Day Trip to Maryland

29 04 2010

Tomorrow early AM I’m off for Antietam National Battlefield with my friend Mike.  I have some work to do with NPS historian Ted Alexander at his office, then will spend some time at one of the farmhouses on the battlefield.  We should have a little time to bum around before heading for home, but this trip is feels more like work than fun.  Fun work, nonetheless, and it pretty much beats anything I do in my “real job”.  This is for a future installment of In Harm’s Way for Civil War Times, which is going very well thanks for asking.  I admit to preferring the subjects of the articles which allow me to visit the site and look through the files myself.  The subject of the article which will appear in the next issue that hits the stands – I submitted it last week and reviewed the edited pdf file yesterday – is on a Western Theater battlefield, and I had to write it remotely, with the help of others (a friend on the NPS staff sent me copies of the file, and another friend took photos – they did right by me).  I feel more connected to the house if I can crawl around it, measure it, and take photos – lots of photos – myself.  But I’m not complaining; this is a good gig.

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John Hoptak’s “Our Boys Did Nobly”

1 11 2009

41YejDu4b9L__SL500_AA240_Fellow blogger, NPS ranger, and author John Hoptak was nice enough to send me a copy of his most recent book, Our Boys Did Nobly: Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania  Soldiers at the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam.  Hoptak uses the story of Schuylkill County soldiers of the 48th, 50th, & 96th PA Volunteer Infantry regiments to tell the larger tale of the 1862 Maryland Campaign.  It’s an original and effective approach, and a good read.

The 48th and 50th PAVI of Ambrose Burnside’s 9th Corps, and the 96th of William Franklin’s 6th Corps were in good positions to use as bases for a narrative of the battles of South Mountain and Crampton’s Gap, with all three units seeing action.  And while the 50th saw the biggest part of the elephant at Antietam, the author fleshes out the story of the rest of the battle more than adequately and with a variety of primary accounts.  What happened on the southern end of the field after the crossing of the Antietam by 9th Corps typically gets short shrift in most studies of Antietam, and Hoptak has gone a long way to bringing into sharper focus those events.  I’ve been reading and stomping Antietam for years, and learned a lot from Our Boys.

The book is self published and has some of the editing problems attendant to such a product, but the author more than makes up for those deficiencies with his demonstrated command of the subject and materials, and he’s put together a fast-paced narrative that will be eye-opening for readers of all levels.

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Antietam’s Bloody Lane Trail

4 10 2009

On September 18, 2009, I found myself at Antietam National Battlefield with time on my hands, and decided to fill it by walking the park’s new Bloody Lane Trail.  The 1.5 mile loop begins and ends at the park visitor center, and covers the attack and defense of the Sunken Road.  It was just about a perfect day, weather-wise, though it wound up being warmer than I at first thought.  So, I stopped into the VC bookstore and bought one of the NPS Bloody Lane Trail pamphlets for $0.99 (you can get a trail pamphlet for free at the front desk, but it’s bare bones).  Setting out about 4:00 PM, I snapped some photos along the way.  Click on the thumbs for larger images.

From the VC, I walked north to the New York monument.  From there I looked southwest towards the Sunken Road (the end of which is plainly marked by the red roof of the observation tower) and northeast toward the Mumma (m-you-ma) Farm.

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Here at the monument the pamphlet gives a quick overview of the battle’s morning phase, and an only slightly less general description of Sumner’s 2nd Corps and what transpired through the end of the fighting in the Sunken Road.

I decided to follow the instructions dutifully; though I had walked the grounds before, the official NPS trail is a little shorter than the tours I had been on.  So I walked from the NY monument generally east to the Mumma Farm lane, and then made a left toward the picturesque farm, stop #1.  The farm buildings were burned during the battle, and only the stone spring house (and spring) are wartime structures.  Right about where the spring house sits on the gravel lane, I followed the trail right (southeast).

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At the head of this path is an NPS wayside marker.  The trail took me towards the even more picturesque Roulette Farm.  Along the way I saw one of the many outcroppings that litter the field, all oriented about 23 degrees east of north – I guess glaciers don’t zig or zag much.

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The trail brought me to the bucolic Roulette Farm’s (stop #2) outbuildings, and inside one was a surprise – a limber (or was it a caisson missing a chest?) in disrepair.  I don’t think this is an original.  Regardless of budget constraints, I can’t imagine the NPS storing a 145-plus-year-old item like that in a shed.  I got a couple of nice shots of the house and a fuzzy one of the barn – it’s a new camera and this is the first time I used it.  It has about a dozen pixies flying around inside, and I think they make the camera shake when they get rambunctious.

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The trail snakes around the barn and continues straight while the Roulette Lane makes a right and continues southwest to the sunken lane.  The Three Farms Trail shoots off to the northeast, and then the ground gets really interesting. 

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As I walked towards the line on which the Irish Brigade (among others) advanced on the Sunken Road, I was confronted with this hill and the sudden disappearance of the top of the observation tower.  It comes back into view at the top of this hill (stop #3).

