maryland heights: the overlook cliff trail

Sunday, November 26:  Today is sunny but brisk, a perfect hiking day, so Mike and I take a trip to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park for a post-Thanksgiving hike. Sarah and Alex went back to Richmond on Saturday and Adam is at work, so we have the day to ourselves.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is similar to the Four Corners area in the southwest USA, except that only three states come together: West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia. Here at Harpers Ferry, the three states don’t actually touch, but are separated by the Potomac River and the Shenandoah Rivers, which merge here to form one channel. In the Four Corners, four states (Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico) meet at a single point. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park includes nearly 4,000 acres of land in Jefferson County, West Virginia; Washington County, Maryland, and Loudoun County, Virginia.

Today we will be walking in Maryland on the The Maryland Heights Trail.  Before we leave the house, Mike proposes we walk the entire circuit on a map he’d printed out. There are two routes on the trail.  You can choose one or both, and he hopes to do both. Since I’ve never been here and don’t know anything about it, I agree that it sounds reasonable, although I’m a little hesitant as my original plan was to go for about a 2 hour hike and then go out for lunch on our way home.

The Overlook Cliff Trail is 2.8 miles, or 2 hours round-trip from the trail head.  The Stone Fort Trail is a loop that branches off the main trail and is 4.7 miles, 3 hours round-trip. Both of these distances are from the trail head, so the total distance is less as the Combined Trail is included in both sections. Mike estimates if we do both the Overlook Cliff Trail and the Stone Fort Trail, it will be 5.3 miles, or 3-3 1/2 hours.  Since we don’t get to the trail head until 11:00 a.m., if we follow Mike’s plan, we won’t be able to eat lunch until 2:30 or 3:00.  I don’t know if I want to eat that late!

There are only two small parking lots near the trail head to Maryland Heights, and we manage to squeeze in on the edge of one.  We leave the car teetering precariously, two wheels on the asphalt and two perched on a couple of boulders in a kind of small gully. We cross the old canal to the towpath, where we walk a bit along the Potomac River to the other parking lot.

Bridge to towpath along the Potomac River

The park was declared a National Historical Park by the U.S. Congress in 1963 and includes the historic town of Harpers Ferry, notable as a center of 19th-century industry and as the scene of John Brown’s abolitionist uprising. John Brown (1800–1859) believed that armed insurrection was the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States (Wikipedia: Harpers Ferry National Historical Park).

Potomac River
towpath along the Potomac

We reach the trail head, crossing the canal and the road to begin our ascent.

The Maryland Heights trailhead

The hike promises spectacular scenery, geology, Civil War and transportation history.

The first bend on this combined trail offers a nice view of the Potomac. The trail is a continual ascent, with no flat areas at all.

looking down at the Potomac as we climb
Maryland Heights trail
trees and shadows on the hillside

Veering off the Combined Trail, we stop by the 1862 Naval Battery. Positioned 300 feet above the Potomac River, the Naval Battery was the first Union fortification on Maryland Heights.  Hastily built in May 1862, its naval guns were rushed here from the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard.  Along with a detachment of 300 sailors and marines, the battery was equipped to protect Harpers Ferry from Confederate attack during Stonewall Jackson’s famous Valley Campaign in the spring of 1862, according to a park sign.

Naval Battery
grasses at the Naval Battery
View across the Potomac to the town of Harpers Ferry

Thwarted that spring, Jackson returned to Harpers Ferry in mid-September 1862, during the Confederacy’s first invasion of the North. Jackson’s three-day siege included an infantry battle on the crest of Maryland Heights on September 13, in which the Confederates advanced south along the ridgetop.  The Naval Battery guns were turned uphill to pound the crest, but orders to retreat forced the Federals to abandon the mountain and this battery.

Looking up from the Naval Battery

On September 22, one week after the Union surrender at Harpers Ferry, U.S. forces returned to Maryland Heights to build fortifications at better locations on the crest and slope of the Heights.  The Naval Battery lost its defensive importance and eventually became an ordnance depot.

After leaving the Naval Battery, we return to the Combined Trail and turn right.

We walk along until we come to a branch in the trail.  We have already walked 40 minutes, all uphill.  A sign at the branch tells us that the Stone Fort Trail, to the left, is a “strenuous but rewarding hike to the summit.  The route passes Civil War forts and campgrounds, scenic overlooks and weathered charcoal hearths.”  It also says the distance is 3.3 miles, or 3 hours round trip!  That doesn’t even include going to the Overlook Cliff Trail, straight ahead, which is described as a “moderate but pleasant hike to a scenic overlook of Harpers Ferry and the Shenandoah Valley,” with a distance of 1.4 miles, 1.5 hours round trip.

