From Frederick, we drove to Harpers Ferry, WVA, the scene of John Brown's raid on the armory there in 1859, which many historians point to as the event that led to the eventual outbreak of the war. Brown was a fierce abolitionist, believing that slavery was one of the greatest evils then existing, and also believing that armed insurrection by slaves was the only way to end it. He theorized that by capturing the armory in Harpers Ferry, which at the time held over 100,000 rifles along with ammunition, he could incite an uprising and arm the slaves with the weapons. He was something of a firebrand, and the paintings, as well as the actual photographs in the museum where we watched a series of videos about him and his raid, depict a man with a fervor blazing in his eyes that made him look like a really wild man. He had the financial backing of a small group of like-minded folks, who were later referred to as the Secret Six, and also recruited a small band of men to join him in the raid. The raid, of course, did not accomplish directly what Brown had hoped--no slave insurrection occurred, nor did any groundswell of support immediately rise up. Brown's raiders killed several people, but soon were overrun by the local forces and forced into an old firehouse where they were surrounded and kept until a contingent of Marines, under the command of then Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee, came to put down the raid. While reinforcements were on the way, a number of Brown's men were killed, their bodies dragged into the streets and mutilated by the local townspeople. Brown was wounded in the fray, captured and quickly taken to Richmond where he was tried, convicted and hanged. Though his hoped for slave insurrection didn't happen, many historians point to Brown's raid as the tipping point in the events that ultimately led to the war.
After we watched the videos we walked around the town and saw the firehouse, now referred to as John Brown's Fort, where he and his men were surrounded, as well as several other historical buildings in the town. One of the ironies, as is the case with many scenes where wars were previously fought, is that this is a really beautiful place, with lots of fall colors and gorgeous views--hard to imagine the bloodshed and violence that once occurred here. Had much of the same feelings when we got to Gettysburg later. Anyway, Trisha and I had visited Harpers Ferry one weekend 43 years ago when I was in the Army and we were living in D.C., but had not been back since. We recalled a beautiful fall day, where we stood above the convergence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, and took pictures. Somewhere at home we have some old slides from that visit, but I did find the spot where Trisha took my picture then so we could duplicate the scene after all these years!
We also visited the Appalachian Trail Headquarters, located in Harpers Ferry, which was a treat. We have so enjoyed hiking various parts of the Trail over the years, but we had never visited the headquarters. So we were glad to sign our names in the register and visit with some of the staffers to compare notes about the places we've hiked.
By now it was late afternoon, so we drove on to Gettysburg to spend the night. Turns out the place was packed, with lots of people coming to visit now that the park was opened again, so it took us a little time to find a campground that was not full, and for Mickey and Sharon to find a hotel. But, our good fortune continued, and, once again, we found a place that had one site left, and Mickey and Sharon found the last room in a nearby motel--whew!! Anyway, the campground, Drummer Boy, is a lovely place, and we ended up in what they call a seasonal site, in an area where folks leave their campers for the season and use them as a second home. As we drove in we saw lots of sites all decorated for Halloween and the place was full of activity! When I was checking in, the person at the desk told me that they have two Halloween weekends, with all sorts of events, including trick or treating among the seasonal sites, costume parades and contests and dances in their recreational hall--so great to see all these people out having fun among the wonderful smell of campfires and grilling food! Just after we got hooked up at our site and while waiting for Mickey and Sharon to come from their hotel to pick us up to go to dinner it started raining, but fortunately the rain ended during the night and no more is forecast for the rest of our week together.
