The National History Academy’s Summer Residential Programme looks at all manners of the past with students oftentimes diving deep into some of the darkest chapters of American History. However, the programme also has moments for relaxation, and no activity exemplifies this more than water-tubing. Invented in the 20th century on the Black River, this easy past-time soon spread across the nation thanks to a booming rubber industry. Water-tubing’s legacy continues today and students were able to partake in continuing this legacy on July 11th, when they tubed down the Antietam Creek.
According to the partaking NHA students, the experience was by all means an enjoyable end to a long, hot day with visits to Harpers Ferry and the Antietam Battlefield. One of the major highlights of the water-tubing session was floating under Burnside’s Bridge. Today, this unassuming stone bridge stands stolidly above the rushing rapids below. It would therefore surprise many students that the bridge was an infamous symbol of the bloody conflict which tore the nation apart in the early 1860’s. The Bridge gained its notoriety during the Battle of Antietam when Confederate forces under Henry Benning and General Robert Toombs used it to repel charging Union volleys as Lincoln’s soldiers attempted to gain a foothold on the opposite side of the Creek. The Bridge, however, would soon be threatened again, not with volleys and shots, but with rolling convoys of the newly popularised automobile. Fortunately, Government representatives realising the Bridge’s significance, incorporated it into the Antietam National Battlefield Park saving it from deterioration. This experience therefore taught the NHA students a lesson on both the ubiquity and universality of history all around us, and the role each of us play in keeping this history alive so that we may share it to future generations.