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.
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 americasbesthistory.com.
Info, What's There Now, History Nearby
Battle of South Mountain, Maryland
Now don't expect a visit to the gaps of 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. First, head over to Washington Monument State Park, and see the first monument to George Washington there (no, not Civil War related), then look at the exhibits, electric map of the Battle of South Mountain, and get a driving tour map. Remember to call ahead if you really want to see the small museum. It's hours seem flexible.
The first gap, Turner, is less interpreted than either Fox Gap or Crampton's Gap and easy to miss (left before turn onto Alt 40). 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 that are wonderfully stage, 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. Below: View from the top of the first monument dedicated to George Washington over the valleys toward Antietam.
Where Is It
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, where the first monument to George Washington is located, 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.
Minute Walk in History - South Mountain
Take a walk around the park and its four major spots on a self-guided tour of Washington Monument State Park and the major gaps of Turner, Fox, and Crampton's where the fighting in the Battle of South Mountain took place. The narration is from Colonel Torbert of the New Jersey regiments who fought at Crampton's Gap (Gathland) under General William Franklin.
What is There Now
Washington Monument State Park - Museum/Visitor Center with exhibits and orientation on the Battle of South Mountain, battle map, plus the walking trails to the South Mountain's version of a Washington Monument, actually the first dedicated to the commander of the Continental Army and first President. There are also picnic tables and restrooms.
Self-guided driving tour - To the other parks in the area as well as the three major gaps defended during the battle; Turner's Gap, Fox's Gap, and Crampton's Gap. Wayside markers and exhibits at all three. It is easy to miss the Turner's Gap exhibits. They are located at the end of Monument Road with its parking lot on the left side before you get to the stop sign at Alt 40. Fox's Gap is best accessed from Route 67 and includes a walking trail, Reno's Monument, and other Civil War Trust saved land across the street. Crampton's Gap includes two museums and a large War Correspondent's Monument in Gathland State Park. Gathland also has picnic tables and restrooms.
When Open and How Much
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. Park hours 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Museums at Gathland are open on weekends with longer days/hours in the summer. Visitor Center/Museum at Washington Monument State Park used to be open Thursday to Monday May to September, although in late September they had gone to their off season hours of weekends through March. Apparently still Thursday to Monday May to their anniversary weekend in late September. Evolving, so check before going.
Fees and hours are subject to change.
Washington Monument State Park
South Mountain State Park
South Mountain State Battlefield
Gathland State Park
So what else is there to do near South Mountain? Well, there's the four state parks there for history and recreation. Greenbrier State Park has boating, camping, hiking, etc., and might be a good place to stay for those camping and visiting the South Mountain Battlefields. Not far away are the National Battlefields of Manassas, Monocacy, Antietam, and Harpers Ferry, plus the hundreds of miles of Potomac River that winds beside the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Park.
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