“The Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.”
—Shelby Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative
Mid-Atlantic Civil War Trails
Between 1861 and 1865, Civil War battles raged across the U.S. Some of the most bitterly contested territory, however, was within a day’s travel from the nation’s capital. Points of interest in this vicinity reflect the depth of our national rupture, when the future of the United States was in peril. Bruce Read, my wife Karen, and I are based in historic Leesburg, VA, about 30 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., for this Shamrock Tour®.
Antietam—A Very Bloody Wednesday in Maryland
Pockets of armed conflict over slavery began several years before South Carolina seceded from the Union and later attacked Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Radical abolitionist John Brown rented the deceased Dr. Kennedy’s farmhouse in rural Maryland to gather co-conspirators and plan their assault on the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, VA (today’s West Virginia).
Brown planned to forcibly seize weaponry from the Federal arsenal and distribute it to slaves, triggering an armed uprising. But few slaves thought it a good idea to start a shooting war with the U.S. military, and so most declined the offer. Colonel Robert E. Lee and a company of U.S. Marines were dispatched to put down the attack. Brown was wounded and 10 of his men were killed. The 59-year-old abolitionist was found guilty at his trial in November 1859 and went to the gallows in December. His execution was attended by several future Confederates, such as Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and actor John Wilkes Booth. Before execution, Brown made an ominous prediction: