Sunday, October 7, 2012

Tidballs, Antietam and Harpers Ferry

We are back on the road and in the tourist mode so we are looking for more places to explore.  Since last summer, when I discovered there is a Tidball Trail there, I have been planning to visit Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland.  Antietam was the first major battle of the Civil War fought in the North and the bloodiest day in American history with about 23,000 killed, wounded or missing. 
The initial attack was carried out by Union troops moving through a corn field with devastating results.  The dreary, cloudy day sure helped set the scene in imagining what that terrible day 150 years ago must have been like. 
The Dunker Church, ironically a house of worship for pacifist German Baptists, was the focal point of the Union for the morning attack.  The next phase of the battle was the Sunken Road where there were so many causalities it is now known as Bloody Lane.
The afternoon battle shifted to Burnside Bridge where 500 Confederate troops on the high ground from where this picture was taken held off a much larger Union force.  The Union finally flanked and drove the Confederates from their position.  In the final fight of the day Lee's forces were saved by A. P. Hill's that had just arrived from Harpers Ferry.  Even with all the casualties, the day ended pretty much a draw. But since the South had not been able to win a battle on Northern ground, Lincoln used the results to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves in the rebellious states.    
This is Capt. John C. Tidball who is surely a distant relative of mine.  Capt. Tidball was in every major Eastern battle of the war and was the first officer to order that Taps be played at a military burial in place of the usual firing of the cannon.  After the Civil War he served 40 more years in the Army, raising to the rank of brevet (honorary) Major General.  He is also the author of the Manual for Heavy Artillery and served as the Commandant of Cadets at West Point.    
Here I am on the Tidball Trail and with the artillery where Capt. Tidball's battery was positioned during the battle.  I have never been into genealogy but I have had an extract of the Tidball family tree for years that was prepared between 1885-1899 by John C. Tidball.  It is interesting knowing that an ancestor played such a big part in American history.  It has peaked my interest enough that I'm looking forward to reading more about John Tidball, including an anthology that has just been published.   
The same afternoon we drove to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park to explore this unique old town that played an important role in much of early American history.  Harpers Ferry is at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.  It was the site of the US Armory and Arsenal, an important industrial center, the location of John Brown's ill fated attempt to start a slave rebellion and a major transportation hub for canals and later the railroads that went through the Blue Ridge Mountains. 
The lower part of town has a great collection of buildings that line the steep old cobblestone streets.  During the Civil War the Federal troops set fire to the arsenal in hopes of preventing the Confederate Army from getting to the weapons.  The Southern troops were able to save the weapon making equipment that was then used to supply them through the war.
A few of the old businesses that lined the streets.  Harpers Ferry was also the site of the largest surrender of US troops in history when Stonewall Jackson captured the town right before the battle at Antietam.  The North retook the town and used it as a base for the campaign in the Shenandoah Valley later in the war.
Harpers Ferry also played an important role in African American history.  Before the Civil War there were about as many free Blacks as there were slaves working in the town.  It was the site of the second meeting of the Niagara Movement, an early civil rights group and the home of Storer College, a school that educated students of all races and both genders in the second half of the 1800's.  This is a building used by Storer College.  
If you have any interest in American history, Antietam and Harpers Ferry should be on your to do list.


Bobbie and Jim said...

Oh, wow, what a very interesting blog post. Thank you for bringing all this information to our attention. This area will definitely be on our bucket list.

Doing It On the Road(Part II) said...

Good post about two very interesting places.

Bobbie and Salvatore said...

I grew up not too far from that area. I love hearing about all the history out there!! Thanks for sharing!! And way cool about your ancestry playing such a big role too!