Friday, December 29, 2006

Overheard conversation

One of our wonderful volunteers shared this with me last week, the comment of an in-law at Manassas.

"Is that the brick wall where Stonewall Jackson got his nickname?"

Happy new year all.

Ranger Mannie

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Jerry Ford: Seasonal Park Ranger

Being from Grand Rapids Michigan, I thought I'd post something about Grand Rapids' formost son, late President Gerald R. Ford, who, as a very young man, was a Ranger with the USNPS. But John Hoptak has already done a great job

Check out John's post at:

Monday, December 25, 2006

I can't get too comfortable.

Check out the blog Civil War Bookshelf, written by Dimitri Rotov.

Although I often find his posts somewhat puzzling, esoteric, and even cryptic, he often challenges the way I've viewed the history of the war (Bruce Catton being my compass and all).

Mr. Rotov continually causes me to question my assumptions, and, although this is sometimes aggravating, I believe that his assertions and arguments have made me a more critical reader and a much better Ranger.

Provocation is an essential part of interpretation, and Mr. Rotov will keep you thinking and on your toes.

The Civil War is much more than our fond memory of 54mm plastic soldiers and the Time-Life series.

Check him out at:

Merry Christmas all!

Ranger Mannie

Images of a Wonderful Year (click on pix to enlarge)

Please indulge me as I post (or re-post) some of my favorite images of 2006. This event that I call "My Year of Living Rangerously" has, in fact, been a dream come true for me. Come along with me as I look back at this milestone year with some photos that really seem to symbolize the fun, delight, and affirmation of my move from Michigan to the heart of Civil War country.

Great eye contact and a farbylicious tattoo.

The Sultans of Stabilization, The Rajahs of Restoration, the Centurions of Conservation. K.C., Kevin, and Travis, all with the parks Cultural Resources Division, are just three of the many individuals who provide their time and talent to keep Antietam National Battlefield a living legacy for this, and future, generations.

Fog plus web. Battery included.

I hope that we'll see these young stewards of history, suited up as rangers one fine day.

The New York Monument: Four Views
Early morning.

Distorted by rain on a window pane.

By moonlight.

As seen by my talented artist wife (

Here's a real conversation starter.

Lanterns mustered for the torchlight tour.

My good friend Ranger Hoptak. He and I entered the Service this summer. We're two lucky rangers. Check out his outstanding blog at:

Is the Mumma Farmstead what Bing Crosby was singing about for so long? "When the blue of the night meets the gold of the day..."

One morning at Gettysburg, I felt a tugging at my pant leg.

My very cool daughter, March, visiting us from Michigan.

That bird again.

Salute to Independence. Well, here's a very nice picture indeed!

Artillery Weekend.

"Are we having fun yet?" Thrilled kids in the rain outside of Dunker Church.

No, not a particularly good shot, but the very good company that I keep these days. Me with Ranger Keith and Ranger Brian just prior to Battle Anniversary weekend. I'm very proud to work with the many dedicated and wonderful professionals who continually work to make this National Park relevant to tens of thousands of visitors every year.

Join us in 2007.

Happy New Year everyone.

Ranger Mannie

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Moving day

Tomorrow my wife and I close on our house and begin our move to Boonsboro. As we set up headquarters in our little mountian greenery bungalow I'll have to take a short break from making regular posts.

I hope to be back up in three weeks or so. Hopefully by then I'll also have edited the short Youtube video on the luminaries that I've only begun editing.

Thanks for tuning in, wish us luck, and I'll be back soon.

Ranger Mannie (lifting with my knees, not my back)

Monday, December 04, 2006

2006 Antietam Memorial Illumination

Saturday brought over 1,400 volunteers to the park for the 18th annual illumination,
an incredible event that transforms such mundane objects as paper bags, cups, candles, and some sand into flickering representations of the 23,110 men, killed,wounded, or missing, during the battle of Antietam.

The morning was just beginning and volunteers were already arriving, registering and getting their assignments.

In the chill sunshine materials were distributed...

...luminaries were assembled...

...and laid out in long lines, in grids, throughout the northern half of the battlefield.

