The footsteps of freedom walked by those Dargan hills

July 03, 2011|By LLOYD WATERS

As a kid, a few of my buddies and I would always pitch a few pennies or nickels up against the concrete wall of Jim Grim’s small country store in Dargan. The owner of the closest coin to the wall would win all the loot.  

Summers were always special.

In addition to those visits to Grim’s store, other activities might include  a baseball game on the school diamond, a walk through the woods to our favorite raspberry patch or even some local swimming at a nearby pond.

In my youth, I never gave much thought to the rich history of freedom’s footsteps near that small town of Dargan.

As I grow wiser in my own journey, I remain mindful of those American freedoms. When people ask me where I am from, I proudly tell them Dargan and share a story or two with them.

As a young lad, I learned to swim in a pond next to the old Kennedy farmhouse just two miles from Dargan.

Unbeknownst to me at the time was a little fact that, in the summer of 1859, a man calling himself Isaac Smith rented this same Kennedy house for nine months at a cost of $35 in gold.  I suspect there was nothing unusual about this man to the nearby homeowners.  

All of the secrecy surrounding this individual’s real identity would soon become known to the entire nation. On the morning of Oct. 16, 1859, John Brown (aka Isaac Smith) and some 18 men attacked the government arsenal at Harpers Ferry.

Brown’s attempt to provoke slaves to revolt and join him and fight for their freedom at Harpers Ferry failed during the raid.  The abolitionists in the Northern states, however, soon took up the cry for the “freedom” of slaves in America.

Today, I often take visitors to the Kennedy farmhouse to show them where I learned to swim, but more importantly, I tell them the story of John Brown and his march toward freedom.

Another famous man walked up that Harpers Ferry road through the beauty of those Dargan hills in October 1862 in search of that same freedom.

On Sept. 17, 1862, from dawn until about 5:30 p.m., some 23,000 casualties occurred during the Civil War’s Battle of Antietam. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the entire war.  

The carnage of this battle can best be understood by visiting the battlefield during December of each year when a luminaria is lighted at night to represent each of the fallen soldiers and the sacred blood-stained ground of Antietam. It is a somber sight.

In October 1862, President Abraham Lincoln traveled the Harpers Ferry road just by Dargan on his way to pay homage to the war casualties at Antietam.  

Just several miles or so up the road from Dargan, Lincoln met Gen. McClellan at a campsite to review the war damage of the battle. At this time, Lincoln also began to question McClellan’s leadership.

Although Union troops at Antietam numbered 90,000 to Lee’s forces of 45,000, the victory that Lincoln was looking for did not occur. McClellan was replaced in November 1862.

As Lincoln continued his journey over South Mountain on his return trip to Washington, he stopped in Frederick, Md., and offered the following words that even today echo a message of hope for our country: “May our children, and our children’s children to a thousand generations, continue to enjoy the benefits conferred upon us by a united country, and have cause yet to rejoice under those glorious institutions bequeathed us by Washington and his compeers.”

As we prepare to celebrate another July 4, let’s take a few moments to reflect on freedom’s journey throughout the history of our country.  

Remember, too, that many of those footsteps of freedom walked right past that little town of Dargan.

Lloyd “Pete” Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes columns for The Herald-Mail.

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