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  • 7107. Ferry Hill Tour Stop 7- Packhorse Ford

    “3 pence please! 3 pence per person!” For just three pence, you could take a ride from this Maryland side of the Potomac over to Virginia. When Thomas Van Swearingen began his ferry business just upstream from this ford in 1765, he created a more innovative form of transportation that would later be followed by bridges to transport wagons and railroads. By the time John Blackford purchased the ferry business in 1816, his two enslaved workers, Ned and Jupe could be found stationed at the ferry collecting tolls. Up until that time, this ford was the best place for miles to cross the Potomac. Native Americans first used this ford when it was known as Packhorse Ford. Later, early settlers would come from Pennsylvania and the ford would become an extension of the “Philadelphia Waggon [sic] Road.” In 1755, Botelor’s mill upstream gave people reason to rename the ford Botelor’s Ford. Perhaps one of the most famous crossings here would occur on the days following the Battle of Antietam, which occurred on September 17, 1862, in nearby Sharpsburg. By that time, the nearby bridge that had been built just years before, had been burned during the Civil War to prevent the Union troops from crossing into Virginia. After Antietam, the Confederates began a retreat back into Virginia. With no bridge, this ford was their only viable option as a crossing. As they retreated, the Union Army pursed, and upon the bluffs across the river on the Shepherdstown banks, many would lose their lives. Some of the Union soldiers had followed and chased the Confederates here at the ford, while others continued along Route 34 and positioned themselves on the front lawn of Ferry Hill where they volleyed with Confederates across the banks of the Potomac. “By about 2:30PM on the afternoon of Sept. 19, the Union Army of the Potomac placed 70 artillery pieces on the north side of the river and an artillery battle commenced. Union sharpshooters were placed in the now- dry C&O Canal and fired on the Confederates on the south shore. The Confederate forces were overwhelmed by the firepower of the Union barrage.” (battleofshepherdstown.org) As a result of the fighting, about 677 men from both sides, lost their lives. One witness to the fighting recalls:"I shall never forget the scene as I worked my way across the dreadful causeway. The bullets struck all around me, men were shot in various places of the body, some falling, others again staggering and struggling to make the other side, and all hurrying wildly on with the consciousness of the desperate chances they were taking. When nearly midway across, one poor fellow just ahead was shot, and in falling rolled over and over. As I came up to where he was lying, he clutched the tail of my overcoat, and in piteous accents called out, “Help me Captain, for God’s sake don’t leave me here.” Without stopping, I unfastened the overcoat from around my neck and left it in his death grip, saying I couldn’t help him then, but would send after him as soon as I got across. I pushed on, but the poor fellow’s soul had reached the presence of the Great Commander before I got to the other side." -Capt. Francis Adams Donaldson 118th Pennsylvania Volunteers, "Corn Exchange" Regiment September 20, 1862