South Mountain and Harper’s Ferry

This is the second of an 8 day trip we took through American history sites in 2013.

The impetus for this trip was the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg battle.  The Battle of Antietam occurred a year earlier (1862) and the victory gave President Lincoln an opportunity to announce the Emancipation Proclamation.  But the battle followed other fighting to the east, in the gaps of South Mountain and in Harper’s Ferry.

We had stayed in Martinsburg for 2 nights and drove past Antietam and Sharpsburg this morning in order to head into the ridge of mountains we’d seen to the east.  The Maryland state Department of Natural Resources manages the Washington Monument State Park and we stopped there first.  There is a tower on top of the hill there that you can climb and take in a good view of the surrounding country.  It overlaps for a short bit with the Appalachian Trail, so we were able to tell the kids they’d “hiked” a very small portion of the 2200 mile trail maintained by the National Parks Service.

View from the top of the tower at Washington Monument State Park, Maryland

The view was lovely.  There was also a helpful display in a very small park building at the top of the car park.  It walked you through the Union and Confederate positions all along the mountains on the days before Antietam.

We climbed back in the car and meandered down to Harper’s Ferry.  It was the armoury for the Union at the beginning of the war but featured in two ways in our trip.  First, it was the location where John Brown attempted to start a slave insurrection – and failed – so we wanted to see locations involved in that.  During the war, it was a target of the Confederates and a unit was there on the day of the Battle of Antietam.  It marched off and arrived in the afternoon and barrelled into the flank of the Union troops who had just crossed Burnside’s bridge, saving the Confederate army.

The Harper’s Ferry site has parking above the town.  You can ride a park bus down to the town and also up to Bolivar Heights, high ground on which the Union troops were forced to surrender by the Confederates.  We saw an artillery demonstration there, the first of many in the next few days.

We climbed back in the car to drive north to Pennsylvania and Gettysburg.  Unfortunately, there had been a fatality and, being on a peninsula, all the traffic across the river was blocked.  We ended up turning around, heading west and then heading north, saying goodbye to both Maryland and West Virginia.

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