General French Descendants at Antietam

It was great fun at Antietam today to host the great-great grandson and great-great-great granddaughter of General William French. The Hereford (MD) High School student is doing a historical project and has chosen the topic of her ancestor. They brought a dress sword that belonged to the General. IMG_0097

The fame of General French at Antietam is in consequence of his Third Division of the 2nd Corps constituting the Union forces in the attack upon the Sunken Road – Bloody Lane. His 5700 total troops were deployed in three parallel lines of attack upon the entrenched Confederate position.

The three lines, in order of battle, were his three brigades of Weber, Morris, and Kimball. The first two brigades were fully constituted of green troops. His only veterans were in three regiments in the final brigade of Kimball – from right to left: 14th Indiana, 8th Ohio, 132nd Pennsylvania, and 7th West Virginia. The 132nd PA were in their first battle along with the veterans on either side.

Of Kimball’s Brigade, French wrote in his official report, “General Kimball, Second Brigade, brought his veterans into action, and fought the enemy on the front and either flank with such desperate courage and determination as to permit the arrival of the re-enforcements, which reached the field three hours after my division had sustained the conflict. After the arrival of re-enforcements, the exhaustion of ammunition brought my line from the crests it had carried to the second line, which, being supplied, my troops were ready to continue the action. Richardson’s division supported me with that success which always distinguished that noble corps. Brooke’s brigade was particularly conspicuous. I particularly ask attention to the report of Brigadier-General Kimball, to whom the division is indebted for a brilliant display of courage never surpassed.”

Of the 320 men in the 14th Indiana that entered the conflict, 30 were killed with an additional 150 wounded, for a casualty rate of 56%. They would serve under French at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. But before Gettysburg, French was assigned to garrison duty at Harpers Ferry. The separation must have been the occasion of the 14th Indiana giving General French a dress sword, as seen in the picture. The inscription reads, “Presented to Major Gen. W.H. French by the Officers and Soldiers, 14th Regt. Indiana Volunteers as a testimonial of their appreciation of his gallantry and merit … June, 1863.”

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Civil War Skull Skullduggery

In an article in the York Daily Record, it is reported that a skull of a Civil War soldier from the Battle of Gettysburg will be auctioned off in Hagerstown, MD on Tuesday (6/3/14). Along with 13 other artifacts, it was found in 1949 at the location of a farm hospital two miles north of Gettysburg.

Before I go into the ethics of this, I’ll say that this is the sort of thing that could only happen in Hagerstown. This month marks 20 years that I have now lived in the Hagerstown/Washington County area. And though it is a beautiful place to live, especially for a history geek like me, I’ve never seen a place with quite the same manner of self-inflicted low esteem issues.

Whenever there is a listing of the top 10 cities with ugly women, dirty men, obese cats, bad breath, or flatulent bovines per acre, Hagerstown never fails to make the listing.

Civil War Collection, National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C. From exhibition "Visible Proofs: Forensic Views of the Body" U.S. National Library of Medicine, 8600 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20894

Civil War Collection, National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C. From exhibition “Visible Proofs: Forensic Views of the Body” U.S. National Library of Medicine, 8600 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20894

But this is a new level of shameful ignominy – to auction the human remains of a person who very likely laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom; although, the auction is simply being held in Hagerstown – not that the city or county has really anything specifically to do with it beyond being centrally located … but again – where else would this happen?

Perhaps the area is the victim of some skullduggery, which, by definition means “crafty deception or trickery or an instance of it.” So where does a word like that come from? Apparently the etymology relates to an alteration of a Scottish word of similar sound and is not related to human skulls.

I have often wondered when walking through museums—such as the British Museum in London with all the Egyptian mummies, etc.—when do human remains cease to be worthy of honor and dignity and cross the line into an artifact of history? And for a chunk of human remains to be auctioned off to the general public is a new category entirely from something on display in a museum, where at least there is a dignified context for the item.

An individual is quoted in the article referenced above as saying, “I don’t have anything to say whether or not it’s right or it’s wrong. I still think there’s something there that just doesn’t feel right.” And that sentiment would certainly echo the feelings I’ve seen and heard from some of my Civil War pals.

