Seeing the long driveway leading up the hill to Antietam Overlook Farm makes me breathe a little sigh of relief. The cares of work, kids and home gently slip away. We have arrived at our respite, a bit of country elegance just a few miles from Baltimore.
At the gate, my husband, David, and I open a box that contains a number pad and a button, and we push it.
"Yes?" answers a female voice. "Can I help you?"
We explain that we have reservations, and the electric gate swings opens.
Antietam Overlook Farm is aptly named. From its mountaintop location, you can see views of four states and the rolling fields below of Antietam National Battlefield, the site of one of the Civil War's bloodiest battles.
Max the cocker spaniel runs up to sniff us as we head inside.
"Go away, Max," commands his mistress and hostess of the inn, Barbara Dreisch. She welcomes us as we walk along a hallway with wide-plank pine floors into a great room with two dining tables set for breakfast at one end and a large stone fireplace flanked by sofas and rockers at the other.
Dreisch explains that breakfast is at 9 a.m. and coffee will be available at 7:30 a.m. at a hallway bar stocked with complimentary refreshments including orange juice, soft drinks, white wine and tea.
Our suite is one of five in the inn. We had hoped for a room with a view, and while that wasn't available, we were happy with what was. An inviting queen-size bed faces the gas fireplace, which lights with the flip of a switch. A wing chair and rocker are positioned for fireside reading, and there are plenty of books around in case you forget yours.
If you need reminding of what, besides country charm, makes this Western Maryland region meaningful, Civil War prints line the walls.
In the bathroom, there is what Dreisch calls a "garden tub." It's a tub on a raised platform surrounded by a wooden trellis and plants. While it's not a Jacuzzi, the tub is big enough for a person to soak in comfortably. We also have a private screened porch.
Upstairs, we get a peek at the room of choice: the Overlook. While it isn't much different from our room in terms of space and style, the view is magnificent.
Take your binoculars and scan the distant mountains and the battlefield below. This area is where the Union Army posted lookouts to spot troop movements during the battle.
Note: If you want to book the Overlook room for a weekend, call well in advance.
"That room, weekends, normally books six months in advance," says John Dreisch, Overlook's other proprietor. "The people who know about it book from year to year," he explains. "On their way out the door, they book for next year."
Touring the battlefield
Before we head out to explore, Dreisch makes sure we have dinner reservations. We do, because the inn has sent a list of area restaurants in advance. We also have an audiotape tour of the Antietam battlefield, which the inn provides.
The tour allows you to drive a set route through the battleground and describes in detail what happened on the fateful day of Sept. 17, 1862.
Advancing Confederate forces led by Gen. Robert E. Lee were met by the Union troops of Gen. George B. McClellan. McClellan blocked the Confederate advance, but Lee was able to make his way back to Virginia.
In the end, 10,300 Confederate soldiers were killed, wounded or missing, and the North's casualties were 12,400.
Abraham Lincoln, visiting the area after the carnage, implored his commanders to follow Lee to Virginia and crush his forces. But that didn't happen, and the war raged on for three more years.
"When I think of the battle of Antietam," wrote Dr. William Childs, a battlefield surgeon, "it seems so strange. Who permits it? To see or feel that a power is in existence that can hurl masses of men against each other in deadly conflict, slaying each other by the thousands, is almost impossible. But it is so, and why we cannot know."
Antietam and its adjacent cemetery are sobering, powerful places to visit.
From Antietam, Civil War enthusiasts can also make trips to nearby battlegrounds at Bull Run, Harpers Ferry and Gettysburg.
Delights of Shepherdstown
Sharpsburg and Boonsboro are nearby small towns worthy of a stroll. Our favorite, though, was Shepherdstown, W.Va., site of the recent Israeli-Syrian peace talks.
Shepherdstown is a 15-minute drive from the inn, just across the Potomac River. It's a college town, historic and beautifully kept, with many upscale shops to browse in.
For lunch, don't miss Ed's Beer and Wine Cellar, which features local microbrews. Great soup and sandwiches are prepared by Ed himself, who will be glad to fill you in on what's happening around town.
Down the street is the renovated Opera House, the only place in Shepherdstown to see a movie. Across the street is the visitors center, where you can get a free guide for walking tours.