Monday, September 11: Today, we remember the terrorist acts committed on U.S. soil. The events of September 11, 2001 are ones that we as a nation can never, and should never, forget. The United States experienced the worst terrorist attack in its history — “the coordinated hijacking of four commercial planes, the planned attack on symbolic targets, and the murder of innocent people” (The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial: 9/11 at the Pentagon).
Numerous memorial services are being held today. As we visited the Pentagon Memorial not far from our home in northern Virginia on Sunday, we saw officials setting up for a Monday ceremony. This is the first time we’ve visited this memorial, and we found it very moving.
According to the Pentagon Memorial‘s website, “one-hundred-and-eighty-four lives were lost at the Pentagon that day. They were men, women, and children. They were mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons. They came from all walks of life: administrative assistants, doctors, educators, flight crew members, military leaders, scientists, and students. They came from towns and cities, large and small, across the United States and around the world. The youngest was only three years old; the oldest, 71.”
Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.
The day, I remember clearly, was much like today, sunny, cool, and crisp. Fall was in the air. I remember wishing every day was as beautiful as that day.
I had put my children on the bus for school early. My two sons were 8 and 10, and my daughter, who lived in Virginia Beach with her father, was 17. I was 45 years old. I was driving my car down Reston Parkway on my way to a book group at my church, St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, when I heard the news about the first plane hitting the tower. Newscasters were debating about the size of the plane; they seemed to think it was a small plane gone astray. Then I heard the news about the second plane crashing. I stopped at Barnes and Noble in Reston to get a coffee, and felt palpable tension and anxiety in the air; fear was etched on people’s faces. I called my brother in New York to make sure he was okay. Then I heard the news of a plane hitting the Pentagon.
When I arrived at church, everyone was in a panic over the news. Our pastor, who was to lead the book group, was frantic because her husband was in the Pentagon and she wasn’t able to reach him. Thankfully, it turned out he was fine, though we’d find out later that many were not. We watched the TV in horror as the twin towers fells, and as the Pentagon went up in flames.
The book group was not to be; we all dispersed to our homes in shock. I sat spellbound in front of the TV the rest of the day, and when my children came home from school, I told them what we knew so far of the horrifying story. We watched TV together as news channels replayed the planes hitting, buildings collapsing, people jumping off buildings, dust-covered people walking like ghosts through the streets of New York. It was surreal and terrifying.
According to the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial: Design Elements: the Pentagon Memorial serves as a timeline of the victims’ ages, spanning from the youngest victim, three-year-old Dana Falkenberg, who was on board American Airlines Flight 77, to the oldest, John D. Yamnicky, 71, a Navy veteran, also aboard Flight 77 that morning.
Each Memorial Unit is a cantilevered bench, a lighted pool of flowing water, and a permanent tribute, by name, to each victim, in one single element. Each memorial bench is made of stainless steel and inlaid with smooth granite. Each Memorial Unit contains a pool of water, reflecting light in the evenings onto the bench and surrounding gravel field.
Within the Pentagon Memorial, 85 Crape Myrtles are clustered around the Memorial Units, but are not dedicated to any one victim.
The Memorial’s stabilized gravel surface is bordered on the western edge by an Age Wall. The Age Wall grows one inch per year in height above the perimeter bench relative to the age lines. As visitors move through the Memorial, the wall gets higher, growing from three inches (the age of Dana Falkenberg) to 71 inches (the age of John D. Yamnicky).
Each Memorial Unit is also specifically positioned in the Memorial to distinguish victims who were in the Pentagon from those who were on board American Airlines Flight 77. At the 125 Memorial Units honoring the victims of the Pentagon, visitors see the victim’s name and the Pentagon in the same view. At the Memorial Units honoring the 59 lives lost on Flight 77, the visitor sees the victim’s name and the direction of the plane’s approach in the same view.
The benches facing this direction are the victims of the Pentagon.
Thursday, August 31: Cheers and welcome to our August happy hour! Come right in to our screened-in porch, make yourself comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink. I can offer you wine or beer. I can also offer soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.
Luckily the weather since I returned from Japan on August 8 hasn’t been bad. The first week it was quite hot and humid, not much different from what I experienced in Japan. But on Wednesday, the 23rd, the weather improved and dropped to temperatures of my liking, around 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23C). This is perfect weather; my mood lifts considerably when I can feel a hint of fall in the air. 🙂
I’m so happy to see you. We can mingle or we can sit, whatever is to your liking. How have you been since I’ve been gone? What kind of music are you listening to? Have you indulged in any daydreams? Have you changed jobs or gone into retirement? Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners? Have you tried out any new restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home? Have you had any special family gatherings? Have you gone on a holiday or had a stay-cation?
Many of you haven’t followed my trip to Japan, so maybe you don’t know that I spent the last 4 months (1 semester) teaching at Aoyama Gakuin University – Sagamihara campus with Westgate Corporation. I taught 2nd year university students majoring in Global Studies and Collaboration who were preparing for a study abroad in Thailand or Malaysia. I worked 9-hour days five days a week, and every weekend I went out exploring. I believe I had about two days of rest the whole time I was there! If you like, you can check out my time in Japan here: catbird in japan. I still haven’t finished writing about my time there, but more posts will follow, slowly, slowly….