So, if this is ethically just fine, how about we get really literal with “skullduggery” and do some skulldiggering? If there is a market for Civil War skulls, we could fine hundreds of them in the cemetery at Antietam—and I’m simply referencing the “unknowns” graves. Some of these skulls might be extra cool with a minie ball encased in them! They would bring an especially high price! The proceeds could be given to the Battlefield for preservation work. What an idea! Those guys won’t mind being dug up, and there aren’t any descendants to deal with.

Does that help put the Gettysburg skull into any different light?

I fear we live in a very strange age relative to an appropriate understanding of the dignity of human life.

UPDATE>> Later in the day (that this was written – 6/2/14), there has been a change of plans by the auction company after a slew of complaints. The following is from the local Hagerstown TV station (WHAG) web page:

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Md. – The skull of a Civil War solider was expected to be auctioned off at the Best Western Grand Venice Hotel in Hagerstown on Tuesday. 

“In my opinion though, like the National Park Service told me, it should have a proper burial,” said professional auctioneer Tom Taylor. “That’s the significance of this guy.”

And that’s exactly what is going to happen. After numerous calls and complaints, Taylor told WHAG they’ve decided to give the solider’s remains to the United States Parks Services in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania as a gift. The park is expected to hold a funeral and proper burial for the solider.

Originally, the sale was believed to be the first of its kind. The remains were found in 1949 on the Benner Farm in Gettysburg while someone was tilling a garden. 

The bidding for the remains has been removed from an online website. The park service will arrive at Hagerstown on Tuesday where the remains will be handed off. The auction will be held at the hotel tomorrow at 1 p.m.

Doubleday Talk on Doubleday Hill

It has been quite some time since I have written in this blog. And seeing that the last post was one where I wrote of a health scare that happened to me a couple of months ago on the Antietam Battlefield, I thought it might be prudent to write that any report of my demise is greatly exaggerated.

Actually, today, I spoke at a Civil War event in my home town of Williamsport – where on “Doubleday Hill” that overlooks the city and Potomac River, there was a celebration of my man Abner Doubleday and his artillery placement there in 1861. To read my previous post on that history, you may find it HERE.

My talk today was on the life and times of Abner Doubleday, and it was fun to prepare for this and read the hundreds of pages of notes and rough drafts I have on the subject of this unique fellow. There was an artillery reenactment group there, and I much enjoyed and benefited from a conversation with several.

Doubleday Hill - Williamsport, MD - 5/31/14

Doubleday Hill – Williamsport, MD – 5/31/14

And so I thought I’d share a snippet today by talking about Doubleday’s view of the Confederate General Braxton Bragg. The Doubleday quotes are from his journal materials I have found.

Let’s pick up the story in 1844-45 when Doubleday was just 2-3 years out of the Academy and into his time of service at various forts, mostly along the Atlantic coast and in charge of artillery.

Doubleday found himself at the regimental headquarters at Charleston’s Fort Moultrie. During these few months, he again came into association with a number of the future prominent generals of Civil War fame. Doubleday agreed with the universal opinion of William T. Sherman—that he was a genial, studious, and spirited officer. The future “Rock of Chickamauga,” George H. Thomas, Doubleday described as a pillar of the regiment; the soul of truth, honesty, and quiet good humor.

The future Confederate general, Braxton Bragg, however, did not score with Doubleday on the same level, though he did merit the longer description—garnished with a number of anecdotes. While not at all lacking in military understanding and ability, Bragg was quite the critic of superiors and of the army organization in general. Doubleday said that Sarcasm was his forte. He loved to raise points with the authorities at Washington, and was saucy, even impudent in discussing them. He was so adroit at it, for a long time he went scot-free, but in the end suffered severe punishment—suspension and fine. Bragg was also very severe in his punishment, and was feared and hated among his subordinates. Doubleday tagged him as the Confederate officer known to execute more of his own men than all other officers combined.

