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Road Trip! Destination: Frederick, Md., and nearby Civil War battlefields

Frederick -- a mid-sized city of 65,239 in north-central Maryland -- is just about the perfect distance from Pittsburgh for a quick weekend getaway.

Although it's swiftly being assimilated into the ever-expanding D.C./Baltimore metro area, the city still has its identity and center of gravity, and remains largely distinct from its massive neighbors.

First settled in 1745, Frederick has a charming, 50-block downtown historic district, known for its picturesque clusters of church spires. The main business district is especially walkable and packed with boutiques, art galleries, ice cream stands, toy stores, coffee shops and restaurants.

Civil War buffs feel the pull of the region, which is packed with the relics and remnants of the War Between the States. Frederick ( www.fredericktourism.org ) is less than an hour from two of the biggest, most important Civil War battlefields, Antietam and Gettysburg, and Harpers Ferry, W.Va., is close by. The lesser-known but significant Monocacy battlefield lies just outside Frederick city limits. Due west are the three major sites comprising the Battle of South Mountain.

Antietam National Battlefield

The bloodiest single-day battle in American history was at Antietam, 23 miles from Frederick. Although the battle was not a resounding victory for either side, with about 23,000 casualties, it ended the Army of Northern Virginia's first invasion of the North. It was enough of a victory for Abraham Lincoln to deliver the Emancipation Proclamation from a position of strength.

Visitors can check out the museum exhibits, join a park ranger for a battlefield talk or take the self-guided 8.5-mile tour. Those willing to spend a little more time can take a self-guided hike along several trails, including Bloody Lane, Union Advance, and Final Attack. Details: www.nps.gov/ANTI .

Harpers Ferry National Historic Park

The historic town of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac River, is 18 miles from Frederick. The town was one of the birthplaces of precision manufacturing at its famous arsenal -- which was attacked by abolitionist John Brown in an ill-fated attempt to start a slave insurrection, and was fought over in the battle of Harpers Ferry, a crushing Union defeat. In nearby Lower Town, there are well-preserved 19th-century stores, shops and taverns, and a cluster of small museums, ranging in subject matter from John Brown to wetlands. The Appalachian Trail also passes through town. Details: www.nps.gov/mono .

Frederick dining

For a small town, few would fault with Frederick's surprisingly sophisticated array of restaurants. Eclectic ethnic flavors always are on the menu, with Thai, Vietnamese, Italian and Ethiopian restaurants clustering in the densely-packed historic downtown. Most of the nation's usual chains are in the suburbs.

It's hard to play favorites, but Volt -- an ultra-modern chef-driven restaurant in a beautiful 19th-century brownstone mansion -- deserves its acclaim. Chef Voltaggio's take on modern American cuisine utilizes the region's plethora of artisanal farmers and ranchers, in a menu that's "driven by the changing seasons." Reservations are recommended. Details: voltrestaurant.com .

Another local favorite is Acacia Fusion Bistro, which combines local ingredients with an East-West fusion concept that's literally all over the map. Dishes like Rockfish Piccata and Cocoa-dusted Pork Porterhouse seem hard to resist. Details: www.acacia129.com

Monocacy National Battlefield

Yet another crucial Civil War battlefield, this one, just outside Frederick city limits, saved Washington, D.C., from Confederate invasion by Jubal Early. Self-guided walking tours are available. Details: www.nps.gov/mono/index.htm .

New Market

This tiny town of less than 500 people was once a rest stop in the horse-and-buggy era. Somehow, it was able to retain much of its original character and housing stock. Now, it's known as the state's premier destination for antiques. Browse Thirsty Knight Antiques, Smith Tavern Antiques and The Browsery, among dozens of other antique sellers along New Market's Main Street (Old National Pike/Route 144). Details: www.townofnewmarket.org .

National Museum of Civil War Medicine

Isn't Civil War medicine kind of an oxymoron• Didn't they just give the wounded a shot of whiskey, tell them to bite down on a piece of wood, and not t watch while their limbs were sawed off• Yes, there's some of that in this odd little museum -- campy life-size dioramas of primitive Civil War surgery, and plenty of macabre photos of what really happened. But less well known is how many innovations were spurred by the war, and how different the field was when the war was over. It's a perspective and insight into American history unlikely to be found anywhere else. Details: www.civilwarmed.org .

Frederick Keys

Named after "Star-Spangled Banner" writer Francis Scott Key, the Frederick Keys' bats might not deliver the fireworks their name seems to promise. But the "High A" Class A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles certainly has seen many big-leaguers come through its ranks over the years. Harry Grove stadium gives baseball purists and budget-minded families alike a different kind of night at the ballpark. Look out for promotions like "Kids Eat Free," "Disney Night," "Casino Night" and "Fredneck Night." Tuesdays are "Guaranteed Win Night" -- if the team loses, your ticket is good for another admission. Details: www.frederickkeys.com .

Additional Information:

Did you know?

 

Gen. Edward Braddock, Col. George Washington and Benjamin Franklin met in Frederick to plan the march westward to capture Fort Duquesne from the French in the French and Indian War.

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