Stone Bridge Loop Trail (Manassas National Battlefield Park, VA)

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Stone Bridge Loop Trail, Manassas National Battlefield Park, April 2017

– Civil War Series –

The Stone Bridge at Virginia’s Manassas National Battlefield Park was the site of the first action of the First Battle of Manassas on July 21, 1861. Destroyed during the war, the bridge has been reconstructed, just off today’s Warrenton Turnpike (Lee Highway), and marks the start of a short circuit hike on the west side of Bull Run Creek. The closest Manassas hike to Washington, DC—and one of the most scenic—the Stone Bridge Loop Trail is quite popular, especially on weekends. (Note: The loop is one of five hiking trails that trace the First Battle of Manassas; see also the First Manassas Trail, Sudley Loop Trail, Matthews Hill Loop Trail, and Henry Hill Loop Trail.)

Stone Bridge Loop Trail hike information Manassas

The hike

In the early morning hours of June 21, 1861, Union Brig. Gen. Daniel Tyler marched his division westward on Warrenton Turnpike to the Stone Bridge, where his forces kicked off the First Battle of Manassas with a volley of fire against Confederate Col. Nathan “Shanks” Evans’ brigade on the western bank. But this was not the Federals’ main line of attack; in fact, Tyler’s artillery fire was simply a demonstration—a show of force intended to deceive and distract the Confederates from a much larger movement of around 13,000 troops farther north at Sudley Ford.

Though surviving the First Battle of Manassas, the Stone Bridge was destroyed by Confederate forces in March 1862 to obstruct the passage of Federal troops over Bull Run. The bridge was reconstructed, however, in 1884, situated partway upstream from Warrenton Turnpike, now a busy throughway.

The Stone Bridge Loop Trail begins and ends at the Stone Bridge parking area off Warrenton Turnpike, just beyond the popular Winery at Bull Run. From the parking area, a paved path winds downhill to the bridge, crossing it after around 175 yards. The bridge over Bull Run is quite wide, making it an attractive transit point during the early stage of the Civil War.

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Crossing the Stone Bridge

Once across, take a right at the trail fork. From here, you can get a side view of the double-arched bridge. The dirt path follows Bull Run’s western bank for the next half-mile.

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Stone Bridge Loop Trail along Bull Run

At the hike’s half-mile mark, hikers have a choice: bear right to climb to Farm Ford, or take an easier shortcut to the left. Those with sufficient energy should head for the ford, where, on the morning of July 21, 1861, a young colonel named William Tecumseh Sherman would make his Civil War debut – crossing Bull Run en route to battle.

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Overlook at Farm Ford

From Farm Ford, the trail leaves Bull Run behind and follows a pine-studded ravine to the west, emerging onto an open field at 0.75 miles. Take a left, skirting the edge of the woods, then stay right at the next junction. (Note: This is where the shortcut route reconnects with the main loop.) At 0.85 miles, the trail reaches the former site of the Van Pelt House.

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Van Pelt House site

The Van Pelt family, staunch Unionists in a Confederate state, found their house at the center of battle on July 21. Col. Evans’ Confederate forces deployed here to defend the Stone Bridge, and according to Federal accounts, the Union’s historic “First Shot” of the battle crashed into the Van Pelt House at around 6 am.

From the Van Pelt site, bear left on the downward sloping route heading southeast. Here the Stone Bridge Loop Trail traverses a grassy knoll, passing an interpretive panel marked “Opening Shots,” which tells the story of Col. Evans’ brigade on the morning of battle…

After taking fire from Tyler’s Union forces, Evans directed a portion of his men to meet the challenge. At about 7:30 am, however, Evans unmasked his enemy’s deception: a nearby signalman, Capt. E. Porter Alexander spotted a much larger Federal contingent—around 13,000 troops—crossing Bull Run two miles north at Sudley Ford. Alexander immediately relayed the message to Evans: “Look out for your left, you are turned.” Evans responded quickly, withdrawing 900 of his 1,100 men to meet the advancing Federals farther north, leaving only a small contingent to hold the Stone Bridge. (Note: Later in the day, Evans’ forces would be routed at Matthews Hill, and Tyler’s brigade would push across the Stone Bridge—early Union victories that would belie an afternoon defeat at nearby Henry Hill.)

