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View history from aboveView history from above

Historic battlefield sites abound near Frederick, MarylandHistoric battlefield sites abound near Frederick, Maryland

A history buff will never run out of sightseeing opportunities within a short distance of AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland. To add aerial activities to your agenda, grab your camera, fire up your engine, and head out to inspect some of the most famous battlefields of the Civil War from above.

Sunset at Gettysburg National Military Park silhouettes the John F. Reynolds equestrian statue. Photo courtesy of Destination Gettysburg.

Plan your flying carefully to comply with airspace rules and the requested minimum flyover altitudes for National Park Service sites. Then head to the airport to make history come alive.

Just about 20 road miles west from Frederick is Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, site of abolitionist John Brown’s Oct. 16, 1859, raid on a federal arsenal, which he hoped would trigger a slave revolt, but failed (and shortly thereafter Brown was hanged). When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the strategic importance of Harpers Ferry, located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, made it the focus of constant engagements throughout the war—especially a September 1862 battle in which Confederate forces were victorious and more than 12,000 Union troops were taken prisoner. The Harpers Ferry National Historical Park encompasses battlefields and other features with portions of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Just a few days after that famous battle of the Maryland Campaign of 1862, the North and the South clashed nearby at Sharpsburg, Maryland, in the Battle of Antietam, notorious as the “bloodiest one-day battle in American history.” The site is also now preserved and maintained for visitors by the National Park Service.

About an hour’s drive south from Frederick, or a short flight to Manassas Regional Airport located below a shelf of Washington, D.C.’s Class B airspace with a floor of 2,500 feet msl, brings you to the Manassas National Battlefield Park. This is where the two Battles of Bull Run were fought in July 1861 and August 1862—the latter credited with setting the stage for the Confederacy’s ultimately unsuccessful effort to invade the North that year.

Reenactors in Capt. Flagg's US Quartermaster City: Approach of Peace in Harpers Ferry, Maryland. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

No survey of Civil War battlefields centered on a visit to Frederick would be complete without heading north for a slightly shorter outing to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. It was here on three very sanguinary days in July 1863 where the Confederacy’s “most ambitious” attempt to invade the North was turned back, and where, four months later, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address to dedicate the cemetery where Union soldiers killed in the battle were laid to rest. Gettysburg Regional Airport is nearby.

If time is pressing, weather is imposing, or other factors constrain your day-trip ambitions, you need not venture farther than Frederick’s southerly outskirts to visit a Civil War battlefield celebrated for its importance as “the battle that saved Washington, D.C.” In July 1864, outnumbered Union troops under Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace took up positions along the Monocacy River near Monocacy Junction to stall Confederate Gen. Jubal Early’s attempt to attack Washington, D.C., while Union troops hastened to reinforce the capital.

The federals were eventually pushed back, but for Early, it was too late. “While the Confederates had won the Battle of Monocacy, Lew Wallace was ultimately successful. His efforts had delayed Jubal Early’s advance long enough for additional Union reinforcements to reach Washington D.C.,” notes the National Park Service’s description of the battle’s significance. The entrance to the park is at 5201 Urbana Pike in Frederick.

Civil War cannons line a stone wall at Antietam National Battlefield. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.
Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Travel, US Travel

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