Thursday, October 16, 2014

Great Falls National Park, Antietam Battlefield and Family

I was on my way to Alexandria VA where a college friend lives with her husband and kids. The last time I was there, they had a recent addition to the family. Now she was two and a half and a big sister. I actually ended up staying with them two weekends in a row and am just amazed how they handle it all.  I'll post more on our weekends together later. 

Monday after the first weekend (September 22), I was headed towards New Jersey to see some other friends and needed to get my plan together. It's usually only a day or two beforehand that I look at the maps to determine my route, and then it always seems to change a little along the way. Thank goodness for my car's navigation! I decided on Great Falls National Park and then heading to Antietam, my first battlefield visit. 

It was Monday, so I waited for morning traffic to clear and was still one of the first to the park in northern Virginia. All over were these signs about danger and not to go into the water. I feel like a lot of people must drown in this area. The water was very clear and looked pretty deep in places. There are three viewing platforms to see the falls and rapids which are just amazing to see the force of water. Then there are plenty of trails to walk as well. I went down one that takes you along the bluffs/canyon, high above the Potomac. You could see people on the other side as well, just sitting in the sun, enjoying a beautiful view. On the return trip, I hiked along the old canal. There use to be a system of locks to move boats down the river while sidetracking the rapids. It was really neat. 

During this time, I was texting my aunt and uncle from Milwaukee. I had talked to them at the wedding and they were going to be on vacation in the same area. I let them know I planned to visit Antietam later in the day (targeting 1pm) but it looked like I would just miss them as they were headed there that morning and then were off to other places. Unfortunately, it probably wouldn't work out to meet them. 

I kept walking around - the weather was perfect, beautiful, sunny, cool breeze, not too hot. I probably didn't end up leaving until almost 1pm. 

I got on the road and it of course took a little longer than planned, so I probably arrived to Antietam around 2:30. I actually headed for Antietam Creek as there were suppose to be some campgrounds nearby and easily accessible. I wanted to head there first to check it out so that I wasn't pressed for daylight after visiting the battlefield. I found the campgrounds. Looked pretty nice and completely empty. It was not manned, but there were reservation slips that work on the honors system and it was $10/night. Perfect :). I figured I had plenty of time and options since it was empty and headed into town (Sharpsburg, MD) to tour the battlefield. I was stopped at a light and saw a car coming from my right and they made a left turn in front of me. Hmmm...that driver looked like my uncle. The plates were Wisconsin. Could it be? I called my aunt and asked if they were at Antietam. She said they were on their way and I told her that I thought she was in front of me! Turns out she had texted me their change in plans but I hadn't seen it and just happened upon them. Sort of a planned, yet unplanned meeting :). 

We watched the movie inside that set up the history of the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest two day battle of the Civil War. We also went around the museum area and the viewing area that tries to point out key landmarks. The battlefields were quite large, so the parks program also has a self guided driving tour that helps you move around, get closer and get a better field for the battle. There are also lots of monuments along the way for those that fought and died in the battle. My aunt and uncle had been to Gettysburg before and mentioned how this was a smaller battlefield and made it easier to conceive what really happened. So I was glad to have started here and left Gettysburg for a later day. Although it still is not the easiest thing to picture cornfields as battlefields. :)
Here's a good map from

We went for dinner in town and they got on the road to Baltimore and I headed back to the campground. 

This was about a month ago. It was nice to meet family and have someone to tour with rather than doing it on my own. It was especially nice because my uncle was what I would consider a history buff. He had added info and provided some perspective on what was going on. In recent years he had gotten into battle reenactments and was part of a medical team. I've forgotten the official name/title, but he shared lots of stories that afternoon from those events. There were some medical instruments in the museum he showed me. He talked about some of the differences between the Confederate and Union groups (he had uniforms to act in either role). Over dinner he shared some of the tactics to demonstrate wounds and caring for them, even how they simulated a limb amputation. Their next engagement was down in Georgia, right around the time I'd be travelling from Florida to Texas. 

Today I'm flying home for his funeral. While in Georgia, he suddenly passed away. It has been such a shock to my dad's family and me.  I haven't spoken with my aunt or my cousin but I can't imagine what they are going through. He was always full of energy, had lots of smiles and would try to get a good laugh from whoever was around. He will be greatly missed. 

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