Doggin’ The Civil War

Gettysburg National Military Park - Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Gettysburg National Military Park, where Civil War Union forces halted a Confederate invasion commanded by Robert E. Lee, in south-central Pennsylvania is America's most-visited battlefield. A good way for dog owners to digest the most analyzed three days in American history (July 1-3, 1863) - and escape the crowds - is to leave the auto tour and explore the grounds on foot. The battlefield swallows the town of Gettysburg although most of your walking will take place in quiet farmland and boulder-studded hillsides south of the village where the climactic fighting took place. 

A full day to hike with your dog can be crafted on the 9-mile Billy Yank Trailand the 3.5-mile Johnny Reb Trail. Part of the Gettysburg Heritage Trails Program, printed guides lead the way on these rambles. Shorter canine hikes include the one-mile High Water Mark Trail that interprets the final desperate Confederate race across nearly one mile of open ground by the 12,000-man "Pickett's Charge" and an historic climb that twists through the woods to the summit of Big Round Top, a crucial Union position on the top of Cemetery Ridge.

While at Gettysburg, also take time to hike with your dog on informal trails leading to more than 1,400 statues and memorials erected to remember this most historic of American ground, where more men fell than in any battle ever fought in the United States. 

Antietam National Battlefield - Antietam, Maryland
On September 17, 1862, Robert E. Lee’s first attempt to invade the North came to a climax. After his smashing victory at the First Battle of Bull Run in August, Lee marched his army of 41,000 Southerners against George McClellan’s87,000-man Army of the Potomac.

When silence fell again across the field, Antietam had become “The Bloodiest Day of the Civil War.” Federal losses were 12,410, Confederate losses 10,700. The fighting was indecisive, but Lee’s initial foray into the North was over. Great Britain now hesitated to recognize the new Confederate government and President Abraham Lincoln had the opportunity he needed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in the states in rebellion.

The 8.5-mile interpretive driving tour of the battlefield is one-way so it is really too far to do on foot with your dog but there are plenty of places to park and get out to explore, including the solemn “Bloody Lane” - an old sunken road separating area farms where the dead and wounded piled two to five feet deep in the dirt.
One place that demands to be explored on foot is the Burnside Bridge, southeast of Sharpsburg. Union General Ambrose Burnside and his 12,000-man force attempted to cross this 125-foot span over Antietam Creek at 9:30 a.m. on the morning of the battle but were held off by 450 Confederate sharpshooters hidden in the bluffs on the other side of the creek. The federals were not able to cross the bridge until early afternoon. At the Burnside Bridge you can access the Snavely Ford Trail, a 2.5-mile footpath that traces the creek around open fields. In addition to being a pleasant canine hiking loop, the trail conveys the agrarian feel of the area when two armies clashed here.

The battle is commemorated during the Sharpsburg Heritage Festival on the September weekend closest to the Antietam anniversary. In December, 23,110 candles in bags are set out along the driving route of the battlefield to honor the soldiers who fell here.  

Monocacy National Battlefield - Frederick, Maryland
In 1847 a farm was cobbled together here from several small tracts that was purchased in 1862 by John Worthington. This farm saw withering action on July 7, 1864 when Union general Lew Wallace, better known as the author of Ben Hur: A Tale of The Christ, took up a defensive position with 2,700 men at Monocacy Junction, planning to check the advance of General Jubal Early and his 18,000 Confederates. The bloody battle that came two days later was a decisive defeat for the outnumbered Federals, but the delay it caused Early probably kept Washington from falling into Confederate hands. In 1928, Glenn Worthington petitioned Congress to create a National Military Park at Monocacy. The bill passed but acquisition of land for preserving the Monocacy National Battlefield did not take place for another half-century. 

Much of the battlefield is in private hands but there is still plenty to see in the farm land that is virtually unchanged since the Civil War. At the park Visitor Center an interpretive half-mile trail in light woods leads to the Monocacy River. Down the road, a stacked loop explores the Worthington farm. There is a mix of open field canine hiking and hardwood forests on two stacked-loop trails. The park is devoted as much to the natural evolution of the landscape as to remembrance of battles fought. Of particular interest are the gnarly Osage-orange trees that were grown as natural fences. The terrain grows steep in places but overall this is a relaxed hike for your dog on natural trails and graveled farm roads. All told there are more than three miles of trails at Worthington Farm. 

Battlefields of Manassas - Manassas, Virginia
The Manassas Gap and the Orange and Alexandria railroads crossed in Manassas, a surveyor’s decision in the 1850s that would transform this small farming community into one of America’s best-known towns. Twice in the first two years of the Civil War the Northern and Southern armies clashed five miles north of town near a creek called Bull Run, resulting in 30,000 casualties in an attempt to control that railroad junction.

On July 21, 1861 the Civil War was expected to end. The fully-equipped Union Army under General Irvin McDowell was prepared to take the field for the first time at Bull Run. The complete submission of the rebels was such a certainty the Federal troops were accompanied by picnickers and sightseers. After ten hours of bloody fighting the Union Army was in retreat towards Washington and it was apparent this was not going to be a one-battle war.

The armies returned to Bull Run a year later, seasoned and spirited. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was at the peak of its power and he outmaneuvered General John Pope’s Union army in three days of struggle beginning August 28. With his masterful victory here Lee was able to carry the war to the North for the first time.

The main canine hiking on the Manassas Battlefield is on two trails that interpret the two critical Civil War clashes over this ground. Each route covers more than five miles and offers a pleasing mix of open-field and woods hiking. Expect the fields - that retain much of its wartime character - to be muddy in times of wet weather. The moderate terrain and abundance of interpretive markers makes the lengthy hikes go by easier.

The First Manassas Trail takes in Bull Run and the Stone Bridge where the first shots were fired. It also features more open fields. The Second Manassas Trailacross the western section of the park is the preferred route to take your dog on a busy day. If time is limited take the one-mile Henry Hill Loop Trail around the Visitor Center where the critical fighting in the first battle of the Civil War took place. The trail follows part of the Southern Line where General Thomas J. Jackson received his immortal nickname “Stonewall.”