Doubleday related a most humorous story about Bragg’s service at Fort Moultrie. Bragg was for a time filling the dual positions of Post Commander and Post Commissary. There was an occasion when some tainted meat was brought before him as a complaint. An examination credited the report as true. Captain Bragg at once sat down and wrote Commissary Bragg a sharp letter saying that the condition of the beef showed great carelessness on his part. Then, on behalf of the Post Commissary, he replied to himself as Post Commander, saying that had the commander attended to his duties, the thing could not have happened. This was kept up for some time. At last, Commissary Bragg wrote to Captain Bragg that he would no longer endure the attacks upon his reputation and soldierly qualities … that he would at once appeal to the department commander for justice. The matter was referred up the chain of command, and according to Doubleday, made it to Washington before being understood as a joke.

Doubleday loved a story like this and loved to share it.

Thought I Was Going to Die at Antietam

The official number of the casualties at the Battle of Antietam is most often given as 23,110. A couple of weeks ago, I really thought I was going to be #23,111 and die there.

It was a misty Saturday morning when I met and hosted a school bus load of boy scouts and leaders from the Philadelphia area who had camped nearby overnight. The weather was not too terribly bad for the opening 30-minute orientation talk, but as we began to ride around the Park, the precipitation went from a drizzle to a steady rainfall.Antietam tower 1

After close to an hour on wheels, I needed to get the boys out of the bus for a while, since all of the windows were fogging up. So, I thought it would be a very Boy Scout sort of thing to do to climb the tower at Bloody Lane. It would burn some energy, be fun, and provide a sheltered place for me to continue talking. Going up the tower is only rarely a part of an actual tour given by our Antietam Battlefield Guides organization.

At the top, I was out of breath … but worse than that, some elephant came along and sat on my chest and my eyes were in and out of going dark – I was dizzy and fighting to stay conscious. Somehow, in the couple minutes it took for the whole gang to make it to the top, I managed to recover enough to gasp my way through a narrative of what could be seen. But in my mind, I was thinking that this could be the end – I was going to die at Bloody Lane on the Antietam Battlefield!

It’s not like that has never been done before! Total casualties at that part of the field numbered 5,500 on September 17th of 1862. There is almost something romantic about dying where your ancestors did! Actually, I may have had a direct ancestor who fought at this location in the 132nd Pennsylvania Regiment. He has the correct last name from the correct county in PA … though I’ve never been able to connect the line directly. William Parks did die three months later from his wounds at the Battle of Fredericksburg … a story that I’ve previously written about HERE.

So, everyone I told about my tower experience insisted I needed to have this checked out, and I’ve gone through a bunch of tests including a nuclear stress test on Tuesday morning. The cardiologist says I’ve got no problems that he can discern … that my heart is as good as the model pictured on the wall of his office. (I’m just not sure what has happened to the rest of me, nor how such a young man got stuck in this body!)

So anyhow, there are worse places to die than Antietam, but I’m glad to be alive and to be able to still host folks who visit one of America’s most sacred treasures.

Our lives are a vapor. It is amazing to think that one muscle is all that keeps us going … and of course, it is not ALL. The Lord God said through the inspiration of the Spirit and the pen of David that “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139)

I am also far from alone upon the making of such contemplations on that same site. The letters of Civil War veterans – often written on the eve of battle and arriving in homes far from the field and after the news of their death was known – are filled with the contemplations of the brief and passing nature of this world relative to the eternal home of those who know God.

< Photos by my Antietam friend Sharon Murray >

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Even the Snow is Special at Antietam

It pretty much goes without saying that the Antietam National Battlefield is the coolest place on earth.

I have often told the story about my first trip to Antietam in 1968, when as a New Jersey middle school student who had written a paper on this Civil War battle, I pestered my family to bring me to see it … having relatives who lived in Ellicott City.  It was a freezing cold, windy, drizzling damp day. My relatives were very cranky about it all, but I was running up and down Bloody Lane in total fascination with the narrative of what happened there.