So confusing!  Mike had estimated the entire hike, doing both trails, would take 3 to 3 1/2 hours.  This sign is telling us that from this point, after already walking 40 minutes, that if we go both directions, we’ll have to hike 4 1/2 more hours.  So, adding the 40 minutes both ways, up and down on the combined trail, the whole hike is turning into nearly a 6 hour hike!!

Mike doesn’t believe this is correct, but I can see the trail and it looks straight uphill and very rocky. I’m dubious.

We decide we’ll go take the Overlook Cliff Trail. At this point, we walk a narrow, rocky descent to the cliffs overlooking Harpers Ferry.

a tangle of trees

The sign at the branch in the trail tells us that we are “hiking the same mountain road that defeated Federal troops descended on September 13, 1862.  Despite a six-hour resistance upon the crest against a 2,000-man Confederate advance, Union defenders received orders at 3:00 p.m. to withdraw from Maryland Heights and “fall back to Harpers Ferry in good order.”  Forty hours later, with the capture of Harpers Ferry by Stonewall Jackson, Union commander Col. Dixon S. Miles surrendered 12,500 men, including the 2,000 defenders from Maryland Heights.”

Forest on the Overlook Cliff Trail

Now we going down and down the steep Overlook Cliff Trail. I feel like we’re descending nearly half of the distance we ascended to get up here in the first place.  This means we have to climb back up to get back to the combined trail.

The trail is an easy downhill until we get close to the cliff, where we must scramble over boulders to get down.  Finally, we have views of the Potomac River to our right, the town of Harpers Ferry ahead, and the Shenandoah River to the left.

A fabulous view is always worthwhile!

Overlook Cliff view of the Potomac
the Potomac from Overlook Cliff
Potomac River View
Potomac River

Harpers Ferry, formerly spelled Harper’s Ferry with an apostrophe, is the easternmost town in West Virginia. The town’s original, lower section is on a flood plain created by the two rivers and surrounded by higher ground.  (Wikipedia: Harpers Ferry, West Virginia)

The town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, with the Shenandoah River on the left, and the Potomac in the foreground

I visited the town of Harpers Ferry in January of this year.  You can read about it in my post: harpers ferry, west virginia.

view of the Potomac River from the Overlook Cliff

Harpers Ferry was named for Robert Harper, a millwright who continued a ferry operation here in 1747.  The waterpower of the two rivers – harnessed for industry – generated tremendous growth in Harpers Ferry.  By the mid-19th century, the town had become an important arms-producing center and east-west transportation link.  John Brown’s raid and the Civil War brought Harpers Ferry to national prominence.  Destruction from the war and repeated flooding eventually led to the town’s decline.

The town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, at the confluence of the Shenandoah River and the Potomac Rivers

After leaving the overlook, we backtrack to the first intersection.  We had agreed that we’d determine whether to do the Stone Fort Trail after we returned from the Overlook Cliff Trail.  The Stone Fort Trail is described on another sign as “a more strenuous hike, steep in spots, to the summit.  Along the way are weathered charcoal hearths and the ruins of Civil War defenses and military campgrounds.  Scenic vistas reveal Maryland Heights as a strategic mountain citadel on the border between North and South.”

Apparently, according to the National Park Service website (different from the signs!), you “hike one mile uphill past Civil War artillery batteries and through boulders to the Civil War Stone Fort. The trail curves out of the Stone Fort past breastworks and descends steeply over one mile back to the green-blazed trail.” (National Park Service: Harpers Ferry Hikes).

I’m not convinced I want to walk uphill another mile and then downhill on a rocky slope for another mile at this point.  For one, my stomach is rumbling, and two, I wasn’t expecting so much climbing! I suggest to Mike that we come another time and focus just on the Stone Fort Trail, now that we’ve already done the Overlook Cliff Trail.  Luckily, he agrees and we begin our downhill walk, passing once more by the Naval Battery and its pretty grasses.

Back at the Naval Battery on the way down

Now the path has become quite crowded, as the Overlook Cliff Trail is the most popular of the trails.  We don’t see anyone walking up the Stone Fort Trail.

Finally, we finish our walk and manage to get our car out of the precarious spot.  A group in a red sedan is waiting for our spot, but I don’t see how they will park there as the underbody of their car is so low to the ground.  I warn them they may have a tough time. We have a Toyota RAV, so our car sits higher.  As we drive up the road a bit and do a U-turn, we drive past to see the people trying their best to jockey into our abandoned spot.  It looks like they’re either going to hit the cliff or get their car hopelessly stuck.  Oh well, what can we do?  We warned them. 🙂

On our way back, we stop in Purcellville to have lunch at Jose’s White Palace and Cantina.  I get my go-to Mexican meal of a Chili Relleno and Mike gets Yucca Frita Con Chicharon (pork), the “Latin American alternative to French fries,” and a bowl of Posole Con Pollo soup (white hominy chicken and house-made sauce).  Finally, food! 🙂

Total steps today: 13,102 (5.55 miles) – almost half of which was uphill!

