For more information, contact the individual inns:

Kenmore Inn, 1200 Princess Anne St., Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, (540) 371-7622.

Inn at Antietam, 220 E. Main St., P.O. Box 119, Sharpsburg, Md. 21782, (301) 432-6601.

The Tannery, 449 Baltimore St., Gettysburg, Pa. 17325, (717) 334-2454.

Go to the main Civil War touring page.

Civil War Battlefields, in Keeping With Inns

By James T. Yenckel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sept. 3, 1989
© The Washington Post

On the face of it, the Civil War battlefields where cannons once roared and young troops died in brutal agony may seem a strange choice for a relaxing fall weekend. But in an odd quirk of history, these scenes of brief but tumultuous conflict have become quite inviting places for a quiet getaway.

Around them has grown up a special category of small inns that might properly be called "battlefield inns" because of their proximity to these historic sites. Almost every one of the major battlefields in the eastern theater of the war -- which raged from Gettysburg in the north to Richmond, Petersburg and Appomattox in the south -- has one or more inns nearby.

These inns, I think, have preserved harmony in my marriage.

I'm a Civil War buff, and so I've been a frequent visitor over the years to the several national battlefield and military parks in this area. I love to trace the sweep of a famous battle with a guidebook in hand, imagining myself a Yankee charging a Rebel stronghold. And I'm the sort who reads every word in every exhibit in the visitor center. My wife shares this interest, but only within reason. When she's had enough, she takes happy refuge in the inn and is content with a good novel until I wander back later.

Our touring arrangement illustrates the double appeal of battlefield inns. Located mostly in small towns or in the countryside, they can be pleasant, sometimes sybaritic getaways in themselves. But not very far away, if you are looking also for intellectual stimulation, are the battlefield parks, most of which rank high among this country's most notable historical attractions.

In the parks, you can pursue the history studiously. There is no better way to understand a commander's brilliance or stupidity -- Yankees and Rebels alike displayed both -- than to survey the same landscape he once did. Or you can take the historical lessons lightly and seek your pleasure more in a walk, a bicycle ride or a drive on roadways that weave between opposing fortifications. Another historical irony is that these onetime fields of horror have become beautiful parklands of grass-covered meadows and tall, shady trees.

On three short excursions recently, we visited three Civil War battlefields not far from Washington and stayed in three inns that are nicely representative of battlefield inns:

The Kenmore Inn in Fredericksburg, Va., an imposing mansion from the 1700s that is convenient both to the city's historic center and to the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields National Military Park. Of the three inns, it is the only one that offers a full restaurant on the premises.

The Inn at Antietam in Sharpsburg, Md., a Victorian country home where you can sip wine in the afternoon on the back patio and look southwest for miles across the rolling fields of Antietam National Battlefield. Our upstairs room looked out east upon the Antietam National Cemetery. This inn's breakfast was the most memorable, featuring homemade waffles topped with fresh sliced peaches and a dab (or more, if you dared) of whipped cream.

The Tannery in Gettysburg, Pa., a new bed-and-breakfast inn opened this summer by longtime Gettysburg residents in the old family home. A neatly refurbished frame house, it dates back to Civil War days when a tannery operated at the rear of the property. It is a short walk from the inn both to the shops of the village center and to Gettysburg National Military Park, probably the most famous of the Civil War battlefields.

Founded as a colonial port city on the Rappahannock River, Fredericksburg had the distinct misfortune during the Civil War of finding itself located almost exactly midway between the capitals of the two belligerents, Washington and Richmond. In the course of the conflict, the city itself is said to have exchanged hands between Union and Confederate forces seven times. And just a few miles to the west, the subsequent battles of Chancellorsville, the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House (all now battlefield parks) reinforced Fredericksburg's reputation as "the battlefield city."

The Fredericksburg battle site commemorates a failed Union assault in December of 1862 on Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's forces, which were strongly fortified on high ground behind a stone wall. Union troops were slaughtered in masses. It was, says a battlefield informational brochure, Lee's "most one-sided victory of the war." Today a portion of the wall still stands, a focal point for the stories of individual heroism that are part of the battlefield park's numerous exhibits.

The Kenmore Inn, just a five-minute drive from the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center, makes a convenient headquarters for exploring Lee's big victory as well as Chancellorsville, another Lee win in 1863, and the later battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House in 1864, when the tide of war had turned and Lee was forced into retreat by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

We arrived at the Kenmore in the midst of a rainstorm, which at least one of us felt was fortunate. It meant we would have to postpone our visit to the battlefield. Instead we settled down on the front porch like neighborhood folks and took in the passing scene from our wicker chairs. The two-story, 12-room inn sits on a shady side street just far enough away from Fredericksburg's commercial center to avoid the hubbub of traffic but not so far away you can't easily walk there in a few minutes.

