Monday, March 31, 2008

Hot off the presses!

Antietam National Battlefield 2008 schedule of hikes and events.

March 16-The Advance of the Irish Brigade-This battlefield hike will meet near the Stone Observation Tower at 1:15 p.m. and follow in the footsteps of the Irish Brigade during its assault on the Sunken Road.

March 30-Union Advance HikeThe Burnside Bridge-This hike will meet at Auto Tour Stop # 9, Burnside Bridge, at 1:15 p.m. The ranger led program will follow the trail on the eastern side of the Antietam Creek and will explore the numerous attempts by the Federal forces to carry the bridge.

April 6-Middle Bridge Hike-Meet the ranger at the National Cemetery parking lot on Route 34 for this hike that will explore the action that occurred around the Middle Bridge. The hike will begin at 1:15 p.m.

April 13-The West Woods-This battlefield hike will begin near the New York State Monument at 1:15 p.m. and will focus on the deadly fighting in and around the West Woods.

April 20-Final Attack HikeAttack on Lee's Right-This battlefield hike will begin near Tour Stop #9, Burnside Bridge, at 1:15 p.m. The most rugged section of the battlefield will be explored on this hike including Snavely’s Ford, Lower Cornfield, Narrow Cornfield, and the Hawkin’s Zouave Monument.

April 26 - Junior Ranger Day. Children ages six to twelve will be able to participate in special programs, interact with volunteers portraying Civil War soldiers and have the opportunity to become Junior Park Rangers. A variety of exciting programs will await your Junior Rangers on this special day!

April 26 - A Civil War Musicale. Join us in the historic Dunker Church at 2:00 for an afternoon of musical entertainment as the Shepherd College Mens Chorus performs a selection of Civil War music. Enjoy the songs of the American Civil War in this most appropriate of settings.

April 27-Cornfield Hike -Meet the Ranger at Tour Stop # 2, The North Woods, at 1:15 p.m. This hike will explore the attacks and counter attacks that took place on the northern part of the battlefield.

May 4-Sunken Road Hike-Meet the ranger behind the visitor center at 1:15 p.m. The attacks by the Federal troops upon the Sunken Road, as well as the Confederate defenses will be explored during this hike.

All hikes will go on rain or shine and hikers should wear appropriate
footwear for going through tall grassy fields as well as plowed fields.
Unless noted, all hikes are approximately two hours and two miles in length.
All information is subject to change. Please call the park (301) 432-5124
or check our web page at before attending
any special event.

June 14 and 15-Artillery Weekend

-The rolling terrain and the heavy reliance on artillery by Union and Confederates made Antietam one of the most significant artillery battles in the Civil War. Artillery firing demonstrations will be held throughout Saturday and Sunday. Click HERE for video!

July 5-Antietam Salute to Independence Celebration-Join the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and Bay Fireworks Company for a special Independence Day commemoration. The two hour concert begins at 7:30 p.m.; fireworks display immediately following the concert. Note: Due to this special event, the visitor center will be open from 8:30 a.m.until 3:00 p.m.Several of the park roads will not be available to tour after 3:00 p.m.

July 26 and 27-6th New Hampshire Weekend at Antietam-Living history volunteers will portray the 6th New Hampshire Infantry. Join the 6th New Hampshire to learn about the history of the regiment and the stories of the common soldiers who fought with this unit. Weapons and tactics demonstrations will be held both Saturday and Sunday, with ongoing interpretation in the camp throughout the weekend.

August 9 and 10-Technology of War Weekend (2nd Regiment United States
Sharpshooters)-Living history volunteers portraying Berdan’s Sharpshooters will perform tactical firing demonstrations to illustrate advances in military technology during the Civil War. Col. Vince Armstrong will display his gun collection to show the rapid change in firearms technology before and during the Civil War. His interpretive program will follow the weapons and tactics demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday, with ongoing interpretation in the camp throughout the day. Click HERE for video.

August 16 and 17-Stonewall Brigade and Iron Brigade Weekend-Join Union and Confederate living historians for a look at two famous Civil War brigades that faced each other on numerous occasions during the Civil War. Living history programs will be offered on Saturday and Sunday.

August 30 and 31- The United States Sanitary Commission at Antietam-Living history volunteers will tell the story of the United States Sanitary Commission and demonstrate the role it played in improving the life of the common soldier by portraying a soldier feeding station. They will discuss their role in the Civil War and the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam by providing comfort and solace to the troops. Presentations will take place throughout Saturday and Sunday.