Today was my first group of 2014 at Antietam. Along with fellow guide and author John Michael Priest, we each hosted a busload of charter school teenagers from El Cajon, California. They were great kids – very attentive – and many asked some really good questions. It was a very cold day, but none of them complained at all, even though they had been to Gettysburg in the morning and were being asked to absorb a lot of history in a short time. We ran up Bloody Lane and then walked out to the Burnside Bridge.IMG_1010[1]

What really cracked me up was watching them at the Bridge. Of course, at this moment, the Bridge is closed to access upon it until a repair can be made. But the steep hill on the west side makes for certain shadows that prevent the sun from likely getting to that area, so there is some remaining snow and ice from recent storms. These Southern California kids simply could not avoid the joy of stomping around in it and making some snowballs. A couple of them needed to be sent out of the bus, having decided it would be cool to bring some of it along as a souvenir.

Actually, I was telling the kids that, even though it was very cold, it was probably nicer here in Maryland than being in Southern California today where the rain is pouring for the first time in months and the mountains are sliding into the valleys. And they are going to be in Washington on Sunday and Monday for the next big snow event. Every part of the country has its weather challenges of one sort or the other.

Next Week …

I am headed to Western North Carolina next Monday to speak at a Civil War Round Table on the topic of the Iron Brigade at Brawner’s Farm … which will give me a chance to tell some Doubleday stories.

Here are a couple of views from today at the area where the Iron Brigade fought at Antietam…

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The Winters of 1864 and 2014

This Enfilading Lines Civil War blog has suffered a good bit of neglect over the past weeks. Along with my busyness and the editorship of a new sports blog (www.TheBaltimoreWire.com), there is also not much of grand significance to write about from 150 years ago in January of 1864.

There has been no major fighting or actions since November of 1863, although almost daily there is news of skirmishing and varied guerrilla attacks on all front lines, in Charleston Harbor, along the Mississippi, etc.

The situation looks quite bleak for the South. There are numerous command problems, particularly in the west. The populace is demoralized and discontented with the Davis Administration, conscription, and the deprivations of war.

Lincoln has hopes of the War’s end in sight, and he is thinking through the issues of reconstruction and reunification. On the 23rd, Lincoln gives approval to a policy wherein plantation owners could hire back former slaves with fair-wage contracts.

2014 at Antietam

It has been a cold month, just as it was 150 years ago when New Year’s Day saw sub-zero temperatures as far south as Memphis. Even so, people do come to Antietam.

As I tell people who tour the field on months without the foliage, there is a great deal more that can be seen as compared to the summer. For example, the entire terrain opposite the Georgian’s west back position overlooking the Burnside Bridge can be seen. There is no corn in the cornfield to obstruct view of the East Woods from the Hagerstown Pike. The Cost home and the Pry Mill can be seen from the high ground opposite on the west bank of the Antietam near the upper bridge. Nicodemus Heights stands out clearly, etc., etc.1512767_591973064218949_367055408_n

My first tour of the season was this past Monday, MLK Day. It was a good time with folks from Wisconsin in a family of three generations – grandparents, parents, and two children … a boy about age12 and a girl approximately seven-years-old. They had been to Gettysburg on Sunday and taken a tour with a guide from our counterpart organization there. At the end, as I was bidding them farewell, the little girl spontaneously rushed up and gave me a hug! And the mother said, “Well, wow … she didn’t do that with the Gettysburg guide yesterday!”  Gotta say, I was flattered!

Burnside Bridge Needing Repairs

A section on the side of the Burnside Bridge (on the north face near the west bank) came loose and fell into the creek last week. It can certainly be repaired, though the bridge is closed off for any type of access to place weight upon it. HERE is an article from the local Hagerstown newspaper.

Remembering the Fallen: Normandy and Antietam

Getting a handle on the numbers of casualties at Antietam is difficult for anyone. The official number we go with is 23,110. While walking through the visitor’s center, I often hear people commenting on this number and speaking of it as 23,110 dead in one day. No, it represents those who were killed, wounded, and missing. The number who died is less certain, though my best understanding is that it is about 6,500 … and maybe about 4,500 on the day itself.486291_386719408077650_709290097_n

One would think that the numbers at Normandy in the June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion would be more certain in the more modern era. That is not actually true. Total losses there of the Allied Command are about 12,000, with 4,500 deaths.  So overall, we could maybe think of Antietam as twice the number of D-Day … but whatever, it is amazing. And to think of this carnage happening far out into the countryside from any major city!

