Thursday, October 8, 2015

Antietam's Burnside Bridge closing Saturday for repairs on walls, arches and piers

Damage to upstream wall in January 2014 (NPS)

A $1.7 million project will stabilize Antietam National Battlefield’s iconic Burnside Bridge, which lost a section of stone wall in January 2014 after the bitter “polar vortex."

Temporary repairs were made, but a deeper engineering assessment found the 12-feet wide by 125-feet-long stone has substantial deterioration of the walls and significant water infiltration, the park in western Maryland said in a Wednesday press release.

The bridge over Antietam Creek will close Saturday (Oct. 10). It was not immediately clear when the pedestrian structure is expected to reopen.

The investigation also found that the instability extended to bridge piers with voids that need to be filled, officials said.

Phase 1 of the preservation will focus on strengthening the stone piers and arches, the National Park Service said. Portable dams will be installed in the creek to divert the water. Phase II will begin in early spring with repairs that require selectively dismantling and rebuilding sections of the bridge walls.

Superintendent Susan Trail last year told the Picket that rapid freezing and thawing after weather systems likely added to the natural wear on the stones.
NPS photo

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.

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.

“Topography at the site heavily favored the few hundred Confederates who defended it. The road approaching the east end of the bridge swung on a course paralleling that of Antietam Creek; in the last few hundred yards before reaching the bridge, the road plunged into a funnel-like depression between the opposing bluffs of the creek,” the NPS says. 

“Confederate troops were in rifle pits on the west bluff overlooking the bridge and the approach road.

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.

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

After the battle, the bridge was actively used for traffic until as recently as 1966, according to the NPS.
The last significant work occurred in the late 1980s.

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