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Boardwalk on Stone Bridge Loop Trail

Beyond the panel, the trail rounds a corner and descends steeply, losing around 60 feet in less than 75 yards. Paralleling Warrenton Turnpike on the right, the path then crosses a marshy flat, returning to the Stone Bridge at around the hike’s 1.5-mile mark. From here, it is a short walk back across the bridge and up a minor slope to the parking lot.

Allot around 1-1.5 hours for this short (and mostly easy) loop hike.

Extra credit

Four additional hikes traverse the terrain of the First Battle of Manassas, including:

References

Civil War Trust, “Bull Run,” https://www.civilwar.org/learn/civil-war/battles/bull-run

John J. Hennessy, The First Battle of Manassas, Revised Edition (Stackpole Books: 2015)

Posted in Civil War, Easy Hikes, Manassas National Battlefield Park, Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sudley Loop Trail (Manassas National Battlefield Park, VA)

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Sudley Loop Trail, Manassas National Battlefield Park, April 2017

– Civil War Series –

On July 19, 1861—two days before the Civil War’s First Battle of Manassas—Union General Irwin McDowell dispatched John G. Barnard, his chief engineer, to identify a suitable place for thousands of Federal soldiers, horses, and artillery to cross Bull Run Creek undetected. Barnard found such a crossing at Sudley Ford, well upstream of the Confederate defensive positions protecting Virginia’s Manassas Junction, a vital rail link and the objective of McDowell’s offensive. Two days later, McDowell ordered two divisions (roughly 13,000 troops) to cross at Sudley Ford, the move that kicked off the Civil War’s first major engagement.

In 1861, the area around Sudley Ford was mostly barren, largely clear of trees and brush. Today, however, it has been overtaken by dense forest, an overgrown landscape now partially protected by Manassas National Battlefield Park. While Sudley Ford is on private land, the 6/10-mile Sudley Loop Trail explores the area just south of the crossing, including Sudley Springs Ford, where Union forces splashed across Catharpin Run (just after traversing Bull Run) on the morning of July 21, 1861. (Note: The loop is one of five hiking trails that trace the First Battle of Manassas; see also the First Manassas Trail, Stone Bridge Loop Trail, Matthews Hill Loop Trail, and Henry Hill Loop Trail.)

Sudley Loop Trail Manassas hike information

Sudley Loop Trail map

Map of Sudley Loop Trail, Manassas National Battlefield Park; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

Just off Sudley Road, the trailhead for this hike is situated in the extreme north of Manassas National Battlefield Park. Coming from the south, look for a small parking area on the left, just before the Sudley United Methodist Church. (Note: Fortunately, the Sudley Loop Trail is not popular because the parking area has only three spaces.) An interpretive panel at the site discusses the role of Sudley Church in the battle.

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Sudley Church from the parking area

The trail begins across Sudley Road to the east. (Note: Use caution in crossing the road, where cars zip by at 50+ miles per hour.) Immediately, the path darts into the forest, following an elevated railroad bed that was unfinished at the start of the war; the lengthy ditch to the right was constructed to keep water from flooding the tracks.

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Trail split, with the unfinished railroad ditch to the right

At around the 100-yard mark, the trail forks; stay right, following the sign reading “START LOOP 0.6 MI.” (Note: The trail to the left will be your return trip.) Off to the left, bits remain of the foundation of Christian Hill, once the home to Amos and Margaret Benson, who stumbled upon a wounded Union soldier and nursed him back to health following the battle. In another 100 yards, the Sudley Loop Trail approaches an overlook of Bull Run, now obscured by trees.

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Descent to Bull Run

At this point, the trail bears left and drops steeply to cross a minor stream at around 0.15 miles. Off to the right is a short access trail to Bull Run, bounded by a rocky bluff on the west bank.

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Bluff along Bull Run

Continuing down the trail, the terrain levels out and weaves amid the trees until briefly emerging onto the lawn of the Thornberry House at ¼ mile. This site, once a private home, is one of only three remaining Civil War-era structures in the park; during the battle, it was overrun by wounded Union soldiers who used the house to recuperate.

