Hiking Through South Mountain History: The Civil War Sites Along the Appalachian Trail

Most of the public is unaware of what lies upon South Mountain when it comes to the rich Civil War history that took place along what we call the Appalachian Trail. This article will briefly describe all of the Civil War battlefields and related sites in Maryland as well as Pennsylvania in an effort to cultivate interest in the reader to explore these sites further. All of the areas discussed were either battle grounds or used by Union or Confederate troops from 1861-1864 for observation posts. Many Civil War historians and scholars are very surprised to learn that many of these sites along the A.T. are listed by name in the War of the Rebellion, a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

The Appalachian Trail, or the A.T. as many call it, is a trail system that is approximately 2,178 miles long starting at Springer Mountain, Georgia and ending at Mount Katahdin, Maine. It was first established on paper in 1921 by Benton MacKaye. Every year, thousands of people walk this famous trail. Some for a day, many for a weekend but there are several who attempt to walk the entire trail from beginning to end. Those who walk the whole trail usually begin in February due to the fact that it takes roughly six months to walk the entire trail. The reason most through hikers, as they are known, start in February is so that they can keep up with the climate. Starting in February gives them the opportunity to walk during comfortable weather temperatures and ensures that they will be in Maine before winter weather conditions set in. As trail hikers travel northward from Georgia it takes about three months before they come to South Mountain, entering Maryland roughly around mid-May to mid-June.

The A.T. in Maryland covers 41 miles along the ridge of South Mountain which was heavily fought over in September of 1862 and enters Pennsylvania near Pen Mar Park. From Pen Mar Park the first 24 miles of the A.T. in Pennsylvania covers two key areas where Union and Confederate troops clashed before and after the battle of Gettysburg.

In the state of Maryland, South Mountain covers three major Civil War campaigns. The first was known as the Maryland Campaign which took place during September of 1862 and was Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s first northern invasion. The second was the Invasion of Pennsylvania, better known as the Pennsylvania Campaign that took place from June 15 to July 14, 1863. The third and final campaign was known as Confederate General Jubal Early’s Maryland Campaign or commonly referred to as Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington that took place in July of 1864.

The first major Civil War site is located below Weverton Cliffs. The area where modern day route 340 runs through was occupied by Confederate troops during the Maryland Campaign of September 1862. Weverton Cliffs has a wonderful view of the water gap of Harper’s Ferry. From Weverton Cliffs, the next several miles of the A. T. walking northward became a battleground that was fought over during the Maryland Campaign.

Brownsville Pass, Maryland was the site of a Civil War battle on September 14th, 1862. It is where Confederate General Lafayette McLaws’ Infantry Division crossed South Mountain in preparations of the siege of Harper’s Ferry. Leaving General Paul Semmes behind and sending a small force to Crampton’s Gap, General Semmes, felt that a Union attack would most likely occur at Brownsville Pass. As the Union 6th Army Corps pressed on toward Crampton’s Gap, General Semmes positioned artillery on Brownsville Pass in order to bombard the Federal’s positions. By the time General Semmes realized that Crampton’s Gap was the target for the Federal 6th Corps, it was too late.

Gathland State Park, Maryland, was named after George Townsend, a Civil War correspondent, and was the scene of a major Civil War battle known as the Battle of Crampton’s Gap. Federal soldiers from the Union 6th Corps attacked a small band of Confederate soldiers at Crampton’s Gap during the evening of September 14th, 1862 and by night fall, Union troops occupied Crampton’s Gap. During the Pennsylvania Campaign and General Early’s Raid on Washington, it was used by Union troops for communications as well as an encampment. Today, Gathland State Park is known for its monument, the War Correspondents Arch that was drawn and financed by George Townsend and his closest partners. After the Civil War, George Alfred Townsend bought about a hundred acres of land to create his summer estate here.

Fox’s Gap, Maryland, is the site where the battle of South Mountain took place when Union and Confederate troops engaged early in the morning hours of September 14th, 1862. By days’ end the Confederate troops held Fox’s Gap but at a costly rate. Among the casualties of the Confederate troops was the loss of General Samuel Garland, killed during the morning of the battle. During the afternoon phase of the battle Drayton’s Confederate brigade of infantry lost about 60% of their force in a mere one hour of heavy fighting. Among the Union dead was General Jesse Reno, commander of the 9th Corps, killed toward the evening phase of the battle. Union wounded included future president Rutherford B. Hayes, who was wounded during the morning action of Fox’s Gap. During the Pennsylvania Campaign of 1863, Union troops occupied Fox’s Gap before and after the battle of Gettysburg. During General Early’s Raid on Washington the Confederate Department of South Western Virginia under the command of General John C. Breckenridge marched his troops over Fox’s Gap on July 8th, 1864 just before the battle of Monocacy that took place a day later.

Turner’s Gap, Maryland, is connected to Fox’s Gap by the old Wood Road which is also part of the Appalachian Trail at Turner’s Gap. Although most of the fighting took place toward the southern end of the gap, the South Mountain Inn served as the headquarters for Confederate Major General Daniel H. Hill during the Battle of South Mountain. A section of Confederate artillery under the command of Captain John Lane was stationed near Dalhgren Chapel. In 1863, the South Mountain Inn was used by Union General George Meade after the battle of Gettysburg. In 1864 during his march on Washington, General Early marched his corps over Turner’s Gap. On July 6th the First Maryland Cavalry skirmished with Union troops pushing them back to Middletown and on July 8th secured the site for General Early’s Army as they marched toward Frederick.

