It’s below freezing and we’ve seen snow flurries here in Northern Virginia. A good time to burrow in and wish for Spring. Or at least for warmer battlefield tramping weather.

I am inspired to plan some serious hikes by the news that the new Three Farms Trail is open at Antietam National Battlefield. Roulette, Newcomer (below), and Sherrick, are the three, I’d guess. This new path ties together a network of 9 trails which covers much of the battlefield terrain which saw combat 17 September 1862.

Middle Bridge from the North East (Newcomer Farm - A. Gardner, Sept 1862)click to see larger image

So, with a goal to follow all of the trails and tramp the whole battlefield in a season, I’m wondering what would be the best way to do it? I’ll take a shot at a plan over the next few weeks … who’s with me?

146 years to the day after the historical events, a lucky group of us tracked the unlucky 118th Pennsylvania Volunteers to the places and views of the Battle of Shepherdstown Ford (20 September 1862). Under the capable guidance of Dr Tom Clemens and members of the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association (SBPA), we waded the Potomac, scaled the heights, and walked the field.

ANB Visitor's Center
ANB Visitor’s Center – a postcard perfect day

We gathered Saturday the 20th at the Antietam Visitor’s Center, drove in convoy to the Dunleavy spread near Shepherdstown, WV, and then carpooled to the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal Park [NPS site] back on the Maryland side of the Shepherdstown (Boteler’s, Packhorse, Blackford’s) Ford…

Mannie makes the captureclick to see larger image
Mannie sneaks up on the prey

I drove through the fog to Sharpsburg yesterday, much earlier than is usual for me to be up on a Saturday. Arrived too early for the ANB Visitor’s Center to be open, in fact, but in time to catch Mr. Mumma cutting blossoms to place inside. Ranger Mannie was out early, too.

Still no time to blog, more’s the pity. Life intervenes. But I’m making time for a couple of trips to Sharpsburg in this Anniversary month. I hope some of you can join me.

Next weekend – the 13th and 14th – will be the biggest of the year at the Park. The Park Service page for the Anniversary events has all the information. I haven’t decided yet which event specifically, but will be there early Saturday morning, so I’m leaning toward the first hike going off at 8am called the Opening Guns: the role of Artillery on the morning of 17 September 1862.

Sharpsburg street clock (wikipedia)

The annual Heritage Days festival is in town in Sharpsburg the same weekend. I plan to catch the three SHAF historical speakers Saturday afternoon, at least. Much to do in Sharpsburg all day (and Sunday). Steven Recker is doing his O.T. Reilly tour of the town both days at 1pm, too. I can’t do that one, but hope you got a spot: he’s only taking 25 each day.

There’s also the annual battlefield tradition of the all-day hike on the battle anniversary date, proper. This year, as it did in 1862, September 17th falls on a Wednesday. If you can get there, you can spend the day chasing the battle action (and an intrepid Ranger or two) across the whole field in approximate time-step with the sequence of events.

The following weekend I’ll return to the area to wade the Potomac Saturday, where the Army of Northern Virginia crossed back into Virginia after the battle of Sharpsburg. In this case chasing Dr Tom Clemens on a tour of the ford and battle area of 20 September 1862. A rare opportunity I’m looking forward to grabbing, thanks to our friends at the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association (SBPA). There may be food and beverages. Bonus.


I’m still working on the second installment on Federal artillerist Horatio Gibson (part one now months back). Presently having fun with one apparent aspect of his personality which I’ve also seen in a particular type of modern military officer: the ringknocker. If you recognize the term.

1847 USMA Class Ring

Here’s the ring, which is all you get til I finally post …. the rest of the story.

Side trip to Fox’s Gap

20 April 2008

There was still plenty of daylight left as I was returning from Sharpsburg last weekend, so I took a rare detour from Alt-40 over to Fox’s Gap.

Battle of South Mountain (Fox's Gap)
The glorious charge of the 23rd and 12th Ohio Volunteers …(1864, Library of Congress)

There are a pair of interpretive signs, two monuments, and a regimental tribute at the spot where the road crosses the Gap, noting the combat there on 14 September 1862. But that’s all there is to see as one arrives.

There was no one else there when I pulled up. It was blessedly quiet. I took a couple of snapshots to bring some of the place home with me.

Mud of our fathers

13 April 2008

Or: another great day on the battlefield.

I was glad to be part of a small group of SHAF volunteers and Park Natural Resources guys planting tree seedlings along Antietam Creek yesterday.

It was in a part of the Park I’d never visited before: a strip of low land along the west side of the stream running north from where the Burnside Bridge Road crosses about one-quarter mile above Burnside Bridge.

tree tubes along the Antietam
A new forest of green tubes (looking northeast, creek to the right)

A larger team of about 35 people had been nearby planting the weekend before, during the Park Work Day. Between us, then, we’d planted hackberry, tulip poplar, and maple (others?) three and four deep along a half-mile of creek bank. These are all native species likely to do well in that location.

These trees and the grassy field adjacent will form a riparian buffer to protect the stream and its banks. The seedlings themselves are protected and nurtured by those ‘greenhouse’ sleeves and stakes.