Stay on the trail as it darts right to the banks of Bull Run. At 0.3 miles, one can see the confluence of Bull Run and Catharpin Run, or “Little Bull Run,” on the right. Leaving Bull Run behind (Sudley Ford is upstream from here but on private land), the trail follows Catharpin Run upstream to Sudley Springs Ford.

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Sudley Springs Ford

Shortly after crossing Bull Run, more than 13,000 Union soldiers traversed this ford on the morning of July 21, 1861 en route to battle. The travel was slow and tedious, especially for a force composed mainly of young and inexperienced soldiers. In fact, the march from Centreville, Virginia to the crossing of Bull Run took so long that it ruined McDowell’s element of surprise. At around 7:30 am, Col. Nathan G. Evans’ 7th Brigade—Confederate forces positioned at the Stone Bridge to the south—detected the movement and began to move troops to meet the advancing Unionists. The slow movement of Union troops—combined with Evans’ resistance at Matthews Hill—was sufficient to allow additional Confederate reinforcements to arrive, a critical juncture that eventually led to a Southern victory in the afternoon.

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Sudley Loop Trail, heading back toward the trailhead

Beyond the ford, the trail heads south on a plywood boardwalk, then approaches the Thornberry House again, this time from the west side. Just beyond, the trail abuts Sudley Road, and a wayside provides a brief snapshot of the sleepy town of Sudley Springs, which awoke to the sounds of thousands of Federal forces marching to battle on July 21.

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Thornberry House, from the Sudley Loop Trail

From here, the trail continues a gradual ascent back toward the trailhead, briefly dipping to crossing a small ravine at around 0.55 miles. Seconds later, hikers will return to the initial trail junction. Bear right, following the singletrack back to Sudley Road, and the parking lot beyond.

Allot around 45 minutes to an hour for this relatively easy and family-friendly hike through a slice of Civil War history.

Extra credit

Four additional hikes traverse the terrain of the First Battle of Manassas, including:

References

Civil War Trust, “Bull Run,” https://www.civilwar.org/learn/civil-war/battles/bull-run

John J. Hennessy, The First Battle of Manassas, Revised Edition (Stackpole Books: 2015)

Posted in Civil War, Easy Hikes, Manassas National Battlefield Park, Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Fort Sumter (Fort Sumter National Monument, SC)

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Fort Sumter, Fort Sumter National Monument, February 2017

– Civil War Series –

On April 12, 1861—after decades of fierce debate over slavery—South Carolina Confederates kicked off the Civil War with a barrage of fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Surrounded, outgunned, and short on supplies, Major Robert Anderson was forced to cede the fort the next day—despite not losing a soldier, the surrender dealt a final blow to the prospect of a diplomatic solution. It would be another four years until the war would end, when Fort Sumter would finally return to Federal control.

Today, Fort Sumter is preserved by the National Park Service as part of a three-part unit—Fort Sumter National Monument—which comprises the island fort itself, nearby Fort Moultrie, and Liberty Square. In summer, several boats a day bound for Fort Sumter leave from Liberty Square in Charleston and Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant; each tour gives visitors a little over an hour on the island. (Note: Winter service is limited to just three boats a day.) The fort has changed over the years—during the Spanish-American War in the 1890s, the US Army added a massive steel and concrete installation to the mix; it was also manned and armed during World War I and II before becoming a national monument in 1948. (Note: Also check out nearby Fort Moultrie—see my post from May 3, 2017.)

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One of a handful of shells remaining from the Battle of Fort Sumter

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Cannon from the Civil War era

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View toward Fort Moultrie from Fort Sumter

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Flag atop Battery Huger on Fort Sumter

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Artillery pointed toward the Atlantic

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Fort Sumter, with Charleston skyline in the distance

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Charleston from the boat ride back to Patriot’s Point

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Fort Moultrie (Fort Sumter National Monument, SC)

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Fort Moultrie, Fort Sumter National Monument, February 2017

