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Tours bring battlefield to life

September 05, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

The Battle of South Mountain will never be as famous as the bloody fight that followed at Antietam, but Civil War enthusiasts hope a new brochure will increase awareness in the obscure but pivotal conflict.

On the eve of the 136th anniversary of the battle, the Central Maryland Heritage League is distributing its brochure, complete with directions for a self-guided tour.

"South Mountain, for a number of years, has been ambiguous in people's minds. This identifies exactly what happened, where," said Steve Stotelmyer, vice president of the league.

Heritage league volunteers mapped out 18 sites that help tell the story of the Sept. 14, 1862, battle.

South Mountain was the first major Civil War battle fought in Maryland.

A victory by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on Northern soil might have changed the outcome of the war, Stotelmyer said.

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Instead, Union soldiers in Frederick, Md., found a copy of Lee's orders, which Gen. George B. McClellan used to surprise Lee's troops while they were spread thin.

Between 4,000 and 5,000 soldiers died on the mountain.

The next day, Lee set up a defensive position at Sharpsburg. Two days later, 23,110 were injured or killed at the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single day of fighting.

Stotelmyer believes that, tactically, the Battle of South Mountain was more important than Antietam because it thwarted Lee's plans to take his army into Pennsylvania.

The tour starts in Middletown, Md., where churches and homes served as makeshift hospitals for the wounded.

One of the patients was future president Rutherford B. Hayes, lieutenant colonel of the 23rd Ohio infantry, who spent three weeks recuperating at the Jacob Rudy Home, 504 W. Main St.

The tour route goes to Burkittsville, Md., and comes close to Boonsboro before winding back toward Middletown, Md.

South Mountain isn't your typical battlefield. In fact, it's not a field at all. All the fighting occurs in the mountain's gaps - Crampton's Gap, Fox's Gap and Turner's Gap.

The last stop on the tour is the site of Mt. Tabor Church, which served as Union Gen. Joseph Hooker's headquarters.

Work on the color brochures began about two years ago when the nonprofit group got an $8,000 grant for printing from the American Battlefield Protection Program.

The program helps local groups be good stewards of battlefields that aren't part of the National Park Service, said Preservation Planner Tanya Gossett.

The color brochures are available free at Antietam National Battlefield. Soon, they will be available at Greenbrier State Park and Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Stotelmyer said.

The brochure will not only raise awareness of the battlefield, but also promote tourism, Gossett said.

The heritage league and the state of Maryland have preserved 1,200 acres, but two-thirds of the battlefield remains unprotected.

The heritage league tried to be considerate of private property owners when mapping the tour, Stotelmyer said.

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