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Saturday, April 13, 2024 - 01:08 AM


First Published in 1994



Well, let's wrap this up, shall we? It's time for me to get back to Greenville so I can go back to work and make a living. I left you last week in Gettysburg and now I have to get back on the road and head south for about 500 miles. Yes, I am 500 miles away from home. Hey, that sounds like a good title for a song. I wonder if it's already taken.

Anyway, I left Gettysburg on that unseasonably chilly April morning, heading south on US 15 as it crosses the field over which General George Pickett's men charged almost 150 years ago. I crossed into Maryland and made my way to Frederick, a city I lived in for a while way back in the 80's.

My first top was the Roger B. Taney house, a brick structure located in the older part of town. Taney's place in history rests on writing the majority opinion in the famous Dred Scott case, asserting that Negro slaves were not citizens and were not entitled to the same rights as white men.


I was traveling through town on a Tuesday and was thus unable to tour the inside of the house since it is open only on weekends. In my travels over the years I have noticed that many of the smaller historic sites, those of limited interest, have limited operating hours, usually because they are run by private organizations.

My second stop was the Barbara Fritchie house, which is just a few blocks away. I remember passing by it too many times to count when I lived there some 30 years ago but I never had stopped in to tour it. On this day the place was closed, so I still didn't get the opportunity to do so.

If her name does not ring a bell, let me refresh your memory. Fritchie was immortalized in a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier. When the Confederates marched through town in September 1862, during the Sharpsburg (Antietam) campaign, a woman defiantly held up the stars and stripes in front of the approaching Southerners. Whittier quoted the 95 year-old Fritchie as saying, “Shoot if you must this old gray head, but spare your country's flag instead.” She was the inspiration for several silent films, a play and a song.

There is only one thing wrong with this picture. Fritchie was sick in bed that day. Also, the Confederates did not pass by her way. There is evidence that another woman, however, Mary Quantrell, did, indeed defy the Confederates by waving a Union flag under their noses. Because of Whittier's poem, however, it is Fritchie who gained the lasting fame.

Right next to the historical marker describing the Fritchie house was a marker describing another old house directly across the street. It was the home of diarist Jacob Engelbrecht, who, for fifty years, wrote about the people and things that he saw as life passed by along the thoroughfare in front of his house, which at the time was known as the National Road and which served as a major thoroughfare to the west. Engelbrecht also thought Whittier's version of events to be fiction. He should know, he lived right across the street.

I drove a short ways to the Mount Olivet Cemetery, where Fritchie is buried. Another notable personage from American history is also buried here – Francis Scott Key, author of the The Star-Spangled Banner, who also happened to be Taney's brother-in-law.

Another mile or two away is another historic site, one that I didn't even know existed when I lived there so long ago – the Monocacy National Battlefield. The battle, which was fought late in the war, on July 9, 1864, is named after the river which flows nearby.

By June of that year, the siege of Petersburg, Virginia, had begun. General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia were entrenched in front of Petersburg and Richmond. They were the only forces keeping Union General Ulysses S. Grant and his Army of the Potomac from capturing a very important rail hub and the capital of the Confederacy.

With Lee unable to maneuver and with the pressure on him mounting, he called on Major General Jubal Early to lead a detachment of some 15,000 men and march up the Shenandoah Valley and attack Washington, D.C. from the back door. He got as far as Frederick when he was met by a smaller but sizable Union force under the command of Union General Lew Wallace, who would go on to greater fame as the author of Ben-Hur.

The Confederates won the battle and forced the smaller Union force to retreat, but Wallace's delaying action gave other Union troops enough time to gather at Washington to successfully hold back Early's attack on that city a few days later.

I toured the small museum at the visitor center but decided not to tour the actual battlefield itself because I still had a long way to go. I then crossed into Virginia on US 15, which spans the Potomac River. For years I have enjoyed this crossing of the Potomac in a mountain setting. Very scenic. I made my way through Leesburg, Warrenton and Culpeper and then stopped in at a Mennonite store that I have frequented several times on past trips. I love their buckeyes.

I traveled a little ways further until I reached my last destination of the day – Montpelier, the estate of James Madison, our fourth president. In all my travels in that general area over the years I never toured it. I figured it was time.

I paid the admission fee, a whopping $18, looked at the exhibits and then watched a film in the auditorium. Afterwards, I joined up with some other tourists and met on the front porch of the mansion for a guided tour. Construction on the house began in the 1760's by Madison's father, James, Sr., while Madison was still a boy. The house was later enlarged after Madison brought his new bride, Dolley, to live there in the 1790's..

A few years after Madison's death, his widow had to sell the estate to pay off debts. The estate eventually ended up in the hands of the DuPont family. In 1983, the DuPonts deeded it over to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A few years back an extensive renovation was made on the mansion to bring it back to the way it appeared during the Madison years.

Upon completion of the guided tour I toured the outside grounds by myself for awhile and then walked way over to the other side of the property to the small family graveyard where James and Dolly are buried.

It was already 5:00 p.m. and Greenville was still seven hours away. I could have made it back that evening but I decided instead to stop a little further down the road and get a room. No need driving all that way into the wee hours if I didn't have to.

The next morning I headed down US 29 until I hit I-85, which I took the rest of the way back home.

I want to thank you for again riding with me on still another trip into yesteryear. On this excursion I managed to finally get around to visiting two iconic places in American lore – Mount Vernon and Gettysburg. I also visited some slightly lesser known historic sites, such as Gunston Hall and the above-mentioned Montpelier, not to mention the famous Hollywood Cemetery and the Monocacy battlefield.

Well, I think I'll take a little break over the Christmas holidays. In the meanwhile, however, I will take the time to sharpen my quill and replenish my supplies of ink and parchment so that I can again regale you with even more tales of adventure as I take my horse and buggy down the roads of days gone by.



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