C and O Towpath – Day 4 – Antietam Battlefield to Harper’s Ferry

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that today would be a long ride. Well, that did not turn out to be the case. I had mentioned to our host Selena that I didn’t think it would be possible for us to visit Antietam National Battlefield. It was going to be a long riding day and adding the extra miles, plus the time necessary to tour the battlefield would make it a very long day. She offered to drive us the Eight miles to the battlefield and suggested we could tour the site and take country roads back to the C&O.

We took her up on her offer and she shuttled us to the visitors center of the battlefield. The end result was a drastic reduction in mileage for the ride. What was to have been a 39 miles ride turned into a short 16 mile day. The actual miles she drove us was 10, not 8 she mentioned and, most importantly, it cut out several big bends in the towpath trail. We were driven to the battlefield on highways 63 and 65. If you look closely on the green line along the river, you can see all the loops we missed. That totaled 30 miles of C&O path distance. With the extra five miles we road around the battlefield and to the C&O, the net change was 25 miles less than planned.

But, this gave us the opportunity to visit one of the most important Civil War battle memorials. I feel it is important to disclose, that although I am in the minority and certainly contrary to most. I do not believe, and have never believed that preserving the union was worth the lives lost. I also acknowledge that the issue of slavery further complicates my rather simplistic view of the war. But all that aside, it was a sobering visit to this important site. Most historians consider the battle itself a draw, but it did force Robert E Lee’s forces back across the Potomac and was, at the very least, a propaganda victory for Lincoln. The fact that less than a year later, at Gettysburg, Lee was once again across the Potomac undercuts, somewhat, the significance of Antietam to the war, but in no way diminishes the significance of the sacrifices of those killed and injured on September 17, 1862 at Antietam Creek.

After leaving the battlefield, we had a short five mile ride back to the C&O and then only 11 miles on to Harper’s Ferry. After the rolling hills and very sunny ride down to the trail, it was very nice to be back on flat paths under the dense canopy. It made for a much cooler last 11 miles.

As we approached Harper’s Ferry, the Potomac River became very shallow, with lots of small rapids, making for perfect kayaking and other water activities. We saw several groups of kayakers and even one group body riding the rapids.

Once we reached the bridge over the Potomac leading into Harper’s Ferry, it was not so simple to cross. There is no ramp. One has to take the bikes up a winding staircase to the bike/pedestrian path on one of the two CSX rail bridges. The online C&O guide suggests removing the saddle bags before attempting this, so we did. We took all four bags up to bridge level and then each of us went back down to retrieve our bike. As we were doing this, what seemed like hundreds, but was probably only 20 or so pedestrians were also using the stairs. Once up on the bridge, 3 trains, 2 CSX freight and Amtrak, were crossing at the same time. I wanted pictures of the approaching trains, the bridge, the town, the two guys scaling the cliffs above and the river valley. Well, the train pictures didn’t really work, too close and the fence got in the way. The guys scaling the cliffs are almost impossible to see. The river picture is OK and the framing of the town picture just doesn’t work. So, all in all, a not very successful start to the visit to the picturesque town of Harper’s Ferry.

We made it across the bridge into Harper’s Ferry. It is a very popular day trip from Washington, DC, so on a Sunday afternoon there are people everywhere, the restaurants are full, but we manage to find a place to eat lunch.

After lunch, we walked our bikes up High and Washington Streets to our guesthouse, high on the hill on Henry Clay Street, a cute place with a nice view down to the river.

View from the deck at the guesthouse.

Amazingly, the restaurants all close early on a Sunday. Since, we had lunch at 2, we decided to go down to the. town, have a beer in one of the restaurants before it closes, buy something to go for dinner, and eat later back at the guesthouse. It all worked out. Our waitress even suggested they send the baked brie home with us unbaked and we could bake when we wanted to eat. So, that is what we did, had a later dinner, watched a little football and enjoyed a nice quiet evening in our guesthouse. Tomorrow, our last day on the C&O: Harper’s Ferry to Leesburg, VA. Until then!

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