Advertisements

the final attack trail at antietam, the antietam creek aqueduct & return to virginia

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.

Starting off on the Final Attack Trail
Starting off on the Final Attack Trail

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.

View of Antietam Valley and Sherrick Farm
View of Antietam Valley and Sherrick Farm
The Final Attack Trail
The Final Attack Trail

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.

Otto Lane
Otto Lane
path leading to Otto Lane
path leading to Otto Lane
path leading to Otto Lane and the 11th Ohio Monument
path leading to Otto Lane and the 11th Ohio Monument
Mike at the 11th Ohio Monument
Mike at the 11th Ohio Monument
Otto Lane
Otto Lane

The gully next to Otto Lane was used as a respite from the terror of war by the Union soldiers.

ravine
ravine

Next we head down the trail to the 40-acre cornfield.

Taking the Final Attack Trail to a 40-acre cornfield
Taking the Final Attack Trail to a 40-acre cornfield
Final Attack Trail
Final Attack Trail
Final Attack Trail
Final Attack Trail

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.

Final Attack Trail to the 40-acre cornfield
Final Attack Trail to the 40-acre cornfield
Cornfield on the Final Attack Trail
Cornfield on the Final Attack Trail
Final Attack Trail to the ridge
Final Attack Trail to the ridge
hilly ground
hilly ground

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.

the hackberry tree at the extreme southern end of the battlefield
the hackberry tree at the extreme southern end of the battlefield
climbing to the ridge for the Final Attack vista
climbing to the ridge for the Final Attack vista

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.

Along the Final Attack vista
Along the Final Attack vista

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).

We continue walking across Artillery Ridge and return to where we started the hike.

Me with cannon at Artillery Ridge
Me with cannon at Artillery Ridge

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.

Sherrick Farm
Sherrick Farm

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.

I’ve been on different parts of the C&O Canal during my many years living in northern Virginia. You can read about some of the other places of interest here: https://catbirdinamerica.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/great-falls-park-the-patomack-canal/ and https://catbirdinamerica.wordpress.com/2015/11/08/a-november-rock-scramble-on-billy-goat-trail/.

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).

Antietam Creek Aqueduct
Antietam Creek Aqueduct
Antietam Creek Aqueduct
Antietam Creek Aqueduct

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Mike at Mi Degollado

Mi Degollado II was built in the old Yellow Brick Bank in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. It even has the old bank vault in it.

After lunch, it’s sadly time for our anniversary weekend to come to a close.

Mi Degollado
Mi Degollado

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. 🙂

breakfast at the inn & the cornfield trail at antietam

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.

Jacob Rohrbach Inn
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).

Dunker Church
Dunker Church

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.

Inside the simple Dunker Church
Inside the simple Dunker Church

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.

J. Poffenberger farm
J. Poffenberger farm
J. Poffenberger farm
J. Poffenberger farm
J. Poffenberger farm
J. Poffenberger farm
J. Poffenberger farm
J. Poffenberger farm
Mike at the J. Poffenberger farm
Mike at the J. Poffenberger farm

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.

What was once the North Woods
What was once the North Woods

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.

Along the edge of the East Woods
Along the edge of the East Woods

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).

view of the Cornfield
view of the Cornfield
the edge of the East Woods
the edge of the East Woods

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.

Me on a peaceful day in the Cornfield
Me on a peaceful day in the Cornfield
fences in the Cornfield
snake, or worm rail, fence in the Cornfield

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.”

the Cornfield looking back at the East Woods
the Cornfield looking back at the East Woods

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.

looking across the Cornfield to the Miller farm
looking across the Cornfield to the Miller farm
the Cornfield
the Cornfield
the Cornfield and snake, or worm, rail
the Cornfield and snake, or worm, rail

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.

the Cornfield looking west toward the Miller farm
the Cornfield looking west toward the Miller farm

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.

the Miller farm
the Miller farm

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.

sheep at the Miller farm
sheep at the Miller farm
curious sheep
curious sheep
the sheep approach
the sheep approach
just north of Miller farm
just north of Miller farm
the sheep at Miller farm watch us closely
the sheep at Miller farm watch us closely

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.

me on the path back to the North Woods
me on the path back to the North Woods
Mike heading to the North Woods
Mike heading to the North Woods
the trail to the North Woods
the trail to the North Woods
autumn trees
autumn trees

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.

