In late March, my British friend Graham, who worked with me in Japan at Aoyama Gakuin University Sagamihara Campus, came for a visit. He was in New York visiting his (ex)-wife, and carved out some time to come down by train from New York to Union Station in D.C.; I picked him up, brought him to my house in northern Virginia, and made him as cozy as I could in my basement guest room. This was after going out and buying a new queen sized bed and fixing up that bedroom, as we rarely had guests other than our grown children. The basement also has a full bath and a living area with a T.V. After living in small apartments in Japan, Graham had never imagined he’d have a whole basement apartment to stay in during his visit.
When I asked what he’d like to do, he mentioned a strong desire to see a Civil War Battlefield, as he is a big Civil War history buff. I said Manassas Battlefield Park was the closest to our house, but I didn’t think it was that interesting. My husband suggested we go to Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, and Graham lit up, thrilled at the opportunity to see Gettysburg. I suggested that we go to Great Falls first for dramatic views of the Potomac River, and then head to Gettysburg National Military Park.
After chatting late that into that first evening, I asked him what time he’d like to get up in the morning. He said, “I’m on vacation, so I don’t want to get up too early.” Taking him at his word, I neither set an alarm nor did I naturally wake up early, which I usually do. He, on the other hand, woke early and wandered impatiently around the house, feeling it would be rude to rouse me. Thus we got a late start to our day.
First we went to the Virginia side of Great Falls Park, about 35 minutes from my house, arriving just before 10:00 a.m. At Great Falls, the Potomac River builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge. It’s a dramatic sight, but there isn’t much to do there other than stand at the overlooks, or take hikes along the Mather Gorge or on Billy Goat Trail.
From Great Falls, it was nearly 80 miles to Gettysburg, over an hour and a half drive. We drove on the hilly and winding roads of Great Falls, past woodsy properties and sprawling mansions, and merged onto the Capital Beltway, where we were hemmed in by SUVs, shiny pickup trucks, Audis and BMWs, the usual Washington-area upscale cars. Graham talked about his (ex)-wife-turned-close-friend in New York, the people we worked with at Aoyama Gakuin University, his students, and the crazy relationship between an ex-colleague of ours and his Japanese girlfriend.
Graham also told me in great detail about the Gettysburg battle, which raged for three days in July (1-3) of 1863. He knew all the generals involved: Union Major General George G. Meade and Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, and, on the Confederate side, General Robert E. Lee and Lt. Gen. James Longstreet. He knew about Pickett’s Charge, where 12,000 Confederate soldiers advanced across open fields toward the Federal center. The attack failed and cost Lee over 5,000 soldiers in one hour, ending the Battle of Gettysburg.
When the armies marched away from Gettysburg, they left behind a community in shambles and over 51,000 soldiers dead, wounded or missing. Most of the dead lay in hastily dug and inadequate graves, and some had not been buried at all. The governor of Pennsylvania, distraught over this situation, bought 17 acres for a proper burial ground for the dead. On November 19, 1863, the Soldiers’ National Cemetery was dedicated, with Abraham Lincoln making The Gettysburg Address, a speech that contained 272 words and took about two minutes to deliver. Considered a masterpiece of the English language, Lincoln’s speech gave meaning to the sacrifice of the dead and inspiration to the living.
After our 1:00 arrival at Gettysburg National Military Park, we watched the film at the Visitor’s Center. We drove the 24-mile Self-Guided Auto Tour, which traces the three-day battle chronologically, from McPherson Ridge to the Eternal Light Peace Memorial to Oak Ridge. We drove past Warfield Ridge, Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, and the Peach Orchard. Graham knew about all of these places from his extensive studies of the war. It was fun to see him so excited over seeing this famous battlefield.
While Graham was very excited about seeing Gettysburg, he expressed regret that he would miss seeing Antietam. I told him it might be possible to make it to Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland by the time the Visitor Center closed at 5:00 if we didn’t get out of the car at each stop in Gettysburg. I have never seen anyone so excited about this possibility. Graham was game to simply finish our drive through Gettysburg and be on our way to Maryland. We decided we’d need to leave Gettysburg by no later than 3:30 to drive the 46 miles to Antietam, estimated to take an hour and five minutes.
