A year ago when I started this blog, I said I was going to steer clear of work-related topics. At that time, those topics included chess and Civil War history, since I was (at that time) a history interpreter at South Mountain State Battlefield in Maryland. I’ve been asked several times recently why I left that position, and the plain fact of the matter is this: I moved to a better job, one which is non-seasonal and which pays better to boot.

While I do sometimes miss the interaction with visitors, there’s also a certain frustration level which goes along with being a historian for the Maryland Park Service, as the organization isn’t terribly interested in their historic resources when compared to, say, natural or recreational resources. I’m no longer involved with the battlefield in any way, but the word around the campfire (I still have my sources) is that the Park Service is offering few battlefield interpretive programs this year, nor are they distributing any material relating to the battle other than a couple of brief tri-fold brochures.

Being as none of the regular museums are open this year (all are being renovated), the temporary museum’s hours of operation are often spotty, and we’re fast coming up on the battle’s anniversary (September 14th) I’ve decided to make some downloadable resources available here on my site. There are two video presentations (written, produced, and narrated by yours truly, and which ran on a video screen in the old museum from 2009-2010) and a three-part battlefield auto tour with accompanying maps.

You’ll need a copy of Microsoft Office or PowerPoint, or a compatible viewer capable of reading .PPT files, to watch the presentations. Download the files and, when you open one, click the “Read only” button (as the files are password-protected to prevent 3rd party tampering). Then hit F5 on your keyboard to start the narrated video presentation (complete with “motion maps”). To exit the presentation at any time, hit the ESC key on your keyboard. (Note that these files will not work with Open Office, due to the password protection on the files.)

When I wrote and produced each presentation, I aimed for a running time of about fifteen minutes; I got danged close – if I recall, one runs sixteen minutes and one is about seventeen. The first presentation describes the background of the 1862 Maryland Campaign from the end of the Battle of Second Manassas to the morning of the Battles of South Mountain.

Narrated presentation on the 1862 Maryland Campaign

The second presentation tells the story of the Battle of Turner’s Gap and of the Battle of Fox’s Gap, two of the three South Mountain battles fought on September 14, 1862. (The third action, the Battle of Crampton’s Gap, was intended to be a separate presentation but was never produced before I left the Maryland Park Service).

Narrated presentation – Struggle at South Mountain

The auto tour (also written by yours truly) was the “official” state tour guide which was distributed during the 2010 park season. The tour is divided into three parts, one for each of the three battles. The three tours are designed in a “linked” fashion, with the second tour beginning at the point at which the first tour ends, etc. The correct order of the tours is:

  1. Battle of Turner’s Gap
  2. Battle of Fox’s Gap
  3. Battle of Crampton’s Gap

(Here’s a mnemonic to help you to remember which gap is where – they’re in reverse alphabetical order running north to south.)

The first stop of Tour 1 as printed in the guide is the museum at Washington Monument State Park in order to watch the video presentations. I don’t think the temporary museum is running the videos this year (or so I’ve heard), and the two downloads above are the actual video presentations mentioned in the auto tour guide. Consequently, you can drive to the entrance to Washington Monument State Park, do a U-turn, and begin the Turner’s Gap tour with the driving directions to Stop #2 (skipping Stop #1 entirely) if you wish.

Auto tour for the Battle of Turner’s Gap

Each section of the tour has an accompanying map, with tour stop numbers superimposed over a period map of the area over which the battle was fought. These maps are not present-day road maps; they were created by the U.S. War Department in the late 1800’s and are furnished as aids to orientation and interpretation, as they graphically show the changes in topography over the last century and a half.

Orientation map for the Turner’s Gap auto tour

The entire auto tour can be completed in an afternoon; however, there’s a fair bit of driving involved (approximately 25 miles, if memory serves). Note, also, that there is no “tour road” as with national battlefield parks; almost all of the roads you travel will be public thoroughfares, and some of the driving could be defined as “mildly to moderately hazardous” for visitors not familiar with driving on mountainous, rural, narrow, and sometimes unpaved roads. The numerous warnings and cautions found in the tour text are not exaggerations.

And, consequently, neither I nor the State of Maryland assume any responsibility for accidents, injuries, or other mishaps which may occur during the course of this tour. It’s totally an “at your own risk” proposition.

Auto tour for the Battle of Fox’s Gap

Orientation map for the Fox’s Gap Auto Tour

The Fox Gap tour reminds me of another warning: stay off of private property! The vast majority of the battle action on South Mountain occurred on what is now private property, and (I kid you not) there are a few people on the mountain who are occasionally inclined to shoot first and ask questions later (I had one memorable run-in with one of these folks while I was a ranger/historian with the park, and I was on a public road at the time!).

Keep to the areas indicated in the tour text, please, and do respect the rights of the local property owners. If the tour says you can’t go someplace, it means you can’t go there, and if a piece of property isn’t mentioned in the tour, you should probably stay off of it.

Auto tour of the Battle of Crampton’s Gap

Orientation map for Crampton’s Gap auto tour

The Crampton’s Gap tour involves a short bit of walking. Please stick to the areas described in the text, as the park’s boundaries are not clearly marked for visitors. It’s also a very bad idea to go “bushwhacking” off through the woods at Crampton’s Gap – South Mountain is notorious for its poisonous copperhead snakes.

Note, too, that the museum mentioned in the Crampton’s Gap tour is closed for the season.

The tour files are presented in PDF format for easy printing. Just print off the materials before your visit and you’ll be all set.

For bucketloads of additional information about the Battle of South Mountain, please see my friend Tim Ware’s excellent blog about the battle, which is chock full of photos, maps, and firsthand accounts galore.

Have fun! – Steve

Copyright 2011, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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