In the Heat of Battle
Stand where the first major battle on Northern soil took place, straddling the border between Frederick and Washington counties. After invading Maryland less than two weeks before, General Robert E. Lee divided his forces upon departing Frederick. The Army of the Potomac under Major General George McClellan reached Frederick on September 12, 1862 and pursued the Confederates, primarily over the National Road through Braddock Heights and Middletown to South Mountain. On September 14, pitched battles were fought for possession of the South Mountain passes: Crampton’s, Turner’s, and Fox’s gaps. By dusk, Confederate defenders were driven back. Among the dead were Union General Jesse Reno and Confederate General Samuel Garland, Jr. All three gaps are part of the seven-mile South Mountain State Battlefield, and are connected by the famed Appalachian Trail. The battlefield features museums, special interpretive programs and emonstrations throughout the summer months. Within the larger area, Gathland State Park (near the village of Burkittsville) encompasses Crampton’s Gap and includes the War Correspondents Memorial Arch.
For nearly 100 years after its founding in 1763, the village of Sharpsburg enjoyed a serene and peaceful existence. But the events of September 17, 1862 would change the place forever as the surrounding fields played host to the bloodiest single day battle in American history. The legendary engagement produced an estimated 23,000-plus casualties, more American losses than from the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and Spanish-American War combined. Simple landmarks took on legendary status once the smoke of battle cleared, including the Cornfield, Dunker Church, the Sunken Road, and Burnside’s Bridge. Although outnumbered two to one, General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia held off the Federals in what most historians consider an inconclusive outcome. Lee was forced to order his battered army to withdraw across the Potomac into the Shenandoah Valley. Open year round, Antietam National Battlefield’s Visitor Center offers films, ranger programs, museum, a bookstore and driving tour maps. The roads of the park stay open until dusk.
Discover the Monocacy National Battlefield, the home of "The Battle that Saved Washington." After marching north through the Shenandoah Valley, Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early crossed the Potomac River at Shepherdstown into Maryland on July 5 and 6, 1864. On July 9, 1864, a makeshift Union force under Major General Lew Wallace attempted to arrest Early’s invading Confederate divisions along the Monocacy River, just southeast of Frederick. Wallace’s Federal troops were outflanked by Rebel forces and defeated, but hearing of Early’s incursion into Maryland, General Grant sent troops northward from Petersburg, Virginia. Wallace’s defeat at Monocacy bought time for these troops to arrive to bolster the defenses of Washington. Early’s advance reached the outskirts of Washington on the afternoon of July 11 but could not overpower the additional Union forces that were added that afternoon and evening. Archaeologists have excavated one of the largest slave habitations in the mid-Atlantic at Monocacy's Best Farm. Monocacy National Battlefield is open year round, with park roads open until dusk.
Interpretive markers tell of engagements between soldiers of both armies that occurred throughout the three-county area. Early in the war, Stonewall Jackson’s troops met Union resistance at Hancock while trying to cripple the canal and railroad. Many other encounters preceded the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 with fighting around the northern Catoctin Mountain passes at Monterey and Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania. In Westminster on June 29, 1863, elements of the Union First Delaware Cavalry engaged the vanguard of Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry. Though thoroughly lacking in experience and vastly outnumbered, companies C and D of the Delaware Regiment (109 men in all) rode to meet the head of the rebel column of 5000 horsemen. The brisk cavalry fight became known as "Corbit’s Charge" after Captain Charles Corbit. Following the Battle of Gettysburg, the weary Rebel Army troops were the object of numerous cavalry attacks as they retreated through Washington County toward the Potomac and Shenandoah Valley. Combat activity was recorded at Smithsburg, Hagerstown, Funkstown, Boonsboro, and Williamsport.