On the way to Antietam, Graham once again filled me in with his immense knowledge of Civil War battles. He know of the Confederate leadership: Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, James Longstreet and Ambrose E. Hill. He also knew of the Union players, George B. McClellan, Joseph Hooker, and Ambrose E. Burnside. I have never been one to understand military tactics or battlefield logistics, or to know all the leaders’ names in various battles, so I was bowled over by Graham’s knowledge.
Though Antietam was the second battlefield we visited, it was actually first in chronology. The 12-hour battle began at dawn on September 17, 1862. Three morning Union attacks struck the Confederate left, north to south. From 6 a.m. until 10 a.m., combat raged across the 24-acre Cornfield, East Woods and West Woods. By late morning, fighting shifted to the Sunken Road in a three-hour stalemate that left the road forever known as “Bloody Lane.” The most heavily contested of three bridges was the Lower Bridge, also known as Burnside Bridge. Union General Ambrose E. Burnside captured the bridge and crossed Antietam Creek, which forced the Confederates back toward Sharpsburg. However, Confederate General A.P. Hill’s Light Division arrived from Harper’s Ferry to drive Burnside back to Antietam Creek.
The battle ended at about 6 p.m. The lines of battle had not shifted significantly from that morning. Of nearly 100,000 soldiers engaged in battle, about 23,000 were killed, wounded, or missing. Late on September 18, Confederate General Robert E. Lee forded the Potomac to Virginia. The Union Army held the field.
We made it to Antietam just in time to do a quick run-through of the Visitor Center. Luckily, the battlefield was open later than 5:00, so we had time to drive through.
For the people of Sharpsburg, the battle and thousands of soldiers caused sickness and death from disease, as well as immense property damage.
Antietam made it possible for President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which granted freedom to the slaves in the Confederate States if the States didn’t return to the Union by January 1, 1863. In addition, under this proclamation, freedom would only come to the slaves if the Union won the war. The Proclamation was complicated but it made a statement about slavery. Up until September 1862, the main focus of the war had been to preserve the Union, but the Emancipation Proclamation made freedom for slaves a legitimate war aim. Although the Battle of Antietam resulted in a draw, the Union army was able to drive the Confederates out of Maryland – enough of a “victory,” that Lincoln felt comfortable issuing the Emancipation just five days later.
Antietam also reshaped the logistics of field medicine. It also influenced how the nation would memorialize battlefields in the future.
We left Antietam at close to 6:00. We arranged to meet Mike after work at Enatye Ethiopian Restaurant in Herndon for dinner. By the time we got there, it was nearly 7:30 p.m. Graham had never eaten Ethiopian food before, and he loved the Ethiopian wine and food, sopping up every last bit with the injera. He told me he would have to come to visit more often now that he knew he had his own apartment in our basement, battlefields to visit, and good food and wine to sample. 🙂
I told Graham that we’d need to leave by 10:00 the next morning to get him to Union Station in D.C. on time. This time, I woke up early, and was pacing the house waiting for him to wake up. I finally had to go down to the basement and rouse him, as he was cozily curled up in his own private basement apartment. 🙂
“ON JOURNEY” INVITATION: I invite you to write a post on your own blog about the journey itself for a recently visited specific destination. You could write about the journey you hope to take in the year ahead. If you don’t have a blog, I invite you to write in the comments.
Include the link in the comments below by Tuesday, November 19 at 1:00 p.m. EST. When I write my post in response to this challenge on Wednesday, November 20, I’ll include your links in that post.
This will be an ongoing invitation, once on the third Wednesday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂
I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!
the ~ wander.essence ~ community
I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community. I promise, you’ll be inspired. 🙂
- Meg, of Visiting Warsaw 2018 & 2019, wrote about her long journey home from her latest visit to her daughter and twin grandchildren in Warsaw.
Many thanks to all of you who wrote posts about the journey. I’m inspired by all of you!