Appalachian Trail on South Mountain Crosses Four Sites of the Civil War
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In 1862 Robert E. Lee brought his southern troops up into Maryland as the beginning of an invasion of the north during the American Civil War. General George B. McClellan of the Union Army of the Potomac had learned that Lee had divided his army between forces invading Harper’s Ferry and those stationed in Boonsboro, MD, to the west of South Mountain, in preparation for the invasion of northern cities to the east. To head off Lee, and take advantage of the split in his armies, McClellan attacked the southern armies at three gaps in South Mountain to push through to Boonsboro:
> Turner’s Gap near Boonsboro;
> Fox’s Gap near Boonsboro; and
> Crampton Gap a bit farther south.
Each of these three sites are National Heritage Landmarks.
The Appalachian Trail runs through each of these three gaps, and there are some things to see in each of them.
Additionally, there is a fourth site at High Rock, mostly without anything to see other than a great panoramic view of the valley. Union troops were stationed there to spy on southern troop movements in the north.
In the Battle of South Mountain, the Union forces had mixed results attacking the southern forces, which held Fox’s and Turner’s Gaps precariously until nightfall, and gave Lee time to reorganize. This was, however, sufficient victory to give the Union leadership a much needed morale boost. McClellan failed, however, to capitalize on Lee’s weakened position, allowing Harper’s Ferry to fall into the hands of southern forces, and leading up to the terrible and bloody battle of Antietam, which led to southern forces retreating back across the Potomac, and led to President Abraham Lincoln replacing McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac, for being not sufficiently aggressive in his tactics.
Turner’s Gap: The Old South Mountain Inn is located in this gap, just uphill from the Appalachian Trail. This inn was founded as early as 1732. In 1859, John Brown and his men, in an effort to free southern slaves, captured the inn as a staging area for his raid on the armory in Harper’s Ferry. In the Civil War Battle of South Mountain, the inn was the headquarters for southern General D. H. Hill. A later owner of the inn, Madeline Vinton Dahlgren, also built a stone chapel in 1881, a short distance from the inn, and that chapel stands today immediately next to the Appalachian Trail.
(Visit the photo gallery for Turner’s Gap).
Fox’s Gap: General Jesse Lee Reno led his troops in attacking this strategic gap, and was killed in the effort. A monument was later placed there by his men in his honor, and it remains there today, immediately next to the Appalachian Trail.
(Visit the photo gallery for Fox’s Gap).
Crampton Gap: This was the scene of the greatest Union success. Later, after the war, it became the home of George Alfred Townsend, a war correspondent during the Civil War, who wrote under the pen-name of Gath. During the Civil War he was an immensely popular writer, but his writing style later became less popular. On his estate in Crampton Gap, he erected the War Correspondents Arch, honoring those who risked their lives in his profession. His estate was known as Gapland, and is now a Maryland State Park called Gathland State Park.
(Visit the photo gallery for Crampton Gap / Gapland/ Gathland State Park).