Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Scooped!: Antietam Illumination

I was going to craft a post regarding the annual Illumination at Antietam National Battlefield this Saturday, but, as Ranger Paul Chiles used to always say, " why reinvent the wheel?".

For great coverage go to Antietam on the Web for an outstanding post on the subject.

Also, this being my first one, it'll all be new to me, and I'm really looking forward to the experience.

I'll be shooting video footage so watch for a Youtube link in the near future.

See you Saturday night!

Ranger Mannie

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Remembrance Day parade! (click this title to view)

I've always been ambivalent about the hobby of reenacting. Most reenactors tell me that they do it to educate the public about the Civil War. I'm often skeptical of the actual educational value of their efforts.

Now, I grant you that many reenacting groups do an outstanding job of Civil War education. Antietam National Battlefield utilizes living history groups as an educational asset throughout the spring and summer season. They are outstanding groups that work hard to convey the feel and meaning of soldier and civilian life during the war. From Sharpshooters, to infantry, to the civilians of the U.S. Sanitary Commission,
to the spectacular of Artillery weekend,
what all of these reenactors have in common seems to be an overarching passion to explain the people and technology of the era to a wide audience without trivializing the impact and carnage of combat. They do a great job of "making history come alive"...also they don't spend time pretending to get shot.

Which brings me to that other aspect of reenacting: bogus combat.

Reenacted battles don't resonate with me as an educator. As a didactic resource I find sham battles about as authentic as a Roadrunner cartoon. Seems that no matter how many times Wiley E. Coyote gets blown up with Acme dynamite , or has a 5,000 lb Acme anvil dropped on his head, he always shakes it off and gets up again. So too with reenactors "killed" or "wounded" on the field; when the smoke clears they get up, brush themselves off, and head back to camp for slab bacon ("Fortunately I keep my feathers numbered for just such an eventuality")none the worse for the experience.

That's not an accurate representation of the carnage of combat nor is it particularly educational...though sure, it looks like fun.

Then there are the "Reenactors Only" events. One is occuring during the 145th anniversary of Antietam next year. At the park I get lots of calls from people who want to know if we're having a big reenactment. I inform them that we don't do battle reenactments at the park. I mention that there is a private reenactment going on at that time, however, their press release states that its for "reenactors only". One caller recently responded: "Well what's the sense of that?". Good question. I had nothing to tell him.

Perhaps that will be important "alone time" for the reenactors to educate each other about thread count, correct buttons, the perils of farbiness, and other such stuff. Have fun guys.

There is another echelon of reenactors who tell me that they do it simply to honor their Civil War ancestors.
I find that both touching and legitimate. I hope that one day my great-great-grandchildren will dress up as park rangers
and give tours of historic places in tribute to me.

(that's a really fun image).

Others tell me that they reenact because it's a fun way to campout with the guys and play war, and I really appreciate the candor of that response. Everyone's entitled to a hobby.

All that being said, this past weekend another Antietam ranger invited me up to his home in Gettysburg for a private battlefield tour and the opportunity to experience Remembrance Day", the commemoration of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

At Remembrance Day I encountered the the spectrum of reenacting, from the zany (General Santa Klaus C.S.A.)
to a very heavy, heavy dragoon:

to absolutely the greatest use of reenactors I've ever seen; THE PARADE!
Seeing thousands of reenactors marching in ranks, accompanied by drums and bands was one of the most evocative Civil War education experiences I've ever had.

Thinking of the 1865 Grand Review, I commented to my host - "So that's what it must have looked like".

I shot and edited a short video of the event which I've posted on Youtube. You can click the title of this entry above or go to:
to view it. I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think of it.

The Remembrance Day parade is a spectacle of pageantry, pomp, power, and patriotism. It really conveys the dynamism of a vast Civil War army on the march. And I think that it may be reenacting at its very best. I highly recommend that you put next year's Remembrance Day on your calendar. Dress warm, grab a hot soft pretzel from Trader Vic's, and I'll see you curbside next November!

Monday, November 20, 2006

48th Pennslyvania blog

When it rains, it pours! My friend Steve Soper got his 3rd Michigan blog up and running( and so, too, does my buddy John Hoptak start one regarding the 48th PA, those coal miners who dug the mine at Petersburg.

Author, historian, and educator, Hoptak is an authority on the fighting men of Schuylkill County. He's also a great person to walk the Gettysburg battlefield with. A G'burg resident, John invited me up for Remembrance Day this past weekend.
This is John at the National Cemetery where he did some fine storytelling for me.

I'm putting together an i-movie on the remembrance day parade now which I hope to have completed by the end of this week.

Check out both John's and Steve's sites...The Army of the Potomac can always use the reinforcements!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Days Grow Shorter

(click on pix)
Autumn deepens and we shifted to daylight savings time. Our days at the park seem so short now. As sundown happens around 4:45 we have some incredible views available from the back of the visitors center as we go about our routine of shutting down for the day.

With the sun at such an extreme angle hidden features of the park begin to pop right out at you. The elusive Pry House becomes instantly visible up on Red Hill, though only for a few moments as it's Western face is briefly bathed in direct sunlight. The sheep grazing at the Mumma farm become bright white puffs of light.

The valley is filled with contrasting bands of light and shadow as the sun competes with the clouds.

And before you know it, another day has ended. Time to bring down the flag, lock up and look forward to another Antietam day.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Storm over South Mountain

Yesterday a major storm rolled in. Rangers had to hold onto their hats as the wind picked up an the lead-gray clouds barreled across the lowering sky. A punishing south wind had the flag standing straight out from the flagpole, straining at the halyards, and as they say down here in Sharpsburg, "nothing good ever came from the south".