– Revolutionary War Series –

– Civil War Series –

Fort Moultrie—built to defend South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor—has played an important role in several of America’s conflicts. First, under the leadership of Revolutionary Colonel William Moultrie, it fought off a British assault in 1776, and decades later, helped deter the British threat again during the War of 1812. In December 1860, as South Carolina seceded from the Union, the Federal garrison at Fort Moultrie abandoned the post, retreating to nearby Fort Sumter, where the Union forces—facing an artillery barrage from now Confederate-held Moultrie—would eventually be forced to surrender in April 1861. Following its capture, Fort Moultrie served as the primary defender for Confederate-held Charleston and endured heavy bombardment from the Union navy in 1863 before returning to Federal control two years later with the end of the Civil War. Since then, the fort has undergone several stages of modernization: the addition of heavy artillery and concrete and steel bunkers in the 1870s and 1880s, followed by more improvements during the two World Wars of the 20th century.

The result of all this today is a somewhat-jarring mishmash of old and new—brick, stone, concrete, and steel. Administered by Fort Sumter National Monument, Fort Moultrie is more easily accessible than its island-bound cousin, and its location near the beaches on Sullivan’s Island make it a popular weekend destination. The National Park Service offers ample wayside exhibits and guided tours for visitors, and the Visitor Center on Sullivan’s Island has an impressive array of exhibits covering Fort Moultrie’s rich history. (Note: For the actual Fort Sumter, see my post on May 13, 2017.)

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Entering Fort Moultrie

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View of Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor from Fort Moultrie

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Heavy artillery at Fort Moultrie

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Civil War artillery at Fort Moultrie

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Beaches at Sullivan’s Island

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View of Fort Moultrie (and Revolutionary War-era artillery)

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Charles Pinckney National Historic Site, SC

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Charles Pinckney National Historic Site, February 2017

– Revolutionary War Series –

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina commemorates the life of a “forgotten founder” who helped shape the American political system following the Revolutionary War. Most famous for writing 25 clauses of the U.S. Constitution, Charles Pinckney was a Jeffersonian Democratic-Republican and a favorite son of South Carolina, where he lived until his death in 1824. Much of his life was spent here at Snee Farm, a 28-acre slice of which is now managed by the National Park Service. Though no complete structures remain from Pinckney’s time, the stone foundations of several buildings have been unearthed, while the present Visitor Center occupies a tidewater cottage constructed in the years after Pinckney sold Snee Farm in the 1817. A half-mile nature trail traverses the farm and explores nearby woods and a tidal marsh.

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Tidewater cottage housing the park’s Visitor Center

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Foundation of former slave quarters at Snee Farm

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Woods at Charles Pinckney National Historic Site

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Boardwalk over a marsh leading to the banks of Wampacheone Creek

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Gardens at Snee Farm

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North Pier Trail (Fort Pulaski National Monument, GA)

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North Pier Trail, Fort Pulaski National Monument, February 2017

– Civil War Series –

While the fort itself steals the show, Georgia’s Fort Pulaski National Monument also contains a handful of hiking trails. Among the easiest (and mostly wheelchair-accessible) is the North Pier Trail, a 6/10-mile stem-and-loop which begins and ends at the northwest corner of the park’s main parking area on Cockspur Island. Highlights include a late 19th century naval battery and a palm-studded view of the Savannah River as it drains into the Atlantic. Perhaps most interesting about the hike, however, is the dense vegetation: a mixed forest of pines, hardwoods, and palms. (Note: As of early 2017, part of this trail was closed due to damage sustained by Hurricane Matthew, which ravaged the area in October 2016.)

North Pier Trail Fort Pulaski hike information

North Pier Trail map Fort Pulaski

Map of North Pier Trail, Fort Pulaski National Monument

The hike

After visiting the fort, return to the parking area and look for a large sign marking the start of the North Pier Trail, at the northwest end of the lot. Here, just beyond the trail panel, a wide and paved path plunges into the coastal forest, revealing wily branches, dense thicket, and flashes of palms. It’s flat and straight for the first 100 yards, after which the trail forks. Stay left to head toward the North Pier viewpoint.

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Start of the North Pier Trail

As the trail snakes around a minor curve, it briefly emerges from the vegetation at Battery Hambright, a concrete structure constructed in 1901 (well after the original Fort Pulaski). The battery was part of a series of fort improvements completed after the Spanish-American War, though artillery was never installed at the site.