Washington Monument State Park, Maryland, was used by Union troops during both the Maryland Campaign and the Pennsylvania Campaign for communication purposes. The Washington Monument was built on July 4th, 1827, and was the first monument dedicated to the late George Washington. During the Civil War Union troops used Washington Monument as a signal station, especially during the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. A month later, Union troops occupied Washington Monument during Confederate General JEB Stuart’s Chambersburg Raid. It was used once more by Union troops during the pursuit of General Robert E. Lee’s retreat from Gettysburg in July of 1863 and during the Battle of Boonsboro that was fought on July 8th, 1863. Today Washington Monument overlooks the town of Boonsboro and offers a spectacular view of the Cumberland Valley.

Black Rock, Maryland, located near Wolfesville, was used by Union troops during the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg as an observation post. This area overlooks the Hagerstown area. At the time of the Civil War a road existed that led over South Mountain that from Wolfesville to Beaver Creek. Today traces of that road can still be seen near the Appalachian Trail.

Raven Rock, Maryland, located near Smithsburg was the scene of a cavalry battle that took place on July 5th, 1863 between Confederate General JEB Stuart and General Kilpatrick. After attacking Monterey Pass a few hours prior, General Judson Kilpatrick’s Cavalry Division took up positions on the outskirts of Smithsburg. Around 3:30 in the afternoon, General JEB Stuart’s Cavalry attacked Kilpatrick in and around Raven Rock Pass. Kilpatrick soon gave up the fight a fell back toward Boonsboro.

The Devil’s Racecourse, Maryland, is a series of glacier deposits that created a rock bed. During the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg, Confederate cavalrymen foraged the area and heard what appeared to be several rattle snakes. After the noise spooked the horses, a few cavalrymen dismounted and realized that a creek ran underneath the rock formations.

During the burning of Chambersburg in July of 1864 High Rock, located in Maryland, was used by Union troops. This is where they witnessed the smoke on the horizon and realized that Chambersburg had been burned by the Confederate Army. From High Rock, one can see the northern section of the Cumberland Valley as well as the Maryland portion of the Monterey Pass Battlefield. Waynesboro, and Greencastle Pennsylvania can also be seen in the background.

Pen Mar Park was once a resort era park in the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s. The Washington County, Maryland Park has a Maryland Civil War Trails wayside exhibit along the Appalachian Trail dedicated to the Retreat from Gettysburg. This wayside explains the Union cavalry movements from Monterey Pass in addition to General Stuart’s movements to Smithsburg.

Upon entering Pennsylvania, Old Waynesboro Road is the site of the Battle of Monterey Pass, Pennsylvania’s second largest Civil War battle and the only Civil War battle fought on both sides of the Mason and Dixon Line. Union cavalry under the command of General Judson Kilpatrick were ordered to destroy and break through this mountain gap in attempt to force General Robert E. Lee to take another route back toward Virginia. After midnight on July 5th, 1863, after several hours of fighting, Union cavalry broke through the Confederate battle line and captured about nine miles worth Confederate wagons as the column marched toward Williamsport after the battle of Gettysburg.

Caledonia Pennsylvania State Park is the site where on June 23rd Confederate cavalry skirmished with Union cavalry. On June 26th General Jubal Early’s troops burned the ironworks at Caledonia. These ironworks belonged to Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, whose radical antislavery views were widely known. After the battle of Gettysburg on July 4-5, 1863, Confederate General John Imboden led a wagon train of wounded through this area as they were headed back home to Virginia. Along with the wagon train of wounded, the wagon trains of Longstreet’s, portions of Hill’s corps along with Stuart’s divisional trains moved from here back toward the Potomac River.  On July 6, thousands of New York State National Guardsmen and Pennsylvania State Militia encamped in this area after emerging from the ridge of South Mountain.

Pine Grove Furnace State Park is where on July 4-5, 1863, thousands of New York State National Guardsmen and Pennsylvania State Militia encamped as they were ordered to Gettysburg. The weather had turned foul due to heavy rains and may creeks in this region overflowed their banks. The mountainous roads leading from Mount Holly Springs to Laurel Forge and Pine Grove Furnace were quickly torn up by thousands of soldiers marching upon them. It was a night to be remembered.

Today, as you hike the A.T. through Maryland as well as in Pennsylvania, imagine for one minute, that you are seeing many of these Civil War related sites that most Civil War buffs overlook as they travel to the much bigger destinations of Harper’s Ferry, Antietam or Gettysburg. The A.T. is such a wonderful recreational resource and it is there for everyone or anyone to experience. If you’re looking for something different to do for a day trip, I would highly recommend you taking a trip to these Civil War sites and if you have to walk a little bit, trust me it’ll worth every step. To the through hiker, good luck on getting to your much bigger destination in Maine.

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3 thoughts on “Hiking Through South Mountain History: The Civil War Sites Along the Appalachian Trail

  1. Bushman December 26, 2014 / 9:14 pm

    Reblogged this on Happy Hiker Trash and commented:
    Here is an excellent post about some of the Civil War history along the Appalachian Trail in the South Mountain area of Maryland/Pennsylvania.

  2. john t. Wilkins 111 January 26, 2016 / 11:17 am

    Fantastic looking areas–beautiful–I didn’t know if their any parts of WNC come into the history sites.

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