Perched on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal from the Maryland side sits a set of cannons, resting in the old fortifications built in 1861 to protect Williamsport and the important transportation resources in the area. It’s called Doubleday Hill.
When I first pulled into Williamsport, Maryland and started figuring out—boots on the ground style—what I wanted to see, the cannons at the top of the hill certainly caught my eye. Then I saw the name: Doubleday. Was it that Abner Doubleday? Yes, indeed. He really travelled around during the Civil War.
After his experience as second in command during the bombardment of Fort Sumter and firing the first return shots toward the Confederates, Captain Doubleday promoted to major on May 14, 1861 and took command of the Artillery Department in the Shenandoah Valley. The self-styled “Hero of Fort Sumter” arrived in Williamsport in June, took a look across the Potomac at seceded Virginia and realized that the nearby river fords, the canal, and the railroad were in danger of a quick strike from the Rebels on the other side.
To the artilleryman, big guns were the answer, and Doubleday selected a strategic piece of high ground. Fortifications, three cannon, and an underground ammunition storage were created and placed according to his orders. Doubleday didn’t stay long at Williamsport, but the hill kept his name!
Today, Doubleday Hill accessible with a short walk from the C&O Canal trail or the National Park visitor center. The hill is steep, and if walking isn’t preferable, see if the cemetery gates are open to allow you to carefully drive up the hill and then be able to walk over the fortifications and cannons.
Beside the defensive works is a historic cemetery with headstone pre and post-dating the Civil War years. I particularly enjoyed walking the high ground which the cemetery occupies and studying the topography stretched into the historic town area and overlooking the river and canal to the other side.
After exploring Doubleday Hill, the cemetery, and the waterways, I took a quick stroll through the historic part of the town. I was looking at the rising ground in the town itself and how this might have made a difference in artillery usage in 1862 (more on that another time; I have to go back and finish the theory after I read a little more!) I would highly recommend the walk; Williamsport has some wonderful war-era buildings and there are several historical panels along Route 11 (East Potomac Street). There are also some historical museums, but they were not open at the time I visited. Another reason to go back in the future and write Part 3 of historic places to visit in this small town that witnessed two nearby battles.