Thursday, October 23, 2014

Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland

One place we didn't want to miss, on our tour of Civil War battlefields, was Antietam, located near Sharpsburg, Maryland - just three hours south of where we are (temporarily) located in Pennsylvania.  It was following this Union victory that President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation designed to further weaken the Confederacy.

Antietam is considered the bloodiest one-day battle the United States has ever experienced.  There were more casualties in this one day than in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Mexican War combined.  Antietam had even more casualties than we experienced during D-Day.

We began our visit at the small museum explaining the battle that took place on September 17, 1862, a year and a half into the Civil War.  Confederate forces had won more of the battles, at this point in the war, and President Lincoln sorely needed a Union victory.

Antietam was General Lee's first foray onto Union soil and General George McClellan was trusted to repel this Confederate attack.

Lee placed his artillery line of the high ground adjacent the Dunker Church.  Many of the same generals who would fight at Gettysburg, the following July, were here at Antietam.  General Lee's youngest son, Robert E. Lee, Jr., was a member of the Rockbridge artillery.

Like the other Civil War battlefields we've visited, Antietam has it's share of military monuments........

.........and cannon.......

.........but what was surprising is the number of farms that were caught in the middle of this bloody conflict.

This farm lane served as a breastwork for the Confederate center.  For about three hours 2,200 Confederates held off the attacks of the combined Union force numbering nearly 10,000.  Finally, the thin gray line collapsed and fell back to the Piper farm.  The Union attackers had suffered too many casualties to pursue them.  Seeing the dead on the road, an observer wrote, "They were lying in rows like the ties of a railroad, in heaps like cordwood mingled with the splintered and shattered fence rails.  Words are inadequate to portray the scene."

500 Confederate soldiers held the area overlooking the Lower Bridge for three hours before General Burnside's command finally captured the bridge and crossed Antietam Creek, which forced the Confederates back toward Sharpsburg.

When the battle of over, the tiny town of Sharpsburg was overwhelmed by the number of casualties.  Of the nearly 100,000 soldiers engaged in battle, about 23,000 were killed, wounded, or missing but the Union Army held the field.

Most of the soldiers were buried where they had fallen.  Although, when troops came marching through Sharpsburg again, as they headed toward Gettysburg, they found many bodies still unburied and personal belongings scattered all over the field.  Later, a total of 4,776 Union soldiers were reinterred in the new National Cemetery.  A good one third of them are unknown.

Just a mile away from the battlefield is the Pry House where General McClellan had set up his headquarters to direct the Union troops.  The Pry family were a prosperous farming family who evacuated before the battle.

When they returned to their farm they discovered so much loss they could never financially recover, despite claims to the Federal government.  They sold their farm and re-located to Tennessee.

Following the battle, President Lincoln visited McClellan's headquarters where he admonished the General for being too timid and not pursing the Confederate Army.  This was General McClellan's last battle as leader of the Union Army.

Today, it is privately owned and dedicated to the medical advancements made during the Civil War.

It was the first war where a new type of wagon was used as ambulances.

No more Civil War battlefields to visit this year.  Soon we'll be headed home to Arizona.  But, I still have one more trip to share - Washington, D.C.!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Pennsylvania State Fair

Every year nearby Bloomsburg is the site of the Pennsylvania State Fair.  The fair is considered such a big attraction that even area schools are dismissed for the entire week it is operating.  Families go back multiple days in order to enjoy all it has to offer.

 Naturally, we had to see what the excitement was all about.

There were the usual food stands.  No Indian fry bread here, but there were apple dumplings and pierogies.

There were lots and lots of beautiful apples in competition to see which ones were the best..... any vegetable you could imagine.

Competition among farmers and homemakers was fierce.

If you had a collection, of any sort, you could enter it in the fair too.

I particularly liked this collection.

There was even a chance to learn a little about Pennsylvania history.

However, one of my favorite places, of any fair, are the livestock barns.

