Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Frederick, MD, Harpers Ferry, WVA, Gettysburg

Saturday we pulled out of Baltimore, and headed on a tour of some Civil War history.  We first stopped in Frederick, MD, to visit the Museum of Civil War Medicine.  Since Mickey is a doctor, he was particularly interested in seeing this exhibit, but we found it quite interesting as well.  The museum is right in downtown Frederick, and is a combination of recreated scenes with mannequins in uniforms and period clothes, and actual equipment from that time.  There are examples of surgical tools, hospital and pharmaceutical supplies, as well as letters from physicians, hospital staff and soldiers.  Some of it is quite graphic and pretty gruesome--don't worry, no pics of the really tough stuff--but it is a remarkable display of the state of the art at the time.  When you realize that so much of what we all take for granted today, like the importance of sterilization of medical instruments, was either not known, or impossible to do given the conditions in the field, it's really amazing.  One of the things I had always understood about Civil War medicine--that so many limbs and extremities were amputated in the field totally without anesthesia--turned out to be a popular misconception.  The exhibits explained that, while this did happen sometimes, over 95% of all such operations were done with anesthesia.  During the war, many soldiers felt like the field surgeons were amputating unnecessarily and thus the rise of the moniker "sawbones."  The primary reason was the extremely high risk of gangrene and other infections, especially when bullets or other metal shrapnel was still in a person's body.  In fact, far more of the more than 650,000 total deaths during the war were attributed to some sort of disease brought on by infection than by actual war wounds.  There were also letters from nurses and chaplains, talking about the emotional stresses of dealing with so much death and suffering.  Very sobering displays.  Also learned about a doctor named Jonathan Letterman, who designed an ambulance system for moving wounded soldiers from the battlefield to field hospitals and eventual evacuation to more advanced hospitals for treatment.  This became known as the Letterman System and has been the basis for wartime medical evacuations ever since, as well as for things like moving injured people from sites of other disasters, and even how to deal with things like someone having a heart attack in a grocery store.  Mickey said he learned about the Letterman System when he was in medical school, but had forgotten that it came from the Civil War.  There were also displays about how the many disfiguring injuries led to the development of more plastic and reconstructive surgery techniques, as well as occupational therapy for wounded soldiers.

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.

 In Harpers Ferry, along the street where the John Brown Museum is located

 Looking down on the Potomac
 And the Susquahanna

Wagon outside the old firehouse, where John Brown and his raiders were captured
 The four of us, outside the firehouse, commonly referred to as John Brown's Fort
 Inscription on the side of the firehouse, a little difficult to read, but worth the effort
 Looking up at the side of this mountain, above the train tracks
 Remnants of an advertisement for some sort of body powder, painted on the side of the rock; when the National Park Service took over this area, they didn't want this sign there, so they made an attempt to cover it over, but you can still see the faint lettering
 Looking into the firehouse

 Inside the John Brown Museum, photos and a painting of John Brown

 Looking out over the confluence of the two rivers, these next few shots are of the same spot where Trisha photographed me in the fall of 1970

 Looking back down into Harpers Ferry
 Beautiful stone wall along the main street

Storer College, near the Appalachian Trail Headquarters
 Some beautiful colors at the Harpers Ferry visitor center

Jumping ahead to Eisenhower's Farm, this is a little guest cottage the Eisenhowers built as they redid the main house
 Front of the main house they redid
 A pouffe, similar to one that had been given to the Eisenhowers as a gift from some French dignitary that was in the White House.  Apparently Mamie begged Ike to buy one for this home, but he steadfastly refused.  Not to be deterred, Mamie appealed to her mother, who gave them this one as a housewarming gift when the renovation was complete.   So how could Ike refuse it, right?  Of course he never used it and rarely went into the formal living room.
 Some iconography, and marble carvings displayed in a china cabinet in the living room, where Mamie liked to display gifts she and Ike had received from foreign leaders
 A beautiful pearl-inlaid table from the Korean government as a thank you to Ike for successfully ending the Korean War.
 A portrait of Ike hanging in the living room; as the guide explained, Ike always thought of this as his favorite portrait, mainly because it showed him in his field uniform, without his chest full of decorations, a reflection of his humble beginning--you can't really tell this due to the poor lighting, but the room was quite dark and you were not allowed to use flash
 An easel with one of his paintings, set up on the back porch, where he loved to sit and reflect, as well as paint
 The sofa on the porch
 Formal dining room
 Though Mamie, a socialite, came from a wealthy, upper-class family, her sense of humor is reflected by the fact that she bought this presidential plate at a nearby Stuckey's, and had it on display along with some much more elegant and expensive things
 Ike's chair and slippers in his dressing room
 Portraits he did of his two oldest grandchildren
 Rather intricate painted doorknob on one of the bathrooms
 Look at all the pink!

