Monday, September 17, 2007

One Incredible & Truly Memorable Event

The New York State Monument at Antietam
The past four days have been without question some of the greatest and most memorable of my life. Beginning Friday, September 14, and concluding today, the Antietam National Battlefield observed and commemorated the 145th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. The weather was clear and beautiful, and the mood at the park reflective. The battlefield was serene. We had programs all weekend, from the battlefield tours, to in-depth hikes, and from special presentations to living history demonstrations, it was truly an incredible four days. In the words of Ranger Keith Snyder, a veteran of the Park Service, it was the best anniversary he had yet experienced at Antietam.
And I felt honored, indeed, still feel honored, to have been a part of it all.

The marquis behind the Visitor Center desk was crowded with all of our events. This was Saturday's schedule, but the anniversary's events kicked off the day before.
Friday, September 14, was my birthday. And what better way to usher in my 29th year than helping to explain the battle of Antietam to visitors during a three-hour long battlefield tour? This photo of me was snapped by blogger and Civil War author Scott Mingus as I interpreted the action that transpired at the Sunken Road. (
I had a large group on Friday, maybe as high as 80-90 people. I checked my watch and turned 29, officially, at 3:15 p.m., as I led the tour past the Benjamin Christ monument, on our way to the Burnside Bridge.

Early Saturday morning, Ranger Gordie Thorpe was leading the interactive Battlefield in a Box program as, just a few feet away. . .

the incomparable Ed Bearrs was beginning a battlefield tour. Ed presented a lecture on General Lee's leadership during the Maryland Campaign on Friday night, and he remained at the battlefield throughout the weekend, leading many a tour.
Dr. Ethan Rafuse, author of the excellent book McClellan's War, spoke Saturday night on General George B. McClellan at Antietam.

On Saturday morning, I accompanied Ranger Mike Gamble on his in-depth hike that followed in the footsteps of General Bull Sumner's Second Corps. He led us first toward the East Woods, and then across the fields to the West Woods, where John Sedgwick's Division met with terrible slaughter.
Here, Ranger Gamble explains the deployment of Sedgwick's men before entering the West Woods. . .We then approached the Sunken Road in the footsteps of first William French's and then Israel Richardson's Division.

I had the battlefield tour Saturday afternoon, so I had to break away early from Mike's excellent hike. I returned to the Visitor Center late that afternoon, but early enough to witness some of the Living History events.

As always, the living history groups presented excellent interpretative programs. They set up camp behind the Dunker Church, and there helped to explain the life of the common soldiers. After marching their way behind the visitor center, they presented infantry maneuvering and firing demonstrations. Above, we see a skirmish line "in action," and Confederate reenactors going through the steps of loading in nine times.

The army was on hand to witness and to take part in the events.

Throughout the weekend, I had the opportunity to meet with a lot of cool people, including Brian Downey, mastermind of Antietam on the Web ( This photograph was snapped by Harry Smeltzer, the brains behind Bull Runnings. (
Harry recruited me to write an article on the life and forgotten service of General James Nagle for an upcoming issue of the Save Historic Antietam (SHAF) newsletter. I look forward to it greatly. . .

Of course the break room was a bit messy during the very hectic weekend, but an ample supply of provisions was on hand. . .

* * * * * * * * * *
Incredible though the weekend was, the highlight for me came today. Today marks the 145th year since the battle of Antietam, and I had the great privilege--the great honor--of leading the battlefield tour. For me, it simply does not get any better; to be out there, leading the tour on the anniversary itself. It was a moving and memorable experience. During this past spring and summer, I have led 54 battlefield tours. But while I always strive to deliver the best tour possible each and every time, today's tour was much more meaningful. I had a group of over 75 visitors, who traveled from all points--north, south, east, and west--to be at the battlefield today. As I talked about the battle at the Cornfield, the Sunken Road, and the Burnside Bridge, I had a difficult time keeping the tears back. I swelled up many times, and I have no shame in admitting to it. It was the best moment I have yet experienced as a ranger at the Antietam Battlefield. At the end, to cap off a perfect weekend, I was approached by a gentleman who was on my tour. He was younger, maybe in his mid twenties, and was very much enthralled to be at Antietam. He shook my hand, and congratulated me on a well-delivered tour. He then told me that he was descended from not one, but two, Civil War Medal of Honor recipients. What made it truly inspiring was that the fact that he was African American, and one of his ancestors was Sergeant William Carney, who saved the flag of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry at the battle of Fort Wagner. This was, to me, remarkable. At Antietam, where America truly experienced its "new birth of freedom," on the 145th Anniversary of the battle, I got to meet and shake hands with a descendant of a true American hero.
It was the perfect ending to an incredible and never-to-be-forgotten weekend.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ranger Hoptak,
I was steered to your fine Blog via Ranger Mannie's musings. I am part of the WNY Chapter of the United States Sanitary Commission who were camped below the Dunker Church during the Anniversary weekend, behind those fine Berdan's boys in your photo.
We started coming to Antietam through the auspices of Paul Chiles who gave us an audition weekend and always welcomed us back. Now Ranger Stanczak has "adopted" us as well. For that we are ever grateful to spend a weekend or sometimes two a year to stay on what we consider hallowed ground. That weekend was the best experience we have had, the Park letting us stay the 17th. We had some new folks with us to help with the interpretation and they were extremely delighted to be on the field, sharing with us the honor of the occasion.
You and Mannie chronicle Antietam well and I will continue reading your blogs when I can.
We will(like MacArthur)return, at the end of August '08.

Jim Tuk aka Dr. Lewis H. Steiner
Chief Inspector(USSC)