Upon my return, I also found my son Adam has boomeranged back home from Hawaii and has settled into our basement. One of our agreements since he returned home is that he will hold a job, which he has done so far. He’s been working hard, so hard in fact that he ended up with some kind of flu over the last week. He seems to be doing well overall, and I’m happy to have him stay temporarily as long as he’s working. He has been saving money to take a trip to Australia to see his Australian girlfriend Maddy, who he met in Hawaii. He’ll be gone for nearly a month beginning September 20. On my second night back from Japan, he and I enjoyed a nice dinner together at the Whole Foods Seafood Bar.
Things have felt strange since I returned. I feel that I’ve returned to a parallel universe, and one not much to my liking. The very weekend after my return, I watched on TV a despicable white supremacy march in Charlottesville, about two hours from where I live in northern Virginia; in shock, I then had to listen to our “president” fanning the flames of hatred and arguing that there is moral equivalency between neo-Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists and the “alt-left,” a made-up term lumping counter-protestors and Antifa, or anti-fascists, into one big boat. Granted, there should be no violence in protests, but the white supremacists marching openly with weapons in one of the most peaceful college towns in our state was a frightening display and one that almost begs violence from counter-protestors. I am disheartened by what our country is coming to, and it is hard to be back after being in a culture where people greet each other with respect and bow to each other in nearly every interaction!
I didn’t watch any movies the whole time I was in Japan (I didn’t even know where any movie theaters were, except in downtown Tokyo). In an effort to catch up, I have gone to several movies since I returned: The Big Sick and The Glass Castle, both of which I enjoyed. While I was in Japan, I watched three full seasons of The Good Wife, which I was totally hooked on.
The first weekend I was home, I took 4-hour naps each day as I tried to reverse my internal clock. In Japan, nighttime was daytime here, and daytime was nighttime here, so no wonder my body is confused. I haven’t gotten much of anything done. As a matter of fact, I feel somewhat paralyzed with indecision. I never had a spare minute in Japan, and now I seem to have too much time on my hands. I don’t know how to focus my attention with so much time. I think it will take me a while to become acclimated to this parallel universe.
On Wednesday morning, August 16, I found out my daughter Sarah had taken a fall the evening before while running on a muddy path in the woods. She cut her knee wide open. She didn’t have her phone with her and had to walk with an open gaping wound until she found someone. Using a stranger’s phone, she called for an ambulance and was admitted to the emergency room where she had to have 25 stitches across her knee. She’s been immobilized ever since, as the cut was so deep it still hasn’t healed. As a waitress/bartender, she’s losing valuable work time; I plan to visit her soon, but she’s been putting me off until she feels a little better. I’ve been constantly worried about her, as a mother’s work as chief worrier is never over.
Adam has been taking a course about podcasts and posted his first podcast on the same day I heard about Sarah, so there was a bit of good news as he’s wanted to do this for some time.
On August 19, after I started to feel more like a human being, Mike and I went out to see the movie Wind River, which I enjoyed, and had dinner at Coyote Grill, where I had my favorite chili rellenos.
On Monday, August 21, I went at 2:00 to Kalypso’s at Lake Anne to watch the partial solar eclipse at 2:40 pm. It was a festive atmosphere, with people enjoying the beautiful day outdoors, drinking wine, wearing the funny eclipse glasses. I had seen a total eclipse in 1970 in southern Virginia, so I didn’t feel the need to travel a long distance to see the total eclipse, but Adam drove 10 hours to Tennessee, where he loved seeing a total eclipse for the first time in his life.
Mike and I are planning a holiday from September 22-October 7 to Budapest, Sopron, Vienna, Český Krumlov, and Prague. We spent many days this month plotting out our trip and making all our reservations. I can’t wait to go! In preparation, I’ve been reading guidebooks on Hungary, Austria and Czech Republic.
To get in the mindset for Prague I just finished reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. I loved it! Here’s my short review from Goodreads: I really enjoyed this book that takes place in Prague before and during the Russian occupation. Besides being a love story, it also ties in the political realities of living under an oppressive occupying regime. Tomas, a successful surgeon at the beginning of the occupation, meets and falls in love with Tereza, who is like a child brought to him by a series of odd circumstances. Despite his love for Tereza, Tomas cannot stop his incorrigible womanizing; neither does he want to stop. In a parallel story, Tomas’s mistress Sabina and her other lover, Franz, a professor with noble ideals, try to work out their own love affair, a mere shadow and weak immitation of her affair with Tomas.
I love how the author wanes philosophical at times without abandoning the story of these characters and their backgrounds, histories that they can never excise and that influence them every day of their lives.
Upon my return from Japan, I found out when I weighed myself for the first time in four months, that I lost 8 pounds while in Japan. I guess it was a combination of the healthy diet there and all the walking I did. 🙂
My walks while home have been sporadic, and I’m rarely hitting 10,000 steps a day. In Japan, I met my goal of 10,000 steps every day just by walking 30 minutes each way to work and being on my feet teaching. On weekends, I often walked 10-20,000 steps. Needless to say, the pounds have started creeping back on since I’m not exercising as much here. It’s frustrating because I get bored walking around in circles in the same old places without any destination. My heart just isn’t into walking, but I will have to get back to my regular exercise routine soon. Below is a picture of part of a walk around Lake Anne in Reston on August 28.
