Saturday, May 23, 2009

Friends and History in Maryland

Our travels in the eastern part of the country brought us north to Maryland last week from Virginia. We enjoyed our ride through the rolling rural communities of Maryland. Our first stop was Libertytown, a small town about 10 miles east of Frederick, where we visited friends, Ron and Tammy, at their beautiful restored 1800s home. Ferd fit nicely into the driveway and surrounding four acres. We had a great time catching up on our lives, taking in their favorite haunts and having a sample of the local flavor. In fact, we were so busy enjoying ourselves we forgot to take any photos. So we can't show you their place. But it is fantastic! Many thanks to Ron and Tammy for their hospitality and a special time.

Continuing our history tour, we chose to take a short trip southwest of Frederick on the Old National Pike, U. S. 40, along a section of the Maryland Civil War Trail to Antietam National Battlefield. This portion of the trail passes through or near several towns and sites that played an important role in what is called the Antietam Campaign of 1862. The well-preserved towns with their homes and buildings dating to the 1700s and 1800s are a step back in time. It seemed like there was a monument or historic marker on each block with a reminder of the community's past.

But today we went outside the small town of Sharpsburg to the farmlands to find Antietam National Battlefield. We arrived at the battlefield not knowing what we might learn or how. And fortunately, we arrived a short time before the scheduled tour by park ranger Mike Gamble. He took our visit to another level.

A group of about 20 of us followed in our vehicles as he led us to various sites on the battlefield. Mr. Gamble's skill at using descriptive language and gestures brought the landscape in front of us to life. He vividly laid out the events of September 17, 1862, with his descriptions of the soldiers, their leaders and how each faction of the battle played out in the actual cornfields, woods, hills and valleys of the local community. He had photos of the each officer and he interspersed details about their personalities into his tale. Here he tells us about how the battle started in this cornfield you see behind him.

This battle was, in many historians opinions, the battle that swayed the balance of the Civil War toward the north, after a series of successes by the Confederacy. There is no doubt about one fact, that it was the bloodiest one-day battle in U. S. history. 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing by the time the 12 hours of fighting ceased. There are 96 monuments on the battlefield erected by veterans of the battle, located where the each troop fought.

Mr. Gamble took us to three separate sections of the battlefield and described which particular troops from each state were involved and how their individual officers performed and, in some cases, died. We went to the "Bloody Lane" which was a much-used, sunken road used by the local farmers to take their grain to market. He described how the Confederates were entrenched and protected and what a fierce fight it was for the Union soldiers to take it over. Here's a photo of the sunken road that still exists just as it was that day.

He related stories of the families that lived in the farmhouses on the battlefield. Some left and some stayed, losing members and dealing with the carnage.

By the time the 12-hour battle ended, General George McClellan's Union Army held the field. This victory gave President Lincoln the impetus for his Emancipation Proclamation delivered a few days later at Gettysburg, just a short distance north.

Our guide made one suggestion at the end of his tour, that we might want to stop down the road at the Antietam National Cemetery in Sharpsburg. 4776 Union soldiers rest there. Thousands of Confederate soldiers were buried in two other cemeteries in Maryland. However, no one knows for sure how many on both sides may not have been recovered from Antietam Battlefield. Last year the body of a 19-year-old soldier was discovered.

There is a myriad of thoughts that come to mind
when visiting these historic sites.
It's sad. It's peaceful.
It's healthy at times to ponder the past.
Memorial Day is a good time for that.

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