Sunday, January 06, 2008

Battle of Shepherdstown

One of my New Years resolutions is to develop a working knowledge of that small but important battle that was the final act of Lee's 1862 Maryland Campaign: Shepherdstown.

By the way, there is an effort on the part of the indefatigable Senator Robert Byrd to make the site of the battle a National Park. There is activity in that direction on the part of many activists, preservationists, historians, and others. I certainly don't know which way this particular dime will drop, but I'd like to be ready.

To that end, I arranged for Santa to bring me the new book on the subject by Thomas A McGrath. I started reading it yesterday and at about fifteen pages in to it I'm enjoying it.

(UPDATE Jan 10 - I'm on page 122 and am enjoying the book, and the story, a lot. The author writes in a crisp and unadorned way which really lets the excitement of the action develop. I like it! The maps, however, are oversimplified and artistically sterile...I think I'll draw my own).

I also thought that prior to getting fully engrossed it might be a good idea to hop in the jalopy and head out to the site of the battle to get some pictures. This is the optimum time of year for that as the leaves are all down, otherwise this riverside area would be a mosquito infested jungle, the downside is that at this time of the year the lighting is marginal.

Nonetheless, a road trip is always a good idea especially when your destination is only about twenty minutes down that road!

The view from Ferry Hill Place (home of Henry Kyd Douglas) into Shepherdstown across the Potomac river. The site of the battle is about a mile downstream of town (to the left).

Ferry Hill Place from the foot of the new bridge.

My destination. The ruins of the old cement mill downstream. This is where the rookie 118th Pennslyvania Reserves had their baptism of fire. Those who insist today that McClellan made no effort to pursue the retreating Confederate army after Antietam, should pay some heed to the nearly 700 casualties of this fight.

Union troops took shelter in these cement kilns from the Confederate fire coming from above.

Confederate troops were on the high bluffs picking off the stranded Pennslyvanians.

The wide Potomac was at the Yankees' back.

The Rebel's commanding view from the bluffs. The road is in the foreground with the river beyond...did someone say "Ball's Bluff"?

War department tablets provide the only interpretation. I've no idea what they say, as there's no parking nearby.

When you visit the site be sure to wear sturdy shoes with good ankle support. This is a very rugged area. There is no actual parking, you'll simply have to find something that passes for a shoulder on this very narrow, limited-visibility, river road to pull off. The ruins of the cement plant and kilns are on the River side of the road, the Confederate positions are on the (very) steep high ground opposite. Keep in mind that when the leaves are out you won't be able to see much.

Note that there is mostly private property in the area, do respect the "No Trespassing" signs that are posted.

Let's see what the future brings for this important site.

Here's hoping!

Ranger Mannie


Anonymous said...

I just ordered the book! Thanks for your post and the photographs on this subject.

smoketownuniv said...

Thank you Ranger Mannie, we have enjoyed your many posts about the parks,being a ranger and a volunteer. We also enjoy your beautiful photos. Keep them coming!

King Cas said...

Thanks for bringing this important battle a little attention. Let us know how the book turns out.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post Mannie. I've got my own little trips to make to Shepherdstown, Maryland Heights,and Crampton's Gap. I just finished reading about Sheperdstown in Joseph Harsh's book, "Taken At The Flood" for the second time. (The first time was ten years ago. Its strange how I remember it differently. No, the Confederates still didn't win.) He gives some interesting reasons for McClellan not pursuing Lee. I'm not sure if I completely agree, but they do make sense.

John Nicholas

Steve H said...

Mannie, just wanted to let you know that I have been quietly enjoying your blog and that some of the folks from the rat race back in western Michigan are cheering for our favorite ranger. It's great to be able to take a mini-vacation to the beautiful Maryland countryside from time to time and to get a bonus lesson in history (and philosophy!). Hope to see you again soon!

CWBuff said...

Mannie, On this book by Thomas McGrath on the Battle of Shepherdstown, I have been reading it and I am unable to put it down. I have to disagree with you on the maps. Not being from the area, the simplified maps are absolutely wonderful compared to some I have seen that are incredibly tough to read and complicated. It is great that you are spreading the word; however, as preserving this hallowed ground is vitally important. KUDOS MANNIE!

Harry said...


I met the author in the Civil War Library & Museum in Philly a few years ago while he was researching his book. A good guy.

BTW, I sent you photos of the Shepherdstown tablets showing the text. Did you get them?