Last Monday, after Adam had been working non-stop for days, he came down with a stomach flu and has been sleeping in the basement trying to recover. He’s been working so hard trying to save money for his trip to Australia, that he’s overdone it and is now paying the price.
Alex came up from Richmond to visit and spent two days here. It was so nice to see him after my time in Japan. He, his dog Freya, and I took a walk on the Fairfax Cross County Trail on Wednesday, August 30. As we were walking, I felt a sting on my right wrist and looked down to see something small and black on my wrist. I didn’t have my glasses on so I couldn’t tell what it was, but I don’t think it looked like a bee. I thought it might be a spider. Anyway, the second I felt the sting, I knocked the creature away with my left hand, and immediately felt a sting on my left middle finger. Whatever it was, it got me in two places, on both hands, and they hurt like hell! I watched as the sting areas reddened and spread into a hard and hot raised area up over my hand and around my wrist. The next day, I went to see the doctor, who advised me to take Benadryl and gave me an antibiotic.
It’s been a rough time coming back into this parallel universe, but overall I’m glad to be home with my family, even though we seem to all be falling apart due to nasty falls, stomach bugs, and spider bites.
Please let me know how you’re doing, and what exciting, or even quiet, things you’ve been up to. I need to get back into a routine where I start following people again on their blogs more regularly; I hope to keep in touch more now that I have plenty of time on my hands. 🙂
Friday, January 13: On a beautiful Friday in January, just before I was to begin teaching a 7-week session at VIU, I decided to drive to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia for a morning outing. Before this job dropped into my lap, I had made a schedule for myself that included taking a photo outing every Friday. Despite getting the job at the last-minute and having to prepare two syllabuses and lesson plans, I went out anyway, determined that I wouldn’t allow this job to ruin my personal goals. In the end, the outing caused me a great deal of stress over the weekend. It turned out I would never have time for another Friday outing during the entire 7-week session.
I was glad I went even though it took me longer to drive there than the 1 hr 9 min estimated by MapQuest.
At the Visitor’s Center, I was told there was a 2 1/2 mile hike to the river bluff or a shuttle into the town of Harpers Ferry, where I could get some lunch. I only had time for one or the other, and I was hungry, so I opted for the town. The town is supposedly closed off to cars, so I was required to take the shuttle despite having my car. Later, as I walked through the town, I saw cars driving through, so it was obviously NOT “closed off to cars!”
I was dropped by the shuttle on Shenandoah Street, from which I could see St. Peter’s Catholic Church on the hill overlooking the town.
I walked down the quiet street, looking at the preserved shops from the 1800s.
At the end of Shenandoah Street, I got a glimpse of the John Brown Museum. I didn’t go inside because I didn’t want to take that much time.
The story is this: In October 1859, determined to arm enslaved people and spark rebellion, John Brown and his followers seized the armory and several other strategic points. The raid failed, with most men killed or captured. Brown’s trial and execution focused attention on the issue of slavery and propelled the nation toward civil war. (National Park Service pamphlet)
I walked up High Street, which has shops and restaurants. As it was lunchtime and I was hungry, I searched for a place to grab a bite.
I stopped by the train station to watch some of the trains barrel past.
I ducked into Hannah’s New Orleans Seafood & Southern BBQ for some lunch. It was bright and cheery, and the Bubba Gump Louisiana shrimp fried in Cajun cornmeal was delicious. 🙂
After lunch, I walked back down High Street.
I took the path up to Jefferson Rock. First I came face-to-face with St. Peter’s Catholic Church.
Irish laborers flooded into the Harpers Ferry area during the 1830s to build the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal and the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad. St. Peter’s Catholic Church symbolizes America’s melting pot tradition and the customs, habits, and religion of the early Irish immigrants.
During the Civil War, to protect the church from Union and Confederate shells, Father Costello flew the British Union Jack flag as a symbol of the church’s neutrality. St. Peter’s escaped the war relatively unscathed. The church was remodeled in 1896 and Mass is offered here every Sunday.
Further up the path, I found the ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church, one of Harpers Ferry’s five earliest churches. Built in 1852 with money provided by church fairs, St. John’s served as a hospital and barracks during the Civil War and suffered considerable damage. It was rebuilt afterward, but was abandoned in 1895 when a new Episcopal church was built in the upper town.
Above the ruins sat a pretty house with a grand view.
This is how Thomas Jefferson described the view from Jefferson Rock during a visit to Harpers Ferry in 1783:
“On your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent. On your left approaches the Patowmac [Potomac], in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder, and pass off to the sea … This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”
Around 1860, the U.S. armory superintendent ordered red sandstone supports places under “Jefferson Rock” because it was “endangering the lives and properties of the villagers below.”
Going back down the hill, I passed the ruins again.