 One of several TVs in the house

 The maid's room--note the ironing board cover that matched the bedspread!
 Two of Ike's paintings, now hanging in the upstairs hallway

 The "kitchen of the future!"

 His man cave, downstairs, his favorite red chair, a deep fireplace with Civil War musket above it
 Elegant inlaid game table

 His office, which was quite small, right by the back door; note the early model dictation machine

 Outside the back door
 The view from the front of the house
 Front of the house
 Looking out toward the outbuildings of the cattle farm

 One of several Black Angus, outside the "loafing shed."  A farmer still works the farm, and one condition is that he always maintains a certain number of Black Angus cattle on the farm

An old gas pump for farm machinery, outside one of the barns
 Can you believe the price of gas??
 Looking down into the show barn, where he kept his prize Black Angus show cattle
 Some of his ribbons won at shows
 At the time state-of-the-art heated washroom for the show cattle
The first picture below is the helicopter landing pad--the second is the story board that explains that he was the first president to use helicopters to fly him from DC to his farm and to Camp David

The command center for the Secret Service agents, located in the original milking barn near the house
 Amusing to see how far technology has advanced since this state-of-the-art system for surveillance and communication!
 Shot of the rear of the house
Some shots of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg; only Union soldiers are buried here

 Site of some of the fighting of the first day of the battle

 Looking from Seminary Ridge, the Confederate lines, toward Cemetery Ridge, where the Union forces held the higher ground
Some of the monuments to forces of the Confederacy--since the Union won, many of the monuments to  Union forces were erected soon after the commemoration of the battlefield began; it was not until many years later that any monuments to Confederate forces were put up.  Also, the initial monuments were put up by veterans' groups, and it took quite a few years for the southern economy to recover sufficiently for veterans' groups to have the resources to do it

 One of the Confederate cannon positions along Seminary Ridge
Another picture of the Eisenhower Farm
 This statue of General Longstreet, placed back in the woods, not very visible; according to the guide much of the reasoning for his statue being in a far less than prominent position and much smaller was that many in the South viewed him as the scapegoat for the Confederate defeat here
 Looking across the battlefield to Cemetery Ridge, and some of the monuments to the Union forces

Shots taken from atop Little Round Top, the location of the Union forces, where much of the fighting of the second day took place

 Looking down on Devil's Den, which changed hands several times during the second day
 A statue on the top of Little Round Top
 44 ft. high monument to the New York 44th Division--reminded us of some of the sand sculptures we'd seen on Vancouver Island!

 The largest monument on the Union side was to honor the Pennsylvania troops, with the names of every PA soldier who fought here inscribed
 Winged Victory atop the Pennsylvania monument
Looking down from the Union position on the third day, the site of Pickett's charge
 This photo doesn't give the real depth perception of the uphill path the Confederate forces had to take, but as 12,000 troops, in a formation a mile wide, began charging across the mile long valley from Seminary Ridge, the Union forces, behind this stone wall, had the far greater advantage of firing down from the high ground
 The site of the only breach of the Union position by Confederate forces, which only lasted a few minutes before they were mowed down, commonly referred to as The Angle, where this 90 degree angle was formed by the intersection of two stone walls, which had served as farmers' boundary lines prior to the battle
 Some of the Union cannon positions, where they rained down artillery fire on the approaching Confederate troops

 Statue of General Mead, the commander of the Union forces
 Mickey, surveying the scene from atop one of the cannons!


  1. Wonderful post..............


  2. I've stolen some of your photos. Especially love this one of Mickey.

    1. You're welcome to use any of the photos, Sharon! This picture of Mickey astride this cannon just conjures up so many hilarious thoughts, given Mickey is who he is!!