An online journal of Mannie Gentile, a National Park Service interpretive ranger working at our nation's finest National Battlefield: Antietam.
DISCLAIMER: please note that this blog represents only my views and not those of my various employers.
Feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Two years ago I invested in a fabulous pair of Vasque hiking boots, official Ranger trail boots. They're great boots, really expensive, with a really long (really long) break-in period.
Finally, about a year ago, they got comfortable and and were fantastic on the trail.
Here's the O. Henry part of the story.
About a year ago I developed arthritis in the big toe joint of my right foot, within six months I was no longer to get my right boot on or off comfortably. Eventually I couldn't get it on or off at all.
Now, how's a Park Ranger, who really enjoys hiking, supposed to hit the trail in street shoes? That's just plain bad form!
Today, I got my boots back.
I decided to make a study of the way my foot enters and leaves the boot, and then alter the boot to accommodate the lack of flexibility in my paw.
Here's the shoe making elf in action:
I realized that my foot needed to enter the boot from the rear rather than the top, in the manner of a slipper, so the first step was to open up the seams and cut an entry down the back.
That was a piece of cake, no more whining and grimacing.
Then, with my handy stitching awl, I had to bind up the raw edges.
A line of stitches (white) marks the door "hinge". The retaining loop was stitched into place...
and the straps measured, cut, and stained.
Holes for the stitching were punched and the first strap stitched into place. This is the strap that'll close the back of the boot.
This antique harness buckle was stitched to the other, larger, strap, the one that wraps around the ankle and snugs up the whole kit&kaboodle.
The result? somewhere between Doc Marten and Doctor (Ranger) Frankenstein,
but it fits great and feels fantastic!
See you on the trail (or in the leather craft shop),
--- Here, published for the first time, is the Alexander Gardner photograph of Lincoln's visit to Antietam. Though the exchange between the subjects of the photo was never recorded, it is quite clear that a skeptical Lincoln is scrutinizing the books of the AOP.
"...many are the hearts that are looking toward the light, to see the dawn of peace"
Here's looking toward a delightful holiday and a peaceful new year,
When I begin my programs at the battlefield I hold up a park brochure opened to the map and say: "This, isn't the battlefield". Then I gesture toward the vast bank of windows of the observation room toward the landscape beyond and say "That, is the battlefield".
Now, I know, that's all pretty obvious. Unfortunately the way we learn history is through maps, flat, two dimensionally. Peering down at a map everything seems so clear and understandable, and we find ourselves making judgements about how the various generals comported themselves during the battle, in our very godlike way, towering over it all, bathed in 146 years of combined analysis of the battle, with our handy park brochure.
None of which was available to the generals that actually fought the battle.
The point I try to make to the visitors is that the battlefield, the actual three dimensional one, is a vastly confusing place, and what we view as gently rolling and very beautiful countryside, was seen more as a death-trap for the men who fought here.
Recently I did a little study of some of the terrain features that figured into the first four hours of the battle, the "Cornfield phase" which would range from East woods to Nicodemus Heights. from Poffenberger ridge to beyond the Mumma farm. Now, believe me, I broke no new interpretive ground here. This story of terrain is one that has been told by generations of Rangers here at the battlefield, and they all do a better job of it than I ever could. However I'm the one with the camera!
Here are some revealing photos.
Here I am (nice vest eh?) in the Cornfield, facing east. Note the very dramatic ridge just behind me. This ridge has a declination of about five feet and is about two hundred feet long running north-south.
And here's what you see from the other direction:
You are viewing this west of my position, you are looking east with the remains of the East Woods beyond the Cornfield in the foreground. Imagine if several regiments of your enemy were hidden from your view if you were advancing in this direction. Or imagine if your regiment, in line of battle, was advancing in a line parallel to the fence, suddenly your left flank or center would disappear from view. My, how confusing. Even more so when men are trying in earnest to kill you.
Here I am crouched behind a rock outcropping that runs perpendicular to Starke Avenue due west of the Cornfield. This ridge is several hundred feet long and has a declination of between two and four feet.
It also has a commanding view of...
the Hagerstown Pike and any unfortunates who would happen to be advancing down it.
This rock ledge is mentioned in several reports and other accounts of the battle.
This rock ledge served as an impromptu fortress three times during the course of the Cornfield fight. Initially, Union troops under Doubleday enfiladed elements Hood’s Division. In subsequent action, Confederates of the 46th North Carolina, commanded by E.D. Hall would enfilade Union troops advancing along the Hagerstown Pike. Due to its commanding position of this rock ledge, relative to the Hagerstown pike, it becomes immediately evident that any troops positioned behind this outcropping possess a field of fire encompassing the road and any troops unfortunate enough to be on it. Ezra Carman, Antietam historian and colonel of the 13th New Jersey led some of those unfortunates and recalled the scene thus; “The men were being shot by a foe they could not see, so perfectly did the ledge protect them”.
The "Disaster in the West Woods", the destruction of Sedgewick's Division in the West Woods by Confederates under Early was due in great part to the fortunate (for Early's men) placement of a ravine system behind the Dunker Church that runs through the West Woods. Good luck and these ravines would channel Early's men to advantageous positions on the flank and in the rear of Sedgewick's doomed division. What passes in reports and historic accounts as superb or lackluster generalship is often more the work of chance and terrain.
Deep down in one of the ravines travelled by Early's men. Seldom did visitors venture into this area. Now, however the area is accessible on the Park's new West Woods trail.
Finally, one last terrain feature that had an important role in the battle.
This is the view the Confederates had of the Mummaswale on Dunker Church plateau. This is just behind the Visitor Center.
It looks like an easy advance to the Mumma Farm and points east.
Your only concern is that little guidon snapping in the breeze.
Not until its too late will you (assuming you are a Confederate) realize that the guidon represents Union General George Sears Green...
and his 1,700-man division concealed from view just beyond the lip of the swale, which will rise up and destroy your regiment.
Make no mistake, I love maps, they are fabulous teaching tools. But to really understand the battle, there is no substitute for walking the actual ground and discovering an appreciation ofthe difficulties faced by those who fought over this very dynamic, and confusing landscape nearly a century and a half ago.
Illumination day dawned cold and overcast, and was to get even colder as the hours grew later. Cold or not, the visitor center was a beehive of activity by the time I arrived.
No sooner had I settled in, did I get paged that I'd visitors at the front desk. And I was happy to meet long time blog correspondent Richard and his delightful niece Sarah and friend Samantha. Sarah became a Junior Ranger this year and is justly proud of her achievement, she's quite a student of the Civil War and both she and Samantha were very charming and bright girls.
After some pleasant conversation we three gathered at the blogger's gun for the photo below.
Richard, Sarah, Samantha and me.
For a really fine personal view of the Illumination, check out Richard's video here,
That day had me so busy I was able to shoot only a few photos, including these:
Illumination day began with Ranger Hoptak setting 23,110 luminaria throughout the battlefield.
Okay, that's a lie. The actual work is done by over 1,300 volunteers, many of whom have been doing this for twenty years now and they really have it down to a science.
By about four o'clock the volunteers started fanning out across the battlefield lighting the candles in the very cold afternoon.
As the sky grew dark the amazing happened again, those simple brown paper bags, weighted with sand and containing a single candle...
helped us remember each of those 23,110 American casualties of the Battle of Antietam. September 17th, 1862 remains America's bloodiest day and the day that transformed the American Civil War into a war of liberation.