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Battery Hambright

Skirting the battery to the left, the path continues north and splits again at around 0.13 mile. Head straight, with the pier now in sight. Scampering down to the sandy viewpoint, look off to the right: this is the mouth of the 300-mile Savannah River, a key avenue for blockade runners during the Civil War until the Union capture of Fort Pulaski in April 1862.

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View downstream from the pier

Across the river is Jones Island—the southernmost tip of South Carolina—which was described by occupying Union forces during the war as “semi-fluid mud, which is agitated like jelly by the falling of even small bodies on it.” Downstream, one can also see the northern tip of Tybee Island, the primary staging point for Federal artillery during the siege of Fort Pulaski in April 1862. (Note: In its heyday, North Pier was a bustling port and key logistics hub for Fort Pulaski. Today, the granite block foundation and a handful of wooden pilings are all that remains.)

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Looking up the Savannah River at North Pier

Once finished at the pier, double back to the second trail junction and bear left on a paved side route, which arcs around the grassy backside of Battery Hambright. This trail, which quickly reenters the thicket, leads to the John Wesley Memorial, a tribute to the founder of the Methodist Church who landed on Cockspur Island from Britain in 1736.

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John Wesley Memorial, North Pier Trail, Fort Pulaski National Monument

The side circuit ends about 70 yards past the memorial, back at the first trail junction. Bear left, retracing your steps on the initial straightaway back to the parking area. (Note: The official Fort Pulaski Trail Guide records the North Pier Trail as being one mile round-trip. However, this includes the distance to/from the Visitor Center, past the parking lot, to the trailhead. The actual stem-and-loop walk is roughly 6/10 mile.)

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North Pier Trail

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Fort Pulaski (Fort Pulaski National Monument, GA)

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Fort Pulaski, Fort Pulaski National Monument, February 2017

– Civil War Series –

An imposing structure with walls 11 feet thick, Fort Pulaski was widely regarded at the start of the Civil War as an impenetrable fortress guarding Savannah, Georgia from a Federal naval attack. The U.S. Chief of Engineers, referring to the fort’s heavy masonry walls, once quipped: “You might as well bombard the Rocky Mountains.” (Note: Like Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina and Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads, Virginia, Fort Pulaski was part of the “Third System of Defenses” constructed after the War of 1812.)

Union Captain Quincy Gilmore, however, was determined to prove his doubters wrong, employing a relatively new and untested invention—the rifled gun—in a siege of Fort Pulaski in April 1862. The effect was devastating—two days of heavily artillery fire had blown two large holes in the fort’s walls, and the southeast corner was near collapse. On the second day of bombardment, the garrison at Fort Pulaski was forced to surrender.

The Union takeover of Fort Pulaski halted shipping in and out of Savannah and strengthened the Federal blockade. More significantly, however, the success of the rifled cannon made once-mighty forts of brick and stone obsolete. (Note: Later forts would be built of mud and earth, such as nearby Fort McAllister.)

Today, visitors to Fort Pulaski National Monument—situated on Cockspur Island, a 30-minute drive from Savannah—can explore the fort and see the artillery damage firsthand: though the southeast corner has been restored, dozens of scars and intrusions remain. The park is open 9-5 daily and includes a handful of hiking trails.

thegearhunt.com

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Demilune at Fort Pulaski

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Inside Fort Pulaski

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View toward the fort entrance from atop the walls

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Southern wall of Fort Pulaski

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Cannon at Fort Pulaski

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Cratered southern wall and repaired southeast corner

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Southeast-facing wall, riddled with artillery craters

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Fort McAllister (Fort McAllister State Historic Park, GA)

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Fort McAllister, Fort McAllister State Historic Park, February 2017

– Civil War Series –

Roughly a 40-minute drive south of Savannah, Georgia, Fort McAllister State Historic Park preserves one of the country’s best remaining examples of a Civil War earthwork fortification. Constructed early in the war, Fort McAllister occupied a key position on the Ogeechee River and played an important role in facilitating the passage of legendary Confederate blockade runner, the CSS Nashville. Despite withstanding several assaults by the Union Navy in 1862 and 1863, the fort is most famous, however, for its ultimate surrender on December 13, 1864—the final notch in Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s famous “March to the Sea.” Savannah itself would fall by year’s end.