Built as a private home in the 18th century, the Kenmore has been an inn for many years. Innkeepers Ed and Alice Bannan have run it and its restaurant and pub for the past three years. Formerly innkeepers in New Hampshire, they saw an ad for its sale, traveled to Fredericksburg and, as Alice Bannan says, "bought it overnight." Since then, they have repapered and repainted extensively.

One thing that appealed to the couple, and to us, is the inn's spaciousness. It was built as a mansion, and the rich have the funds to indulge such luxuries. The hallway outside our second-floor room was wide enough to double as a sitting room with its own comfortable couch. Our room was furnished with a king-sized canopy bed, but there was still plenty of space for two reading chairs, a desk and a large dresser. Ours was one of four rooms with fireplaces. All the rooms have private baths. The rate was $99.95 a night.

Among inn-goers, there is disagreement about staying in a place with a restaurant on the premises. Some guests think dining rooms add too much bustle. Personally, I find it convenient to be able to walk downstairs to dinner. At the Kenmore, the restaurant is cozily small, so the bustle is minimal. We had a drink first at the inn's small pub, which is decorated much as an 18th-century drawing room.

The Kenmore has an interesting menu, and the first thing that caught my attention on it was the crab meat piroshkies, an appetizer made with Hungarian-seasoned crab meat baked in a puff pastry. For an entree, I chose medallions of pork tenderloin served with a light garlic sauce, which was, I thought, nicely prepared. A full meal with wine, dessert and tip is about $40 per person. Breakfast is continental, and we helped ourselves to fruit, juice, tea and fresh-baked raspberry muffins.

If I have a quibble about the Kenmore as a battlefield inn, it is only because guests staying there might become confused about what historical era they are supposed to be pursuing. The Kenmore has more of a colonial-style look to it, as does the Old Fredericksburg neighborhood that surrounds it. A bit too much wine by candlelight and you might forget all about the battlefields and find yourself more intrigued by such colonial attractions as the garden home George Washington bought in 1772 for his mother Mary.

If you are heading for the Antietam National Battlefield, I recommend taking the series of Maryland back roads that roughly parallel the Potomac River. The route west through rich and rolling farmland and over tree-topped ridges eases you gently back through the decades to that September day in 1862 (three months prior to the conflict at Fredericksburg) when Union and Confederate forces clashed in their bloodiest battle of the war.

The landscape today is as quiet and comforting as it must have been to the residents of Sharpsburg just before the horrors of the battle erupted on the doorsteps alongside Antietam Creek. Perhaps a visitor today, lulled by the scenery, can sense the awful shock that the townsfolk must have felt when the cannons first let loose. At Antietam, Lee had attempted to carry the war into the North, but his plan was thwarted by a bungling but lucky Union army. In the fighting at Antietam, more men were killed or wounded, says the Park Service, than on any other single day of the Civil War.

The fields of battle are now lush with grass, as they are at other battlefield parks, and a national cemetery protects the remains of the Union casualties, the graves lined up in military order. It was in this peaceful setting, on the very edge of Sharpsburg, that we found the Inn at Antietam. The innkeepers, Betty and Cal Fairbourn, had tea, soft drinks and newly baked cookies waiting.

The five-room inn occupies a sprawling, wood-frame house that sits on a tree-shaded hillock on the road leading south into Sharpsburg. Built in 1908, the place was purchased by the Fairbourns and converted to a bed-and-breakfast inn five years ago. The Fairbourns are the kind of innkeepers who have given inns a reputation for hospitality. They will make dinner reservations, and -- if you wish -- sit down and chat with you about the battlefield park, good fishing spots and hiking trails and, naturally, their inn.

To get the inn in shape, they put in 12- and 16-hour days painting and papering. One major project has been planting a large flower garden on the inn's eight acres of grounds. The garden is a source for the cut flowers that decorate almost every one of the inn's rooms, including the bathrooms. The house is furnished with antiques the couple has collected over the years. Twenty years ago they paid just $5 for the beautiful sleigh-style mahogany bed that graced our room.

I'm fond of porches, and the Inn at Antietam is blessed with a large wrap-around porch filled with comfortable rocking chairs. That's where we settled in for a glass of wine before dinner. On the side porch, the view to the west is of the Blue Ridge Mountains across a small pasture where horses graze.

On the Fairbourns' recommendation, we ate at the Old South Mountain Inn, about a 10-minute drive northeast up to the top of Turner's Gap. As at Fredericksburg, here too you mix a little colonial history with your Civil War lessons. The inn is believed to have been founded as early as 1732, the year George Washington was born. The inn definitely served as a stagecoach stop on the National Road in the 1820s, and it has the cozy look of old brick and well-polished wood.