Here is an illustration I use to help people get a handle on Antietam numbers. My word picture is to tell them to imagine a tour bus filled with people driving down the Sharpsburg Pike through the Battlefield. Suddenly, a deer runs across the road, and as the driver makes a move to miss hitting it, he loses control and the bus rolls over into a ditch. About 30% of the passengers are killed in the crash, while the other 70% are injured. If that were to happen today, in 10 minutes it would be reported as breaking news all over America on cable networks about a tragic bus crash in rural Maryland. And then I say, “Running the numbers, a tragedy of this scope happened at Antietam about every 90 seconds from sun up to sun down.”

403126_386719458077645_1110853585_nTonight at Antietam, the Battlefield is covered with a surprise snow of about eight inches. Last night, it was covered with 23,110 luminaries for the annual Antietam Illumination. People line up for miles and for hours to follow the sobering five-mile ride through the Park. On a lesser year, like last night with the treat of impending foul weather the next day, about 10,000 people are a part of seeing it. Other years have seen as many as 20,000.

This September in Normandy a somewhat similar effort was undertaken on the beaches there to show the enormity of human loss. Forms were made to represent fallen soldiers by disturbing the sand, and the effect was stunning.  (pictures at the bottom)

It is appropriate to make such commemorations, as we reflect upon the values-driven bravery of those who have gone before us … even as we are the current-day custodians of these memories to pass down to those who follow.

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Battles for Chattanooga – 150 Years Ago

On these dates of November 23-25 of 1863 were fought the series of actions collectively known as The Battles for Chattanooga.

Monday – November 23, 1863 – Orchard Knob

George Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland made a first attempt (under the high command of Grant) to hit Braxton Bragg’s Army of the Tennessee and break the siege of Chattanooga. Thomas’ men charged forward toward Orchard Knob – a Confederate high ground position about a mile in front of their primary position on Missionary Ridge. Grant’s chief of staff, John Rawlins wrote, “This was successful with few casualties. I never saw troops move into action in finer style than Thomas’s did today. They are entitled to the highest praise for their soldierly bearing and splendid bravery.”lookout mountain

Tuesday – November 24, 1863 – Battle of Lookout Mountain

Three divisions of about 10,000 men under Joe Hooker had crossed Lookout Creek in the morning and begun the assault up the difficult slopes of Lookout Mountain. His orders from Grant were of the “demonstration” variety – not specifying an assault necessarily. But Hooker – never known to acknowledge much in the way of subtlety – sent them forward aggressively. The battle was fought in much fog on the mountain, which added to the flashing of effecsu and ultimately the naming of this as the “Battle above the Clouds.” In fact, the fighting was not especially intense nor the casualties high, but the way was cleared for the great assault of the next day.

Wednesday – November 25, 1863 – Battle of Missionary Ridge

General Thomas was given a supporting role in the center while Hooker and Sherman were to accomplish a double envelopment. These flanks attacks were slow to develop, and mid afternoon Thomas’ men went forward aggressively. They did not stop at the rifle pits at the base, as being under a fire from the crest they continued forward. This was not due to specific command, but was rather done as a necessity by those upon the scene. It proved greatly successful – though it was the material of what appears a rather significant revisionist effort by Grant after the War … an effort ungenerous to Thomas.

Thomas rode up the hill later and wrote, “I fell among some of my old soldiers, who always took liberties with me—who commenced talking and giving their view of the victory. When I attempted to compliment them for the gallant manner in which they made the assault, one man (as gaunt as a trained runner) very coolly replied: ‘Why, General, we know that you have been training us for this race for the last three weeks.’”

The Cemetery

George Thomas conceived the idea of a veterans cemetery on the slopes of Orchard Knob. This was the source of the popular system of military cemeteries. When he was asked if the men should be buried there by groupings recognizing their state of origin, he said, “No, no, no. Mix them up. Mix them up. I’m tired of states’ rights.”

Here is a link to a very cool description of the area where the battle took place.

