Antietam Weekend Continued

17 09 2007

I don’t want to turn this blog into a travelogue, but my last post seems to have generated a lot of interest if the hits I received today are any indication.  So I’ll finish up the story for you. Once again, click on the thumbnails for a full size image.

OK, where was I?  Oh yeah.  Early Sunday morning, I enjoyed a nice fresh waffle breakfast with Tom, Angela and young Joe Clemens – and Bomber, the famous Clemens battlefield hound.  I can’t thank the Clemens Clan enough for their hospitality.  Finest kind.

pry.jpgI headed out from Keedysville just before 9:00.  I wanted to at least check out the new West Woods trail at the park before starting for home.  But between Keedysville and the park is the Pry Farm, and I remembered that the Medical Museum in the house had a copy of the Personal Memoirs of John Brinton: Civil War Surgeon for sale.  Brinton was a cousin of George Brinton McClellan who served throughout the war.  So I made the right into the farm.  There was a reenactor encampment there, but all but one fellow seemed to have been off elsewhere.  The museum was closed, but I noticed that the barn door was opened, and I had never been in the barn before so I poked my head in.  Inside were three people, and one of them turned out to be George Wunderlich, director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.  It turned out he was conducting a seminar on the antebellum banjo, something on which he is an expert.  George took the time to give me a little history lesson and I found the whole business fascinating.  I even got to hold one of the beautiful instruments.  George told me that the museum didn’t open until 10:00 AM, and that the seminar would be kicking back up around then and there would be jam sessions later on, so I decided to head over to the park and stop back at the Pry Farm later. 

I checked the schedule of events for Sunday and found that there was a 10:00 AM Ranger Walk on the 2nd Corps that would include the West Woods trail, so I walked over to the New York monument where Ranger Mike Gamble was mustering the troops.


 Once again we had a beautiful day.  Look at that sky behind my favorite Antietam monument.   


Our walk took us to the West Woods, where this ledge demonstrates the sloping terrain west of the Hagerstown Pike that Lee used to his advantage to shuffle troops from point to point unseen by the enemy.


This small monument is just south of the 15th MA lion on the new Hagerstown Rd.  Ranger John Hoptak, who was assisting Ranger Gamble on this walk, told me that this fellow Stetson is a relative of the originator of the famous hat of the same name.  There’s a thread for you to pull, Brian!  Read John’s account of the weekend here. 


Leaving the west woods and heading toward the parts of the field traversed by the 2nd Corps divisions of French and Richardson, we visited the Mumma Farm – only the stone spring house dates from the battle.  A descendant of the family works at the park, and I did see him a couple of times over the weekend. 


Then we passed through the Roulette Farm.


This is the ancient siding of the Roulette Barn.  Mannie has an uncanny knack of making subjects like this interesting.  I, as you can see, do not. 


North of the Sunken Road, Ranger Gamble formed the Irish Brigade for the assault.  He wrapped things up in the lane.  A fine ending to a fine walk, which was again 2.5 miles and 2.5 hours. 


After the walk I went back to the Pry Farm, where I picked up the Brinton book and watched some Signal Corps reenactors at work.  Unfortunately, the musicians had moved along their agenda to discuss next year’s conference, which will apparently take place on Anniversary Weekend again.  I’ll have to try to remember that.

Now I Need a Nap

16 09 2007


I’m back from a wonderful but tiring couple of days at the best park in the NPS, Antietam National Battlefield.  Batteries are recharged, but I need a little rest all the same.  In the following, click on the thumbnails for full size images.

I left Pittsburgh at 6:15 Saturday morning and arrived at the visitor’s center around 9:30 to pick up a tour schedule and a long sleeved T-shirt that I found for $10 – I heard on the radio that the temperature wouldn’t go much over 70 degrees.  The parking lots were already filling up, and in fact I saw Superintendent John Howard have to park on the other side of the old Hagerstown Pike.  I spoke quickly with rangers Mannie Gentile and John Hoptak and Virtual Antietam tycoon Steve Recker before leaving for the Sharpsburg Heritage Festival in town.