Today, Fort McAllister State Historic Park offers a self-guided walking tour of the fort, and has a surprisingly extensive Civil War museum. There are also two hiking trails that explore the area’s salt marshes and coastal woodlands.

See more details at runnerclick

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Ogeechee River from Fort McAllister State Historic Park

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Inside the Fort McAllister earthworks

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Ogeechee River from the fort

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Fort McAllister

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Wide path between the fort and visitor center

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Fort Washington Loop (Fort Washington Park, MD)

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Fort Washington Loop, Fort Washington Park, February 2017

– Civil War Series –

Spanning more than 200 years of history, Maryland’s Fort Washington is situated on a picturesque hill overlooking the wide and placid Potomac River, within sight of Washington, DC. The 19th century fort today lies within Fort Washington Park, protected and administered by the National Park Service. Around the brick structure, concrete batteries are scattered across the landscape, while much of the rest of the peninsula has been overtaken by dense forest. The 3.7-mile Fort Washington Loop—a relatively easy stroll with a few short but steep climbs—circuits the park, passing key sights and offering lovely views of the Potomac. Unfortunately, however, the trail maintenance is not the greatest—the loop suffers from broken bridges, fallen logs, and poor signage. (Note: See my previous post for a photo tour of Fort Washington itself.)

gearweare.com

Fort Washington Loop trail hike information

Fort Washington Loop trail map

Map of Fort Washington Loop, Fort Washington Park; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

Fort Washington Park is a 30-45 minute drive from Washington, DC and is often visited in conjunction with nearby Fort Foote, Harmony Hall, and Piscataway Park. Begin your visit at the Fort Washington Visitor Center, which offers historical and recreation information on the park and serves as the start and end point for this loop hike. The walk from the parking area, which passes between Battery Decatur and an observation tower, is roughly 150 yards.

The view southwest from the Visitor Center (a bright yellow building) is terrific: topped by Fort Washington, green, rolling hills disappear into the still, cerulean waters of the Potomac. A trio of waysides tell the story of the area from the original 1809 structure—Fort Warburton—through the Endicott System of defenses at the end of the 19th century. (Note: Battery White, visible down the hill from the main fort structure, was part of the latter upgrade.)

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View of Fort Washington and the Potomac River from the Visitor Center

Once you’re ready to hike, head south on the paved path from the overlook and bear right as the path weaves downhill into a grassy gully. Detour left at the next fork to explore the main fort or continue right to head toward the river and the start of the loop portion of the walk. At 2/10 mile, bear left on a partly graveled path; Light 80—a small, white lighthouse—is visible ahead. As the trail approaches the lighthouse, five different routes converge at a sunny junction. Look for a sign to your left reading “River Trail”—follow this path as it skirts the base of Battery White.

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Lighthouse at Fort Washington

The River Trail quickly enters woods and follows a narrow strip of land between the Potomac on the right and the fort walls on the left. As the fort disappears from view, the trail follows an old road that bends eastward and abruptly ends at a wooden boardwalk at around 6/10 mile. Continue onto the brief boardwalk, then follow the singletrack trail as it cuts across a woody ravine and, at 9/10 mile, passes a rifle trench on the right. Views of Piscataway Creek, a significant tributary of the Potomac, are plentiful.

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Mouth of Piscataway Creek

From the rifle trench, the River Trail begins the first of two significant climbs. Stay left at the junction, then ascend a set of wooden steps to clear a modest bluff. Stay right at the next fork, then descend sharply into another gully. Cross over a muddy stream, approaching another junction—stay straight this time. Climb a steep and lengthy set of stairs and enjoy the partly-obscured view of the Potomac from atop the ridgeline.

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Steep staircase on the River Trail, Fort Washington Park

With the hardest climbs behind you, the trail bears northeast and ascends gradually to Battery Wilkin at 1 ¼ miles. This battery, now rusted and overgrown, was constructed at the turn of the 20th century and remained in service until 1928.