The menu is sophisticated and features some unusual fish dishes. I ordered fresh fillet of pompano heaped with shrimp, mussels and clams. Dessert was a raspberry crepe filled with vanilla and chocolate ice cream and topped with chocolate and raspberry sauces. It was a fully satisfying meal. The price, with cocktail, wine, salad, dessert and tip, was about $45 per person.

Back at the inn, wrapped butter cream candies were waiting in our room. They were just one of several hospitable gestures that make a stay at this inn so agreeable. On the desk in the dressing room was a handful of postcards, perhaps not unusual at many lodgings. But each of these already carried a 15-cent stamp. A bouquet of orange gladiolas decorated the bathroom counter. The room rate was $75 a night, which included those fresh peach waffles for breakfast the next morning.

I have toured Gettysburg National Military Park many times, and I am always dismayed by the prospect of the sightseeing tower and other commercial attractions that have sprung up around it. I sometimes wish I could close my eyes to the clutter until I was safely within the protected boundaries of the park, which is not only the most famous of the parks but maybe the most scenically beautiful.

Still, if I had kept my eyes closed I would have missed the Tannery, which sits on the busy main street about midway between the center of Gettysburg and the park entrance. We had made reservations at another inn, but the room there was unacceptable and so we were looking for an alternative. As we rounded a curve on Baltimore Street, there stood the handsome Tannery with a "vacancy" sign hanging by the porch.

We were a little puzzled why such a centrally located inn should still have a vacancy on a busy Saturday afternoon. But part-time manager Cindy Swope -- the daughter of innkeepers Charlotte and Jules Swope -- quickly explained. The inn was so new that the sign had just been delivered. We apparently were among the first passersby to see it. Others spotted it soon enough, and the inn's four rooms filled for the night.

Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War. On the first three days of July in 1863, Lee made his second major attempt to carry the war behind northern lines. Repeatedly, his forces assaulted the Yankee positions and the outcome wavered at times. On the final day, Confederate George E. Pickett's 12,000 troops advanced across open fields in one more try -- Pickett's Charge -- but the Union held all the advantages and the attack was repelled. Gettysburg has come down through history as the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy." It was also the beginning of the end for Lee's army. Surrender at Appomattox Court House came a year later.

Abraham Lincoln made his Gettysburg Address four months after the battle, and his words, echoed by schoolchildren down through the decades, have earned the Gettysburg battlefield a special place in the hearts of Americans. It was a Northern victory, but the South put up a valorous fight. It is not really surprising, then, that the park is as crowded as it usually is throughout much of the year.

I mention the crowds not to dissuade but so you will know what to expect. And to serve the crowds, the town of Gettysburg provides the ubiquitous adjuncts to modern American tourism: fast-food outlets, ice cream shops, gift boutiques, a wax museum and worst of all -- because it intrudes so rudely -- a high-rise viewing tower. Right there in the heart of it all is the Tannery, somehow managing to uphold its dignity amid the clutter. Its sign is discreet, reflecting its style among some of the more garish beckons of its neighbors.

The three-story Tannery proved to be an excellent refuge for relaxation. It, too, has a nice front porch where you can watch the passing throngs from a distance. Built in the 1860s in Gothic revival style for a prosperous tradesman, it was in its day one of the most richly ornamented homes in the town. The Swopes refurbished it inside and out prior to its opening as a bed and breakfast.

Our first-floor room was large and filled with light from several big windows. The decor was bright and colorful, and the floors were highly polished. In one corner stood a big basket filled with large fluffy towels. This is the Tannery's solution to the problem of where to put towels and washcloths when rooms don't have a private bath. At the Tannery, the two downstairs rooms share one bath and the two upstairs rooms share another. (We are early risers and our neighbors were not, so we managed without any problem.) The cost for our room was $75 a night, which included a large continental breakfast.

For dinner, we tried the Dobbin House Tavern, which has the reputation of being the best restaurant in town and is within walking distance of the Tannery. Its look is 18th century colonial. I generally like atmospheric dining, but the Dobbin House seemed a bit crowded, dark and worn. The menu is fairly standard but satisfactory. I had veal medallions, which were prepared decently but without any flair. A full meal with wine, dessert and tip is about $25.

Because the Tannery is so convenient to the battlefield park, you can get there early before the crowds begin to show up. Many visitors make the full auto tour, which takes at least a couple of hours. But I've found it is more satisfying to limit the driving and walk one or more of the park's trails. You can more readily pretend you are a Union or Confederate trooper, standing the same ground they once did. How terribly frightened they must have been at the awful prospect around them.

Battlefield parks are inviting places for a quiet getaway, as I said at the outset, but you shouldn't go away without absorbing at least one disturbing lesson that comes clear in all of the Civil War battlefields. For all the tales of valor, the war for the combatants was always brutal and often deadly. After a tour, head back to your inn, take a seat in a rocking chair on the porch and think about it for awhile.

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