Located seven miles west of Emmitsburg, MD, in the small South Mountain community of Blue Ridge Summit is Pennsylvania’s second largest Civil War battle. This was also the only battle that took place on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line during the four years of the Civil War. The Battle of Monterey Pass was fought during the night of July 4-5, 1863, as the advance of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia withdrew from Gettysburg, and engaged Union cavalry that was ordered to locate, harass, and block the important mountain gap. The Battle of Monterey Pass was one of several battles to be fought during the Confederate retreat as they moved to Williamsport, MD, and eventually crossed the Potomac River into West Virginia.
Several key players of the battle included young Union Brigadier General George A. Custer who led the Michigan Brigade. During the battle, Union Major Charles Capehart of the 1st West Virginia Cavalry led his regiment and assisted in the destruction of several miles worth of Confederate wagons. In 1898, he received the Medal of Honor for his actions at Monterey Pass.
For the Confederate army, Captain George Emack led his company of the 1st Maryland Cavalry against a superior force and held his ground, allowing reinforcements to come to his aide. Confederate Brigadier General William Jones commanded all Confederate forces that fought at Monterey Pass, and his decision making process allowed the Confederates to keep hold of Monterey Pass, securing the route that General Robert E. Lee would use during the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg.
During the battle, more than 1,300 Confederates were taken prisoner, leaving several dozen wounded and killed. The Union cavalry led by Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick lost more than 75 men who were captured, wounded, or killed.
As of April 22, 2015, the Friends of the Monterey Pass Battlefield, Inc. are proud to announce that the battlefield at Monterey Pass has grown with the preservation of 116 acres of core land. The land was paid for by two Franklin County, Pennsylvania grants that allowed Washington Township to purchase the 116 acre piece of ground that has historical significance not only with the Battle of Monterey Pass, but as a roadway (the Great Wagon Road) that was established in 1747, that was one of two roads leading from Philadelphia to Appalachia. In addition, 1.5 acres of land was purchased from the Blue Ridge Summit Lions Club Park to have safe access to the township property.
For the past five years, the Friends of the Monterey Pass Battlefield, Inc. have been hard at work preserving this very important, but forgotten, Civil War battlefield in Pennsylvania. Their efforts, along with Washington Township, have really shown through since the purchase of the first acre of land in 2011. Since then, a driving tour with interpretive waysides tells the story of battle. Now, a museum that features maps, interpretive panels and artifacts help explain the battle and other important Civil War history related to the site. The museum first opened in 2014 and is open weekends from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., April through November.
The newly acquired property is a great addition to the park. Visitors will now see the original Maria Furnace Road, known as the Fairfield Road. The origins of this road span over 260 years of history. But it was during the Confederate Retreat from Gettysburg, that this road became famous, and was extensively written about by those Confederate and also Union soldiers who marched upon it.
The road was also a key Confederate battle position. As additional Confederate troops arrived from Fairfield Gap, they were able to fend off any attempts to block the road. Skirmishers deployed on both sides of the road and began their advance toward the main pass. Several of the features such as rocky terrain are visible and will help visitors understand the conditions in which this battle was fought.
The overall management plan calls for several interpretive trails, complete with waysides that will allow visitors to follow the events during the night of July 4-5, 1863. Also, interpretive themes will include the Confederate Retreat and the Union Pursuit through Monterey Pass that took place on July 5-6, 1863. Once these trails are interpreted and mapped out, the plan is to begin opening the land to the public. For the first time in decades, people will be able to access portions of the battlefield and get a first-hand look as to why this battle was so confusing and harsh.
The overall education and interpretive programs plan is to be able to conduct living history and education programs in two designated areas. These programs will have a strict guideline, and tell the story of the Civil War soldier just after the battle of Gettysburg. Living history groups that meet our standards of interpretation, historic weapons safety, and uniform authenticity policies will then be able to come onto the township park and perform many programs. These programs will help visitors to understand and visually see how things may have been conducted 152 years ago. We want to tell the story of the average Civil War soldier and tie in his experiences to the site.
Last week, inventory of the property was conducted and trails marked out. As interpretive waysides are produced and mounted, these trails could open as early as within a few months for the private and personal benefit of the public, depending on financial support. Maps with distances, in depth information, and trail information will help educate and navigate visitors on the Monterey Pass Battlefield Park.