Pennsylvania has some good looking livestock too.

One thing we don't have at the Arizona State Fair are draft team competitions.

I don't think this little guy qualified but he certainly was cute.

There was also a busy fairway with rides and games but we passed that by.  The fair was a huge success and we had a great time!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fort George and Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada

After viewing Niagara Falls we did a little shopping and a sales lady told us about a British fort and lovely little town on Lake Ontario just north of the falls, so off we went!

The British fort was built between 1796 and 1799 to guard the strategic river mouth and the town of Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake).  There was also great concern about the threat of an American invasion on this isolated and vulnerable settlement.

It was interesting to read about the British viewpoint of the War of 1812 in the fort's displays.  In Canada, Americans are viewed as the aggressors when, at school, we were taught that British actions were the cause of the war. 

 In fact, in May 1813 a massive bombardment by American artillery batteries pounded the fort into a smoking ruin leaving the powder magazine as the only building to survive.

Two days later, the Americans invaded forcing the British to withdraw.  The Americans re-fortified the site and occupied it, and the town, for the next seven months.  In December, the Americans abandoned Fort George and the British re-occupied it.

It was finally abandoned in the late 1820s but, more than a century later, was reconstructed to its pre-1813 appearance.  These are the blockhouses.  They served as barracks, store houses and the last line of defense for the garrison.

Officers were expected to live like gentlemen, even on the frontier.  They attempted to re-create their quarters to the standards they were accustomed to in Great Britain.

Some furniture was brought from home and some was purchased from local cabinetmakers or tradesmen.

Elaborate mess rules were established and social life because a military version of civilian "high society."  Dinners were sophisticated affairs complete with fine silverware and china.

Even junior officers were allowed to bring half a ton of personal belongings to make their stay at any outpost more comfortable.

This building provided the officers' mess with elaborate full-course dinners.  Army cooks and civilian cooks  hired in the nearby town were expected to be able to prepare traditional British delicacies.

Enlisted men didn't have it so easy.  Deserters, drunken soldiers, and other unfortunates were to confined to small dark cells.  Flogging was the punishment for most offences.

After touring the fort (I have LOT more pictures of it) we walked to Niagara-on-the-Lake for some lunch.  It is a beautiful little town.

We even got to enjoy a parade of Boy Scouts dressed in 1812 garb.  Canada is celebrating 200 years of peace and 2014 marks the anniversary of some of the heaviest fighting to take place during the War of 1812.

A couple more souvenir photos of our time in Canada.........

...........and we joined the crowd trying to get back into the United States.  Not to worry though - we're back in Pennsylvania and our adventures continue.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Niagara Falls

It wasn't our anniversary but we decided we should see the falls since it was only a four hour drive north of here.  Everyone said the best viewing was from the Canadian side and, fortunately, we had packed our passports.

The falls are located on the Niagara River which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario.

We're early risers so we had no trouble crossing the border at the Rainbow Bridge right next to the American Falls.  (It was another story coming back across!)

After paying $20.00 for parking we walked through the Welcome Center.......

.......and emerged for our first good look at the falls.

Niagara Falls actually consists of three falls:  the American Falls, Horseshoe Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls.  Horseshoe Falls is the most powerful in North American falling 188 feet.

It's difficult to understand why 14 people have intentionally gone over the falls.  Some survived, some drowned and others were severely injured.

The American Falls, the smallest of the three falls, drop a mere 70 - 100 feet.

Tour boats from the American and Canadian sides get in close for a look at the falls.  On July 9, 1960 a seven year old boy, wearing only a life vest, accidentally went over the falls.  The tour boat Maid of the Mist got in close and threw him a life ring.  He was completely uninjured, becoming the only person to go over the falls accidentally and survive. 

Soon, we said good-bye to the falls and headed down river (which was actually north) to a beautiful little town called Niagara-on-the-Lake and the historic British Fort George.  We had to make the most of our time in Canada!