Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Author Carol Reardon's hidden gems at Antietam

Like this blog on Facebook.

Here's what must be in Civil War battlefield guidebook for me to call it great:

Outstanding soldier vignettes: Provide details, details, details, but don't overwhelm me. Humanize the men and boys who fought. Tell me something I don't know. Give me a few goosebumps when I take the book with me to a battlefield to walk in a private's footsteps.

Photos: I'm a visual guy, so I want lots of images. Don't crush me with text. I want a book I can take into the field to compare the photos to the actual battlefield scene.

Directions, directions, directions: Make it easy for me to get from Point A to Point B to Point C. I graduated from West Virginia University and sometimes can be easily confused. Be explicit.
A Field Guide to Antietam (2016) was published by
The University of North Carolina Press.

Finally, I want big, accurate maps, preferably in color and with lots of detail, If the maps are postage stamp-sized and the text requires a magnifying glass to read, you've lost me.

A Field Gude to Antietam (The University of North Carolina Press) by Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler, a retired U.S. Army officer, easily meets all my criteria. I'm not surprised. During a visit in January to my favorite bookstore, Half Price Books in Dallas, I bought their 2013 battlefield guidebook, A Field Guide to Gettysburg. After a quick perusal of the slick, 454-page book in our hotel room, I wondered what took me so long to part with my cash.

At 347 pages, their Antietam book is slimmer, but it follows the same excellent, easy-to-read format as the Gettysburg guide. There are sections titled "Who Fell Here?." "Who Commanded Here?" and "Who Fought Here?" that are packed with detail. And I absolutely love the soldier vignettes near the end of each battlefield stop section.

Reardon, the George Winfree Professor of American History at Penn State, mined pension records, period newspapers, regimental histories and more for amazing gems on Antietam soldiers. One of my favorites is the one on the Hyatt boys, brothers in Company C of the 3rd Arkansas. Elijah died of his Antietam wound on Oct. 2, 1862. Robert was wounded in the thigh and had his leg amputated but survived. Another brother, Benjamin, was in a hospital in Winchester, Va., and missed the fighting at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862. He wrote to inform his parents of his brothers' fate, noting about Robert, "[He] bears his calamity like a man [,] is very cheerful [,] he is not yet eighteen years old but with many others has sealed his devotion with his blood."

Speaking of gems, I asked Reardon for her favorite out-of-the-way spots on the Antietam battlefield. Here's what she wrote:

Bas-relief images of William McKinley as soldier and U.S. president on memorial near Burnside Bridge.
McKinley memorial near Burnside Bridge: Dr. Jay Luvaas, then a history prof at Allegheny College, took me on my first visit to Antietam. He always gathered us around that monument and had one of us read the inscription. When we learned about his bringing hot coffee and warm food to his comrades and may have had to come under enemy fire, we snickered a bit -- it didn't seem to fit on the field of American military history's bloodiest day. But Jay used it to remind us about the importance of logistics, and, more to the point, McKinley's common bond with us as Allegheny students. I love it that part of the food court at Allegheny College even today is named McKinley's.

The imposing lion on the 15th Massachusetts monument.
Recumbent lion on the 15th Massachusetts monument:  I've always used that stop to read Private Roland Bowen's letter to the father of Private Ainsworth about the burial of his son's remains in a trench grave near the Alfred Poffenberger farm. One time, my audience was a group of enlisted Marines serving on the cadre of the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School. They had been joking around, enjoying a day out of uniform and away from Quantico. But the mood turned somber after that stop. Over the course of the next few hours, several of these young men found a way to draw me aside to tell me their own version of Bowen's story, relating the death, burial, or memorial service of a comrade in arms. Their need to talk trumped my teaching points, and I never visit that monument without thinking about Private Ainsworth in 1862 and certain Marine lance corporal in 2006.

Gravestones for Werner von Bachelle and Peter Kop at Antietam National Cemetery. (Find A Grave)
Officers' row in Antietam National Cemetery: Every stone tells a story. Captain Werner von Bachelle of the 6th Wisconsin, who died near Mr Miller's Cornfield. Captain Peter Kop of the 27th Indiana, who also died in the Cornfield a few days after a few of his enlisted men brought him an interesting paper wrapped around a few cigars -- Lee's Lost Order. Lieutenant Max Wimpfheimer of the 2nd Pennsylvania Reserves, a veteran of only two months of service but already a company commander. Lieutenant Magnus Moltke of the 5th Maryland, who fell near the Sunken Road.  A Pennsylvania lieutenant who had served in Central America as a filibusterer in the 1850s. And the tragic list goes on....

Near crest of hill overlooking the infamous Bloody Lane.
Any random spot on the Union side of the Bloody Lane set back far enough to provide cover from the fire of  Confederate troops in the road. On one of my first visits there, about 1974, Jay Luvaas was taking a group of army officers on a staff ride in preparation for their stint as history faculty at West Point.  Most had seen combat in Vietnam.  Jay took us all down the lane toward the Roulette farm, put us in a battle line, and advanced us over the crest just before the sunken road as French's men would have done. He left a few folks in the road to show how much cover they had. The combat vets knew a hard place when they saw one, and as we crested the ridge and saw the heavily manned sunken road just ahead, many responded automatically in some physiological way. Some broke out into a sweat.  Some lost color.  Most swore.  I never have forgotten their spontaneous reactions.

No comments:

Post a Comment