Civil Wars


Last weekend my father and I attended a ranger-led walking tour of the Thomas Farm on the Monocacy National Battlefield. The weather was a bit cooler than it had been on July 9, 1864, when the Confederate army, led by General Jubal Early, achieved the only Confederate victory on Union territory against the much smaller Union force, led by General Lew Wallace. But the skies were clear, the sun was bright, and the fields, still actively farmed, were full of soybeans ready for harvesting. On the Thomas farm, there are only rare glimpses of the Monocacy River, which played a pivotal role during the battle’s action. Its 2.5 miles of shoreline are much more easily accessed by other trails on the battlefield, such as the loop at the Gambrill Mill and the easy walking paths at the Worthington House. The Monocacy Battlefield’s visitor center, just off of Rte. 355 (historically known as Urbana Pike), is worth visiting if you have any interest in Maryland during the Civil War. The Battle of the Monocacy doesn’t have the fame of nearby Antietam and Gettysburg, but it does of the distinction of having saved Washington, D.C.

Some might call that a dubious distinction, especially these days.



Marquis on the Monocacy

Frederick is full of history, from its Hessian barracks dating to the Revolutionary period, to Francis Scott Key, who wrote the national anthem during the War of 1812, to its Civil War hospitals and battlefields.  Every school child learns about Barbara Fritchie, who, along with Frederick’s “clustered spires,” was made famous by John G. Whittier’s poem about her bold star-spangled flag-waving at Stonewall Jackson when he marched his Confederate troops through town, and it’s hard to miss the multitude of signs and markers commemorating various historical events throughout the county. The Monocacy River is well decorated itself, mostly for its role in the Civil War’s Battle of Monocacy, which “saved” Washington, D.C. by waylaying the Confederacy, but also for another, happier event.

From 1808 to 1942, a stone arch bridge carried the Old National Road (Rte. 40) over the Monocacy River in Frederick, Maryland. On its east end stood a large stone monument shaped like a demijohn, a vessel popularly used for holding bourbon (in fact, there is a rumor that there is an actual demijohn of bourbon inside the monument), which gave the bridge its name, “Jug Bridge.” When the famous Revolutionary War general Marquis de Lafayette came from France to make his popular tour of the United States in 1824, one of his stops was at the Jug Bridge, where he addressed a large crowd of enthusiastic Fredericktonians. After the bridge suddenly collapsed in 1942, the “jug” and a marker commemorating Lafayette’s visit were eventually moved about 2 miles away, to a small park near the Frederick Airport, where the National Road flows into downtown Frederick’s Patrick Street. There have been discussions about moving the monument elsewhere, but I’m glad it’s still not too far from the Monocacy River that inspired it in the first place.

Oh, and it’s quite convenient to the MVA.


*If you like humor in your history and are interested in learning more about the Marquis, I highly recommend Sarah Vowell’s Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. Vowell also reported on Lafayette’s 1824 tour of the United States in This American Life’s Episode 291: “Reunited (And It Feels So Good).” You can find it here:



Trash from the Past


I guess I’ve always had a thing for trash: digging for it, documenting it, and treasuring it. While the blog’s subtitle calls me a “girl,” by now it should be obvious that I’m long past being any such thing, at least in externals. I’m old enough to have accumulated  a number of identities, and one of my favorite ones, one which I thought was never to be picked up again, was archaeologist.  In my twenties, I got an advanced degree in Greek, Latin, and Archaeology and did some digging for a few summers at some classical sites. It’s actually not as exciting a job as most expect.  While I was in the trenches, tourists often asked whether I had found any gold.  I smiled and said, “no,” because I understood that they meant the shiny mineral, but I had found some of my own gold: potsherds, pieces of glass, dirt floors, roads, foundations, and even a tiny marble head. In other words, I had found ancient trash. And, to me, it was fascinating.

The trash I’m finding today could be the treasure of tomorrow.  So should I feel bad about picking it up?  I’ve decided no.  What I find is shreds of plastic, tin cans, agricultural waste, bits of clothing, machine parts, et alia (see, I do know Latin), that has floated down the river.  Its lost its cultural context and, therefore, is of little future value for those who may wish to understand us, say, 1,000 years from now. In other words, there’s no need to give myself a pat on the back for leaving a yogurt container to be buried in the sand.

There are active archeologists (note the different spelling for those who work in North America…wow, I am such a geek today!) working along the Monocacy River.  In fact, there is a large Native American settlement off Biggs Ford Rd. that has been excavated multiple years by the Archeological Society of Maryland.  From approximately 1000-1500 AD, it was occupied by peoples of the Montgomery and Keyser Complex. For more details and pictures from the 2014 expedition, see the link below.

Oh, and it’s April, so happy Maryland Archeology Month!