View across Antietam from Christ's Brigade
view back across Antietam Creek from west bank

On the afternoon of 17 September 1862 this ground was the province of the troops of Colonel Benjamin Christ‘s Brigade (First Brigade, First Division) of the Federal Ninth Corps.

They had crossed the stone bridge to the west bank about 2pm and followed it north to this meadow. About 3pm they formed in line of battle here preparatory to advancing toward the town of Sharpsburg [map]. In order south to north (l to r) , behind the 79th New York Infantry as skirmishers, these were the 17th Michigan, 28th Massachusetts, and Christ’s own 50th Pennsylvania regiments.

bluff north of bridge road
bluff west of Antietam Creek, north of bridge road

With their backs to the creek, they faced a stiff climb up that steep slope.

… after the formation of the Corps line, the Brigade advanced, under a heavy fire from Cemetery Hill and the high ground west of the road, to within a few yards of this point where it was checked. After a short delay the 79th New York advanced as skirmishers and compelled the Confederate Artillery to retire. The Brigade was about to move forward, when the attack of A.P. Hill on the left of the Corps obliged it to fall back to the Antietam …
(from War Department tablet no. 63 [map])


Thanks to Tom Clemens and SHAF for sponsoring the planting, the Natural Resource Rangers for doing what they always do: take such fine care of our Park, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) for the young trees, and to the other volunteers for getting muddy with me.

For related photos–including one of Christ’s Brigade’s tablet–see a lovely page from Tom Shay created on the 100th anniversary of the raising of the monuments to 48th and 50th Pennsylvania regiments at Antietam in 2004.

Secret no more

5 April 2008

Ranger John Hoptak reports being

finally ready, officially, to launch my effort to restore the 48th PA Monument at Antietam by replacing the sword missing from the statue of General Nagle

Get the details from the supporting A Monumental Task blog, and find your way to help this righteous project succeed, won’t you?

Happy birthday, General.

I already get 5 bars …

17 March 2008

WASHINGTON, The site of the single bloodiest day in American history is under siege, threatened by a 120-foot cellphone tower, says a preservation group.

This year’s Endangered Battlefield Report from the Civil War Preservation Trust leads off with the story of a planned cellphone tower for Antietam. If you read newspapers you’ve seen many lead paragraphs like that above from USA Today March 12.

Liberty Towers LLC says the 120-foot structure – it would extend 30 feet above the treeline to the west – would be disguised as a farm silo to blend in with the rolling farmlands of Western Maryland. But opponents say it would overwhelm a battlefield seen nationally as a model of historic preservation.

“One of the reasons that Antietam is so well-known and so well-respected is the fact that here, when you stand on the battlefield, what you see is a very rural environment that hasn’t been impacted by commercial development,” said John Howard, superintendent of Antietam National Battlefield…

Mike Hofe, president and chief operating officer of Liberty Towers, has described the structure as a “stealth tower” that would have minimal impact on battlefield vistas. He says the proposal remains in the “early planning stages”; Liberty has yet to file for permits … (Baltimore Sun, March 14)

Dr Tom Clemens, President of Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF) noted that the threat of a cell tower has been seen before near Sharpsburg, and

I observed the test for this tower back in early January [2008]. They put up a balloon to the height of the proposed tower and it was awful. You could see it from all over the place. Not just from the battlfield, but all over Sharpsburg. SHAF
wrote a letter protesting the tower, as did the NPS [National Park Service] … no reply yet to either of us.

The Hagerstown Herald-Mail story adds:

National Park Service officials were notified in December 2007 of a proposal to erect a stealth cell tower south of the battlefield off Mondale Road in Sharpsburg, park Superintendent John Howard said Thursday.

In January, park officials participated in a visibility test, and the tower would be visible in about 70 percent of the park, Howard said. The officials were asked to provide feedback to a consultant, and Howard said he wrote that the tower would be a “major intrusion into the battlefield viewshed.”

“Any modern intrusion on it really detracts,” Howard said.

Can you help? Contact:

The Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT)
Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF)
And let your US Representative or Senator know you want them to bring pressure to bear to protect the Battlefield.

… is better than a good day ‘most anywhere else. And I had a great one yesterday.

Napoleon firing at ANBP, September 2007

I was delighted by the people, weather and events in Sharpsburg and at the Antietam National Battlefield Park on Saturday. I very much appreciate all the hard work and care the Park and Heritage Festival folks put into the Anniversary weekend – my hat’s off to you.

Thanks particularly to Harry Smeltzer – a great battlefield-stomping companion. Together we ranged from town to field, tavern to auditorium. I’m usually a solo act, but Harry greatly enriched my day at Antietam. Thanks again, Harry.

At the risk of putting both my readers to sleep, below is a description of the day.

I visited the battlefield Visitor’s Center (VC) last Friday evening for a special event, and, as is always the case at Antietam, came away with some unexpected gems.

Treo phone/PDA
These include seeing Antietam on the Web used ‘in the field’ on a wireless PDA, hearing news about progress on Virtual Antietam, getting my mitts on the new Park brochure, and being charmed by a nightscape from the mountaintop …