Sunday we spent visiting the Eisenhower Farm and the Gettysburg battlefield. We started with the Eisenhower tour, which was really interesting. We learned so much about Ike and Mamie Eisenhower that we either didn't know at all or certainly had forgotten--that's been one of the great things about this trip, to learn or relearn so much of history in the various places we've been. Anyway, turns out that, while Eisenhower had grown up in Kansas, his ancestors had actually settled near Gettysburg, so he was naturally drawn to the area when he was looking for a place to settle in retirement after WWII ended. They bought a large rundown farm bordering the battlefield and renovated the house, adding to it, as well as redoing the farm buildings. He also developed a very successful Black Angus cattle herd, with lots of prize-winning show cattle, and I enjoyed touring the various barns and displays of his show cattle prize ribbons. The house has a big living room where Mamie, raised in a very affluent family, displayed lots of the formal furniture pieces and gifts they had received while he was President. The tour guide explained how Mamie liked this room and entertained her guests here, Ike never liked the formal setting and preferred to spend most of his time out on the porch, where he also did lots of his paintings. As the tour guide explained, when they redid the house the kitchen was described as "the kitchen of the future," so it was fun to see what at the time was considered cutting edge, like the Mixmaster mixer! Mamie dearly loved pink, so there were pink sofas, pink bedcovers, pink bathrooms, throughout the house--a little overdone for my taste. It was also interesting to relearn all the things Eisenhower did, e.g., being President of Columbia University, the first Commander of NATO, an informal advisor and mentor to Presidents and other leaders, as well as continuing to host foreign leaders on visits to the farm, where he pursued his personal diplomacy. He firmly believed that by talking to other leaders about everyday things and interests, he could eventually find something they had in common, which he believed would form the basis for productive discussions on issues of the day. And, though his first career had been as a military man, he strongly believed that the greatest challenge to humanity was to find peace in the world--all in all, a very interesting tour.
In the afternoon we took the bus tour of the battlefield, which was really interesting. We had visited the battlefield 42 years ago, during our Army days, when Trisha was pregnant with Shelley. We were there during the annual reenactment of the battle in July, and what stands out in our memory was that every time a cannon simulator sounded with a loud explosion, Shelley turned flips! We both recalled that the reenactment had taken place on the actual battlefield itself, but the guide yesterday told us that it takes place on private farmland nearby, since the National Park wants to preserve the historical site, and doesn't want thousands of people tramping all over it every year. We're not sure if our memories are wrong, or if this is a change since the early '70's. Anyway, the tour was really interesting, yet also really depressing to ponder the absolute insanity of war, the incredible loss of life and suffering affecting so many, to think that 620,000 were killed during this war and countless others severely wounded, just very sad.
The guide was really good, explaining the various movements of each of the three days of the battle, how neither side had actually planned to fight the battle here, but how it started with a chance encounter between a Confederate recon patrol and a Union unit, when neither Lee nor General Mead, the Union commander, were there. We toured Seminary Ridge, the main line of the Confederate forces, and then Cemetery Ridge, the Union lines, including Little Round Top, the focus of the battle on the second day, and then the fateful site of Pickett's Charge, which was the decisive fight on the third and final day, when Lee withdrew his forces after the incredible losses inflicted in that ill-fated action. As we stood atop Cemetery Ridge and looked down on the lower ground where the Confederate troops mounted the charge, just as I had been so many years ago, I was struck by the utter futility of this move. The guide did a good job of explaining the dispute between Lee and General Longstreet over the wisdom of this move, and how Longstreet, though he opposed the move, was most often given the blame for the ill- fated attack. This may have resulted some from the fact that Lee's orders to Longstreet to begin a movement earlier from the flank had gotten confused, so Longstreet's division didn't engage as initially planned. In any event, it was a horrible, horrible result, with the field littered with the bodies of soldiers and animals. What I had either not realized, or had just forgotten, was the incredible clean up job that was left to the citizens of Gettysburg after the battle when all the forces of both sides had left. Literally thousands of bodies were buried in shallow graves, and it was not until several years after the war that many of them were disinterred and returned to families for proper burial. Indeed, the guide explained that a body was discovered buried on the battlefield as recently as 1995--no wonder then, that one of Clara Barton's most significant efforts was to launch a program to locate soldiers missing in action.
Anyway, a very sobering reminder of one of the most difficult periods in American history.
Just a few shots from inside the Museum of Civil War Medicine--many of the exhibits were a bit too graphic to post--these first two are surgeon's instruments, and the third was a casket, with racks above and below for ice, to help preserve the body for transport.
An old gas pump for farm machinery, outside one of the barns