Galley Wench Tales

Exploring the world through the people we meet
and the food they eat.

Colonial-era re-enactor in historic Sharpsburg, Maryland.

What did you learn and still remember from your U.S. history lessons? 

In school, I just couldn’t relate to it; it was something to memorize for the tests then forget about. Sure,  I’d heard a bit about colonial times and the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence in 1776, which we lay claim to as the birth of our nation. Reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln* provided far more insight on than anything I learned in school about the miracle of Lincoln’s election, the decision to engage in Civil War, the eventual victory, contribution to equality, and its cost to us as a nation. 

*If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend Team of Rivals; it’s an excellent biography of an amazing man, a pivotal leader, and an astoundingly savvy collaborator. We can learn much today from Lincoln’s example in a nation that of late feels as divided now as then.

A small portion of a massive diorama of Civil War clash in Sharpsburg, Maryland.
We were told the dioramas were found mouldering in a local barn.
Yet when we stopped by the remarkably intact historic town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, where, as luck would have it, they were doing period re-enactments of colonial and civil war times. For folks growing up there, the stuff I read about in history books that felt both long ago and far away happened on their turf. Sharpsburg was incorporated in 1763 before we considered ourselves an independent nation.

The formerly peaceful agricultural land and canal distribution point became embroiled in a bloody battle between the pro-slavery Confederate army and the Union, trying to hold a frayed nation together. Churches served as stations for sharpshooters and it seemed nearly anything with a roof served as a hospital for the masses of wounded soldiers.
Ranger re-enactor in Sharpsburg, Maryland.

For Sharpsburg’sre-enactment, kids, seniors, and quite a few in between costumed up and chatted with us and other visitors passing through about what life was like “back then.” We particularly enjoyed talking with the Ranger, self-described as the Special Forces of the colonial and civil war era who despaired over the foolish tactical and strategic choices made by others that cost so many their lives.

Oddly, what I recall the most about the Civil War from my history class was that Lincoln dispatched journalist photographers to capture and bring home the horror of the wounded and dead in the hopes there would never be another war. Alas, he succeeded in establishing war photojournalism, but as we all know, it failed miserably as a deterrent to future wars.

Reconstruction of John Brown’s Fort in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.

Earlier the prior day, we stopped far too briefly at Harper’s Ferry. Our first stop was John Brown’s Fort, famed abolitionist John Brown’s daringly captured sanctuary fort for escaping slaves. Before long, however, Brown and those of his compatriots who survived a Confederate raid were captured.  The Confederate state of Virginia tried Brown. found him guilty of treason and hung him. 

The town of Harper’s Ferry is preserved as a National Historic Park in West Virginia.
The first Confederate Civil War invasion of the North took place in the town of Harper’s Ferry. Its access to supplies by B & O (Baltimore and Ohio) railroad and the C & O (Chesapeake and Ohio) Canal s the conjoint of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers made it a vitally strategic point in the Civil War. It changed hands eight times during the Civil War.
Burnside Bridge battle plaque at Antietam, one of three major battlefields in Antietam,
inside the 
Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland.

Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland to this day remains the single bloodiest day of battle in our country’s history.  On September 17, 1862, in twelve hours of fighting, nearly 23,000 soldiers were either killed, missing or wounded. At a terrible cost of to both sides, but more so to the Union, nonetheless, the Confederate army retreated the next day. 

Lincoln used that opportunity to make the emancipation declaration, the United States intention to end slavery. Apparently, that declaration was not entirely altruistic, but spurred on by a desire to discourage Brittian, who outlawed slavery in their county already from taking the side of the pro-slavery Conferates.

The rebuilt Burnside Bridge monument today; same as depicted in the plaquard in the image before this one. 

Antietam National Battlefield park, Maryland.

As for us, we didn’t allow enough time to fully absorb what we were seeing. If you don’t know the players by side or the battles’ significance you may feel a bit lost, almost akin to watching a forgein movie in a language you don’t speak, especting but niot getting any subtitles. The momuments seem to assume you possess their significance beforehand or travel along with a. guide or a keyed in to the parks application with a virtual tour. We. weren’t equipped with either. We watched a video in the park headquarters, our first stop, which helped.

Here’s a good pictorial overview of Antietam from another blogger.