September 12-14-Battle Anniversary Weekend-A weekend full of special hikes and programs will be announced in late August.

September 17-Battle Anniversary Hike-Join the rangers for an all-day hike of the field on the 146th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. Please check the park web site in August for further information.

September 27 and 28-27th Virginia Infantry Weekend- Join the living history volunteers portraying 27th Virginia to learn about the history of the regiment and the stories of the common soldiers who fought with this unit. Weapons and tactics demonstrations will be held on Saturday and Sunday, with ongoing interpretation in the camp throughout the day.

October 4 and 5-5th Virginia Infantry Weekend at Antietam-Living history volunteers from the 5th Virginia Infantry will portray the life of the Civil War soldier and share the story on the men who fought with this unit. Weapons and tactics demonstrations will be held on Saturday and Sunday, with ongoing interpretation in the camp throughout the day.

October 11 and 12-23rd Virginia Infantry Weekend at Antietam-Living history volunteers from the 23rd Virginia Infantry will portray the life of the Civil War soldier and share the story on the men who fought with this unit. Weapons and tactics demonstrations will be held on Saturday and Sunday, with ongoing interpretation in the camp throughout the day.

December 6- 20th Annual Memorial Illumination- Volunteers place over 23,000 candles on the battlefield; each representing a casualty from the bloodiest single day battle in American History. Driving tour begins at 6:00 p.m. on Route 34 east of Sharpsburg. In the event of high winds or heavy rain, this event will be rescheduled to December 13. Note: The visitor center will be open from 8:30 a.m. through 3:00 p.m. Several of the park roads will not be available to tour after 3:00 p.m. Click HERE for video

All information is subject to change. Please call the park (301) 432-5124 before attending any special event. Also check out the park's website at:

I'll see you this summer and fall!

Just north of Sharpsburg!

Ranger Mannie

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Battlefield afternoon

After baking three loaves of French bread I'd decided the day had warmed up enough to go for a hike. So my one day off in the week found me, where else?

Antietam National Battlefield.

Last week there was a large prescribed burn on the Otto Farm acerage. The job was very precise. I only wish I had been there to capture it on video.

(Otto Lane to the right and National Cemetery in the center far distance)

Click here to go to a post I did last spring on an earlier burn.

I enjoy hiking burned over areas. So much becomes revealed which had previously been hidden by underbrush;

like the compacted deer trails that criss-cross the battlefield year round but usually only become visible when snow is on the ground.

Visitors are often surprised by how large the deer population is at the park. On today's hike I encountered these two antlered skulls.

Early spring is the very best time for finding skulls as there is no brush and the brilliant white of the sun bleached bones stand out in stark contrast to the dun colored turf. Think about that for a moment. I'm sure that for a generation after the battle the people of the Antietam Creek valley became acutely aware of that simple fact.

I wonder how much time had to pass before deer skulls became more commonplace than those of lost soldiers on the fields of the now peaceful and beautiful ground. It gives one pause.

Come ponder for yourself,

Just outside of Sharpsburg.

Ranger Mannie

By the way, when you do encounter bones, skulls, relics, feathers, snakeskins, etc on National Park lands., leave them undisturbed, but take as many pictures as you like.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Youth in peace and war

Two interesting things coincided today, both made me think of the American Civil War.

At Rhino virus Elementary School this afternoon I witnessed an event much chronicled by Civil War historians and field commanders alike.

One of my first graders got her eyes kicked full of the mulch that comprises the soil of the playground. Imagine this adorable little tot running up to me with eyes clamped shut, tears flowing, and sobbing with pain.

I dispatched this young playground casualty to the school nurse with one (note "one") reliable kid as a compassionate guide for our temporarily blinded Alice. No sooner was my back turned to the situation than five more first-graders rushed off to help her make her way to the rear-area. How many times have we encountered that same phenomenon among Civil War soldiers, eagerly rushing to help a wounded comrade and simultaneously escape combat (the spelling test).

The other thing that occurred today that put me in a Civil War frame of mind was a set of pictures, pictures I'd never seen before, emailed by an old and dear friend, from way, way back in the Navy days of the very early 1970s.

This picture of me as a young GI, at eighteen years of age caused me to reflect on all of those others, of the same age, who moved mountains, saved nations, and defeated evil.

Me? I was just a very scrawny sailor on Guam, stomping around in the jungle.

