Monday, September 20, 2021
We actually began our tour of Civil War sites a couple of days ago, at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick. The museum operates the Pry House Field Hospital Museum near Antietam, so we stopped in there as well, but it was not open today. The Pry House sits on the east bank of Antietam Creek. In September, 1862, the Union Army appropriated the house for its battle headquarters. General George B McClellan and other officers observed the battle from this location.
The house was also used as the headquarters for the medical department, under Dr. Jonathan Letterman. The barn was used as a field hospital for enlisted men. Along with two other farms on the west bank of the creek, at least 1.500 men were treated for their injuries.
The Pry family were prosperous farmers before the war. Their losses were great – food stores depleted, livestock slaughtered, fences burned for fuel, hay used up. Crops in the field were consumed, seeds and farm animals lost. They ultimately moved out of state.
On September 17, 1862, just 149 years ago, Antietam became the site of the deadliest one-day battle in US military history, with 23,000 casualties. Had we arrived a couple of days ago, we could have participated in the Battle Anniversary. Hikes, tours, talks, weapon firing demonstrations, were all arranged over a 4 day period ending yesterday. Today, it’s a bit quieter here. We arrived just in time for a docent-led tour, which we appreciated.
The Battle of Antietam was part of Robert E Lee’s first invasion of the North. Lee had invaded Maryland with his full force, in an attempt to shift the focus of the war to Federal territory. He hoped to garner enough victories to propel him to the nation’s capital in Washington, DC, and to convince European nations to recognize the Confederate States of America. The losses on both sides were close enough that it was hard to say who was the victor. However, Lee’s forces were greatly diminished, and he returned to Virginia.
There were several reasons for the large number of casualties including: many raw recruits saw their first (and for many of them, their last) action on this day; and the rolling terrain made it possible to hide from the enemy until they were very close and then catch them by surprise; soldiers moving through surrounding cornfields could not see the nearby enemy, and were easily mowed down as they exited the fields.
Almost 5000 Civil War soldiers are buried in the Antietam National Cemetery. Over one-third are unknown. There are a couple hundred non-Civil War dead buried here as well, but the cemetery was closed in 1953 when it was deemed full.
Following the Battle of Antietam, President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, freeing the slaves of all states still in rebellion as of the following January 1. This proclamation redefined the Civil War, which was no longer just a struggle to preserve the union, but was now a war focused on ending slavery.
The drive to Gettysburg took us close to the Camp David presidential retreat located in the Catoctin Mountain Park of Maryland (not open to tourists, of course). We stopped at Sach’s Covered Bridge outside of Gettysburg, designated Pennsylvania’s Most Historic Bridge in 1938, and put on the National Historic Registry in 1980. It played a vital role for both sides during the Civil War.
Our route also took us by several scenic orchards and fruit farms. A few wrong turns provided opportunities to enjoy the beautiful countryside around Gettysburg. Apples, apricots, berries, pears, peaches, and many other fruits thrive in this area. We stopped at The Historic Round Barn & Farm Market in Biglerville, to check out some of the products from the many farms and orchards.
Just a few miles away from the Round Barn is another ”must see” attraction: Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium in Orrtanna, PA. Mr. Ed Gotwalt received his first elephant as a wedding gift, bought a few more on his honeymoon, and continued collecting, amassing a collection of about 12,000 figurines, statues and other elephant paraphernalia. Sadly, Mr. Ed passed away earlier this year, but the store is still operating, with his granddaughter and her husband as the current owners. Besides the thousands of elephant figurines, there is a great variety of candies and fudge. You won’t leave disappointed.
Tonight, we are staying in Gettysburg, and will visit that park tomorrow.