The Ghosts of Bloody Lane

Phil Briggs
October 30, 2018 - 8:27 am

Briggs/Gardner/National Park Service

The crisp autumn wind blows across the cut corn fields near Antietam National Battlefield’s Sunken Road.   The sound conjures an ominous feeling in the pit of your stomach when you consider that since September of 1862 it’s been known as “Bloody Lane”.

“There are times it’s eerie to be at the battlefield,” explained Park Ranger Brian Baracz.  “I’ve never seen anything, but it’s more of a feeling, because some terrible things happened here.”

The Antietam battlefield withstood the bloodiest one day battle in American History with 23,000 soldiers killed, wounded or missing after twelve hours of savage combat.

The "Sunken Road" separated the properties of two local farmers, but on September 17th it served as a rifle pit for 2 Confederate Brigades.

Alexander Gardner / National Park Service

Above: This is one of several historic photographs taken by Alexander Gardner just after the battle. (Gardner/National Park Service) 

According to, “The road was ordered held at all costs. The Federals tried numerous times to overrun the road, unit after unit falling back under the rain of fire from the Confederate position. Finally, a vantage point was reached where the Union troops could fire down upon the road's defenders. It became like shooting animals in a slaughter pen and "Bloody Lane" soon filled with bodies, stacked four and five feet deep.”

Alexander Gardner / National Park Service

Over the years, Bloody Lane and the fields that surround it, have become one of the creepiest places on the battlefield. 

Some visitors have described hearing the sound of phantom gunfire, the smell of gunpowder and faint visions of soldiers roaming the field in the fog.

Related Video: Steel Town Paranormal's investigation of Antietam National Battlefield on September 6, 2013


Probably the best-known story is about the school children from the McDonough School in nearby Owings Mills, Maryland. As the class ended their battlefield tour, they were allowed to walk around the field adjacent to the Sunken Road, and document what they had learned that day in a brief writing assignment.

The history they learned that day included the tragic tale of the soldiers with the 69th New York Regiment, known as the "Irish Brigade". These Union soldiers were fierce Irish immigrants who continuously charged the entrenched Confederate position until they were out ammo.  With heavy casualties, they continued their fight determined to conquer the Confederate shooters with just their bayonets.  With each volley of gunfire, the brigade screamed the war cry, “Faugh A Balaugh” which is Gaelic for “Clear the way!”  Their screams eventually faded as they lost nearly 60 percent of their unit on what became one of the bloodiest battles in Civil War history.

Phil Briggs

Above: Park Ranger Mike Gamble points to the location of the Irish Brigade and the field where most o them were cut down by heavy Confederate gunfire.  

Over a century later the McDonough school boys who had ventured to an area about 100 yards from Bloody Lane, described hearing something like a chant similar to the Christmas song, "Deck the Halls". The legend contends, that these boys described the chants as sounding like the portion of the song that goes, “Fa-la-la-la-la.”

Alexander Gardner / National Park Service

Above: Another startling image from Alexander Gardner shows the bodies of soldiers on the field adjacent to Bloody Lane. 

Though we may never be able to truly confirm what those boys heard that day, one can imagine that “Fa la la la la” is the faint sound of the slaughtered Irish Brigade.

And some would agree that without a proper burial, the spirits of these soldiers are exiled to the battlefield where they will blow in the autumn winds for eternity.



To learn more about Antietam National Battlefield or schedule a tour click here.


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