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.
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.