Best wishes,

Ranger Mannie

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Need I say more?

Have I mentioned recently that this is the greatest job on the planet?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

High tech ugly, low tech ugly, just plain ugly

Reddy Kilowatt works day and night to bring adequate supplies of power and communications utilities to our communities to meet our growing energy, text-messaging, online-shopping, and cyber porno needs!
Like Reddy sez
"Remember kiddies, Power ain't often pretty!"

Brian over at Behind Antietam on the Web makes note of the threat to the Antietam battlefield landscape by a proposed communications tower. The backers of the tower claim it will be an unobtrusive "stealth tower" designed to blend in with the surroundings.

Yeah, unobtrusive if you were a set designer for "Land of the Giants" back in the 1960s

"Honey look at the freak alien tree! Where are the kids? Run!, run for the car!"

Certainly this will mar the landscape of the valley.

Which currently looks like this:

Historic Boonsboro

Lappans Road, on the way to Antietam Creek

Our thirst for power has a long history of screwing up the landscape. Somewhere, way back in the misty past, ugly became acceptable.

Craig Warren down in the comments mentions this short by cartoonist R. Crumb "A Short History of America" which pretty well says it all.

I hope the tower doesn't get built, I also hope that a proposed new route for high tension power lines isn't brought through the valley.

Let's keep each other posted.

Ranger Mannie

Friday, March 21, 2008

The changing face of Civil War country

Washington County is liberally dotted with these pretty L-shaped brick houses with the breezy second story porches.

Many of these historic farm houses witnessed the great events that swept back and forth across this throughfare of combat that is the Cumberland Valley. If you're the sort who likes to get swept away by a sensation of the presence of the past, this is definately the place for you.

Its often easy, in Washington County, to think that this pastoral area will always be as it has been.

But then, just while your mind was wandering, things changed...

same farmhouse, new neighborhood.

Development comes rapidly, pastoral vistas give way to sprawl, historic ground ends up underneath parking lots

Is it a question of too many developers, or simply too many people, or too little appreciation for the past?

Ranger Mannie

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Please Don't Shoot the Ranger

So I heard last night on National Public Radio that 51 U.S. Senators are backing a bill to allow people to carry loaded firearms in our National Parks.

Those 51 U.S. Senators are apparently remarkably out of touch regarding the day to day realities of law enforcement and public safety within our National Parks.

Can we vote these dipsticks out sometime soon? Please?


Sunday, March 16, 2008

The three harbingers of Spring at Antietam:

1. The blooming of the crocuses,

2. Pilgrimages by costumed reenactors,

3. Trying to start the park stationwagon after a long winter.

Welcome Spring!

Just north of Sharpsburg,

Ranger Mannie

Friday, March 14, 2008

Audience participation time!

Everyone likes to color!

Get out the crayons and colored pencils.  This is an Antietam alphabet/coloring book I'm working on.

If the captions seem a little stilted its because the whole thing, A to Z, is written in rhyming verse.

Here's what I'd like you to do.  Print these off, then you (or someone you drive to school) can lavishly color them, scan your results and email the jpegs  back to me and I'll post them on this blog.

Note to Eric and J.D., fortunately Antietam wasn't much of a cavalry show because I've never been able to draw horses.

All images copyright (c) 2008 by...
Mannie Gentile

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

300th blog posting...and one of great import!

Friend and fellow Ranger John Hoptak very recently posted about casting a Civil War movie with  Hollywood luminaries past and present.  After submitting two separate comments with suggestions I thought a third might be a bit much, but this one's my favorite:

Maxey "crazy eyes" Gregg

portrayed by Jack Elam (just add beard and whacky pirate hat).

Perfect, eh?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Signs of Spring

Last night a furious wind from off the mountain ushered in a change...

 Spring has come to the battlefield.  Maybe its only temporary, but the indications are undeniable...


Kids with high school history projects...

Spring is coming to the valley, just like clockwork.

Come watch the change, just north of Sharpsburg,
Ranger Mannie

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Big pills, little sleep

This three and a half month long cold turns out to be the mother of all sinus infections, an unintended gift from the kids at rhino-virus middle school.

My doctor put me on a med with interesting side-effects, including:

"taste perversion" which has nothing to do with enjoying John Waters movies and everything to do with finding that every taste I know and love tastes like odd flavors I've never experienced before.

"This Pepsi tastes like Schmepsi".

Also insomnia.  Until this week I confused insomnia with simply a bad night's sleep.

