We’ve been gone over seven weeks. When we first planned this trip and looking at it through the filter of two years (17 months under way), it didn’t seem long enough. Now that Contessa is “headed towards the barn,” we’re both anxious to get there! That being said, when we pulled out of Watkins Glen and headed due south, we were anxiously anticipating a few days with Nephew Jim, who would be meeting us in Harpers Ferry, WV. The trip fit perfectly into our 3-3-3 plan, as we drove 287 miles, got in by 3:00p and were staying three nights. Jim arrived in time for dinner that evening (Thursday) and we laid out a plan for our two days together.
Brother Rik (Jim’s Dad) had given us a book on Harpers Ferry, so we arrived at the National Park entrance with some knowledge of the history and significance of this quaint town. Harpers Ferry is located at the confluence of the Potomac River and Shenandoah River and is now literally on the point of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
In 1859, Harpers Ferry was a booming town with both the rivers and major rail transportation. Radical abolitionist John Brown of Bloody Kansas led a doomed raid on this small industrial town intent on seizing the arms at the Federal Arsenal. With these arms, he was convinced that African Americans, both free and slave, would follow him in an insurrection. After fighting with the townsmen and local militia, Brown and his men were soon captured by US Marines, led by Army Colonel Robert E. Lee. Some historians contend that this was the battle that ignited the “Civil War” and certainly, the storied trial and hanging of John Brown ignited the passions of many. However, the “War Between The States” was a conflict on States Rights (Southern View) vs Unity of the Federation (Northern View) until after the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, when Lincoln published the draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves in the States of Secession.
In the 1850s, Harpers Ferry was in its heyday. However, due to its strategic location, it changed hands often during the war. The town fell under the authority of 28 different commanders and for the most part, Union troops occupied the town. The years of war brought devastation of the homes, lives and businesses of this town and a staggering blow from which the industrial town never fully recovered.
The town today is a beautiful blend of well-kept residences, National Park historic sites and lovely shops & pubs. We spent a delightful day touring the town and savoring a beautiful day more like mid-September than late August.
St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church – an Active Parish in Harpers Ferry
The Appalachian Trial comes right thru Harpers Ferry
& A Young Gentleman Repairing Gravestones as quite interesting
Early Saturday morning, our destination was the Antietam National Battlefield just north of Sharpsburg MD, some 25 miles to our north. In the fall of 1862, General Robert E. Lee was having tremendous success against the Union forces, but at great expense to the people of Northern Virginia. Lee felt it was crucial to take the war onto Northern soil for several reasons; 1) he believed Lincoln would be forced to negotiate once the Yankees felt the direct price of war, 2) both France and Britain were close to “supporting” the Southern desire to secede and a victory on Northern soil would likely cement that support, 3) food for soldiers and horses as well as munitions and supplies could be secured with victories, and 4) he felt that Maryland would support his efforts, as they were a slave state being “forced” to remain under Union control. At the same time, Lincoln was anxiously awaiting a victory, as his Cabinet had advised him to delay his Emancipation Proclamation until such time as the Union was seen as “winning” rather than as a “desperation announcement.” As well, the mid-term elections were looming and he was very concerned about the “will of the people”, who were weary of the war and might lean to the democratic candidates who were much more tolerant of slavery.
As we did in Gettysburg, we arranged for a private guide, who spent almost 3 hours with us. This is, in our opinion, the only way to get a real insight into the facts – political, economic and personal – of these hallowed grounds. Both National Park employees and the Licensed Guides have such a passion for painting a picture of the events, treasuring the history and guaranteeing we left with both a reverence for the commitment of the soldiers and a resolve to do everything in our power to prevent such bloodshed again.
In one day, September 17, 1862, the Battle of Antietam became and remains the single bloodiest day in American history – 23, 110 men were killed, injured or missing. Union forces numbered in the 80,000s and Confederate soldiers about half of that number. Six generals would lose their life that day as men and boys, green recruits and those seasoned in battle, fought in three major battle areas from 5:00a until dark.
The landscape where Battle Raged – “The Cornfield” were the first of the battle began
The “Sunken Road” and “Burnside Bridge” where the second and third phases of
the Battle was fought.
The National Cemetery – 4,400 identified and 1,700 unknown Union soldiers are buried here
The last interment was a local US Navy soldier killed when the US Cole was attacked
The following day, neither side chose to commence thefighting – and on September 19, Lee led his army back across the Potomac to Virginia. His first attack on northern soil had ended in defeat. It would be nine months before he attempted it again, this time in Gettysburg.
Sunday morning, we departed Harpers Ferry, WV – Jim back to Virginia Tech to complete his Masters’ Degree and Contessa and The Toad headed for “the barn.” We arrived home mid-afternoon, Monday, August 28. It has been a great trip, we’ve learned a lot about the RV life and Contessa, visited with many friends along the way, experienced places we’ve longed to see – and with our trips to Gettysburg, Fort Adams, Fort Ticonderoga, Fort Tompkins in Sackets Harbor, Harpers Ferry and Antietam, we have been