Friday, September 07, 2018

10 red-hot tips: An insider's guide to Antietam and beyond

Sunset image of the 124th Pennsylvania monument at Antietam.
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Here are 10 tips to maximize your Antietam battlefield visit from someone who has ventured to Sharpsburg, Md., 3,404 times ... and counting. He shall remain nameless. (Click on links for much deeper info.)

WALK THE GROUND AT THE CRACK OF DAWN -- Few battlefield experiences are better than Bloody Lane at sunrise. You may be the only one there. If so, that's even better. As you walk the lane where scores of Confederate dead once lay, listen to the crunch, crunch, crunch of gravel in the old roadbed, marvel at a lingering mist and then close your eyes and imagine the scene here on Sept. 17, 1862. Check out the seldom-visited William Roulette farm nearby and re-trace the route of the Irish Brigade over to Bloody Lane. For the more adventurous, walk the Final Attack Trail to the 16th Connecticut monument in the 40-Acre Cornfield. Wounded Nutmeggers lay there in no-man's land the night following the battle. Years later, one of those warriors wondered, "Why did I not die?" (Thinking I was alone here years ago near the 16th Connecticut monument, I looked over my shoulder to see a St. Bernard, apparently quite hungry. Thoughts of the movie Cujo danced evilly in my head. Thankfully, nearby was the massive mutt's master, who corralled the beast.)

Rub Thomas Meagher's schnoz for good luck.
RUB A UNION GENERAL'S NOSE -- Thomas Meagher -- the fiery Irishman who was one of the great characters of the Civil War -- is memorialized in bas-relief on the Irish Brigade monument next to the old War Department tower. Tap his schnoz for good luck and then ...

... CLIMB THE WAR DEPARTMENT TOWER ... for one of the greatest battlefield views of all time. You're in luck if no one else is there. Unbelievable vibe.

PICTURE THIS ... For best photography, sunrise and sunset are the "beauty" hours. At sunrise, my favorite shooting spots are in Bloody Lane and at Rodman Avenue, near the 40-Acre Cornfield. You also can't go wrong shooting the monument nearby for the 100th Pennsylvania -- the "Roundheads!" -- with the Joseph Sherrick farmhouse in the background. At sunset. park yourself on Cornfield or Mansfield avenues or at Hagerstown Pike for monument shooting. It can be spectacular. Aim for odd-angle images, and don't forget to try out the portrait function of your iPhone camera.

Here's how to contribute to the
Save Historic Antietam Foundation:
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"ADOPT" A SOLDIER ... and walk in his footsteps. If you don't have an ancestor who fought at Antietam, pick a soldier from a regimental history on this page or try another source of information, research his background and then trace his route over the battlefield. NPS rangers in the Visitor's Center can aid your effort. Two years ago, I followed in the footsteps of  Samuel Gould, a 19-year-old private in the 13th Massachusetts, who was killed near the East Woods. “Samuel S. Gould stood within five feet of me when he was mortally wounded," Warren H. Freeman of Gould's Company A wrote to his father. "He had been in the company but four or five days. He was fresh from Harvard College, and I got quite well acquainted with him." Trust me: It will breathe life into your battlefield experience.

A sunrise image shot with my iPhone from Rodman Avenue.
16th Connecticut monument on the Final Attack Trail. Go see it. Trust me.
Let this image of the Susan Hoffman farmhouse be a substitute for a visit to the property, which is 
not open to the public. The farm, a Union hospital site, may be viewed from Keedysville Road.
Sunlight streams through the William Roulette barn, a makeshift hospital during and after the battle.
EMBRACE OFF-THE-BEATEN PATH SITES: Go where few battlefield tourists go. Walk the Tidball Trail, behind the Joshua Newcomer house, and enjoy an awesome view from the ridge. Visit the seldom-seen Mary Locher cabin and barn foundation -- fighting raged in this area on the morning of Sept. 17. When you get across busy Maryland Route 65, check out the 15th Massachusetts monument on the knoll on the other side of the road. Better yet, make the "Wounded Lion" monument your next stop. Best one on the field. Although it's not open to the public, the Susan Hoffman farm, site of a major Union hospital, can be viewed from Keedysville Road.  A beloved nurse named Helen Gilson sang The Star-Spangled Banner to scores of Union wounded there. "The effect on these wounded soldiers was almost inspiring," an admiring reporter who was there wrote about the singing scene. Go behind the John Otto house, on the hill astride Old Burnside Bridge Road, to view ruins of the farmer's Pennsylvania-style bank barn, used as a makeshift hospital during and after the battle. Perhaps sneak a peek inside the William Roulette barn, too. (Shhh! I didn't tell you.) It also was a hospital site.

The 15th Massachusetts monument -- featuring the "Wounded Lion" -- in the West Woods. It's my favorite.
CHAT UP A LOCAL -- You never know what great stories you may hear. Some families have been in the area for generations. Just as I was about to leave Sharpsburg five years ago, I was told this story about a Union soldier who served in a Maryland regiment. Private Barney Houser lived on Main Street, next to a church used as a makeshift hospital by the Union army, which "appropriated" items from his premises for use in care of wounded.

Ambrotype of Confederate officer Henry Kyd Douglas
 in the Boonsborough (Md.) Museum of History.
BEYOND THE BATTLEFIELD ... in Boonsboro, Md. The Boonsborough Museum of History at 113 N. Main Street is open at odd hours -- sometimes on Sundays and sometimes only by appointment. Few Civil War museums are in its league. Lifelong area resident Doug Bast has a spectacular collection, including some really weird items. (SEE THE MUMMIFIED HUMAN ARM WITH THE EMBEDDED BULLET!) My favorite museum piece is an ambrotype of Henry Kyd Douglas, who served under Stonewall Jackson.

AND IN SHEPHERDSTOWN ... there's another battlefield. The Maryland Campaign didn't end at Sharpsburg, Md. On Sept. 19-20, 1862, Union troops ventured across the Potomac, into what was then Virginia (now West Virginia), to keep pressure on Bobby Lee. Instead, the Yankees were whipped. The battlefield is mostly in private hands, but from River Road, you can view the craggy cliffs from which some frenzied 118th Pennsylvania soldiers leaped to their deaths as well as lime kiln ruins that date to the battle. Somewhere up on that bluff, an insider told me, a Union artillery shell remains embedded, in view but safely out of reach of prying hands. When you tire of Civil War battlefield tramping, grab a donut and coffee at the Shepherdstown Sweet Shoppe Bakery, housed in a 200-year-old building that was used as a Confederate hospital. Or head back over to Sharpsburg and stop at ...

... NUTTER'S ICE CREAM -- Yum. And cheap, too.

BONUS TIP: Oh, man, go visit South Mountain!

As always, enjoy the journey.

North Carolina soldiers were overwhelmed here at Fox's Gap at South Mountain on Sept. 14, 1862.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

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