Friday, September 18, 2009

Some Thoughts On Antietam's 147th Anniversary

Antietam: 2009 Battle Anniversary
(All-Day Hikers)
{Photo from Craig Swain's To The Sound of the Guns}

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Yesterday was the 147th Anniversary of the battle of Antietam, and a truly memorable day for me. I have had the great privilege to serve at Antietam for the past four years and I have had many an incredible, inspiring, and humbling moment on the battlefield. I still remember my first tour, my first Illumination, turning thirty at the Burnside Bridge. . .but yesterday, for the first time, I helped lead the all-day, battle anniversary hikes. The day began at 4:00 a.m. when I woke to a light drizzle. The hour-long drive was eerily quiet; it seemed I was the only one on the road. When I arrived at the battlefield at 6:00, I was the first one there. It was dark and foggy, the rain still falling, and all was quiet. To describe what it was like to witness the first gray lights of dawn on the battlefield on the anniversary of the battle is impossible. My colleagues, Rangers Brian Baracz and Keith Snyder, arrived a short time later and we prepared for our first hike, Morning in the Cornfield. The rain picked up, but it did not deter a crowd of nearly seventy from turning out to walk through the historic cornfield as Keith related the story of the fight, and Brian and I read first-hand accounts penned by those who survived the bloodletting. A somber mood prevailed for the duration of the program. The rain finally ended and after an hour-long break, we all convened once more at the New York State Monument, ready for the eight-hour, eight mile hike before us. In the morning, I was charged with telling the story of Edwin Sumner and the men of his Second Corps. We followed in the footsteps of Sedgwick's Division into the West Woods, then French and Richardson at the Sunken Road, all the while tramping over the same ground and at the same time of day during which the action occurred. Brian took the lead in telling of the First and Twelfth Union Corps and the Confederate troops in the Cornfield and Sunken Road; Keith told the stories of those who received the Medal of Honor for their distinguished gallantry. He also read aloud the list of Confederate soldiers who were chosen to be included in the Roll of Honor. The afternoon witnessed us hiking the southern portion of the field. Brian narrated the actions of the Federal Fifth Corps and the struggle for possession of the Burnside Bridge; I took the lead in telling of the Ninth Corps's final attack and its repulse at the hands of A.P. Hill, while Keith continued to pay tribute to those who went above and beyond the call of duty. The day ended at 5:15 in the National Cemetery, an exhausting day, but one I will always remember. Every now and then, I am reminded of just how fortunate I am to be doing what I love; to work at America's most pristine, best preserved battlefield park, honoring those who fought and those who died while presenting the story of the battle and interpreting its significance to the story of this nation. Yesterday was one of those times. As long as I live, I will remember helping guide the battlefield hikes on the anniversary of the battle for the very first time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Brevet Brigadier General Benjamin Christ Honored

This weekend is Anniversary Weekend at Antietam Battlefield, and while I am looking forward to our full schedule of events, I regret it very much that I will not be able to attend an important ceremony tomorrow in Minersville, commemorating the life and service of Benjamin C. Christ, a valiant soldier from Schuylkill County.
However, I do encourage all who can to attend this event.

From today's Pottsville Republican & Evening Herald:

Civil War General To Be Honored Saturday
by Leslie Richardson (staff writer
Published: September 11, 2009

MINERSVILLE - A local Civil War hero will be honored at 2 p.m. Saturday for his contribution to the Union cause.
On his 187th birthday, a Civil War marker will be placed at the gravesite of Brevet Brigadier General Benjamin C. Christ in the First United Methodist Cemetery, Branch Township.
"Carol Kalinich, a neighbor of the cemetery, was really the instigator, if you will, for this whole thing," said Peter Yasenchak, executive director of the Historical Society of Schuylkill County.
"A few months ago, she called me and told me there was a Civil War general buried in the cemetery and no one knows about it."
Yasenchak did some research and took his finding to the Veterans Administration. Later, it was agreed that a Civil War marker should be erected at the gravesite.
"There was no designation on the grave at all," said William Edmunds, president of the cemetery's board of trustees.
"He was a colonel for most of the war, was wounded three times, fought in numerous battles, and no one really knew he was there."
Edmunds said this was probably due to the fact that his remains were buried in an older part of the cemetery in 1869, but were moved when his sister, Elizabeth, bought the family plot in 1870.
Edmunds said Christ most likely lived in Philadelphia with his wife and two children after the war and died there. It seems his children never married and Edmunds said that is the likely reason the gravesite went unadorned.
A cemetery record indicates Christ was interred in the cemetery but the lot designation was left blank.
No one has been interred in the church-owned cemetery since the 1970s. Due to a declining and aging congregation, the cemetery fell into disrepair.
In 2007, Edmunds spearheaded an effort to clean up and maintain the burial ground, and in the process, preserve historical information recorded on the headstones that date back to the 1800s.
According to research done by Deborah Nouzovsky, Minersville, Christ was born in Orwigsburg on Sept. 12, 1822, and later moved to Pottsville and then Minersville.
Christ taught in the Minersville public schools in the 1840s and served as Schuylkill County treasurer in 1848.
In 1854, Christ was president of the Minersville School Board. In 1855, he was elected state representative.
By 1860, he was living in Minersville as an innkeeper.
"Even when you see his military career discussed, you don't see how important he and his family were in the community even before the war," Edmunds said.
Christ enlisted in the Union Army on April 21, 1861, as a lieutenant colonel in Company E, Pennsylvania 5th Infantry Regiment, nine days after Confederate soldiers opened fire on Fort Sumter, Charleston, S.C.
He mustered out of this unit after three months and was commissioned again July 27, 1861, as a field and staff officer, 50th Infantry Regiment, and was promoted to full colonel the same day.
Christ participated in the Battle of Port Royal; commanded the 1st Brigade at Chantilly, assuming temporary command after the death of Isaac Stevens; returned as commander of the 1st Brigade and fought at the battles of South Mountain and Antietam; commanded the 2nd Brigade in the 1st Division at the Battle of Fredericksburg; commanded the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division in the IX Corps during the siege of Vicksburg; returned to command the 2nd Brigade during the Knoxville Campaign.
In the spring of 1864, Christ took command of the 2nd Brigade in the 3rd Division and fought at the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor.
Christ was wounded when the Union army assaulted the Confederate works at Petersburg but returned to command the 1st Brigade, 3rd Division in the IX Corps.
He was promoted to brevet brigadier general on Aug. 1, 1864 and mustered out of Company S, Pennsylvania 50th Infantry on Sept. 30, 1864, six months before General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House in 1865.
According to a representative of the Veterans Administration, because he was promoted to general shortly before he was discharged, an honor often bestowed on an officer in his last months of active duty, he would have to be distinguished as colonel on the marker, Yasenchak said.
Saturday's ceremony will feature Edmunds, Nouzovsky, Yasenchak, Tom Shay of the Schuylkill County Civil War Round Table, Carol Kalinich, Friends of the Cemetery, the Rev. Nancy Gehres, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Minersville, and a color guard from the Pottsville Joint Veterans Council.
Donations to help maintain the cemetery will be accepted, and applications for membership in the historical society will be available Saturday.