War Observation Tower, Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland.
The War Obervation Tower was built over 100 years ago, in 1897 to give a bird’s eye view of the battlefield. It’s also a site for teaching; the tower docent’s favorite story was about he five-star generals, preceeded by a phanx of security, who showed up to make tower observation, then departed on callas quickly and inexplicably as the’ arrived.

Today, the site of those bloody battlefields is peaceful, making it the best possible Civil War memorial. 

If I visit that area again, I will brush up on my history before attending its living momuments, to get a greater appreciation of their importance.Even if I don’t make it back there, it whetted my appetite to learn more, particularly given the divides in many cases along similar lines in our country today. As the cliche goes: Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.
The yellow of soybean fields as seen from War Observation Tower, Antietam Battlefield, Maryland.
Cornfields also are maintained on the battlefields today for historical authenticity.
Normally, I stick to one topic in a post, but this is a bit of a round-up. sp I’m going to shift gears for a moment from the historical setting to what was going on with us personally.

The whole reason Wayne and I were in Maryland was to visit my nephew, Ryan, and his wife and their daughter who I hadn’t seen for eight years, back in 2013. We caught them at an especially busy time, so the only window we had to meet was Friday night, for dinner. We adjusted our schedule to make that work. We enjoyed seeing them on their own instead of at a larger family event and got a better sense of what their life is like in the place they call home.
Marlee, Ryan, and Beth—family time in Frederick, Maryland.

Happy as I was to see and spend time with family, Frederick is a hideously expensive place for lodging. The only place we could find to stay for under $100 was a horrible Motel 6, by far the dirtiest and most spare hotel I’ve ever stayed in and appeared to be the kind of place for drug deals and prostitution. Yet oddly, some of the scariest folks there were unfailingly polite and pleasant to us. I still gave the hotel a one-star Google rating and the whole experience was so depressing that it nearly made Wayne and I turn around and drive home. Due to crappy weather, we’d just abandoned our plans to drive the Skyline through Shenandoah National Park, where we also intended to camp. We were spending a lot more than we intended and at that moment not enjoying our travels nearly as much as we expected to.

Local birds featured prominently on this building in Front Royal, Virginia, a marked departure
from the town’s many historic buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.
Just before heading on to Harper’s Ferry amd Maryland, we stopped off in the historic town of Front Royal. It’s definitely a tourist-oriented town, but its visual appeal made it a worthwhile stop anyway. Still, one of the newer buildings is what caught my eye there due to its striking murals.
Antietam Campground, alongside a scenic section of the Potomac River. Virginia.

After our crappy night in the Fredericks Moel 6, we pondered our plans.  Unfortunately, GPS doesn’t give you an option to “find cool towns and scenic byways.” Wayne used our road atlas—ye, we are that old school sometimes—to find a scenic highway. Wayne made an impromptu turn off the highway at a brown sign to the C & O Canal. He saw a sign to a campground and followed it there to Antietam Creek Campground. We came equipped to backpack and tent camp and expected to do so more than we did. Once again, we thought we’d lost out on a viable option: the campgrounds were full.

Gary Glick, our exceptionally kind Antietam Campground host, and his dog Bene.

However, Gary Glick, the campground host took pity on us decided to create a space for us. He placed us in a lovely, private campsite that no one booked because it was supposed to be closed. His kindness restored our spirits and inspired us to continue on. He also gave us a tip on a campsite down the road where we saw the best fall color our entire trip at a gorgeous waterfall. More on that in my next post.

Time and time again as we travel, no matter what we say we’re going to see, we find it is the people we meet along the way that make the trip. Thank you, Gary. Our time with Wayne’s longtime friend Steve in Asheville was another highlight, as was meeting our cruising friends nearby, Scott and Kim Dickens, who we hadn’t seen since we were in Conception, the Bahamas in 2014. They live in a comfortable home with a back deck with a territorial view, with a barn for their two mules and another outbuilding for chickens–a much different life than cruising, but a good one that suits them well. 

Location Location
This post covers the time we spent where Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland intersect and served as the primary battleground area for the U.S. Civil War.

We arrived back at Sunnier Palms. in Fort Pierce Florida on Wednesday, October 27th, but there will be additional posts to capture the remailing fall foliage road trip highlights. However, the next post will be a heatwarming story about a change in our lives since we just returned to Sunnier. Stay tuned for that.