19 September 2006
As I was exploring Mansfield Monument Road northeast of Sharpsburg, on the way to the upper bridge last Saturday, I passed two men, each in their own cars, stopped along the road facing the Battlefield. Looked like they were waiting for something.
I drove about 100 yards past, and stopped at the high ground on that stretch. The highest point before the land dives down a couple of more ridges to Antietam Creek about 1/2 mile east.
I got out, took my bearings–glad to see the wings of the eagle atop the New York State monument just poking over the trees about a mile and a half to the west–and tried to be William French. I looked at the map some more, put it away, and turned toward the bridge. Lost in my own, ancient place.
Who you following? a voice shouted up the road.
What? Not sure what I heard. I turned to see the two guys were striding up the hill toward me.
Following First Corps?
No, I yelled back, French’s Division, Second Corps.
Oh said the more eager of the two. Sook his head slightly, looking a little baffled. Figured it was something. Only a Civil War nut would be on this road, now.
As he got close he tapped his watch. He was vibrating with excitement. Mostly to himself he said, it’s going down now. It’s happening now.
Then he asked, French’s Division?
I explained that I was looking for French’s viewpoint on his approach to the field from Pry’s Ford on the 17th. We talked a bit about the road down the ‘ravine’ between the Kennedy and Neikirk Farms, not shown on the modern map, but visible on the Carman-Copes (and in satellite photos, according to my new acquaintance).
I waved my arms and pointed, expounding about how French couldn’t have seen anything of the battlefield, and how I figured he got separated from Sedgwick …
Then it dawned on me what those fellas were doing. For them it was September 16th, 1862. 4:25pm.
They were exactly where they figured General Joseph Hooker was on that day. I gathered they had been dogging his steps in time-synch all day. Would do so on the fateful 17th as well. Something of a pilgrimage.
I was out of place. Or rather, out of time. Sumner, Sedgwick, French and the rest of II Corps wouldn’t be through til the next morning …
I had a fine time earlier that afternoon talking with Harry Smeltzer while he stood his day-long watch at the SHAF tent in Sharpsburg proper. Thanks Harry.
You may already know that Harry’s working an a project to get First Bull Run/Manassas on the web. I saw hints of the piles of information he has, and very much look forward to seeing his work online.
Among other things, we discussed some of the technology behind websites and which he might use on his project. I was trying not to speak pure geek, and he was trying to be patient with me as I did. I fear I glazed the poor man’s eyes.
Otherwise, however, it turns out that we think rather alike on how to do history, and what we like from current writers and those who have gone before. Thanks for the engaging company and good hunting, Harry, in your web venture.