Continuing with yesterday's topic, here's a letter to a Maryland representative by author Timothy Reese laying out the issues surrounding Crampton's Gap battlefield. It's a long post in terms of this blog, but it clearly tells a sad and complex story. I've bumped the news section to make way for this and urge you to write your own letters to Delegate Weldon. The letter starts below:
November 12, 2002
State Delegate Richard B. Weldon, Jr., Subdistrict 3B
Lowe House Office Building, Room 324, 84 College Ave., Annapolis, MD 21401-1991
Subject: Recommended “Crampton’s Gap State Battlefield Park Amendment” to House Bill 1183, Subtitle 18, South Mountain State Battlefield, 2000 Regular Session
On 1 October, 2000, the Maryland General Assembly enacted the above cited legislation creating South Mountain State Battlefield. Though welcome and long anticipated, this bill by definition reveals fundamental flaws which confuse and subsume a salient portion of this new entity lying within your subdistrict, namely the Crampton’s Gap battlefield.
House Bill 1183 was the direct outgrowth of an initiative launched in the Summer of 1998 by two Crampton’s Gap advocates, Mr. William van Gilder and myself. We approached then serving Delegate Bruce Poole (Hagerstown) for his opinion of the feasibility of converting Gathland State Park—embodying approximately 30% of the Crampton’s Gap battlefield—into “Crampton’s Gap State Battlefield Park” with minimally restored staff and funding, what would have been a seminal, independent creation. This concept was based upon the measured majority of increasing Gathland visitation, as well the site’s overriding historical significance.
Delegate Poole unwittingly allowed this initiative to be usurped and subsumed by a Task Force impaneled exclusively by advocates for the South Mountain battlefield lying six miles north of Crampton’s Gap, hence an imprecise, misleading definition of the State Battlefield. I offer the following clarifications for your consideration.
H.B. 1183, Section 1. Subsections A & B: Whereas The Task Force discovered that the State of Maryland owns 2,600 acres of land on South Mountain where the Battle was fought and has purchased conservation easements for an additional 1,400 acres of land relevant to the Battle of South Mountain....In order to preserve the land where the battle was fought and to provide the public with access to appreciate the land where the battle was fought....The South Mountain Battlefield shall encompass the Property Owned by the State...
Though the State of Maryland does indeed own some 2,600 acres of mountain forestry land, an overwhelming majority of battlefield lands lie outside State boundaries. In fact a far greater proportion of State battlefield lands are to be found at Crampton’s Gap than at either Fox’s Gap or Turner’s Gap segments of the South Mountain battlefield. Gathland State Park lies wholly within the Crampton’s Gap battlefield. The South Mountain battlefield lies almost entirely outside State ownership. Conservation easements obtained through Program Open Space, Maryland Rural Legacy Program, have largely forestalled battlefield development, but offer no broad-based mandate for fee-simple acquisition of these same core battlefield properties. Furthermore, enactment of H.B. 1183 in no way provides “access” or opportunity to “appreciate” a majority of private battlefield properties by the visiting public in like manner to battlefields owned by the U.S. National Park Service as is strongly suggested. At this time, “access” and “appreciation” would require flagrant, State-inferred trespass, clearly a premature assumption.
Ref.: Mr. William van Gilder, P.O. Box 42, Rohrersville, Maryland 21779-1215, 301/416-2970; 2000 Boundary Survey, South Mountain Recreation Area, Md. F&PS; “Take-Line” Survey Map of same; Mr. H. Grant Dehart, Program Open Space, Md. Dept. of Natural Resources, Tawes State Office Building, 580 Taylor Ave., Annapolis, MD 21401, 410/260-8425; Mr. Ross M. Kimmel, Supervisor, Cultural Resource Management, State Forest & Park Service, E-3 Tawes Building, 580 Taylor Ave., Annapolis, MD 21401, 410/260-8164.
H.B. 1183, Section 1. Subsection B: ...Consistent with the historic significance of the Battlefield...