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Battery Wilkin

Passing to the right of the structure, stay straight as the grassy field gives way to woods again and an old, asphalted road. Probably the dullest part of the hike, the road from here heads north through the forest for around 1/4 mile, with suburban houses on the right. At about 1.6 miles, the River Trail ends at a parking lot for some maintenance facilities on the left. Continue straight, heading up the paved road that leads north to the park entrance. Battery Meigs, which once housed eight large 12-inch mortars, is passed on the left. Stay right at the intersection at 1.7 miles. (Note: The road heading left leads to Picnic Areas A-D.)

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Battery Meigs

From here it is a short walk to Fort Washington Road and the Entrance Station, off to the right. Pass the entrance and cross the road, immediately turning onto an old, overgrown road marked with light blue blazes. This is the Pump Station Trail.

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Fort buildings near the park entrance

The Pump Station Trail starts as a straightforward walk on a gravel road, following a deep ravine on the left. As the old road gives way to a narrow footpath, however, the trail becomes difficult to follow. As a general rule of thumb, stay close to the metal fence on the right (on the other side is a golf course), then keep a close eye out for blue blazes as the route bends and bears west. Around 2.5 miles, having skirted a sloping hillside on the left, the faint path crosses a minor creek; around 30 yards farther, the trail splits. Bear right.

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Contraption on the Pump Station Trail

After 1/10 mile, the trail passes an unidentified, old rusted contraption on the left; a couple minutes later, upon reaching a fenced-off building on the left, take a minor detour to the right to the banks of Swan Creek, which feeds into the Potomac just downstream.

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View of Swan Creek

At 2.9 miles, bear right on an easy-to-miss trail, marked by a small blue stake that reads “0.5.” This is the start of the Waterside Trail, which, fortunately, is easy to follow as it hugs the shore of the Potomac River. At 3.25 miles, the trail passes the old torpedo storehouse, a former storage facility for explosive mine parts (not quite sophisticated “torpedo” we think of today). Stay straight on the now-wide double-track; there is a parking area visible uphill to the left. Roughly 3.4 miles from the start, hikers will be back at the five-way junction between the lighthouse and Battery White.

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Battery White

From here you have a couple choices. The first is to return the way you came a couple hours prior—ascending the paved track back to the Visitor Center. The second is to follow a smaller footpath that skirts the side of a hill below Fort Washington and provides close access to Battery White. Both options end near the fort entrance, a short jaunt from the Visitor Center.

Allot 2-3 hours for this 3.7-mile loop. Spring through fall, be sure to wear long pants and bug spray to avoid ticks, as parts of the hike pass through tall grass.

Extra credit

Explore the grounds of Fort Washington, or visit the old Civil War-era structure at Fort Foote, a 7-mile drive north of Fort Washington.

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Approaching sunset at Fort Washington

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Fort Washington (Fort Washington Park, MD)

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Fort Washington Park, February 2017

– Civil War Series –

The history of Maryland’s Fort Washington spans several of America’s wars, from the War of 1812 through the Civil War and the two World Wars. The first fort on this site, a stone structure constructed in 1809, was short-lived: it was burned and abandoned by its own garrison as the British advanced on Washington, DC during the War of 1812. The second iteration, enlarged and made of brick, remains standing today and was used to defend Washington during the Civil War. Outer batteries were added in the 1890s, and the fort continued to serve as an army post until the end of World War II.

Perched atop a grassy hill overlooking the Potomac River, Fort Washington offers a beautiful mix of natural beauty and historic flavor. A roughly 3.75-mile loop trail circuits Fort Washington Park, while visitors are free to explore the grounds of the inner fort from 8 am to sunset.

See more outdoor gear reviews here

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Walk up to the Visitor Center at Fort Washington Park

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Visitor Center overlooking the Potomac River at Fort Washington Park

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Entrance to Fort Washington

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Casemate at Fort Washington

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Fort Washington

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View of the Potomac River and Washington, DC from Fort Washington

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Officers’ quarters at Fort Washington

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Steep stairwell at Fort Washington

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View of the Potomac River from Fort Washington

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