America's Best History Spotlight

On this page we're going to Spotlight the lesser known historic sites and attractions that dot the history landscape across the USA and are worth a visit if you're in their area. And while they may be lesser known, some are very unique, and will be that rare find. You'll be, at times, on the ground floor, or maybe even know something others don't. It'll be fun. Visit them.

South Mountain Battlefield

Battle of South Mountain, Middletown, Maryland

It's one of those engagements that preceded a more famous history event, but that doesn't mean the Battle of South Mountain is not important. From the Lost Orders of the Confederate Army before it to the Battle of Antietam that followed, the series of events in mid-September of 1862 would eventually lead to a Union victory and Emancipation. And yes, the Battle of South Mountain in the three gaps along its ridges; Turner, Fox, and Crampton, would have a significant role in those outcomes. So for any advocate or buff of the Civil War, a deke over to these ridges during your visit to Antietam or Harpers Ferry or Manassas is worth the time to see where the middle section of that story actually happened, to see for yourself the path and footsteps that would lead to freedom.

Photo above: Field of Battle at Fox's Gap, Battle of South Mountain, today, courtesy

  • Battle of South Mountain

    Battle of South Mountain

    Now don't expect a visit to the gaps of the this battlefield to be like visiting Antietam or Manassas. The important story to be told is still a bit of a mix as far as coordination and preservation of the land, and certainly not hyped nearly enough at either National Park which bookends its activity. However, interpretation at the beginning (at Washington Monument State Park) or end (Gathland State Park) has been taking a leaps and bounds turn to put it altogether for visitors. The exhibits at Gathland, housed in two historic buildings are wonderfully staged, clean and precise about the time and tenor of the South Mountain conflict. I'm not sure whether you should visit them in order or reverse (Gathland is wonderful), but I'd probably stick to the suggestions of the rangers there to head over to Washington Monument State Park, see the monument there (not Civil War related), look at the exhibits, and get a driving tour map.

    The first gap, Turner, is less interpreted than either Fox Gap or Crampton's Gap. At Fox Gap, beyond the trailhead to the Appalachian Trail that runs along the entire South Mountain ridges and parks, is a trail to the North Carolina Monument, the Reno Monument, and wayside exhibits. At Gathland State Park (Crampton's Gap) on the south end of the line, there are a myriad of exhibits and markers, not only in the two buildings mentioned above, but surrounding the parking area and large monument to War Correspondents that rises above the ridge. As stated before, the two museums here may not be Smithsonian in size, but after you visit, you'll have a true idea about the chronology of the battle and the correspondents who covered the Civil War. That's a story you may not get anywhere else, and may be worth the drive all on its own.

    Image above: War Correspondents Monument and battle waysides explaining the Battle of Crampton's Gap, Gathland State Park, Battle of South Mountain.

  • Battle of South Mountain

    What's There

    Washington Monument State Park - Museum/Visitor Center with exhibits and orientation on the Battle of South Mountain, plus the walking trails to the South Mountain's version of the Washington Monument itself.

    Self-guided driving tour - To the other parks in the area as well as the three gaps defended during the battle; Turner's Gap, Fox's Gap, and Crampton's Gap. Wayside markers and exhibits at all three. Crampton's Gap includes two museums and a large War Correspondent's Monument in Gathland State Park.

    How Much to Visit

    Free for the Civil War related sites. Greenbrier, north of most of these, is a state recreation park and does charge for day use and camping.

    Hours Open

    Park hours 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Museums at Gathland open on weekends with longer days/hours in the summer. Visitor Center/Museum at Washington Monument State Park open Thursday to Monday May to September and weekends in April and October. Check before going.

    Where Is It Located

    South Mountain is located near Middletown, Maryland, with easy access from Interstate 70, Route 40, or Alternate 40. There are four state parks along the ridgeline, including Greenbrier State Park (recreation, not Civil War), Washington Monument State Park, South Mountain Battlefield State Park, and Gathland State Park. We suggest starting at Washington Monument State Park, even though we didn't, to start at the beginning and get orientation about where and when. From Frederick, Maryland, take Interstate 70 West to Exit 42, Route 17 North, left on Monument Road to Zittlestown Road. 18 miles total. From Antietam National Battlefield, take Maryland 34 East to Boonsboro, turn right on Alt 40, then left on Zittlestown Road. Total 9 miles. Address of Washington Monument State Park is 6620 Zittlestown Road, Middletown MD 21769, for GPS fans.

    Washington Monument State Park.
    Gathland State Park.

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