Gettysburg Address – 150 Years Ago Today

On this date of November 19, 1863, the famous Gettysburg Address was given by Abraham Lincoln for the dedication of the cemetery there. Though not generally well-received at the time, it remains probably the most famous speech in American history.

The primary presenter that day was the foremost orator of the time: Edward Everett. After an hour and fifty-seven minutes of speaking (I hope some of my church people read this!), Lincoln stood to give his “few appropriate remarks” in accord with the request of the planners.

Lasting but two or three minutes, Lincoln himself was uni

Copy of the Address in the cemetery at Antietam

Copy of the Address in the cemetery at Antietam

mpressed … saying to a friend afterward, “That speech won’t scour; it’s a flat failure and the people are disappointed.” (Scour is a word from agricultural plowing – when the mud would stick to the plow board rather than “scour” off of it.)

Two different views of his remarks were recorded the next day in Chicago newspapers, with the Chicago Tribune predicting (correctly) that it would “live among the annals of men.”  However The Times stated it to be “silly, flat, and dishwatery.”

Everett – the master orator – was impressed, writing to Lincoln the next day to say, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came so near the central thought of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”

Doubleday and Gibbon at the Address

I would like to include some Doubleday remarks, but I don’t really know of any. Though an admirer of Lincoln from the earliest time, Doubleday never really wrote anything about the Address. He was there; that is known for sure – having taken the same train from Washington as the President. In the very excellent book on the Address entitled “The Gettysburg Gospel” by Gabor Boritt, he wrote of the parade:

“The Marine Band stood at the head, then the Second U.S. Cavalry, followed by Generals Darius Crouch and Julius Stahel, with staffs, more cavalry, and artillery. Next, on horseback, came the president and cabinet members, escorted by the marshals and Generals Abner Doubleday, John Gibbon, and Horatio Wright …”

Both Doubleday and Gibbon had been wounded at Gettysburg on the third day and were in the final stages of recovery. Doubleday had been hit in the back of his neck by a shell fragment – knocking him off over the head of his horse. Gibbon had been shot in the left shoulder.

Gibbon wrote of his experience at the dedication ceremony – displaying a bit of Attention Deficit Disorder by going for a walk while the main speech went on and on.

“… when the day appointed for the celebration of the victory of Gettysburg approaching, I felt an irresistible desire to be present and look once more upon the scene of the battle. Accompanied by Lt. Haskell who, in the meantime, had joined me from the field, I proceeded to Gettysburg where on Nov. 19 an immense concourse of people had assembled attracted by the occasion, the presence of Pres. Lincoln and Mr. Everett’s oration. On a platform erected in the cemetery ground I listed to a part of Mr. Everett’s oration but becoming impatient to look over the field, went with a small party to my position in the battle near the angle in the wall, describing to eager ears what I had witnessed there … We then returned in time to hear Mr. Lincoln’s touching address. The visit to the battlefield was exceedingly interesting.

Controversy Surrounding Gettysburg – Always

The dedication and address itself was knocked out the headlines soon after it happened by the dramatic events of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga. And the 100th anniversary was soon trumped by the assassination of Kennedy. The 150th will perhaps gain appropriate attention, though President Obama has not chosen to be there. And again, this creates controversy; and it seems everything about Gettysburg does that.

Penning some recent words on this (from an editorial in the Gettysburg Times) was Allen Guelzo … and here are some excerpts in his inimitable style of writing:

“So, he’s not coming.”

“The news that President Obama has decided not to accept the invitation to speak on November 19th for the150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address has generated a surprising volume of irritation. …  After all, many people were convinced that no sitting president would want to miss the opportunity to step into the sesquicentennial shoes of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg. Especially a president who had identified himself so closely with Lincoln during his first run for the presidency in 2008.”

“We were wrong. And so, merchants who had banked steeply on getting a second bang for the sesquicentennial buck this year can cancel those orders. … Never mind that the Gettysburg battle sesquicentennial marks the most critical moment in our nation’s history, or that the Gettysburg Address sesquicentennial marks the biggest moment in American political speech.” …

“It’s only fair to say that Mr. Obama has, of course, had a few other things on his mind than sesquicentennials. Second terms are happiest for presidents on inauguration day, but have a nasty historical habit of spinning downward after that.” ….

