Those who visit the Harpers Ferry National Park tomorrow will get a revisionist view of Civil War history, thanks to park historian Dennis Frye.
They'll be told that, contrary to widespread belief, the first land battle -- probably, in my view, better described as an encounter -- of the war occurred 125 years ago tomorrow, on April 18, 1861, in the now-placid West Virginia community where the Shenandoah River joins the Potomac.
Frye contends that Manassas, where the first major field battle of the war was fought in late July 1861, has gotten undeserved notoriety as the place of the first actual battle. It really depends on how one defines a battle.
Harper's Ferry, Va., (with an apostrophe in its name both before and a long time after West Virginia became a separate state) was the site of a major arsenal famous from abolitionist John Brown's raid in 1859.
On April 17, 125 years ago today, Virginia voted to secede from the Union, and Frye relates that there was a local near-riot by those who thought they'd lose their jobs in the federal installation. (Local residents had voted to stay in the Union, but one of the two local delegates to Richmond switched to the secessionist side.) Then came word that Virginia militiamen serving the Confederate cause were on their way to seize the arsenal.
Vastly outnumbered Union troops set fire to the arsenal, stood off the rebels, and fled to Hagerstown, Md. The Southern forces occupied Harper's Ferry until June 14, when they withdrew and ultimately were sent to Manassas.
It wasn't until May, when two lives were lost in the Union occupation of Alexandria, and June, when there was a small but bloody skirmish at Fairfax Court House (now Fairfax City), that the ground war began in earnest. The First Battle of Manassas, to be reenacted July 20, followed.
And I can't think of a nicer, or more peaceful, place to visit this weekend than deapostrophized Harpers Ferry. Getting There
The Metro transit system's consumer information office notwithstanding, Jim McGovern of Franconia informs Metro Scene that Sunday bus service is now available to Franconia and Springfield.
Such service wasn't provided for several years by the Metrobus system, McGovern said. Last week I checked Metro's consumer office and was assured that no service exists to this day. But, it turns out, the new county-subsidized Fairfax Connector bus service's Route 110 provides hourly service on Sundays (and a more frequent service during some weekday hours) between the Yellow Line's Huntington subway terminal and both Franconia and Springfield, with a major stop at the Springfield Mall shopping center.
Now, it seems, you can get from here to there even if you lack access to a car. Florida Flavor
Who's responsible for naming thoroughfares in upper Montgomery County? In the midst of such indigenous and appropriate road names as Travilah Road, Darnestown Road, Muddy Branch Road, Shady Grove Road and Dufeif Mill Road, one encounters a major new connector with the geographically disembodied name of -- aargh! -- Key West Avenue.
No slam at Key West, a nice place in its place, but it's jarring to find it in Gaithersburg!