Antietam National Battlefield Park Gears Up To Commemorate Civil War’s Bloodiest Day

It was the bloodiest day of the Civil War. After 12 hours of ferocious fighting on September 17, 1862, an estimated 23,000 soldiers had been killed, wounded or declared missing. Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the North was at an end.

The Battle of Antietam, in Maryland, proved to be a turning point in the war. Lincoln had been keeping his Emancipation Proclamation secret, waiting for a Union victory in order to make the controversial freeing of the slaves in rebellious states politically easier. This battle gave him that victory.

It also boosted confidence in the North. Union forces had suffered a series of embarrassing blunders and defeats. While the Union army’s success at Antietam wasn’t all it could have been (their forces outnumbered the rebels but were poorly handled by General McClellan) it showed that the war could be won.

On the weekend of September 15-17 Antietam National Battlefield Park is hosting a commemorative weekend of events for the 150th anniversary. Programs include battlefield hikes, lectures, special exhibits, kids activities, Civil War music and living history artillery and infantry firing demonstrations. For more information on General Lee’s ill-fated Maryland Campaign and commemoration events related to it, check out the National Park Service’s Maryland Campaign Commemoration page.

There’s also a large Battle of Antietam Reenactment on farmland a few miles away from the national park on September 14-16. This is a privately run event and preregistration is a must. Deadline is August 31.

[Photo of Confederate dead at Bloody Lane courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Edgar Allan Poe Museum may close next year

Baltimore’s most famous literary landmark may close next year due to budget cuts.

The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum hasn’t received money from the city for two years. Since that time it’s managed to limp along on private contributions, but they aren’t enough to keep it afloat. Now the curator says if something isn’t done, the museum will probably close in June 2012.

Although the museum gets around 5,000 visitors a year, the money they spend doesn’t cover its $85,000 annual operating budget.

Poe lived in the house from 1832 to 1835 and wrote several stories there, including Ms. Found in a Bottle and Berenice–A Tale.

The Edgar Allen Poe Society of Baltimore gives a more detailed description of the problem and has started an online petition that already has more than 6,000 signatories, including mine. I’d be proud to have your name next to mine on the list.

The Poe house has been in danger before. Back in 1941 the Society saved the house from demolition, and now some local businesses and artists are raising money to keep the museum going. Perhaps readers will rally once again to save a piece of horror history.

[Photo courtesy Midnightdreary]

Weekend Drive: Retrace the steps of John Brown and the beginning of the Civil War

Friday, October 16, in drizzling rain and cool temperatures, 300 people or so, many clad in pre-Civil War attire, at least four of them dressed like abolitionist John Brown, set out on foot for Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

The beginning of their five-mile walk, the log farmhouse in western Maryland, is the very spot where Brown and his raiders left for the Federal Arsenal in Harpers Ferry. Their aim? To seize the weapons necessary for establishing a colony for runaway slaves.

As a result of the raid, Brown, zealous about his cause, was wounded and captured in a stand off with townspeople and the militia. Brown’s bold move is credited with starting the Civil War.

It also found him swinging at the end of a hangman’s noose six weeks later after he was found guilty of treason for his efforts. Although Brown wasn’t successful, his actions, along with those of his men, did put the nation’s attention firmly on the issue of slavery.

The original march, also on October 16, was 150 years ago. The march that led to the raid on Harpers Ferry, isn’t the only event being held to commemorate Brown’s important place in American history. There are several more happening this month and into November.

With fall foliage still showing it’s glory, these are perfect days for taking a drive to trace Brown’s journey, both on that night years ago and at other parts of his life. Here are suggestions for a do-it-yourself John Brown sesquicentennial celebration that takes in parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia.

Chambersburg, Pennsylvania

  • John Brown House, 225 East King Street. On the second floor of this once boarding house, Brown planned the raid on Harper’s Ferry. Also, Chambersburg is where Brown had a meeting with Fredrick Douglass who tried to talk Brown out of his plan. The plan took a long while to hatch so Brown became part of the Chambersburg community, but under the name of Isaac Smith. The Franklin County Historical Society is responsible for the house.

Sharpsburg, Maryland

  • Kennedy Farmhouse (John Brown’s Headquarters) Chestnut Grove Road. This is the farmhouse where Brown and his men practiced for the raid. Brown, along with his two sons, Owen and Oliver, and eventually 20 followers, lived in the house from July 29, 1859 until the night of October 16. The restored house is a National Historic Landmark.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (Harpers Ferry National Historical Park) The park’s land is also in Maryland and Virginia.

  • Harpers Ferry Armory Engine House (John Brown’s Fort) After John Brown and his raiders snagged the weapons and captured 60 hostages, they were forced to take cover here by townspeople and the local militia. The next day, U.S. marines came, broke down the door and captured Brown.
  • On October 25, a park ranger will lead participants past 30 buildings significant to Brown’s raid. The two hour walking tour of Harper’s Ferry titled “In the Footsteps of John Brown” begins at 11 a.m. and will include the significant people as well as the places.

Charles Town, West Virginia.

  • Jefferson County Courthouse. Beginning on October 25, 1859, John Brown was tried in this courthouse built in 1836. You can go in the courthouse on weekdays.
  • Jefferson County Historical Society Museum in Charles Town, Here you can find the wagon that Brown road in to the place he was hanged, the weapons he carried the night of the raid and his personal copy of the constitution he wrote for a provisional government.
  • John Blessing House: John Fredrick Blessing became friends with John Brown when he was in prison. Before he was excuted, Brown gave Blessing his jailhouse Bible. The house is currently not open for public tours but occassionally is open for special events. On October 24th and November 28, there is a tour at 10 a.m. The house is located at 303 East North Street.
  • Historical Marker outside the Gibson-Todd House, 515 S. Samuel Street. This marker indicates the site of the gallows where John Brown was hung. He was brought here in the furniture wagon that is now housed at the historical society. The house was built in 1891 by John Thomas Gibson who helped lead the effort to stop John Brown’s raid.

On October 25th or November 22th, leave your car for a couple of hours to take a guided walking tour of Charles Town. The walking tour, sponsored by the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society, will highlight the town’s buildings significant to John Brown.

Winchester, Virginia.

  • The Hollingsworth Mill-Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society, 1360 S. Pleasant Valley Road. Through October 30th, “From the First Shot to the Gallows.” An exhibition that highlights Winchester’s involvement with the John Brown Raid. Winchester is only 30 miles away from Harpers Ferry.

For a road map of this tour thanks to the Maryland Office of Tourism , click here. As I was working on researching John Brown travel, their website was a huge help. For more John Brown events, click here.