At this juncture of the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers, George Washington envisioned military strength and chose Harpers Ferry as the site for a U.S. Armory. By the early 1800s, the rivers powered the armory complex and commercial mills. The revolutionary method of manufacturing with interchangeable parts was perfected at the Halls Island rifle factory.
Below is Arsenal Square and the John Brown Museum.
I followed part of the Appalachian Trail from the end of Shenandoah Street across the footbridge to the C&O Canal and Maryland Heights.
There is a lot of train activity at this juncture of the rivers.
Rail transportation in the United States began in Baltimore, Maryland on July 4, 1828, when Charles Carroll, the only living signer of the Declaration of Independence, laid the cornerstone of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
On the same day, President John Quincy Adams turned the first spade of earth along the Potomac River for the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
The race was underway as the progressive railroad and the traditional canal struggled to become the first to connect the Ohio Valley with the east coast. Harpers Ferry was one of the first milestones of that race.
Work on the railroad and canal progressed slowly at first, but by 1834 both companies had completed construction to a point opposite Harpers Ferry. The canal had won the race to this point, and it continued up the Maryland side to the Potomac.
The B&O Railroad, plagued by land disputes with the canal, crossed the Potomac at Harpers Ferry in 1837 and rapidly pushed on. By 1842, it reached Cumberland, Maryland, and a decade later, the railroad was open to Wheeling on the Ohio River.
Business boomed at Harpers Ferry with the arrival of the railroad. Refrigerated cars brought oysters and other luxuries to the town. Thousands of travelers visited Harpers Ferry as it became a gateway to the Ohio Valley.
The Civil War shattered Harpers Ferry’s prosperity. Much of the town was destroyed, and Confederate raiders constantly sabotaged the railroad. Despite the war, the railroad escaped permanent damage, and the B&O survives today as a main artery of transportation in the United States.
On the other side of the footbridge, I saw the path along the C&O Canal, but I didn’t have time to explore it further.
The C&O Canal was burdened by a lack of building supplies and a scarcity of skilled labor and thus encountered serious financial problems. It did not reach Cumberland, Maryland until 1850 — eight years after the railroad reached that point. Plans to continue further westward were abandoned.
Made obsolete by the faster and less expensive railroad, the C&O Canal never attained any great measure of economic success, but it did transport coal, flour, grain, and lumber to Washington for nearly 90 years. Canal operations ceased in 1924 when a flood devastated the Potomac Valley, leaving the canal in ruins.
Today’s view of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers passing through the water gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains has changed little from Meriwether Lewis’ view in 1803. Lewis hoped to find a similar, accessible trade route on rivers passing through the Rocky Mountains.
The first mode of travel consisted of a primitive ferry established in 1733 by Peter Stephens. Stephens sold his business to Robert Harper in 1747, and Harper and others carried settlers and supplied across the waters until 1824 when a bridge constructed across the Potomac made ferryboat operations unnecessary.
In less than a decade after the bridge was completed, the iron horse and the mule brought the transportation revolution to Harpers Ferry.
In 1848, the building now known as John Brown Fort was built as a fire-engine house for the U.S. Armory. On October 16, 1859, it served as a stronghold for John Brown and his raiders, as they were penned into the building by the local militia. U.S. Marines stormed the building at dawn on October 18th and captured Brown. Convicted of murder, treason, and inciting slaves to rebellion, he was hanged in nearby Charles Town on December 2, 1859.
The Fort escaped destruction during the Civil War, but from 1861-1865, it was vandalized by souvenir-hunting Union and Confederate soldier and later travelers. In 1891, it was dismantled and transported to the Chicago Exposition, and in 1895, it was rescued from conversion to a stable and brought back to Harpers Ferry to be exhibited on a farm. Then in 1909, it was purchased by Storer College and moved to campus. Finally, in 1968, it was moved by the National Park Service to within 150 feet of its original location.
After my fun excursion, it was sadly time to return home and get to work on preparing for my classes. I could have explored a lot more. Sadly, it would have to wait for another day.
Sunday, November 15: Finally, we embark on our last hike at Antietam, the Final Attack Trail. This afternoon is gorgeous, cool but not too cold or windy, with the sun shining in full force. This is my favorite hike at Antietam with its rolling hills and grand vistas.
After capturing the Burnside Bridge, over 8,000 Union soldiers crossed Antietam Creek. They marched across the fields where the trail is located for the final advance to drive the Confederate Army from Maryland, only to be turned back by A. P. Hill’s final Confederate counterattack. It’s disturbing to realize how many lives were lost in this place with no decisive victory in the end.
This part of the battle lasted from 3:00-5:30 p.m. and saw five times as many casualties than there were in the action at the Burnside Bridge. These final 2 1/2 hours of combat concluded the 12-hour struggle of the bloodiest day in American history.
As we proceed along the trail, we find exceptional views of the Antietam Valley and the series of ridges and farms that the Union 9th Corps advanced across. Across the valley is the Sherrick Farm, built in the 1830s by Joseph Sherrick Jr. and leased to Leonard Emmert at the time of the battle.
