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Milepost: 22.0

River Sentinal

By Ranger Mark

Standing on the bluffs overlooking the Potomac River near Blockhouse Point, your imagination can really transport you back to another time. It's easy to imagine being a Union soldier on guard duty in this remote area of western Montgomery County.

I think about being a member of the 19th Massachusetts Infantry, someone far from home. What would I think? How would I feel? I think I'd be homesick, lonely and a little bored out here. Despite being part of a group, the remoteness would get to me. On the other hand, the idea of being in uniform and on guard along a boundary between two nations, where something could happen at any point in time, would terrify me. I might even feel a little relief that I wasn't in a large battle or on the nearby front lines of the conflict. I could even find happiness in just surviving another day.

The specter of invasion and river crossings by Confederate troops would certainly cross my mind. Every noise and shadow in the night could be transformed by fear into hordes of rebel soldiers lurking nearby. If there was a skirmish here, would I be captured or killed? What will become of my loved ones if I don't return home? Are the locals even on my side? Or are they Secessionists? Might I worry that their kindness is only pretense?

The fort at Blockhouse Point was one of three earth and wood structures built in the area to protect the Potomac fords and C&O Canal from Confederate raiders. Built in the winter of 1862 by soldiers from the 19th Massachusetts Infantry, the fort took the form of a Greek cross. Although Blockhouse Point was located in Maryland, technically part of the Union, the area surrounding it was anything but hospitable. Montgomery County was a hotbed of secessionist activity. In addition, slavery was legal in Maryland, which gave the state an unappealing status to many northern soldiers. Scores of Northerners viewed the local populace with suspicion, wondering whether they were viewed as friends or enemies by the very people they were supposedly protecting.

Although no major engagements took place at the site, the fort itself became a casualty of war. In July of 1864, Union troops were withdrawn from Blockhouse Point to strengthen the defenses of Washington. Days later, Confederate cavalry under the command of Col. John S. Mosby destroyed the abandoned fortification during Jubal Early's raid on Washington City. The fort was never rebuilt. Archeological research has uncovered many artifacts from the location. Together with written records, they provide us with an intimate glimpse into the lives of the Union soldiers stationed at Blockhouse Point 150 years ago.
Points of Interest
  • A skirmish occurred here between the 1st Potomac Home Guard and the 14th North Carolina Infantry. Confederate forces tried to blow up the Aqueduct during the Antietam Campaign but were unsuccessful.... Read More

  • Several crossings and raids occurred here. Today, it is the only operating ferry on the Potomac. The ferry is named for a Confederate General, Jubal A. Early.

  • Eight miles upstream from Blockhouse Point is Edwards Ferry, which was the launch site of some of the first military reconnaisance missions by ballon during the Civil War. Visit the Edwards Ferry an... Read More

  • One of six lockhouses available to visitors for overnight stays through Canal Quarters, Lockhouse 25 tells the story of the Civil War on the C&O Canal. Visit for more informati... Read More

  • The lock/aqueduct's red sandstone came from a nearby quarry that would later supply the stone for several famous buildings in Washington, D.C., including the Smithsonian "Castle." Today, you can visi... Read More

  • Also nearby and accessible via Riley's Lock Road is Rileys Lockhouse. On Saturdays in the spring and fall, the shuttered building comes back to life as local Girl Scouts provide historical interpreta... Read More

  • Seneca Creek, a popular paddling destination, is accessible via a public boat ramp in Seneca Creek State Park. The park also offers visitors camping, mountain biking and hiking trails, hunting, a Di... Read More

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