battle of monterey pass

Monterey Pass Battlefield A Hidden Gem Close to Gettysburg

The Monterey Pass Battlefield Park is an important hidden gem that is less than 20 miles from Gettysburg.

It’s a great side trip for history buffs who are visiting Gettysburg, but it also a great educational and fun trip for the entire family.

The roads to Monterey Pass are scenic and, in addition to Civil War history, there are ancient rock formations along the walking trails.

One of the signs along the Monterey Pass Trail that explains the Battle of Monterey Pass.

History Of The Battle of Monterey Pass

The Battle of Monterey Pass may not be famous, but it is the second largest Civil War battle in Pennsylvania (behind Gettysburg) and is the only one to have been fought in two states (Maryland and Pennsylvania).

Approximately 10,000 soldiers fought around Monterey Pass and some 1,500 Confederates were taken prisoner in the battle that lasted more than six hours.

Not only did the battle take place on treacherous mountain roads, the Battle of Monterey Pass occurred at night during a violent thunderstorm.

Lightning, gunfire, rough terrain and general confusion caused many of the terrified teams of horses and mules to bolt down the mountain, in many cases, going over the edge of steep cliffs.

If you have a chance to read the actual accounts of the Battle of Monterey Pass, you will see how very terrifying it was for the soldiers trying to retreat.

And when you see the steep terrain and the rocks that were being traversed at night and during a storm, you have to wonder how anyone made it through.

“Soon we encountered the Confederate skirmishers, but could only locate them by the flashes of their guns. The darkness was intense… More than once a trailing vine tripped me up and I fell headlong. One had to be guided by sound and not by sight.”

Captain James Kidd, 6th Michigan Cavalry

What Happened During The Battle of Monterey Pass

Following the Battle of Gettysburg, the Confederates headed south with 60 miles of wagons loaded with supplies needed to sustain Lee’s arm.

Twenty miles of those wagons took the route through Monterey Pass, and were attacked on the night of July 4th, by 5,000 Union troops in the middle of a raging thunderstorm.

The sheer number of men, horses and wagons is almost incomprehensible.

There are many accounts from surviving soldiers of the terror the night induced because of the steep and treacherous roads.

As fighting raged in the middle of the night, the battlefield became disorganized due to the weather conditions and intense darkness. Hand-to-hand combat took place and was extremely fierce.

In some instances, the soldiers could only tell where the enemy was by muzzle flashes or lightning that illuminated their positions.

Additionally, the heavy thunderstorm turned the mountainous roads into a quagmire.

“I soon found that we were in a lane that the artillery and hundreds of wagons and hosts of men had traveled ahead of us and the thin mud was in places waist deep. I do not know how many times I fell and went head and ears under.”

J.B. Johnson, 2nd Florida infantry
A sign in the foreground describes the Battle of Monterey Pass. The background is trees with no leaves and a rocky hill in the distance.
This is some of the rocky terrain of the Monterey Pass Battlefield.

Confederate soldiers Also Fought Hunger

With the supply wagon trains well ahead of them, some Confederate soldiers lacked provisions and rations.

Besides having to deal with the rain and the darkness during this battle, these soldiers had to fight on empty stomachs.

“One of the men noticed a tree of mountain birch. He said the bark was sweet and tasted like wintergreen. Soon every man in the company was chewing bark. We had to get it as near to being a powder as possible in order to eat it. This was all the food we had for the fourth and fifth of July. There were very few blackberries along the road.”

David Holt, 16th Mississippi Infantry

The Legend Of Hetty Zeilinger At Monterey Pass

On the night of July 4, 1863, after the Battle of Gettysburg, Union Cavalry met a local 12-year-old girl named Hetty Zeilinger walking on the road to her home near Monterey Pass.

Hetty warned the troops that Confederates with artillery were blocking the pass ahead.

Since she knew the trails, Hettie offered to guide the troopers around the Confederate forces and through the pass.

One of the soldiers lifted her into his saddle, and she helped lead a column of Union Cavalry through the darkness and rain.

Hettie died in 1932 and is buried in the nearby Fountaindale Union Cemetery.

If you’re planning a trip, you may want to read, Is Gettysburg Worth Visiting?

Battle of Monterey Pass Park

The Monterey Pass Battlefield Park and Museum is a 125 acre natural, cultural and historical park with lots of walking trails and wayside exhibits to explain the history.

If you want a good workout you can do the Monterey Peak Trail. It’s a little steep, but all of the other trails in the park are quite easy.

As you can see, the climb is worth the effort!

battle of Monterey passView from Monterey Peak Trail.

If you want to spend an afternoon enjoying beautiful scenery and learning history along the way, Monterey Pass Park is a great place to visit.