Next we head toward Otto Lane and make a stop at the 11th Ohio Monument, where we stop to admire the views. This entire trail traverses the Otto farm. After the battle, the Otto and Sherrick Farms served as field hospitals.
The gully next to Otto Lane was used as a respite from the terror of war by the Union soldiers.
Next we head down the trail to the 40-acre cornfield.
In the head-high corn of the 40-acre cornfield, Maj. Gen. Ambrose Powell (A.P.) Hill made the Confederate’s final attack. Hill’s approximately 3,500 men, who had been tending to the surrender of the Union garrison at nearby Harpers Ferry, left Harpers Ferry at 7:00 a.m., marched 15 grueling miles, waded across the Potomac River and arrived about 4:00 p.m. Three of Hill’s five brigades, about 2,500 men, would arrive in time to attack, according to a National Park Service pamphlet: The Final Attack Trail.
The huge hackberry tree below marks the extreme southern end of the battlefield. It was at this end of the field that A.P. Hill’s Confederates made their counterattack to support D.R. Jones’ division that was being pushed back to Sharpsburg.
At the top of the ridge, we can see one of the best battle panoramas at Antietam. From this spot, we can see most of the ground covered in the Union 9th Corps advance and A.P. Hill’s counterattack. The Union army stretched for close to 3 miles to the north, slowed by the difficult terrain and the corn. In the end, the entire 9th Corps collapsed from left to right and fell backwards toward the bridge.
Artillery Ridge was used by the artillery of both sides. Union soldier Charles Cuffel remembered that “the cannonading was very heavy, each side appearing to employ all the guns at their command, and to use them with utmost vigor. The air seemed to be filled with shrieking missiles, and there was ocular evidence on every hand that somebody was getting hurt.” (National Park Service: The Final Attack Trail).
Final Attack vista
Final Attack vista
Final Attack vista
We continue walking across Artillery Ridge and return to where we started the hike.
Burnside’s advance and A.P. Hill’s counterattack concluded the twelve hours of fighting on September 17, 1862. On this end of the battlefield, the Union men fell back to where we started our walk. The difficult terrain, the confusion of battle, and a timely Confederate arrival all combined to stop the Union army and led to a tactical draw.
General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia held their ground on the 18th, then withdrew back across the Potomac River to Virginia. The battle ended the first Confederate invasion of the North and provided Abraham Lincoln an opportunity to issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
After leaving Antietam shortly after 1:00 today, we go to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (the C&O Canal) built originally from 1828-1850 to create a navigable waterway from tidewater at Georgetown (Washington, D.C.) to the Ohio River. By the time 1850 rolled around, progress had left the C&O Canal behind and canals were obsolete. Cost overruns, labor problems, and rocky terrain delayed building the canal, but new railroad technology had made great strides. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad completed the link to the west, while the canal stopped far short or reaching the Ohio River (National Park service pamphlet: Chesapeake and Ohio Canal).
After closing in 1924, the canal sat abandoned for 30 years. Now bypassed by freight and commerce, the canal was soon discovered by people with different goals. The canal’s nearly level towpath ran 184.5 miles along the Potomac River. In 1971, Congress established the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. Today, hikers, campers, bicyclists and others can explore the Potomac River valley’s rich history, wildlife and geology.
Today, we go to the C&O Canal to visit Antietam Creek and the Antietam Creek Aqueduct, begun in 1832 and completed in April 1835. The C&O Canal used 11 navigable aqueducts to carry the canal over rivers and streams that were too wide for a culvert to contain (Wikipedia: Aqueducts on the C&O Canal).
path along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (C&O Canal)
winter trees at the C&O Canal
Farm near Shepherdstown, WV
By the time we arrive for lunch at 2:15 back in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, we’re famished. We decide to try out the Mexican restaurant at Mi Degollado II.
Mi Degollado II was built in the old Yellow Brick Bank in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. It even has the old bank vault in it.
bathroom doors at Mi Degollado
old bank vault at Mi Degollado
After lunch, it’s sadly time for our anniversary weekend to come to a close.
We drive back a couple of hours home to northern Virginia, happy to have celebrated our 27th, or 20th (whichever you want to call it), anniversary on such a beautiful weekend. 🙂
Sunday, November 15: After having a wonderful breakfast at the Jacob Rohrbach Inn, we walk around inside and outside to take pictures before checking out and heading to Antietam National Battlefield.
Our view out the window of our room at the Jacob Rohrbach Inn
Breakfast room at the Jacob Rohrbach Inn
Entryway at the Jacob Rohrbach Inn
backyard of the Jacob Rohrbach Inn
When we get to Antietam, our first stop is the Dunker Church, possibly one of the most famous churches in American military history. This historic structure began as a humble country house of worship constructed by local Dunker farmers in 1852. During its early history the congregation consisted of about half a dozen farm families from the local area (National Park Service: Who were the Dunkers).
The Dunker movement began in Germany in the early eighteenth century; the name derives from its method of baptism by full immersion. However they were more commonly known as the German Baptist Brethren.
