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We made some historical stops on the way to Harrisburg. The first was Fort Necessity National Battlefield which is the site of a battle that took place on July 3, 1754. It was one of the early battles of the French and Indian War , and resulted in the surrender of the British, under a young Colonel George Washington, to the French and Indians. GW learned a lot from this battle: 1) Don’t build a fort so near a forest (see picture below) and 2) do not fight in European lines while the enemy is fighting from behind trees. It was also a nice reminder — even great people fail and learn from their mistakes.
We celebrated the 4th of July by going to the site of the Battle of Antietam (not Revolutionary War site, but it was the best we could do). This battle was fought on September 17, 1862, as part of the Maryland Campaign, and was the first major battle in the Civil War to take place on Union soil. Sadly, it was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with about 23,000 casualties on both sides.
Spoiler – short history lesson in this paragraph, skip to the next if you do not want a history lesson. After pursuing Confederate General Robert E. Lee into Maryland, Union General George B. McClellan launched attacks against Lee’s army, in defensive positions behind Antietam Creek. At dawn on September 17, Union General Joseph Hooker’s corps mounted a powerful assault on Lee’s left flank. Attacks and counterattacks swept across Miller’s cornfield and fighting swirled around the Dunker Church. Union assaults against the Sunken Road (2nd picture below) eventually pierced the Confederate center, but the Union advantage was not followed up. In the afternoon, Union General Burnside’s corps entered the action, capturing a stone bridge (3rd picture below) over Antietam Creek and advancing against the Confederate right (see next paragraph). At a crucial moment, Confederate General A.P. Hill’s division arrived from Harpers Ferry and launched a surprise counterattack, driving back Burnside and ending the battle. Although outnumbered two-to-one, Lee committed his entire force, while McClellan sent in less than three-quarters of his army, enabling Lee to fight the Union to a standstill. Nevertheless, Lee’s invasion of Maryland was ended, and he was able to withdraw his army back to Virginia without interference from the cautious McClellan.
The visit was a good reminder of all of the brave men and women that have given their lives for our freedom. The second picture below shows a site now called “Bloody Lane.” At one point during the battle, the Confederates were on the left side behind the fence and the Union was on the right. They spent hours shooting at each other. It was sobering to see how close together it was and it shows the madness of war. It also made you think of the bravery and commitment to the cause that these men had to have.
Our last stop was Harpers Ferry in West Virginia. It is situated at the juncture of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers where Maryland, Virgina, and West Virginia meet. Historically, Harpers Ferry is best known for John Brown’s raid on the Armory in 1859 and its role in the Civil War, but we found out that it was quite a town before then.
Warning – another history lesson. In 1796 the federal government purchased land and began construction on its 2nd Armory and Arsenal. The town was transformed into an industrial center; between 1801 and 1861, when it was destroyed to prevent capture during the Civil War. Industrialization continued in 1833 when the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal reached Harpers Ferry, linking it with Washington, D.C. A year later, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad began train service through the town. On October 16, 1859, the radical abolitionist John Brown led a group of 21 men in a raid on the arsenal. During this time assisting fugitive slaves was illegal under the Fugitive Slave Act. The raid was a catalyst for the Civil War. Because of the town’s strategic location on the railroad and at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley, both Union and Confederate troops moved through Harpers Ferry frequently. The town’s garrison of 14,000 Union troops played a key role in the Confederate invasion of Maryland in September 1862. General Robert E. Lee did not want to continue on to Maryland without capturing the town. It was on his supply line and could control one of his possible routes of retreat if the invasion did not go well. The Battle of Harpers Ferry started with light fighting September 13 as the Confederates tried to capture the Heights around the town. After a Confederate artillery bombardment on September 14 and 15, the Federal garrison surrendered. With 12,419 Federal troops captured, the surrender at Harpers Ferry was the largest surrender of US military personnel until the Battle of Bataan in World War II.
They have done a good job of preserving what Harpers Ferry was like in the 1800s. They have stores and boarding houses furnished as they would have been back then. They also had remnants of the machinery that was used to produce guns (third picture) which was one of the first places to use machines in a production line to make guns. The technology that was used to make the stock, is used today to make baseball bats.