27 May 2006
Sharpsburg claims one of the original Memorial Day parades in the United States. Begun soon after the war as Decoration Day, the celebration was to honor the soldiers of the Civil War … Later … the parade drew thousands of people to Sharpsburg to see the many marching bands, dignitaries and costumed school children.
Today the tradition continues … Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend.
Had I done my homework, I wouldn’t have this afternoon wandered into the biggest traffic jam Greater Sharpsburg has probably seen all year.
Even with that, it was still the best day in a month, for me, easy.
I began my trip to the Park this morning with a planned stop in Burkittsville to visit briefly with Tim Reese to help him thin his library. I’m afraid I ate up his morning, but we had a great chat, and it was very good to put a face and voice to an online friend.
It was an enlightening drive there, thanks to the route Tim suggested. West from Frederick, I topped the Catoctin Ridge on US340 and was dazzled by the view. South Mountain was clear and sharp from the water gap at Weverton to Crampton’s Gap and a little beyond.
Then it got better. I tuned north on MD17 to Burkittsville, which parallels and is in plain sight of the mountain all the way. Between the bright sunshine, the full tree-cover, and it’s uniform ridge line, it looked like a child’s idea of a mountain range. A simple triangle in section popping uniformly up off the valley floor, running straight and level, notched cleanly at either end.
After leaving Burkittsville in the afternoon, I stopped at Crampton’s to photograph a few iron tablets, then dropped into the valley and started north up MD67. Again, the mountains didn’t look real. Both South Mountain (then on my right) and Elk Ridge (left) run along exactly parallel and at the same height. Toy mountains. Postcard mountains.
The valley only seems about 100 yards wide there – so it wasn’t hard to picture McLaws’ and Anderson’s brigades strung across the valley floor and marching along the ridges on the way to Harpers Ferry …
Today, some residual confusion about the lay of land east of Sharpsburg vanished for me. I’ve obviously been driving the wrong route to the Battlefield all these years! Thanks to Mr Reese for the nudge off the beaten path and the elegant map that made it so easy.
After the mountain tour, I slid into Sharpsburg from the south on the Burnside Bridge Road but then had to just stop. The town was jammed with parked cars, and Main Street – between me and the Park – was blocked and in full parade. I backtracked to the Porterstown Road, which hits the Boonsboro Pike (US34) east of town, but couldn’t get any further than that for another 30 minutes. The road was still closed.
I finally hit the Battlefield about 3pm, after corroborating some iron tablets along the Pike.
On a whim, I turned into the Philadelphia Brigade Park, which is in the center of the West Woods. Oddly, I’ve never been there before today. I’d thought it “just” a monument location. Once inside the treeline, though, I was rewarded with a different perspective of the Miller Farm and Cornfield.
And with the sight of this beast:
12 pounder iron howitzer, ANBP
I bagged a bronze howitzer on Branch Avenue at the Park last year, and knew that iron versions existed, theoretically, but had never seen one. According to the tablet next to this piece …
The Baltimore Battery (Confederate) fired from this spot into the Union forces in the Cornfield. It included a 12-pounder iron howitzer (like the small gun before you), the only one of its kind among the 500 cannon at Antietam.
I’d quibble that the Baltimore Artillery was probably further west, beyond the West Woods for most of the 17th, but was very pleased to find this little iron gem. I have a thing for artillery …
Side note: while checking out historical tablets today, I saw quite a few of these empty stands:
I don’t remember so many last summer when I was working on tablet text and fixing locations. Don’t remember the orange tape, either. I certainly hope this means they’re under renovation and not gone forever.
Opening Memorial Day quote above from the Jacob Rohrbach Inn.