Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Preparing For The 148th. . .And Some Sad News

It is a common sentiment this time of year; people asking, "Where did the summer go?" It is hard to imagine that here we are, already in mid-September, with Fall just a week away. Of course, this is always the busiest time of the year at Antietam, as we prepare to commemorate the anniversary of the battle. This year will mark the 148th Anniversary of Antietam.

I am excited and honored to say that I will be helping to lead the all-day hikes this upcoming Friday, September 17, 2010. Working at Antietam is very special, and every day I cannot help but think of how lucky I am to be doing what I love and what I always wanted to do. But being out there on the anniversary of the fight, helping to commemorate the lives and sacrifices of those who fought and those who died, takes it to a whole new level. This year, the sub-theme of the all-day hikes on Friday is Battlefield Preservation, a topic which will be addressed primarily by Ranger Keith Snyder. Ranger Brian Baracz and myself will be providing most of the battle interpretation, and I decided this year that my major focuses will be on the Stonewall Division for the morning hike and, during the afternoon, we'll be focusing mainly on Isaac Rodman's division, following his route all the way to Snavely's Ford then up to the 9th New York Monument. Yes, it will be a long day; we will be covering roughly seven miles. But as it was last year, it will be a great thrill and a great honor. I would have it no other way.

Yesterday, Ranger Baracz and I spent the day going over the hiking routes and preparing for the busy weekend ahead. We tramped all over the fields, going to some really out-of-the-way places. Brian was kind enough to take some shots along the way and send them along to be posted here. If you do plan on coming to the Park this weekend, I suppose you can say that these photos are just a sneak peak of what is to come. . .

We began the day atop the Reel Ridge, west of the Hagerstown Turnpike and modern-day Route 65. This photo is looking east toward Elk Ridge and South Mountain (in the far distance). From here, we were standing opposite the entrance to the Sunken Road/Bloody Lane, which you might see in the center background, bordered by the fences. Look also for the Union monuments to the left center, commemorating the troops that attacked the Road. After being driven off the Dunker Church plateau, Colonel Stephen Lee's Confederate artillery pieces were unlimbered on this high ground.

The Reel Barn and House. . .the barn caught fire during the battle.

In the swale of the Reel Ridge; Confederate troops under Lafayette McLaws and John Walker would have used this sheltered position to form up for the attacks against Sedgwick's and Greene's Union divisions, respectively.

A shot of the ground portions of McLaws's Division (Semmes's and some of Barksdale's brigades) would have passed over before striking Sedgwick in the West Woods.

The J. Hauser home (right background), with Hauser's Ridge rising in the distance. After withdrawing from Nicodemus Heights, some of Pelham's guns would have unlimbered here. Firing toward us, they would have helped stall Gorman's leading brigade of Sedgwick's division upon its arrival on the western edge of the West Woods.

Prepare to be blown away by all the great work being done by our Cultural Resources division, here, at the Mary Locher cabin, and throughout the Park. These guys do incredible work in restoring the battlefield to its September 1862 appearance.

Looking west toward the Hagerstown Turnpike, which runs left-to-right across the photograph, from the sheltered position of the rock ledges in the West Woods. From here the 19th Indiana would have fired directly into the rear of Starke's Louisianans along the fence bordering the Pike.

This is an incredible shot. Behind this high ground is where the 9th Corps would have staged for their attacks against the Lower (Burnside) Bridge and the right flank of Confederate army, which was in position on the distant, tree-lined ridge. If you look closely you might be able to see the Sherrick House and Stone Mill on the right, center-distance. Also, toward the left of the photograph, you will see an open field. Through this runs Branch Avenue, and you may be able to see the back of the 51st Pennsylvania Monument.
I have long argued that the 9th Corps had easily the most difficult task at Antietam, and standing here on this high ground, it is readily apparent. Indeed, as I might say on Friday, and certainly not taking anything away from them, but Pickett's men at Gettysburg had an almost walk-in-the-park compared to Burnside's men at Antietam!

Is there anymore an iconic landmark of the American Civil War than the Burnside Bridge?

Here's Ranger Baracz cooling his heels in the waters of Antietam at Snavely's Ford, where Rodman's division would have crossed, around noon on September 17, 1862, just as Burnside launched his final attack on the Bridge.

Yours Truly relaxing in a seat built along the recently reconstructed stone wall that lines the eastern side of the Otto Farm Lane. It was a long, hot day yesterday as we tramped out the route we'll be taking on Friday but, again, I would have it no other way.

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On another and much sadder note, when I awoke this morning, I saw in my inbox a message from friend and Antietam scholar Tom Clemens announcing the death of Dr. Joseph Harsh, one of the leading, if not the leading scholar of the September 1862 Maryland Campaign. I never had the good fortune to meet Dr. Harsh, as I understood he had been in declining health over the past few years. But seldom does a day go by, whether at the Park or while researching at home, that I do not consult his work. In my eyes, Dr. Harsh penned the finest single-volume account of the Maryland Campaign, Taken At The Flood. This is history at its finest. Dr. Harsh's work sets the example and has inspired me over the years to become a better historian, to dig deeper, and to look at things from different angles. His loss will be deeply felt in the Civil War community. It is both strange and fitting that Dr. Harsh passed away this week; and that his funeral is set for Friday, September 17. . . .

To read some of Dr. Clemen's thoughts on the passing of Joe Harsh, click here. Also read Harry Smeltzer's thoughts here.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Harsh was brilliant- he will be missed.

Robert Hamann

Jim Rosebrock said...

Dr. Harsh's three works on the Maryland Campaign are the cornerstone of my library. It is assuring though that a new generation of scholars like you will build on that legacy and carry our understanding and appreciation of the Maryland Campaign to even greater levels. I look forward to the Friday tours. See you then.


Andrew said...

I am sorry to hear about Dr. Harsh.

Ranger Hoptak, was wondering about Friday's all-day hikes. I have been to the battlefield many times, including several anniversary weekends, and am excited about Saturday and Sunday. I was wondering, though, if what you have planned on Friday would justify coming up that day, too? Will you be discussing topics or taking visitors to places that won't be covered on the weekend?

Thank you!

John David Hoptak said...

The Saturday-Sunday hikes will be much more in-depth. On Friday, we'll be covering more than seven miles total, so the interpretation will be kept to a comparative minimum. Still, we'll be looking at some topics (e.g. Stonewall Division and Rodman) more on Friday than on the weekend.

Matt said...

I'm the g-g-g grandson of Michael Farley (Co. G, 8th CT). He fought in his very first battle at Antietam. The attack of the IX Corps was one of the most difficult assignments of the entire battle. Wish I could have been there for the walk.