Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Washington D.C. - Day # 6 - Road Trip!

We had big plans for Tuesday....sometimes the big plans are bigger than what is possible in one day, but we gave it the "old college try" as my father often said.  We planned to drive first up to Harper's Ferry, WV some 67 miles northwest of our location.  Then up to Antietam, MD and finishing at Gettysburg, PA.....well, that was one historic site too far.

We left "home" around 9:45 for Harpers Ferry.  The drive was without much traffic, and we arrived around 11 at the Harpers Ferry visitors center.  All of Harpers Ferry is considered a National Park, but in the off season you can drive into "town" and find parking, and we could have this day, but it seemed easier to park at the visitor's center and take the free shuttle down to Harpers Ferry proper, so that is what we did.

TLE just after we exited the shuttle

Harpers Ferry is located at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers and was the scene of several historic events.  One of them involved a gentleman, John Brown, an anti-slavery activist who attacked the Federal Armory with 21 men in an attempt to gain possession of the weapons and use them to begin to free slaves in Virginia.  He believed when news of the attack spread the local slave population would join he and his men, but it didn't happen.  Ultimately the battle lasted 36 hours, with John Brown and his men ultimately being captured, and later hanged for murder and treason.   Many believe this event led to the beginning of the Civil War.

Additionally, Harpers Ferry was the site of the 2nd Federal Armory and Arsenal where the first interchangeable parts for rifles, cannon and other weapons were made using lathes, drill presses and other machinery utilizing the power of the river to turn water wheels, which in turn drove large belts of leather which powered the equipment.  At their peak they produced 10,000 rifles per year.  During the Civil War the Armory came under attack by the Confederacy, and the Union Soldiers burned the Armory to the ground to prevent it from coming into possession of the Confederacy.  Today none of the Amory buildings remain.

 John Brown's "fort"...he and his men retreated to this fire house during the battle

We spent time in the John Brown Museum reading about the raid in 1859 and the aftermath.  By the time we exited the museum and walked around the town it was afternoon, and we were hungry.

 We headed across the street from the train station to Private Quinn's Pub for a Ruben and a couple of pints of Miner's Daughter Oatmeal Stout (Mountain State Brewing Company).  We split the delicious Ruben, but not the beer....:)

 Private Quinn's Pub

After that great lunch we continued our walking tour of Harpers Ferry.  Next up was St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church first built in 1833, then rebuilt in 1896....a beautiful stone building.

From there we continued our uphill hike to Jefferson's Rock...yes, the Thomas Jefferson.  From the rock you have a view of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers where the come together.

Behind TLE is the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers

From Harpers Ferry we headed north to Antietam, MD the site of the single bloodiest day in the history of the U.S.  On September 17th, 1862 the Union and Confederate armies came together in battle along the banks of Antietam Creek.  During that one day battle lasting around 8 hours 27,000 soldiers (15,000 Union and 12,000 Confederate) were killed.  That is more than died combined in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Mexican-American war.  General Lee lost 25% of his total army that day, but still fought on for 2.5 years more.

We arrived at the Antietam National Battlefield around 2 pm, and spent around 3 hours touring the museum, watching a narrated movie about the battle, and then driving and walking around the battlefield.  The observation tower below was built years later. You can walk up many flights of stairs to the top and survey the entire battlefield.

 View from the tower toward Dunkard Church, where the Confederates were headquartered, and had multiple cannon batteries...this was the high ground.

Dunkard Church

 Looking toward Antietam Creek

Burnside Bridge....a key crossing of the Antietam....the Confederates were able to keep the Union soldiers from crossing here long enough to allow reinforcements from Harpers Ferry to arrive.

There are a lot of monuments which have been erected over the years all over this battlefield.  Below is the "Private Soldier" monument in the Antietam National Cemetery.

Examples of the many, many monuments built to honor many of the individual regiments from various states who fought in this battle.  The one below was built by New York state.

The 3 hours we spent at Antietam were very sobering.  There were several things that struck me.  It seemed the generals, colonels, captains, etc. were somewhat incompetent and sent their soldiers into slaughter without sufficient intelligence of the enemy's positions and strengths.  Their willingness to engage the enemy without sufficient knowledge of what they were facing is just stunning.  The amazing bravery of the soldiers who marched forward knowing they would not survive the day let alone that hour, and probably would die a horrible death, but they marched forward none the less.  Many of the officers on each side attended the same military schools, and were in many cases friends prior to the war.  That so many died in such a short period of time is just overwhelming.

Here you see President Lincoln sitting with General McClellan trying to convince him to pursue General Lee and his ragged, decimated army and end the war, but he didn't.  Ultimately Lincoln fired him.

The battlefield has not changed too much over the years, and the National Park Service has done a lot to preserve it in the same state it was on September 17, 1982.

We began the 80+ mile drive home around 5 and got home around 6:30.  We obviously did not make it to Gettysburg....we just ran out of time, but we do plan to see it on our way back west in early May when we pass back through Hagerstown.  Wednesday we return to the National Mall and more site seeing....many museums to see.  Eventually we will drive over to Arlington Cemetery, and to Mt. Vernon and Monticello, the respective homes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Thanks for stopping by!

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