This blog is a reprint of my internet journal from 2001 to 2002 in which I documented my "vagabond" solo journey in a Chevy Conversion Van tracing my roots. I not only traced their paths and found their homes and final resting places, but I did extensive genealogical research in court houses, libraries, historical societies, genealogical societies, cemeteries, and talked to the local people. I traveled with a laptop to upload my notes and photos, and use e-mail. It was a fantastic journey which lasted two years. I had no other home except my van to sleep in...just a bed and video player. My household goods were put into storage for two years. My mail was delivered to me at general delivery when I phoned "MailBox, etc." and told them where to send it. At night I stayed in campgrounds, motels, friends' backyards, friends' homes, and those of the few living relations I've tracked down.As I traveled I collected so much genealogy information, that I had to get rid of items that I had originally thought essential to my travels (like a microwave oven). Between ancestral sites, I visited any tourist sites I could find and got to know alot about the USA. This was a trip of a lifetime and I'm still sorting through all the wonderful memories, photos and invaluable genealogical data I found. I will post to this blog as I can - one or a few days at a time of that journey from 2001 to 2002
By 9am, while the forecast called for a morning respite from the rain, I was following Hwy 230 north to Sharpsburg, MD and Antietam Battlefield National Historic Site. Every ranger has commented on my National Park’s Pass and thanked me for supporting the Park system. I figure with all the sites I plan to visit in a year, it was well worth the $65 investment... as each park costs about $ 3-5 to enter otherwise.
Antietam. The solemn battlefield where there was the most dead or wounded in a single day (Sept 16, 1862) of any Civil War battle. Stonewall Jackson vs McClellan. Not even a close match. Jackson had a daring strategy fresh from the Confederate victory at Manassas, VA. And McClellan was much too cautious to take the advantage which could have ended the war right then. Greatly outnumbered, the Confederates finally withdrew. Although Robert E. Lee’s plan to cut the northern railroads and isolate Philadelphia and Washington DC was defeated, the refusal of McClellan to obey President Lincoln and pursue Jackson in retreat, caused Lincoln to relieve McClellan of command. However it gave Lincoln the “victory” needed to allow him to put forth the Emancipation Proclamation which gave freedom to the slaves in the rebellious states. It’s thought that these events stopped England and France for helping the South fight Lincoln.
The famous bridge - see close up of wall -->
See the looong black snake on the wall?
I bought an audiotape and toured the battlefield in the van after listening to the Ranger give an overview of the battle and watching a video. Cornfields, forests, Antietam Creek, Dunkard Church, the bloody “sunken road”, farm houses – all still as they were 139 years ago. At the stone bridge over Antietam Creek, that became known as Burnside’s Bridge – I took photos of the memorials to the 51st Pennsylvania Regiment that fought there. I may have a relative that was with the 51st. On the bridge I was surprised to see a long black snake just laying there on the wall. Hmmmm. I could imagine the Pennsylvania boys sludging through the dense foliage and encountering snakes as they fought to cross the bridge. As I returned to the van, the skies opened up in a downpour of rain which continued all evening.
Brutal Sunken Road in 1862
View of Sunken Road - my van below
I finished the tour at the Antietam Cemetery in Sharpsburg, then headed back to Shephardstown, WV for lunch in classic old-time “Betty’s Restaurant” - like a soda fountain. Lunch of lasagna and garlic bread was good, it was the special at $4.79. As I got to my van in the rain and was thinking how nice it was to have a side door so I could just step into the van from the sidewalk, I –again- hitmy head. So my neck which was improving from prior head jamming on the interior of the van, was now getting hammered again. I just laid back and tried massage, range of motion and “pseudo cervical traction” to head off any more neck pain – along with a couple Tylenol. Someday –and soon, I hope—I’ll learn to duck.
Back at the KOA Campground I was still the only one in my area. I used the remaining sunlight to read about the Civil War and write on my laptop computer.. Tomorrow I’ll go to a motel with a telephone for internet access. It will take a little while before I find my ancestors’ homesteads.
Birds and squirrels are all over this campground at Harper's Ferry, very pleasant....with big trees and few people. I spent the morning doing more organizing of my stuff so I know where everything is. The sunscreens I bought for the windows worked very well last night to keep any prying eyes from peeking through the windshield or front windows. The other side and back windows have installed blinds.
I drove (way over) to the restroom (like 100 ft) in the van, in the morning and plugged in a little pot for hot water. It worked very well to make coffee back at the van.
I went into the WalMart at Charles Town looking for a cigarette lighter adapter to charge my GPS. Not finding that, ate a quick hamburger there, then I bought 4 lithium batteries at a nearby Radio Shack store for the GPS. Still a lot to learn about the GPS. Finally I re-entered the Harper’s Ferry National Historic Site and did more walking around the streets. It was raining on and off. A train passed over the bridge on the Potomac River nearby. Canadian geese were shepherding their babies around on the grassy areas. Little flowers grew up the walls of the spring houses and root cellars and it was so pretty. Very few people were in the town and there was so much to see. Finally I caught the shuttle bus back to the Ranger’s Visitor Center and took my van back to the Campground.
I listened to my radio and occasionally watched the van’s TV (on the van's battery). The reception for NBC comes in very well, but the other stations are poor. I was prepared this time, for a cold night, and slept very well in the van.