Insomnia is more like:  "Man, if I wasn't totally made out of electricity I just might be able to nod off!"

Otherwise, its great being able to breath through my nose again.

Better living through chemistry.  Hey! who's up for an all-night Scrabble Party?  I'll get the pretzels, you pick out some movies.


Friday, March 07, 2008

"Fight!" almost

Once upon a time, in my classroom (the classroom I was subbing in) at good old Rhino-virus Middle School, at the very end of a day (a Friday) I saw what no teacher wants to see.

Two boys were squaring off for a fight. 

I flew to fill the space between them with only one thought: "de-esclate".

Okay, two thoughts, the other was "I hope I don't get hit in the glasses".

A prompted (by me) apology on the part of one of the boys (Boy A) ended the affair, but what looked cut-and-dried was actually quite complex.

As the rest of the class was filing out to catch buses, clamber into the family jalopy, or simply walk home (this is an inner-city school) I conferenced (as they say) with the two boys.  Boy A, a completely good-natured kid who seems to get along with everyone was simply a victim of having delivered an unintended insult to the other boy, that would be Boy B.

Boy B is a really good kid burdened by problems at home and problems of the spirit.  I had been watching boy B since lunch, as he became increasingly withdrawn and sullen.  Experienced teachers reading this already know what I came to find out that afternoon: Boy B's meds were wearing off.

Boy B was becoming, for want of certain chemical compounds, a hissing fuse,  and I (rookie) completely missed it.  Looking back, I'd have sent Boy B to the room of another more experienced teacher on the team, giving him a chance to decompress.   I'll know that for next time.

Later, I brought this incident up to the other teachers on the team.  They agreed with my assessment regarding medication, and added something I'd never considered:

 "school mourning".

"School mourning", the phenomenon of children (especially urban children) dreading the weekend separation from the predictable, familiar, and safe environment of their classroom, friends, and teachers.

"Fridays are especially bad" chimed in one very experienced teacher. "Weekends are the times spent with the non-custodial parent".   

I didn't  think of that.

My hat is off, and stays off, to full-time classroom teachers.  For nine and a half months of the year they have to be cops, counsellors, confessors, nutritionists, parents (by default) and...oh yeah, teachers.

But heck, they get summers off.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Burnside Bridge on a foggy morning

Pictures taken this past autumn at Antietam National Battlefield remind me of why I am eagerly looking toward May 28, and my return to full-time Rangering (for the Summer, that is).

Every season reveals a different aspect of the beauty of the Antietam Creek Valley.  Here's the historic Sherrick Farm bathed in the fog rolling up from the creek.

In the misty distance a familiar structure begins to take shape, Burnside Bridge.

At Antietam its easy to find a slice of privacy, on a perfect morning, of a perfect day.

One of the most commonly asked questions by visitors who go on the two-hour ranger tour is;
"Why didn't Lee blow up the bridges?",  you know, like they do so often in the movies.

There's a full palette of answers, including:

Lee didn't come to Maryland to alienate the people of Maryland, but to win them over, which is not done by destroying their bridges and their livelihoods.

Lee used the bridges to his advantage, as choke points for the Federal attacks.

Lee didn't have the luxury of an enormous surplus of black powder to expend in the demolition of these bridges.

and, finally, the simple one...

These bridges are nearly indestructible.

And aren't we glad of it.


One of the cool things about the Spring and Autumn fog seasons at the park is that we are caught smack between the fog rising from Antietam Creek and that which rises from the mighty Potomac just a mile and more away.  As the sky clears to brilliance the lifting fog leaves behind ragged curtains of vapor hanging in the air, betraying the locations of those two waterways.

Looking up the "witness tree" on the Union side of Burnside Bridge.  Visitors always ask if there are bullets deep inside.  I can only imagine that there are.

Through the mist the Antietam rolls slowly toward the Potomac River to eventually lend its waters to the bay and the ocean beyond.  I have to wonder if a hundred and forty five years ago some floating piece of wreckage from the battle drifted down this creek only to end up on some beach on another continent, leaving some beachcomber to ponder the origin of so foreign an object.

Come ponder for yourself, its your park, year-round...

just north of Sharpsburg

Ranger Mannie

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

This is getting ridiculous

In keeping with the theme of this winter, I am down with yet another upper-respiratory infection.

Substitute teaching is like bobbing for apples during flu season (gross image huh?)

I don't think I'll be posting this week.


"will work for antibodies"