At the Save Historic Antietam Foundation booth I met up with fellow board members Bill Maharay, Don Macreadie, and Tom Clemens.  In short order we were joined by board members Dana Shoaf, Paula Reed and John Schildt, Tom’s better 89% Angela Clemens, and SHAF web master and fellow blogger Brian Downey.

window.jpgWe hung for awhile at the booth and schmoozed the crowd, then Bill and I walked over to the former German Reformed Church (now the Christ Reformed Church) to see the recently refurbished and rededicated stained glass windows of the 11th and 16th Connecticut regiments, as well as the hopefully soon to be restored Pennsylvania GAR window and the rest of this gem of a building.  The Reverend Delancey Catlett helpfully and patiently answered a myriad of questions – go here to learn more about the church and the windows.  Bill and I walked back to the festival, and I accompanied Brian back down to the church after retrieving my camera.  Here’s a picture of the impressive 16th CT window – my camera doesn’t do it justice.

baracz.jpgAfter watching the battle of the (Rebel and Union) bands and hearing the benediction back at the festival, Brian and I drove up to the VC and spoke briefly with rangers Gentile and Hoptak once more.  I also saw author Mark Snell in the bookstore, but didn’t get a chance to speak with him.  Brian and I had to scoot over to the Burnside’s Bridge parking area for the start of a walk of the 9th Corps assault and final attack, led by Ranger Brian Baracz.


bridge.jpgIt was a crystal clear day, a little cool but not so cool that I couldn’t shed my long sleeved shirt.  We walked the new trail east of the bridge, and got to see the long obscured view photographed by Alexander Gardner so famously in 1862 (see here).  Here’s my version:

We crossed back over the creek and hit the final assault trail.  I did some work on the Otto Farm Lane on a SHAF work day in 2005, but had not walked the trail before.  Brian had with him some Antietam on the Web maps of his own creation (based on the Carman maps) which really helped interpret things for us.

brass.jpgAfter 2.5 miles and 2.5 hours on the field, we went back to the VC – specifically the New York monument – for an artillery demonstration, which is always a good time.  Love those polished brass Napoleons.  Also love things that go boom.  And there were two of them!


boys.jpgDuring the demo we spoke a bit with Ranger Hoptak and I drafted him to write an article on General Nagle for the SHAF newsletter.  Here are Brian and John relaxing on the steps of the New York monument at the end of what must have been a long day for John.

Brian and I stopped for a bite and drink at Capt. Bender’s Tavern in Sharpsburg and then headed once again to the VC to meet up with Tom and Angela for Ethan Rafuse’s lecture on McClellan at Antietam.  I’ll have details on that tomorrow.  After the talk, we all headed back to Tom’s house in Keedysville, where Ethan joined us after selling and signing about 12,000 copies of McClellan’s War.  We sat outside on the pleasant patio talking Civil War and other things until the chill drove us inside.  Brian headed home and Ethan back to his hotel, but not before he signed my copies of the McClellan book (a favorite of mine) and his First Bull Run study, A Single Grand Victory (another favorite).  I then retired to the really cool guest room/library addition to the Clemens’ 19th century home.

That’s enough for tonight.  I’ll post more tomorrow, but in the meantime you can read more about the weekend at Brian’s and Mannie’s blogs.

145th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam

13 09 2007


 Miller’s Cornfield



Bright and early (well, probably dark and early) Saturday morning I’ll head down to Sharpsburg for the Heritage Day festivities in town and the anniversary programs at the park.  I’ll spend some time at the Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF) booth at the festival (outside Nutter’s Ice Cream Shop), so stop by and say hello if you get a chance.

I’ll be visiting with friend and SHAF president Tom Clemens, and also expect to see fellow bloggers Brian Downey, Mannie Gentile and John Hoptak this weekend, as well as CWTI’s Dana Shoaf who will speak about the 16th CT as part of the SHAF lecture series.  I think most of this group will probably be in attendance at Ethan Rafuse’s lecture Saturday night.  I also hope to take some of the ranger led tours on Saturday and Sunday before heading back home late Sunday afternoon.

I’ll be the guy in the green Jamestown Jammers ball cap.

Yet another Distraction

17 07 2007


I’m about to embark on another Bull Run inspired distraction.  I learned early on in this process that if I was going to gain an understanding of not only what happened but why it happened, I was going to have to understand what motivated the primary actors to do what they did.  Recently, popular history has focused on psychological motivations.  Unfortunately, not only are most writers that have participated in this baneful practice not historians, they aren’t psychologists/psychiatrists either.  As a result what we get is a parlor trick, working backwards from an arbitrary diagnosis and picking out events or even unfounded speculations to “prove” the validity of the finding. 

While it’s certainly not as sexy, I think we can find more sound basis for decision making in the actor’s training, his past experiences, and what was known or assumed to be true at the time.  For instance, several authors dealing with First Bull Run have emphasized pre-battle incidents with masked batteries at Vienna and Big Bethel and how they affected the movements of McDowell’s army.  The explanations seemed to make sense to me at the time, with lots of evidence in newspapers and soldiers’ letters.  But what that really proved was that the newspapers and private soldiers were very concerned with masked batteries.  I’ve found that the movements of McDowell’s army can be more reasonably understood by looking at military doctrine (training) and limited resources, primarily cavalry.  Not very exciting, I know. 

