"A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect that it will cease to be divided."Abraham Lincoln 1858
The ensuing Civil War was the bloodiest conflict ever endured by America. Although virtually every state in the Union was involved in the conflict, many of the pivotal battles and events took place in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia.
Crossing the Potomac
It's fitting that our tour begins not far from the Potomac River in Leesburg, VA, a town named after an ancestor of the iconic leader of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia - Robert E. Lee. I meet riding partner Jeff Arpin, on his silver Honda ST 1300, for breakfast at the Leesburg Restaurant before embarking on our five-day tour of Mid-Atlantic Civil War sites.
Crossing the Potomac River aboard White's Ferry, we're not far from where Lee's army forded the river during its two invasions of the North. The Confederate flag flapping in the breeze on the far shore is a reminder that many people in border-states, like Maryland, were divided in their support between the North and South; some of those divergent loyalties are still apparent 140 years later.
Low hanging, leaden clouds greet our arrival in Maryland. The rain starts slowly, at first, but soon intensifies as we work our way along tree-shrouded, rain-slick backroads that once were the likely path followed by invading Confederate soldiers. In Frederick, MD we stop for a tour of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.
The two-story building houses exhibits of both the medical implements used by doctors and life-sized scenes of typical battlefield medical stations during the Civil War.
The docent tells us that the practice of medicine in the 1860s had not advanced much from the way it was administered by the ancient Greeks. Bloodletting and amputations were a common form of treatment and, because there was no germ theory at this time, most Civil War deaths were the result of infection, not bullets.
After a bountiful lunch at Johanssons in the picturesque college town of Westminster, MD, we meander further north under a now clear cerulean sky that lifts our spirits and quickens our pace. At mid-afternoon we take a break in Union Mills for our next site.
The historic Shriver Homestead and Grist Mill was home for six generations of the Shriver family. Like many other families during the Civil War, their allegiance was split between the North and South. The working gristmill is powered by the gentle flow of a burbling brook. The waterwheel turns, and inside the mill's grindstones produce cornmeal and flour.