Here is a link to download the TRAIL MAP.

Monterey Pass And The Underground Railroad

South Mountain was part of the Underground Railroad, allowing slaves to seek freedom in the north.

The vast wilderness of this part of the region offered protection and many farms in the area were documented as being safe houses.

Using the mountains at night due to its spurs and densely forested areas, provided both shelter and safety to the refugees. The South Mountain Underground Railroad route led directly to Pennsylvania and points north.

By 1860, Franklin County had the fifth largest African American population in Pennsylvania.

Related post: Historical Sites That No One Ever Sees.

Monterey Pass Battlefield Museum

There is also a museum on site, thanks to the amazing efforts of the entire community. The museum houses a collection of artifacts and has additional information about the Battle of Monterey Pass and the Confederate Retreat.

The Museum is open seasonally on weekends (April to November).

There is no admission fee, but donations are accepted and appreciated.

A cannon sits in front of the Monterey Pass Battlefield Museum. It's a small brick building.

FAQ’s About the Monterey Pass Battlefield

What was the Battle of Monterey Pass?

The battle took place after the Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863, when Northern cavalry attacked the retreating Confederate wagon trains.

Why was this attack so important?

Several roads converged at Monterey Pass, a feature that no other gap in the South Mountain range had. Whoever controlled Monterey Pass controlled the flow of traffic in every direction.

What is still there to see today?

The site includes a Monterey Pass Museum which is open seasonally on weekends and a Battlefield Park, that has more than four miles of trails containing battle interpretive markers.

Maria Furnace Road History

It’s pretty amazing to be able to walk along the Maria Furnace Road when you know its history dates back to the 1700s.

Starting in the 1740s, the great wagon road Maria Furnace Road from Philadelphia traversed through Monterey Pass, known then as Nichols’ gap.

Foot traffic widened the path and wagons soon traveled upon it as immigrants sought a better life.

You can only imagine the hundreds of Conestoga wagons , two wheeled carts pulled by oxen, and horse riders that once traversed this road.

It is still a very rough mountain trail, and you can see why only about five miles could be covered a day.

In 1787, Nichols Gap Road (Monterey Pass) became an official Pennsylvania highway and was improved upon.

It was later renamed the Hagerstown Road. By the late 1930s a new road was being created called the Sunshine Trail or Route 16.

During the 1940s Maria Furnace Road was abandoned since the new road was completed, ending 200 years of being a major highway.

Rock Formations at Monterey Pass

The rock formations at the Monterey Pass Battlefield Park are amazing and are among the oldest on the American continent.

They were formed millions of years ago when the area was below sea level.

As time passed, deposits of sand were covered with mud and lime sediments, forming shale.

A major push brought these sandstones up, many of them standing miles high.

After millions of years of weathering, the stones wore down. Further uplifts formed the mountain and as a result, the formation now stands nearly 1,600 feet above sea level.

A view of the ancient rock formations at Monterey Pass battlefield park. Huge boulders are stacked on top of each other.
Ancient rock formations at Monterey Pass.

Planning a trip to Gettysburg? Check out these free things to do.

Civil War Driving Tour​​

There is a driving tour available that covers the beginning phase of the Battle of Monterey Pass starting at the Fountaindale Fire Department.

From there, the tour follows the steps of the Union cavalry through South Mountain. The tour also takes visitors to High Rock, Maryland, which provides an exceptional view of the entire Cumberland Valley.

A view of sky, clouds and a valley blow from the high elevation of High Rock.
The view from High Rock. Worth the drive!

From High Rock, the drive to Ringgold, Maryland, where the Battle of Monterey Pass ended. The tour ends at Leitersburg,  where Union cavalry attacked the Confederate wagon trains as they moved toward Hagerstown.

The tour covers 20 miles and takes about 2.5 hours. Here is a link for the DRIVING TOUR.

Related Story: Take a peek inside Robert E. Lee’s Headquarters in Gettysburg.

If you enjoy Civil War history, you might like to read about the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md.

Historical Importance Of Monterey Pass

The Monterey Pass Battlefield Park is located less than 20 miles from Gettysburg in Franklin County, Pennsylvania.

The history of the area starts well before the Civil War. In 1747, immigrants looking for a new life traveled through the pass to Appalachia on the Great Wagon Road.

Before the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road, Monterey Pass was part of the Great Warriors Path.

At one time this early colonial road carried more traffic than all other roads combined, and was responsible for the beginning of the westward migration.

By 1863 this site was a major transportation hub with roads from Georgetown, Baltimore, Pittsburg, and Philadelphia, converging at the toll house, making it a strategic part of the retreat from Gettysburg.

The Battlefield Park is located at 14325 Buchanan Trail East, Waynesboro, Pa 17268.

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