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1663RE: [TalkAntietam] Lincoln's Travels

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  • Tim Reese
    Jan 14, 2005
      Welcome aboard, Steve. Fasten your seat belt.

      You have your work cut out for you regarding a wartime Middletown narrative. I don't envy you; slim pickin's.

      Question 1: Lincoln never set foot in Burkittsville, this propounded by a bogus letter allegedly found here in town circa 1975. Assiduous detective work spanning many years ultimately revealed that the "Prather letter"--which claims both Lee and Lincoln visited town in late summer, 1862--was in fact created by a local clergyman cum history buff (now deceased). He cobbled together a rather poorly executed facsimile based on info provided by a descendant of a Confederate soldier mortally wounded at Crampton's Gap, he having visited town to locate the church where his ancestor likely expired. The clergyman pumped him for details, then a year later the "letter" miraculously appeared, reassigning the soldier from Georgia infantry to Virginia cavalry. What a tangled web we weave.

      Lincoln is in fact recorded as having taken a light lunch in Brownsville (Pleasant Valley) after reviewing Union troops in the vicinity of Maryland Heights before moving on to Sharpsburg via what I have labeled "Rohrersville Pass" through Elk Ridge to the Ninth Corps sector near Burnside's infamous bridge. There is no record of his having crossed South Mountain to Burkittsville which would have taken him well out of his recorded way and taken considerable time to cross and re-cross SM.

      When he reached Bakersville north of Sharpsburg to review the encamped Sixth Corps Lincoln spoke with Franklin, expressing admiration for what Franklin's troops accomplished at CG after seeing it for himself, but said nothing about viewing the gap from F's eastern perspective, this recorded in "Battles & Leaders" 2:596n.

      Unfortunately the "letter" developed a life of its own, many falling victim to its purported authenticity. Among them was John Shildt, author of "Four Days in October" which lays out, as near as can be, Lincoln's itinerary while visiting McClellan and the AoP. John's book is still the most cogent analysis of Lincoln's movements even though he fell prey to the "letter." Lay hands on a copy if you can. John only took his research just so far. The subject bears further trench work. John was deeply downcast when I explained the ruse to him on the phone. He knew the clergyman personally, John being a clergyman himself.

      Lincoln's route has conspicuous gaps, but his return trip to Washington is beyond question. He was conveyed to Frederick by carriage on the National Pike via Boonsboro, Turner's Gap, Middletown, and Braddock's Gap much the way we would reach Frederick today. It's anyone's guess whether or not he stopped in Middletown, but logic dictates a fair likelihood that a brief halt may have been called to rest and water the horses after traversing SM, a stiff climb for any nag.

      Question 2: I think the operative word here is "rumor." I've never found a single scrap of information indicating Hooker abided in Middletown to convalesce. R.B. Hayes yes; Hooker no. Probably confusion here. I concur with Brian. Hooker undoubtedly would have fleetly returned to civilization to make the most of his condition. After all, he was only shot in the foot. I need not remind you that the Catoctin Valley is thickly planted, as if by weeds, with old wives' tales about famed personalities. As always, the burden of proof lies with those who serve up this stuff. I for one am not buying.

      If I come across anything of value concerning "Muddletown" I'll pass it along. More power to you. Burkittsville has identical folklore headaches aplenty.


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