According to National Park Service: Who were the Dunkers: Dunkers practiced modesty in their dress and general lifestyle. Other Christian principles which the Dunker’s stress are: pacifism, members both North and South refused military service; the brotherhood of man, including opposition to slavery; and temperance, total abstinence from alcohol. A typical Dunker Church service supported their beliefs in simplicity. Hymns were sung with no musical accompaniment from organ, piano or other instruments. The congregation was divided with men seated on one side and women on the other. The churches were simple with no stained glass windows, steeple or crosses.
During the battle of Antietam the church was the focal point of a number of Union attacks against the Confederate left flank. At the battle’s end the Confederates used the church as a temporary medical aid station. At least one account states that after the battle the Union Army used the Dunker Church as an embalming station. One tradition persists that Lincoln may have visited the site during his visit to the Army of the Potomac in October 1862 (National Park Service: Dunker Church).
After our brief visit to the Dunker Church, we embark on the 1.6 mile Cornfield Trail, beginning at the North Woods. The trail covers most of the area where the first three hours of the battle took place. More than 25,000 men in blue and gray struggled mightily for control of this northern end of the field. There were more casualties in and around the Cornfield than anywhere else on the battlefield, with as many as 8,000 men killed or wounded from dawn until 9:00 a.m. during two major Union attacks and a Confederate counterattack. This is actually an agricultural area; the National Park Service issues permits to local farmers who plant crops and pasture animals that help the park maintain its rural landscape (National Park Service pamphlet: The Cornfield Trail: September Harvest of Death).
We park near the J. Poffenberger farm and explore that for a bit. It’s beautiful with the bright blue sky as a backdrop.
We begin at what was then the North Woods. Over the years, local farmers used the wood for fences and firewood. The Park Service is trying to restore the land to how it looked the day of the battle and has planted trees in this and other areas of the park.
From this point, Major General Joseph Hooker’s Union forces moved out. After marching through the North Woods and into the open fields beyond, the Union soldiers were met with devastating artillery fire from Confederate guns (The Cornfield Trail: September Harvest of Death).
For the next 100 yards, we walk along the edge of the East Woods. Part of this will be replanted by the Park Service. All of the wooded areas were important as staging and rallying areas for both sides.
Hooker ordered two artillery batteries to move to the high ground and fire point-blank at the Confederates in the Cornfield, clearing the way for Hooker’s infantry. Then three 1st Corps brigades moved through the area. One commander was wounded and another panicked and ran away, delaying two of the brigades. General Abraham Duryea’s Brigade of about 1,000 men advanced alone into the Cornfield at about 6:00 a.m. In the 30 minutes before the other two delayed units joined them, almost half of Durban’s men would be killed or wounded (The Cornfield Trail: September Harvest of Death).
The 12th Massachusetts went through the Cornfield where they collided with Gen. Harry Hays’ Louisiana Brigade. During the struggle, the men from Massachusetts had 67% casualties (dead and wounded), the highest percentage of loss for any Union regiment that day (The Cornfield Trail: September Harvest of Death).
There are two main types of historic fences – the five rail vertical and the stacked snake rail. Fences like these at Antietam represent fence lines that were here during the battle.
We traipse across the open cornfield, trying to imagine the mayhem and noise and the smell of death on that horrible day. It really is hard for us to imagine such devastation, especially on such a perfect and calm day.
Here, we’re walking in the footsteps of the Iron Brigade, who pushed through this field at about 6:30 a.m. These were all midwestern boys from Wisconsin and Indiana and Major Rufus Dawes describes the carnage: “Men I cannot say fell; they were knocked out of the ranks by the dozens.”
Later that morning, Confederate soldiers under Gen. John Bell Hood’s command counterattacked back through the corn all the way to this northern edge. By 9:00 a.m. the Cornfield changed hands too many times to count.
After numerous battles and casualties on this spot, the 1st Texas Infantry charged through the Cornfield, losing 82% of their men (killed or wounded), the highest percentage for any Confederate unit in any battle of the Civil War.
Though the history tells of many attacks and counterattacks in this area, I won’t go into great depth here.
The battle not only killed soldiers but it devastated the community. The town of Sharpsburg’s population at that time was about 1,200. For every person in town, there were almost 100 soldiers present. The battle destroyed not only fences and crops, but houses, barns and the residents’ livelihoods. After the battle, the 80,000-man Union army remained for two months as uninvited guests, according to the National Park Service pamphlet: The Cornfield Trail: September Harvest of Death.
David R. Miller owned the farm that included the Cornfield. Like other residents, he ran to escape the terror of war only to return to a farm that would never be the same. He submitted a damage claim of $1,237 to the federal government for damage, and the U.S. Quartermaster General reimbursed him $995 in 1872, ten years later (The Cornfield Trail: September Harvest of Death).
Diseases also ravaged many of the local families. David’s brother Daniel died just after the battle. Another brother wrote “diarrhea was a very common complaint…” adding to the horrors of war (The Cornfield Trail: September Harvest of Death).
Mike and I continue our hike today down the Hagerstown Turnpike past the Miller farm, where we encounter a very curious flock of sheep.
After leaving our sheep friends, we continue on the loop and head back toward the North Woods and the J. Poffenberger farm where we parked.
