Monday, September 14, 2015

Day 77: Battle of South Mountain

May 23: There’s a lot of history that’s happened on the Appalachian Trail even before it existed. Early in the morning, it would be walking through the South Mountain battlefield. It was a battle that took place during the Civil War and not a particularly large or notable one as far as battles are concerned. For A.T. hikers, however, it’s one of the more significant battlefields we’d be hiking through because it’s actually on the trail. The better known battles like Gettysburg and Antietam happened near the trail, but not actually on it. (Gettysburg, as I recall, is about 15 miles to the east of the trail, and the Antietam battlefield is even visible in the distance from the Washington Monument that I’d be passing later in the afternoon.)


This informational signs on the battlefield are all I know about the Battle of South Mountain. (Fox’s Gap is the specific gap that the trail passed through and where some of the heaviest fighting took place.)


I don’t really know much about the Battle of South Mountain since it didn’t show up in my history books and everything I now know about it was learned from the signs marking the battlefield. This particular battle took place during the Antietam campaign on September 14, 1862. At the end of the day, the Union held the field of battle while the Confederates retreated down the mountain. It was part of the maneuvering of Union and Confederate forces that occurred leading up to the much larger Battle of Antietam three days later several miles off-trail.


I spent about 30 minutes wandering around the battlefield reading the informational signs and even followed a short, half-mile trail off the Appalachian Trail to see even more of it.


Continuing on the trail, I passed the Washington Monument—the first monument ever built in honor of George Washington and a signal location that was used during the Battle of Antietam (and from which the Antietam battlefield can be seen—albeit at a distance).


Then I passed the Annapolis Rocks. The actually rocky view was a bit off trail and I made the off-trail trek to see it and get photos. I passed by during my first thru-hike and missed it and had no intention of repeating that mistake! There were tons of day hikers milling about and I found them somewhat underwhelming. There are some nice views, but they weren’t any better than the view from Black Cliffs which was far less crowded and closer to the trail. I’m not entirely sure where the trailhead for dayhikers was located, though. It might have been more crowded at Annapolis Rocks just because it’s closer to a parking lot for all I know.


It’s historic, I tell you! The sign even says so!!!


Consequently, I took a few photos at Annapolis Rocks then immediately left and continued on. Upon reaching the view at Black Cliffs, I stopped for a lunch break to enjoy the view and only shared it with two other day hikers who had made it out that far.


The day, for the most part, was fairly uneventful. There were huge numbers of hikers on the trail. I probably passed hundreds of day hikers and maybe even a hundred backpackers out for Memorial Day weekend including several roving packs of Boy Scouts in groups of 12 (the maximum number allowed in a group in the wilderness). The trails were massively crowded!


Late in the day, Superman caught up with me and we hiked the last bit together. Heavyweight had fallen a little behind on the trail because he had family that came out to visit him and picked him up off the trail but he was expected to catch up again tomorrow. When we arrived at the Raven Rock Shelter, it was packed full and countless tents were set up around it. We decided to continue onwards and find somewhere away from the shelter to set up camp and headed off trail towards the water source of the shelter (which was maybe a half mile off trail—one of the longest distances one had to hike out of a shelter to get water) where we found a family of 4 camped by themselves. We asked if they would mind if we joined them, and they didn’t, so we set up camp there halfway between the shelter and the shelter’s water source.


This monument was located a bit off trail, but I was willing to go off trail a bit to explore the battlefield in more depth.


As the darkness deepened after sunset, we heard a surge of sirens in the distance. None of us knew what that was about, but it didn’t sound good!


The next day, the mystery of the sirens was answered by Heavyweight who had hiked in to the shelter late this night. He said he arrived sometime after 10:00, hiking long into the dark to catch up with us, and when he arrived at the shelter and saw that it was full and could find an available campsite to set up camp in the darkness, he wound up camping on the picnic table in front of the shelter.


And he was able to tell us what all those sirens were…. a forest fire that was apparently started by an out-of-control campfire. Heavyweight had hiked through the area after the fire showing us dramatic photos of the Appalachian Trail on fire! He also said that there were sections of the trail deep in water and mud because of all of the water the firefighters had used to extinguish the fire. Superman and I just shook our heads. “Yeah, we didn’t see any of that!” Obviously, the wildfire had started after we had already passed through. If it wasn’t for Heavyweight hiking so far behind us and late into the night, we’d have never known about it and the sirens would still be a mystery.


This strangely-shaped monument was the first one ever built in honor of George Washington. It existed even during the Civil War and the Antietam battlefield is visible from it, so it was used for signaling messages and a view of the ongoing battle.


View from the top of the Washington Monument.


Crossing over Interstate 70. I waved to some of the traffic that passed below the bridge. =)


Seems to be some construction going on on this part of the trail.


The views from Annapolis Rocks were nice! But what you don’t see in this photo are the huge crowds of people that I managed to crop out of this photo. =)


A couple of hikers laying out on Annapolis Rocks.


I preferred the view from Black Cliffs which were also nice but had a LOT fewer people around. (There were people, obviously… Just a lot fewer of them!)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have you thought of turning these blogs into a book with any extra info needed for hikers? I would love to have your tidbits and pictures with me if I ever get out on the AT. I sure do enjoy reading your blogs. Thanks for sharing!