“And in all fairness to Mr. Obama, no other living presidents have bestirred themselves sufficiently to plan on being in Gettysburg on November 19th. Not Carter. Not Clinton. Neither Bush 41 nor 43.

“At the same time, though, it’s also true that Abraham Lincoln had far better reasons for dodging the first dedication in Gettysburg in 1863 – but didn’t. Staring a civil war in the face, he took no vacations from Washington, stayed at his desk even when his family was relaxing north of the capital at the Soldiers’ Home, and rarely even left the confines of the District of Columbia except to visit the troops in Virginia. Nevertheless, Lincoln went out of his way to be at Gettysburg …” …

“One hundred and fifty years have not made their sacrifices stale, nor have any of us somehow earned a free pass to ‘forget what they did here.’ Gettysburg deserves better from its president. So do these honored dead.”

The picture is of the two youngest of my five boys – taken in the cemetery in July of 2000. These guys are both in college now!

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A Great Family Visit with Vermont Guests

One of the best aspects of being a tour guide at Antietam is the opportunity to meet simply wonderful people from all over the country. And I especially enjoy families with children, and I try to really connect with the kids and make it a fun and educational experience for them.

This past Monday morning I met with a family from Vermont named “Bender.”  It featured dad, mom, and two sons in 7th and 4th grades. Two older daughters are also in colleges in New England.IMG_0907[1]

Having had five sons, I’m especially partial toward “boy families.” And then, add to that when those boys are like I was as a kid – a reading and researching little dude – and I will be having an enjoyable time.

I used to dazzle my parents with lists of isolated factoids from the reading that interested me, though would put them to sleep in an instant. Honestly and truthfully – my parents were fairly easily dazzled. Antietam was one of those topics that grabbed my attention as a little kid in New Jersey. I pestered my family until they finally agreed to bring me to the Battlefield for a visit, but it was the mid 1960s on a cold winter day, and there weren’t any Antietam Battlefield Guides in that era. My family got bored pretty quick and we did not stay as long as I desired … so I had to move here to make up for that!

But I was never at the level of factoid information I heard on Monday with these two guys!  I have also had two other experiences over the years with elementary-aged boys visiting at the Battlefield who knew an incredible amount of information about the Civil War and Antietam in particular.

The younger of the Bender boys was especially talkative about his reading and information; and when he saw that I was genuinely interested in and impressed with all he knew, he shared more and more – anticipating often the next thing I was going to say! His mom said, “They read a lot!”

Among facts he knew:

-          The population of the North and South in 1861, including slave breakdowns

-          The personality proclivities of George McClellan, including the scouting information from Pinkerton

-          The nature of the command in Harpers Ferry under the “leadership” of Dixon Miles

-          The identification of the weapon on the 12th PA Cavalry monument as a carbine and how that differed in the rate of fire from muzzle-loading long rifles

-          The role of Clara Barton at Antietam, including the story of the bullet through the sleeve and the ground-breaking nature of her medical work

-          The transfer and timing of the command of the Army of the Potomac from McClellan to Burnside to Hooker to Meade

His parents at one point said, “Ah … please tell us all the details, because, even though he knows all about this, we really don’t.”

And then while driving through Keedysville, when mom found out that famous author Nora Roberts lives there , the boys went ballistic! They were at that moment totally sure their momma had agreed to go to Antietam merely under the pretense of meeting her beloved writer and visiting the Boonsboro Inn, etc.  It was hilarious!

Are there fewer kids like this in America than there used to be?  I really don’t know, but I have met a lot of very well-educated and sharp children at Antietam. And I coached tons of great kids at Williamsport High School. Altogether, I’m slow to buy the argument that rising generations just don’t have the same “stuff” as those before them.

Oh, yes … I did direct the Benders to Bender’s Tavern in Sharpsburg for lunch. Actually, since it was Veteran’s Day, the street was shut down for a ceremony and we could not drive past it at the end of our battlefield tour.