnaissance before the attack, which cost him about 500 casualties.

"After taking the bridge at about 1 p.m., Burnside reorganized for two hours before moving forward across the arduous terrain -- a critical delay. Finally, the advance started only to be turned back by Confederate General A.P. Hill’s reinforcements that arrived in the late afternoon from Harpers Ferry," according to the NPS.

Robert E. Lee's army was saved, but he had to end his Maryland invasion and return to Virginia.

Originally known as Rohrbach's or Lower Bridge, the battlefield landmark was built in 1836 by John Weaver at a cost of $3,200 as a wagon, horse and foot crossing southeast of Sharpsburg.

After the battle, the bridge was actively used for traffic until as recently as 1966, according to the NPS.

The section of stones fell on Wednesday, and officials closed it to foot traffic on Friday.

Trail said she is not aware of major repairs in recent years. The last significant work occurred in the late 1980s.

"When we meet on Tuesday, we will look at the bridge as a whole. We need to look at it holistically.”

The park is relatively quiet at this time of winter, but patrons and the public have expressed their concern and desire to see the bridge repaired.

"People care about it a lot," Trail told the Picket.


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  2. It's really quite surreal to see pieces of history like this slowly succumbing to nature. There's a story in storage that's just waiting to be told once the bridge gets restored I can tell you that!