To understand a little better the workings of the minds of guys like McDowell, Beauregard and Johnston, I felt it was necessary to do some “fancy book learning”.  First I sat down and read Makers of Modern Strategy – Military Thought from Machiavelli to Hitler, an old ROTC standard that has since been updated through the Nuclear Age, though I only read up through Clausewitz.  (While I realize Clausewitz was not translated until after the ACW, Halleck referenced him in his 1846 Elements of Military Art and Science, so reading the summary on him made sense.)  Then I read the 1862 edition of Jomini’s The Art of War.  Dry, dry, dry, let me tell you, but important to read if only because reading it helps you realize that most folks who talk about Jomini have never read Jomini.  Standard tactical manuals like Mahan’s Out-Post and Hardee’s U. S. Infantry Tactics are sitting on my shelves, too, as is the 1861 Revised Regulations for the Army of the United States.  And of course an understanding of the War with Mexico is essential, so I read Eisenhower’s So Far from God which is a nice overview, but I think I need something with more meat, perhaps K. Jack Bauer’s (no, really, Jack Bauer!) The Mexican War.  I’ve picked up some other interesting MW titles, including D. H. Hill’s letters, but I’m afraid of getting out of control.  Input from MW aficionados is welcome. 

chandler.jpgBut if there is one name which stands above all others as an influence on the minds of professional (and volunteer, for that matter) soldiers of the period it is Napoleon Bonaparte.  And if there is one book that is considered The Book on Napoleon and his campaigns it is David Chandler’s 1966 The Campaigns of Napoleon.  I finally found it (used, of course) at a reasonable price – $40.  This doorstop is 1,095 pages long, which will put me behind on my Bull Run reading, but I think it must be done.  I’m a s-l-o-w reader, so this will be the bulk of my reading for the next couple of months.  I received one valuable tip from my friend Dave Powell, who says I should read the bit on Art of War first and then read the whole thing in sequence.  Any other advice is appreciated. 

Later tonight or tomorrow I’ll post some thoughts on several sources of confusion regarding accounts of the action at Bull Run, including Sherman’s Battery (once again), Zouaves and red pants and/or shirts.

New Media Meets Old

9 07 2007


acw-september22007.jpgToday I picked up a copy of the September issue of America’s Civil War and was happy to see inside a few examples of cross-media pollination.

Now, in no way am I equating “new” and “old” with “good” and “bad”.  I view web projects (blogs) as different from print media (magazines), not necessarily better, and perhaps compatible.  America’s Civil War is making an attempt to incorporate the blogosphere in its pages, I think in an effective manner.

In March 2007 the magazine included an article on Civil War blogs in general and now includes a review in brief of a featured Civil War blog (including this one) in each issue.  And in the July issue, America’s Civil War ran a piece summarizing several posts from this very blog.  This trend is continued in the September issue.

In the Letters section on page 6, Bruce Allardice expands on his research conducted in response to my ruminations on the similar names of a Super Bowl MVP and a Confederate staff officer.  This letter was born of one posted here by Mr. Allardice.

These posts by the happiest ranger in the National Park Service, Mannie Gentile, are featured on page 12 of the Open Fire! section.  It includes a photo and quotes from the blog posts, as well as a link to the site. Blogger Brian Dirck’s A. Lincoln Blog is profiled on page 14.

The most pleasant surprise of all is the feature article on page 48, “Damage Done to My Farm” by the afore-mentioned Ranger Gentile.  It consists of annotations of 11 documents, illustrations and photographs associated with the Roulette Farm on the battlefield of Antietam.  The magazine offers an expanded online article here, and you can read Mannie’s take on the experience hereI’m a big fan of Mannie’s blog, in no small part due to his skillful and, more important, economical use of words.  I previously drafted Ranger Gentile to contribute an article to the Save Historic Antietam Foundation’s newsletter, which I now edit.  Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of him in print.

Back from the Paper Chase

8 05 2007

I have lots of stuff to write about, but not much time in which to write it.

I got back from my Road Trip on Sunday.  All-in-all it was a productive trip.  At Carlisle I turned up a nifty letter written by a member of Co. C, 205th PA – my great-grandfather’s unit – outside Petersburg in which preferences for the upcoming presidential election were forcefully expressed.  I also copied some material on First Bull Run that should prove useful in my examination of the mystery of the red-trousered Zouaves seen everywhere on the field.  And I found some info on the 16th CT at Antietam that should prove useful.  Thanks again to Art Bergeron and the rest of the staff there for all their help.