As the front rolled through we were left with a late afternoon of dramatic clouds and lighting. In a single glance you had your choice of low rainfilled clouds or bright blue sky.

The mountain always provides for exciting weather.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I Can See Clearly Now (the leaves are gone)

(Click on the pix)

Drop what you're doing and come to Antietam! This is the time of year to really get a handle on the lay of the land. Terrain was such a crucial player in the outcome of the battle and with the leaves off the trees there is so much more clarity available to the visitor.

Last week I made a beeline for the Cornfield to get an unobstructed view of Nicodemus Heights. Both from the position of Battery B 4th U.S. Artillery
and the "sweet spot" (as the ranger's call that place just inside the Cornfield where you are high enough to get a glimpse of Dunker Church). The view of the heights in the far distance is dramatic and telling. Through the bare branches of the trees it becomes immediately obvious that Stuart's guns on those heights commanded much of the Cornfield.

Another great view is of the Roulette Farm in the foreground, the Mumma Farm in the middle, and the East Woods in the background, all from the heights that were surveyed by Israel Richardson shortly before he was felled at the Sunken Road.

From the Confederate position at Burnside's Bridge (stop 9 on the auto tour) you can get a great view of Cemetery Hill, location of the Confederate guns that were pasteing the men of the Ninth Corps as they surged across the bridge.

The heights of the cemetery can also be viewed from Rodman Avenue, with Cemetery Hill (the tall trees) to the left and the observation tower at the Sunken Road in the the far distance (middle right).

From that same position you can get a great view of the Sherrick and Otto farmsteads. From this vantage point you can just imagine that long, long Union line of battle, anticipating victory in Sharpsburg, but meeting, instead, Confederate general A.P Hill and his 3,000 Rebels.

C'mon! Now is the time, Antietam is the place.

Dress warm,

Ranger Mannie

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Third Michigan Blog

My good friend, Steve Soper, has just recently started a blog chronicling the Third Michigan Volunteer Infantry (1861-'64).

Steve has been working on a comprehensive compilation of Third Michigan materials for about 15 years now and has become the "go to" guy for info on this particular pack of Wolverines.

Steve included me (and many others) in this treasure hunt and I would scour the vast collection of a large West Michigan museum that I used to work at, searching for stuff related to the "old Third".

His research has been relentless and pretty exhaustive, and this blog may well be the premier place to go for information on this unit that was so emblematic of the efforts of the Third Corps, AOP.

Check in on him from time to time.

(photo is of Sgt. Dan Crotty, 3rd Michigan Infantry)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Honey...I'm Home!

My wife and I made an offer on a house in Boonesboro which was cool is that?

We're pretty thrilled. We like the idea of sustainable living and this house fills the bill. It's very small but really well designed with an open floorplan and a finished basement. It looks really big on the inside. With a 1/3 acre yard I can put in a garden, which is something I've missed since moving to Maryland in January. And, unlike our house in Michigan, we've a much longer growing season here in Washington County. Its right on the shoulder of South Mountain with a beautiful view of the Cumberland Valley all the way to North Mountain.

And best of all, just seven miles from Antietam National Battlefield, it's smack in Civil War country!

It's good to be home.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Time heals all wounds

Unlike Gettysburg, which seems to have quite a bit of visible (and notable) battle damage, including the Trostle Barn,as well as the pockmarked wall of the Farnsworth House,Antietam, by comparison, seems to have very little such visible forensic evidence of the battle.

Estimates of ordnance expended in the thirteen hour battle of Antietam (September 17,1862) usually cite 50,000 artillery rounds and three million bullets. That's a lot of hardware flying around causing quite a bit of damage. But to look at the place today, you'd hardly guess that a calamity of such enormity happened here.

I've read lots of historical accounts of chimneys being damaged or destroyed by artillery shells, as well as other structural damage to homes and buildings in and around Sharpsburg. Whether any of the structures that are privately owned still exhibit battle damage is unknown to me, though to walk around Sharpsburg I've not noted any obvious battle damage.

Of the historic structures within the park I know of only two examples of combat damage. I've been told by our Cultural Resources folks that there's a bullet hole in a mantle of the Sherrick House. I've also had this bullet hole pointed out to me in the Roulette barn

Approaching this as an 1862 homeowner,I can easily imagine myself (while muttering expletives toward the yankee and rebel governments) quickly repairing battle damage to my house just as I would any other damage, after all isn't that what weekends have been traditionally used for? But as a student of history, each example of battle damage, is a tantalizing glimpse at evidence of this enormous event.

Perhaps you know of other examples of Sharpsburg battle damage that you'd like to share.

Keep me posted,


Monday, November 06, 2006

Fade to Black: Moon Over South Mountain

At the risk of being redundant, once again I have to reflect on the beauty of Antietam National Battlefield.

Falling back to daylight savings time brings changes to the Park. The Rangers shift into winter uniforms and it's nearly dark when we close the visitor's center. Exiting the center after locking up two days ago our usual banter was interrupted by the image of the moon just cresting South Mountain (always carry a camera).

I began at the park in mid-January so each season has been full of new surprises for me.

Watching the cycle of agriculture in the Antietam Valley, from cultivation to harvest, churned up memories of my own rural childhood in the Saginaw Valley of Michigan.

Walking the park in the cool of the morning, or in the dense fog of late summer sunrises brings a host of plesant surprises, from the red fox who hasn't yet noticed me to the revelation of bejewled spiderwebs hanging heavy from every tree.

Watching storms boil through the valley or thwarted passage by the mountain always makes for dramatic (and interactive) viewing.

I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.

Good night, from Antietam

Ranger Mannie

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Class of '06

Antietam's seasonal Interpretive Rangers of 2006 - the boys of summer. Ranger Hoptek, Ranger Bailey, and Ranger Gentile.


Ranger Mannie