 

 

antietam: the bloody lane trail

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.

Mumma Farm
Mumma Farm

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.

Mumma Farm
Mumma Farm

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.

the trail to the Roulette Farm
the trail to the Roulette Farm

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.

the Roulette Farm
the Roulette Farm

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 Farm
the Roulette Farm

The Roulette family suffered an even greater tragedy when their youngest daughter Carrie May died from disease brought by the armies.

the Roulette Farm
the Roulette Farm
the Roulette Farm
the Roulette Farm
the pond along the Mumma/Roulette Education Trail
the pond along the Mumma/Roulette Education Trail
the Mumma/Roulette Education Trail
the Mumma/Roulette Education Trail
autumn tree
autumn tree
the pond along the Mumma/Roulette Education Trail
the pond along the Mumma/Roulette Education Trail

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.

uphill to the Sunken Road
uphill to the Sunken Road

It’s so peaceful here now that it’s hard to imagine that horrific day.

farmland on the way to the Sunken Road
farmland on the way to the Sunken Road
Mike following in the steps of the Union soldiers
Mike following in the steps of the Union soldiers

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.

me at the corner leading to the Sunken Road
me at the corner leading to the Sunken Road

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.

the tower overlooking the Sunken Road
the tower overlooking 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.

view of the Sunken Road from the tower
view of the Sunken Road from the tower

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.

view of Bloody Lane Road from the Tower
view of Bloody Lane Road from the Tower
fields around Bloody Lane
fields around Bloody Lane

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).

the Bloody Lane
the Bloody Lane
Along the Bloody Lane
Along the Bloody Lane
fences along the Bloody Lane
fences along the Bloody Lane
Monument at Bloody Lane
Monument at Bloody Lane

One soldier writing about The Bloody Lane described the carnage as a “carpet of red, gray and blue.”  

leaving the Bloody Lane
leaving the Bloody Lane

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.

Completing the loop back to the Visitor's Center
Completing the loop back to the Visitor’s Center
fields of Antietam
fields of Antietam
fences in Antietam
fences in Antietam
fences and autumn trees
fences and autumn trees

After our two hikes today, we head to Sharpsburg to The Jacob Rohrbach Inn, change clothes and head to Shepherdstown for our anniversary dinner at The Press Room.

Me toasting our anniversary at the Press Room in Shepherdstown
Me toasting our anniversary at the Press Room in Shepherdstown

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.

We plan to head back to Antietam tomorrow as there are several more hikes that beckon.  🙂

antietam national battlefield: burnside bridge & the snavely ford trail

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).

Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center
Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center

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.

A bit of history about the bloodiest day in American history
a quote about the bloodiest day in American history

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.

a photograph by Alexander Gardner
a photograph by Alexander Gardner

There were many famous people involved in the Antietam Battle, including Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Union Army Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan.

famous people at Antietam
famous people at Antietam

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 Burnside Bridge overlook
The Burnside Bridge overlook
Burnside Bridge
Burnside Bridge

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.

Snavely Ford Trail
Snavely Ford Trail

We find a bench to take a rest, although we’re not really tired yet as we just started the hike!

me on a bench at Snavely Ford Trail
me on a bench at Snavely Ford Trail
Snavely Ford Trail
Snavely Ford Trail
the trail ahead - Snavely Ford Trail
the trail ahead – Snavely Ford Trail

I love the reflections of the bare trees in Antietam Creek.

Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
the Snavely Ford Trail
the Snavely Ford Trail
Mike on the Snavely Ford Trail
Mike on the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
Antietam Creek along the Snavely Ford Trail
late autumn trees along Snavely Ford Trail
late autumn trees along Snavely Ford Trail

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.

Snavely Ford Trail
Snavely Ford Trail

Finally, we do emerge from the forest, where we find fields of grass and the Final Attack trail leading off to the west.

The entrance to the Final Attack Trail
The entrance to the Final Attack Trail
The Final Attack Trail
The Final Attack Trail
Farmland at Antietam
Farmland at Antietam
Circling around to the beginning on the Snavely Ford Trail
Circling around to the beginning on the Snavely Ford Trail

We find this monument at our parking lot near Burnside Bridge, and we hop in the car to move on to our next hike.

Monument at Burnside Bridge
Monument at Burnside Bridge

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.

Looking out over the Final Attack Trail
Looking out over the Final Attack Trail

To the north, we can see Sherrick Farm and Otto Farm.

Otto Farm and the Final Attack Trail
Otto Farm and the Final Attack Trail

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.

me with a canon
me with a canon

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. 🙂