By erroneously grouping the Crampton’s Gap and South Mountain battlefields together under the latter title, historical significance becomes skewed and disproportionate, a point readily discerned by many visitors. In the documented strategy, words and actions of both Union and Confederate army commanders, Crampton’s Gap clearly stands apart, to wit:
I have now full information as to movements and intentions of the enemy....My general idea [at CRAMPTON’S GAP] is to cut the enemy in two and beat him in detail. I ask of you, at this important moment, all your intellect and the utmost activity that a general can exercise....You will readily perceive that no slight advantage should for a moment interfere with the decisive results I propose to gain. — Gen. George B. McClellan to Gen. William B. Franklin, 13 September, 1862 (U.S. War Dept. War of the Rebellion...Official Records, 19/1:45-46, 51/1:826-827)
Learning later in the evening that CRAMPTON’S GAP (on the direct road from Fredericktown to Sharpsburg) had been forced, and McLaws’ rear thus threatened, and believing from a report from General Jackson that Harper’s Ferry would fall next morning, I determined to withdraw Longstreet and D. H. Hill from their positions and retire to the vicinity of Sharpsburg, where the army could be more easily united. — Gen. Robert E. Lee to Pres. Jefferson Davis, 16 September, 1862 (U.S. War Dept. War of the Rebellion ... Official Records, 19/1:140)
Information was also received that another large body of Federal troops had during the afternoon forced their way through CRAMPTON’S GAP, only 5 miles in rear of McLaws. Under these circumstances, it was determined to retire to Sharpsburg, where we would be upon the flank and rear of the enemy should he move against McLaws, and where we could more readily unite with the rest of the army.
— Gen. Robert E. Lee to Confederate Adj. Gen., 19 August, 1863 (U.S. War Dept. War of the Rebellion...Official Records, 19/1:147)
That night [14 September] Lee found out that Cobb had been pressed back from CRAMPTON’S GAP, and this made it necessary to retire from Boonsboro [Turner’s] Gap, which was done next morning and position at Sharpsburg taken. — As told to William Allen by Robert E. Lee
at Washington College, Lexington, Va., 15 February, 1868
CRAMPTON’S GAP, where McClellan should have gone in person, as that position was the key point of the whole situation. — Edward Porter Alexander (Lee’s Chief of Ordnance), Military Memoirs of a Confederate (1907)
Grouping these two battlefields as one, disconnected by six miles, confuses and misdirects the visiting public. It also lends the appearance of State ownership at South Mountain when in fact more is the case at Crampton’s Gap (Gathland State Park). All wartime documents, postwar participant chroniclers, and virtually all modern historians acknowledge that Crampton’s Gap and South Mountain were and are two wholly separate though concurrent engagements, fought independently by autonomous wings of both armies for wholly distinct campaign objectives. In his acclaimed Taken at the Flood, Prof. Joseph Harsh expressed his firm belief that Crampton’s Gap by itself might very well warrant “major reevaluation” by scholars.
Ref.: Mr. Edwin C. Bearss, Chief Historian Emeritus, U.S. National Park Service, 1126 17th Street South, Arlington, VA 22202, 202/343-1177; Mr. Ted Alexander, Historian, Antietam National Battlefield, P.O. Box 158, Sharpsburg, MD 21782, 301/432-5124; Mr. Mark Snell, Director, The George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War, Shepherd College, Shepherdstown, WV 25443, 304/876-5429, 304/876-5399; Timothy J. Reese, Sealed With Their Lives: The Battle for Crampton’s Gap, Burkittsville, Maryland (Balto.: Butternut & Blue, 1998); Joseph L. Harsh, Taken at the Flood: Robert E. Lee and Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862 (Kent, O.: The Kent State University Press, 1999) p. 549n77; U.S. War Department, War of the Rebellion...Official Records, Volume 19, Parts 1 & 2 (1887).
Gathland State Park/Crampton’s Gap Battlefield
Gathland State Park was created and opened to the public in 1958 by the Maryland State Forest & Park Service. It embodies the former Crampton’s Gap estate of George A. Townsend which was purchased in 1949 by a consortium of the Chamber of Commerce and Historical Society of Frederick for $3,500. This consortium immediately deeded the derelict property to the State for $10 with the condition that it be converted into a public park. Two of Townsend’s remaining buildings were rehabilitated for park use. The vast majority of the abandoned estate had mostly fallen into overgrown ruin. Townsend himself admittedly came here because it was a battlefield he wished to depict in a novel, Katy of Catoctin or The Chain-Breakers (1885).
Maryland Forest & Park Service coined the title Gathland by hybridizing Townsend’s pen name “Gath” with his estate title, “Gapland,” the source of never-ending visitor confusion to this day. Throughout its existence Gathland has served mainly as a day-use park with minimal facilities. In 1990 a severe State budgetary shortfall prompted drastic reorganization of Maryland’s park system. State holdings on South Mountain were joined into a larger administrative entity labeled South Mountain Recreation Area. For three years Gathland remained closed, the last ranger posted there retired, and the site became all but abandoned.