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The ground still rises from this point, and I made a right turn southwest toward the Sunken Road.  Using the Irish Brigade as an example, they were deployed from left to right across this scene.  The ground leveled off as I approached the #4 tour stop, but still the lane is not visible in front (though it is to the left, toward the tower).  However, unfurled colors and bayonets would have been plainly visible to the men in the lane.

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Continuing  on I descended into the lane (stop #5), where I could view the Confederate positions left (southeast) and right (northwest).

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At this point I took a detour from the tour, which leads northwest toward the Roulette Farm lane, to take a walk up the tower.  Unfortunately I’ve been having knee problems more severe than usual, and only made it up 21 steps.  So deciding discretion was the better part of valor, I descended (not as easy as it sounds) and proceeded back to where the trail joined the lane.  Here you get a good idea of the terrain, not just in front of the lane…

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…but behind it…

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…and in it.  Note that the Sunken Lane descends toward the Roulette Farm Lane, then ascends sharply towards where the trail turns right (north) off the Sunken Lane.

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It was in this area (stop #6), left and right of the Roulette Farm lane, that French’s division – the brigades of Weber, Morris, and Kimball – took their heavy casualties before Richardson’s division and the Irish Brigade even reached the field.  It’s true: you can look it up.

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From there it was a nice walk back up and across the Mumma Lane to Tompkins’s Battery and the visitor center.

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You can check out the experiences of other bloggers with the Bloody Lane trail, from around the same time,  here and here.

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Back

21 09 2009

DSCN0110I’m back from my jaunt to Maryland, West Virginia and South Central PA.  I had a fine time – thanks to the Clemens Clan of Keedysville for putting me up, and putting up with me.  I toured Antietam’s Bloody Lane trail on Friday, and on Saturday SHAF had a productive board meeting in the morning.  Afterwards I met up with fellow bloggers at the blogger’s canon at Antietam National Battlefield (see Mannie’s blog for a photo), and then enjoyed a dip in the Potomac at Boteler’s/Packhorse/Shepherdstown ford (see photo above and Jim’s blog post).  See also Brian’s and Craig’s posts.  Hopefully I’ll get around to posting photo essays soon.

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Housekeeping

17 09 2009

Just a few items to get on the record before I head to Sharpsburg for a couple of days.  I’m driving down tomorrow and bumming around the field a bit, and staying at a friend’s home Friday night.  I have a Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF) board meeting on Saturday morning, and the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association (SBPA) river crossing and picnic in the afternoon.  Then it’s north to Gettysburg Saturday night and a little time on the field on Sunday before heading home.  Hopefully I’ll have some photos to post next week, but I’m notoriously slow about that stuff.

My e-quaintance from across the pond, Johnathan Soffe of First Bull Run.com, has a new feature he’s working on – listing sources to verify the presence of various Confederate companies and organizations on the field at Bull Run.  This could lead to a more accurate accounting of Confederate troops.  Check out his first attempt on the 1st VA Cavalry here: scroll down to “download pdf” at the bottom of the right hand column.

I’ve been contacted by a descendant of a member of the 5th Alabama who has sent me an interesting letter by him describing the battlefield of First Bull Run shortly after the battle.  The letter is in his family’s possession and has never been published.  It so happens that his ancestor was a member of the Greensboro Guards, designated Company D of the 5th.  A very nice collection of Company D diaries published as Voices from Company D, edited by G. Ward Hubbs, has some Bull Run material and the letter writer’s descendant is working on putting together some biographical information on his ancestor, so I think I’ll make a series of posts out of these.

With that of Montgomery Meigs I’ve finished posting the Bull Run testimony before the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War.  I hope you’ve been reading on order, because that way you can see how the committee are building their cases and singling out their scapegoats – very interesting stuff.  I’ve separated the testimonies in the index by Patterson’s and McDowell’s commands, but think I’ll go back and number them sequentially so future readers can peruse them in order if they choose.

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Ford the Potomac Like They Did

12 08 2009

FordLast year, the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association conducted a tour of the battlefield (yes, there was a pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia after the Battle of Antietam) that commenced with a crossing of the Potomac via Boteler’s/Blackford’s/Pack Horse Ford, the same ford used by Union forces – including the 20th Maine and 118th Pennsylvania – on September 19-20, 1862.  The turnout wasn’t overwhelming (I didn’t make it either, having been in town the preceding weekend), but the reaction to the tour was.  So the SBPA has determined to repeat the tour again, this time on September 19, and this time with two tours scheduled.  One is to be led by SBPA board member Tom Clemens, and another by Tom McGrath, author of Shepherdstown: Last Clash of the Antietam Campaign.  The tour will begin with a crossing of the Potomac by foot at the ford, a tour of the battlefield, and a picnic on the field.  All this for $25.  Go here for information and to make reservations, and to order Mr. McGrath’s book if you wish.  Visit Brian Downey’s Behind Antietam on the Web for a recap of last year’s tour.





More on Armstrong’s Antietam Tour

16 10 2008

Steve Mynes over at Civil War Battles and Battlefields has written a detailed account of the recent SHAF tour of Antietam with Vince Armstrong (I briefly described it here).  Check it out.  I’ve also added Steve to the blogroll at right.  It was nice meeting you, Steve, and thanks for loaning me your Trailhead Graphics map for the morning tour when I absentmindedly left mine in the car.