The landscape along this trail was the scene of some of the most terrible fighting in the history of the United States. General Joseph Hooker wrote, “In the time I am writing every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in their ranks a few moments before. It was never my fortune to witness a more bloody, dismal battlefield.”
“Incredibly, the fighting in the Cornfield represented only one-third of the day’s action at Antietam. At the end of eleven hours of battle, more than 23,000 men were killed, wounded or missing. General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia held their ground on the 18th, then retreated that night across the Potomac River and back into Virginia. This battle ended the first Northern invasion by the Confederacy and provided Abraham Lincoln an opportunity to issue his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation,” says the pamphlet: The Cornfield Trail: September Harvest of Death.
After we finish hiking the Cornfield Trail it’s only 11:40 a.m., too early to eat, so we decide we’ll hike the 1.7-mile Final Attack Trail before grabbing lunch back in Shepherdstown.
Saturday, November 14: We drive back to Antietam Visitor’s Center and begin the 1.6 mile walk along the Bloody Lane Trail. This trail winds through the historic Mumma and Roulette Farms, following in the footsteps of Union soldiers as they advanced toward the Sunken Road. At the Sunken Road, we can see the Confederate position in what has been known since the battle as Bloody Lane.
The story of the Mumma and Roulette families shows how they, as well as others in the community, suffered severely when the opposing armies converged on Sharpsburg.
Before the battle, Samuel and Elizabeth Mumma and their ten children fled the farm. As dawn broke on September 17, 1862, Confederate commanders feared Federal soldiers might capture the farm and use the buildings as cover to fire at their men. Thus, soldiers from North Carolina were instructed to set the home on fire. Throughout the morning, smoke and fire billowed from the burning farmhouse.
To receive compensation, the Mummas had to prove the fire was set by Union soldiers. Since it was set by the Confederates, the family received no money for their losses. With the help of other local families, the Mummas rebuilt their home and lived on their 186 acre farm until they sold it in 1885. After changing hands several more times over the years, the National Park Service bought it in 1961.
We leave the Mumma farm and head next to the Roulette Farm. It’s a gorgeous day, but now that it’s getting late in the day and the sun hangs low on the horizon, it’s quite cold.
Thousands of Union soldiers tramped through the Roulette Farm as they marched toward the Sunken Road. As the troops from the 130th Pennsylvania neared the house, an artillery round smashed through the family beehives on the west side of the house; the bees promptly went after the soldiers, encouraging them to speed through the orchard toward the entrenched enemy, according to a pamphlet on The Bloody Lane Trail by the National Park Service.
Extensive damage was caused by the Union forces. Because it was the Union forces that did the damage, William Roulette filed a claim and received compensation for damage to the beehives, fences, crops and the use of the farm as a hospital. His claim also stated that 700 dead soldiers were buried on his property.
The Roulette family suffered an even greater tragedy when their youngest daughter Carrie May died from disease brought by the armies.
We leave the Roulette Farm and head uphill to the Sunken Road. This is the center of Union battle lines that were over 700 yards wide. Every step of this trail now follows in the footsteps of the Union soldiers, many going to meet their tragic fate. Over 70% of General French’s division, who led the march, had never experienced combat before.
It’s so peaceful here now that it’s hard to imagine that horrific day.
At the crest of the hill is where the Unions met the Confederates and blasted away at each other at point-blank range for over 3 hours. Here, the 69th New York Infantry lost 62% and the 63rd New York Infantry lost 59% killed and wounded.
According to the pamphlet, one soldier wrote how “The air was now thick with smoke from the muskets that not only obscured our vision of the enemy, but made breathing difficult and most uncomfortable…we were forced to breathe this powder smoke which the coating of nose, throat and eyes almost like fire.” A member of the Irish brigade said that their lines of battle “melted like wax before the fire.
General John Caldwell’s brigade replaced Meagher’s famous Irish Brigade, and it was these soldiers that would eventually break through and drive the Confederates from the Sunken Road.
About 2,200 Confederate soldiers waited in the Sunken Road, placing their muskets on the fence rails which they had knocked down and piled up for protection. They hunkered down in this local short cut worn down by years of wagon traffic and erosion. Just before the Union advance, Commanding General Robert E. Lee appeared briefly to encourage his men.
For more than three hours, the combatants fired away at one another at point-blank range. Greatly outnumbered, the Confederates tried to reinforce the hollowed out road with little success. At about noon, after numerous Federal assaults, the thin gray line of Confederates broke. Union forces seized the road and drove the Southerners toward the Piper Farm.
Union General Israel Richardson was mortally wounded as he tried to reposition some artillery and with the breakdown of the command structure, the Federal push toward Sharpsburg faltered. Thus, after three hours of fierce fighting, little had changed. Neither side held the Sunken Road, the Union forces fell back toward the Roulette Farm and the Confederates regrouped around Piper Farm. A total of 5,500 soldiers were killed or wounded during the fighting in and around the Sunken Road, today known as Bloody Lane (National Park Service: Bloody Lane Trail: Attack and Defense of the Sunken Road).
One soldier writing about The Bloody Lane described the carnage as a “carpet of red, gray and blue.”