I stayed in Gettysburg on Thursday night, and killed some time at the Gateway Gettysburg Theater watching 300.  I dug it, but was taken aback by the sudden emergence of Scottish accents midway through.  Not a chick flick, that’s for sure.  The next day I did some book shopping in town and cruised the visitor’s center (VC) and battlefield quickly before turning south down 15 for Sharpsburg.

At the archives of Antietam National Battlefield on Friday I found a lot of primary source material (letters) on the 16th CT, and some other information on the regiment provided to the park by descendants over the years.  The most pleasant and serendipitous find was the resting place of my great-grandfather.  He apparently resides in the Vicksburg Cemetery in or near Roaring Springs, Blair County, PA.  Ted Alexander just happened to have a copy of a book on Blair County soldiers in the park’s library.  Thanks, Ted, for your assistance.

hkd-grave.jpgI dined at the Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown with my father-in-law and his brothers on Friday night.  Later we crowded around my laptop to watch the Historical Films documentary “Antietam”, the film shown in the VC.  On Saturday we toured the Elmwood Cemetery in Shepherdstown, resting place of Confederate staff officer and author of Stonewall Rode with Me Henry Kyd (rhymes with “tied”) Douglas, as well as Bull Run participants Lt. Col. William Fitzhugh Lee of the 33rd VA (mortally wounded at BR1) and William W. Kirkland of the 11th (later 21st) NC.

We also spent some time at the Rumsey memorial in Shepherdstown.  If you have been laboring under the impression that Robert Fulton invented the steamboat, go here for a history lesson.  We managed to avoid the May Day parade in town, which based on the attire of the marchers, the name of the parade, and the presence of a college campus appears to be some mix of “the arts”, Bolshevism and bon ton roulette.

mannie.jpgWe crossed the Potomac and stopped by the Douglas home Ferry Hill Place; the Grove Farm (site of the famous Brady photos of Lincoln and McClellan); Lee’s HQ; the National Cemetery; and the Pry House and its medical display (my father-in-law’s brother is a retired physician).  The next stop was the VC at Antietam.  I ran into ranger and fellow blogger John Hoptak and had a nice but too short talk with him.  Next up was ranger Mannie Gentile (left) who gave an engaging overview of the campaign to a full room on the observation deck.  Rather than go into the details of why Harper’s Ferry was in Virginia in 1862 but is in West Virginia today, Mannie simply explained that it was done “to confuse middle schoolers”.  Works for me.  We didn’t join Mannie’s group on the field, but I did get a chance to speak with him for a few minutes in the VC on Sunday.

I gave the relatives a quick tour of the field, going first to the seldom visited Upper Bridge, where most of the Federal Army that fought on the 17th crossed the Antietam.  We took a brief detour to Starke Ave. to view the stone outcropping behind which members of the Iron Brigade took position.  Then it was south to the Juan Valdez McKinley coffee monument and the Georgian’s Overlook.

view.jpgAfter that we drove to Turner’s Gap via Boonesboro – sadly, I had no time to stop at the creamery.  Rather than walk the mile down the Appalachian Trail from the Mountain House (Stone Mountain Inn) to Fox’s Gap, the group opted to trek up to the Washington Monument.  The view from atop the monument was well worth the climb.  After that it was back to our hotel (the Clarion) in Shepherdstown for dinner and an early night.


16th-ct.jpgOn Sunday I had just enough time to drive back to the VC, where I spoke briefly with Mannie.  I needed to at least visit the United Church of Christ in town to see the former site of the 16th CT stained glass window – now marked by white plywood.  Service was letting out and I had some time to chat with Reverend Catlett.  It turns out he has some documentation on the window in question.  Unfortunately we were both pressed for time, so we left each other with the understanding that I would be returning to look at the material.

It was a busy four days.  I regret that I did not have enough time at Carlisle, the ANB archives or the UCC in Sharpsburg.  I’ve learned a lot about scheduling for this type of trip, and hopefully will make fewer mistakes along those lines in the future.

More on “The Coaling”

25 04 2007

I keep forgetting that I have plenty of photos of my own to post.  Here are a few from a Spring 2006 trip to the Shenandoah Valley (hmmm.. looks like I never labeled these).  Our guide was the previously mentioned Gary Ecelbarger.  The site is Port Republic’s “Coaling”.  Click on the thumbnails for a larger image.



a) view from base of the hill; b & c) views from atop The Coaling to the Port Republic battlefield; d & e) exhibits on the site – d shows Keith Rocco’s painting featured here.