Since 1994 Gathland has been intermittently re-opened by a “friends” volunteer group solely tasked with minimal tourist operations primarily confined to the Townsend epoch. Visitation has nevertheless markedly increased, principally Civil War enthusiasts by the bus-load. On-site Maryland Park Service personnel are no longer assigned to Gathland. As it now stands, South Mountain State Battlefield does not in fact constitute a “park,” rather an officially acknowledged historical resource superimposed onto two existing state parks: Gathland and Washington Monument. The latter serves double-duty as headquarters for South Mountain State Battlefield. Only Gathland liberally embraces battlefield land. How coldly ironic that the title South Mountain State Battlefield has been affixed to neglected Crampton’s Gap.
It is now self-evident that Townsend visitation has been dramatically superseded by spiraling Civil War tourism, rendering the park’s present identity obsolete. Therefore the Townsend epoch more accurately constitutes a lesser adjunct to the Crampton’s Gap battlefield, much the way the Eisenhower Farm constitutes a lesser though value-added attraction to Gettysburg National Military Park in comparison. A thoughtful change seems in order.
Ref.: Frederick County Land Records, Liber GBO86, Folio 503 - Liber JGW260, Folio 395 - Liber STH267, Folio 367; Timothy J. Reese, “One Man’s Battlefield: George Alfred Townsend and the War Correspondents Memorial Arch.” Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. 92, No. 3 (Fall, 1997), pp. 356-385; Mr. Ross M. Kimmel, Supervisor, Cultural Resource Management, State Forest & Park Service, E-3 Tawes Building, 580 Taylor Ave., Annapolis, MD 21401, 410/260-8164.
“Crampton’s Gap State Battlefield Park” Amendment to House Bill 1183
As a periodic Gathland volunteer and interpreter for twenty-seven years, a Burkittsville resident for seventeen, historical interpreter (seasonal) for South Mountain State Battlefield, and as author/historian for the Crampton’s Gap battlefield, intimately familiar with the site, its history, and tourist appeal, I suggest that the time is long overdue to rename Gathland State Park as “Crampton’s Gap State Battlefield Park” in simple recognition of its fundamental historical significance and its principal tourist attraction and marketability, a concept repeatedly voiced to me by the visiting public for many years. The title Gathland should be deleted as being inaccurate, uninspiring, confusing and obsolete.
To that end I recommend and propose that you consider a “Crampton’s Gap State Battlefield Park Amendment” to House Bill 1183, to be submitted to the General Assembly to further clarify the legislation’s original language and intent, in keeping with the park’s primary historical significance. No additional State funding is required for this alteration. Rather a further specification of nomenclature and site appeal should be made apparent. This battlefield park would go forward, as at present, under existing funding through current mandate of H.B. 1183, South Mountain State Battlefield, to be defined by pending master plan. Additional funding can only be applied through legislative review and audit. The Crampton’s Gap and South Mountain battlefields must evolve jointly, but distinctly.
Crampton’s Gap interpretive signage recently created and installed, September, 2002, at the expense of the Blue and Gray Education Society, 2002 signage by the Maryland Civil War Heritage Trails initiative, as well historical markers erected by the Athens (Georgia) Historical Society (1992), greatly facilitate, enhance and encourage this localized nominal upgrade.
Ref.: Ms. Marci Wolff Ross, Manager, Destination Resources Development, Office of Tourism Development, Maryland Dept. of Business & Economic Development, 217 East Redwood Street, 9th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202, 410/767-6286, 1-877-209-5883; Mr. John Fieseler, Executive Director, Tourism Council of Frederick County, Inc., 19 E. Church Street, Frederick, MD 21701, 301/228-2888; Mr. Len Riedel, President, Blue & Gray Education Society, P.O. Box 129, Danville, VA 24543, 1-888-741-2437
In summary, South Mountain State Battlefield can only evolve efficiently if it reflects clear historical accuracy, identifies multiple attractions based on historical fact, and provides clear labeling for all facets of the resource. Often characterized as the “aperture to Antietam,” the Crampton’s Gap battlefield must re-emerge with its singular identity intact, acknowledged by many as the more strategically significant of the two engagements, thereby reinforcing this battlefield park concept.
In closing permit me to relate a minor incident. I made this point about the pivotal significance of Crampton’s Gap in a 1996 slide lecture given in Frederick before the National Civil War Round Table Association. At lecture’s conclusion, Edwin C. Bearss, Chief Historian Emeritus for the U.S. National Park Service—without doubt the most revered and respected historian in the field today—emphatically declared to me, “Tim, I’ve been trying to get that point across for thirty years.” To this I responded, “If someone of your stature has been unable to get that point across after thirty years, what chance have I?” The answer to this worrisome question I leave to you.
Thank you for your time, attention and consideration.
Timothy J. Reese
cc: State Senator Alex X. Mooney, District 3, Miller Senate Office Building, Room 428, 11 Bladen Street, Annapolis, MD 21401-1991; all above referenced individuals