Today we drove about 270 miles down here to Maryland. When I selected this place to stop, I was trying to find towns along the way to Lexington, KY to break up the drive, but it turns out this is where the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest Battle of the Civil War, was fought 156 years ago this weekend. About 87,000 Union and 38,000 Confederate soldiers fought here, and 23,000 of them died on September 17, 1862.
More about that later.
As I mentioned previously, we packed a little differently on this trip, making an attempt to isolate some stuff that can live in the car. For this first stop, at least, it worked – I carried less, and less heavy, stuff up the flight of stairs to our room (1). It remains to be seen if this organization deteriorates over time.
We pulled off the road for lunch and found a chain we have never heard of before, Sheetz (2). It’s a gas station, convenience store, and restaurant. You order on touch screens, and can extensively customize your order: we got turkey subs, and chose bread type, quantity of meat, size of sandwich, toppings, spreads, dressing, etc. The food was tasty and fresh.
We’re staying here one night at the Antietam Overlook Farm, and it indeed overlooks the National Battlefield. We did the driving tour this afternoon, and unfortunately the on-and-off rain made it less enjoyable (?) than otherwise (3). “Enjoyable” is a difficult word here, as we were where 23,000 men – almost 1 in 5 – died in a few hours. This battle was a tragedy of errors on both sides. Apparently, Lee attacked because he thought the Union army was smaller and in poor shape; in reality, they were in better shape than his army. Similarly, McClelland was tentative in pursuing Lee before and after the battle because he thought the Confederates had more men than they actually did. Lincoln fired McClelland for failing to finish off Lee, which could have shortened the entire war.
I only took a few pictures there, because (a) the weather was bad, and (b) all you see are grassy fields and trees, with monuments to the various Northern units that fought there. It’s only reading about what went on that you begin to appreciate it.
As you drive around, you see the spots where various fights occurred. It’s hard to picture these poor men dying at a rate of 32 per minute. Of course, the big shots back in Washington and Richmond were not in any immediate danger – but isn’t that always the way of war? The old fools make the war, and the poor and young die.
It’s clear to me, at least, that the old fools running the Confederacy were wrong for so many reasons – chief among them, that they were sending their own youth to die so they could continue to enslave other human beings. But were the old fools in Washington right? They were fighting primarily to prevent the southern states from leaving the Union; slavery – at least in the South – was something they had long acceeded to. Was it worth 620,000 American soldiers’ lives to keep the idea of the United States alive?
In any event, 156 years after the Battle, we’re staying at a lovely little inn.
We had a great dinner at the Bavarian Inn, just across the Potomic River in West Virginia. It was the first time in WV for either Sally or me. We ate in the Ratskeller downstairs rather than the fancy, white tablecloth restaurant upstairs.
When we returned to the Inn after dinner, we found the five other guests sitting in the lounge chatting and enjoying an after-dinner drink. We joined them and we all chatted about retirement, traveling and grandchildren. Very pleasant.
(1) Our rooms are never on the main level. And these small places never have elevators or luggage porters.
(2) I’m not sure what the name is all about, but they play with it on the menu: you can get “burgerz”, “wingz”, etc.
(3) I seem to recall the weather was equally poor when we toured Gettysburg 12 years ago.