I’m quite moved by all this history, and although it’s hard to imagine that day now, we do take a moment to reflect upon that fateful day. I think it should be required for all students of American history to visit these and other battlefields and monuments in the United States. I know Europeans often laugh at the brevity of “American history,” but no matter how short our history is, it’s still our unique story. All of us should try to appreciate the costs of freedom that are often paid dearly with the lives of young men (and nowadays, women).
I’ve never even been to Antietam myself, and I live about as close as a person can get to this area. I’m glad I got to come today to explore and learn more about this battle that played such a large part in the Civil War.
After a delightful dinner, we queue up in Sharpsburg at Nutter’s Ice Cream for a special top-off to our anniversary meal. It’s so cold outside, it’s hard to get up the courage to eat ice cream, but that doesn’t stop the hordes of people standing in line for their treats. We actually take ours back to the inn to eat in the warmth of the common room.
Nutter’s Ice Cream in Sharpsburg
Inside Nutter’s Ice Cream
Sign at Nutter’s Ice Cream
Me eating ice cream at the Jacob Rohrbach Inn
We plan to head back to Antietam tomorrow as there are several more hikes that beckon. 🙂
Saturday, November 14: After lunch, we head to Antietam National Battlefield, where there are plenty of good hikes and a tragic history. First we stop in at the Visitor’s Center where we see exhibits about the Battle of Antietam, also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg. I always amaze myself with how little I actually know of American history, even though it was drilled into me as a child and I have lived nearly my whole life in Virginia, the state which I consider, as a native Virginian, to be the hub of ALL American history!
The doomed battle was fought on September 17, 1862, near Sharpsburg, Maryland and Antietam Creek as part of the Maryland Campaign. It was the first major battle in the American Civil War to take place on Union soil and was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with a combined tally of dead, wounded, and missing at 22,717 (Wikipedia: Battle of Antietam).
The first quote we see when we walk in reveals the writer’s shock that such horrors could have actually happened on that ill-fated day.
Two days after the battle, Alexander Gardner took this photo of dead Confederate soldiers and a crippled artillery limber in front of the simple, white-washed Dunker Church. Standing out against the dark West Woods, the church was a landmark for attacking soldiers.
Antietam was the first American battlefield photographed before the dead were buried.
There were many famous people involved in the Antietam Battle, including Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Union Army Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan.
The battle was a very complex one with multitudes of divisions led by various generals on both sides. Whole history books have been written about it. Although the battle was tactically inconclusive, the Confederate troops withdrew first from the battlefield, making it, in military terms, a Union victory. It was enough of a victory to give President Abraham Lincoln the confidence to announce his Emancipation Proclamation, which discouraged the British and French governments from supporting the Confederacy (Wikipedia: Battle of Antietam).
The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by Lincoln on January 1, 1863. In a single stroke, it changed the federal legal status of more than 3 million enslaved persons in the designated areas of the South from “slave” to “free”. It had the practical effect that as soon as a slave escaped the control of the Confederate government, by running away or through advances of federal troops, the slave became legally free. Eventually it reached and liberated all of the designated slaves (Wikipedia: Emancipation Proclamation).
Antietam Battlefield is so sprawling that it has at least nine hikes ranging from 1- to 3-mile distances, with most hikes at around 1.6 miles. We decide we’ll try to do as many of them as we can, but it turns out we only have time to do 2 today and 2 tomorrow before we have to return home to Virginia.
We drive first to the Burnside Bridge. Here about 500 Confederate soldiers held the area overlooking the bridge for three hours. Burnside’s command finally captured the bridge and crossed Antietam Creek, which forced the Confederates back toward Sharpsburg.
The bridge is closed today for repairs, so we take the Snavely Ford Trail, which follows Antietam Creek for much of its length. The hike is mostly flat and shady except for one uphill climb at the end of the trail.
We start off in the forest. Most of the leaves have fallen off the trees by now.
We find a bench to take a rest, although we’re not really tired yet as we just started the hike!
I love the reflections of the bare trees in Antietam Creek.
I’m usually not that keen on forest walks, preferring walks with sweeping vistas, so I keep asking Mike how long before we’re out on the open battlefields we saw while driving in.
Finally, we do emerge from the forest, where we find fields of grass and the Final Attack trail leading off to the west.
We find this monument at our parking lot near Burnside Bridge, and we hop in the car to move on to our next hike.
We leave Burnside Bridge Road and turn onto Branch Avenue where we stop at an overlook. We can see the Final Attack Trail in the distance, but from this parking spot, we’d have to bushwack through a ravine to get to it. We realize we should have entered it near where we originally parked. We decide to save it for tomorrow.
To the north, we can see Sherrick Farm and Otto Farm.
And of course, I have to have my picture taken with a cannon, something I’ve been doing my whole life as I grew up near Yorktown Battlefield, where General Cornwallis surrendered and America won its independence from England.
We return to the Visitor’s Center to park and venture out to explore the Bloody Lane Trail. It’s already quite a cold and blustery day, so as the sun sinks on the horizon, the cold whips through us as if we’re frail and flimsy cornstalks. Brrr. 🙂