|Union soldiers formed on the Roulette Farm before attacking the Rebels |
in Bloody Lane during the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862.
A spry old man with a wisp of white hair and an absolutely wicked sense of humor, Earl Roulette was a treasure.
I visited Earl and his wife, Annabelle, three times during my visits to Sharpsburg, Md., over the years. Their house was just across the street from a grove of trees and a monument that marked Robert E. Lee's headquarters during the Battle of Antietam. The Roulettes farmed around Sharpsburg for more than 40 years, and Earl had an encyclopedic knowledge of the area and the battlefield. He even recalled old Civil War veterans returning to the great field for one last look when he was a youngster.
|I took this picture of Earl and his wife, Annabelle, in 2005.|
Imagine having 700 soldiers buried in your back yard.
Although his farming days were over, Earl still kept a farmer's hours. Up around 4 a.m. and to bed a little after sundown. Even during the summer, the Roulette house was heated to about 80 degrees, so it was important to dress properly for the visit. I usually expected to stay a half-hour, but once Earl got going, each sitdown typically lasted a couple hours or more. Yes, ol' Earl could definitely talk.
|Passed down through Earl Roulette's family, |
this wedding ring was pulled from a
dead soldier at Antietam.
During one visit, Earl reached into a plastic bag and pulled out a thin, gold band. Passed down from his Great-grandpa Snavely, the wedding ring was pulled from a dead soldier, his name lost to history, who was found in Antietam Creek after the battle. In a small shed out back, Earl kept a collection of relics he recovered while farming his property over the years. A cannonball or two, a bent bayonet, fired bullets.
I remembered getting a little squeamish when Earl picked up an old artillery shell.
|Artillery shells, a cannonball, a bayonet and other relics recovered from the Antietam battlefield|
by Earl Roulette. The ammunition box pictured was found by his ancestors there.
"Was that thing deactivated, Earl?" I asked.
|Soldiers from the 14th Connecticut captured Rebel skirmishers|
at this spring house on the Roulette Farm
by slamming the door shut.
Quick with a quip, Earl typically had a message for me when I left. "Better be back soon, John," he said once with a laugh. "The old buzzards may be circling me soon."
I thought of Earl as I was walked down the old gravel road from Bloody Lane at Antietam to his Great-granddaddy William Roulette's farm last week. The property is maintained by the National Park Service, but save for a couple park signs, I'd bet any of the soldiers who fought here 149 years ago would recognize it.
Several ground hogs have invaded the cellar, but the farmhouse, used as a hospital during and after the battle, still looks its did in the famous Alexander Gardner photo taken days after the fighting. The cellar entrance from which William popped out and urged Union troops to rout the Rebels from his property is still there. So is the spring house where soldiers from the 14th Connecticut, bayonets at the ready, captured Confederate skirmishers in the small outbuilding simply by slamming the door shut.
|"Give it to 'em! Drive 'em!" William Roulette yelled to|
Union soldiers after he left his farmhouse cellar. (1)
Sadly, Earl Roulette is gone. Shortly after having his leg amputated, Earl died in October 2008. He was 88. Annabelle is gone now, too.
|Famed Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner captured this stereo image of|
the Roulette Farm days after the battle. (Library of Congress collection)