It was quite remarkable how quickly and efficiently the volunteers were able to complete their designated areas. Even more remarkable was how fast they got them all lit, about 45 minutes, and suddenly everything was ready for the proceedings to begin and the sun to go down.

The opening ceremony, which was held at the Maryland monument, included a choir and remarks by the Secretary of the Interior. And then, about five o'clock, a magical thing occurred.

The luminaries, which had been lit for an hour, started to faintly glow as the ambient light of the early evening receded.

The ceremony continued, and all over the field the luminaries were gradually overtaking the oncoming darkness.

It is as if, for one night each year, the battlefield is revisited by 23,110 soldiers, who in 13 hours of fighting were wounded or killed in this long ago battle.

Literally, as far as the eye can see, the candles burn through the night, continuing long after the thousands of visitors have slowly driven through the park in long, long lines, to view them.

The firewatch is posted in the observation room of the visitor's center; the Rangers watch and wait throughout the night. Eventually around 4:30 in the black of the late fall morning, the candles begin to flicker and die. Some continue to burn, struggling on against the darkness, but by five o'clock it is all over.

Another thirteen-hour battle, against the darkness, comes to an end on the fields of the Antietam Creek Valley.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Antietam Beneath the Surface

Last weekend at Antietam National Battlefield...the battle revealed itself.

On a beautiful late fall Friday morning three archaeologists arrived at the visitors center to do some very productive, and very legal, metal detecting. These folks were working for the National Park Service to do a survey of artifacts under the soil of our overflow parking area.

Now, before this site gets quoted back to me, in a totally out of context manner, let me add this disclaimer as stated in the park brochure: "RELIC HUNTING IS PROHIBITED".

This was an authorized dig, not a bunch of those midnight despoilers who desecrate sacred ground, steal public property from our nation’s parks, and unload our national heritage on ebay for dirty cash. I hope I've made myself quite clear. Now, back to the story.

Jim, Scott, and Sarah, real-live archaeologists, (thanks spell-check) spent three days digging in our front yard. This was exciting for everyone. The rangers and park volunteers were keenly interested and provided lots of useful information to help the diggers identify objects. Visitors were totally engaged by the event and provided the digging team with an eager audience, as well as many teachable moments. The archaeologists themselves were quite thrilled with the work as this was their first battlefield dig.

After unloading all of their gear from some very tired looking and obviously field-tested pickup trucks, they got busily to work. A 25% search of the designated area started by laying out long lines 250 feet in length. These lines were then swept with a magnotometer...y'know...a metal detector.

Test holes were dug by Jim and the dirt was shoveled into a sifter...

which Sarah screened for artifacts.

Somehow, Indiana Jones made it all look much more glamorous. My back started to ache just watching them (I think I’ll go sit down for awhile).

As Pre-20th century objects were found they were bagged, labeled, and numbered. Mostly very mundane domestic objects turned up, like cut nails and tiny fragments of pots, dishes, and oceans of poptops - remember those?The highly technical term for the poptops, house keys, wads of aluminum foil, and car keys is "trash". The good stuff was farther down, between four and five inches down.

And up it came.

A nice, and lethal, piece of spherical case-shot was recovered,
which made for a spontaneous discussion between a mother and her tot about the nature of the battle that happened "long before grandma was even born". This was a very nice instance of the Park's mission of connecting the visitors to the battlefield.

And, logically, many of the lead balls that had formerly resided in those case-shot rounds also were scattered about the area,and although they were expected, it was still a thrill to see them emerge into the sunlight.

The biggest excitement came late in the day on Friday when the first Burton ball was recovered. There's nothing like a minie ball to remind you that a battle happened here.

Altogether About a dozen bullets were dug up, along with eight or ten lead case-shot balls. Another hatfull of shell fragments was also recovered, most of them spherical and just a few from elongated projectiles. Other miscellaneous stuff emerged including harness buckles, horseshoes, and other things not so readily identifiable.

The area was then meticulously surveyed...and mapped... to record where each piece was recovered.

The significant objects will be curated and archived by the Park Service and may one day make their way back to Antietam to help us interpret the story of the battle that occurred here 144 years ago...the last time that these objects saw the light of day.

After three days of discovery the team packed up their gear, washed their hands, and drove off leaving all of us richer for their shovel work. It was a genuine thrill to have such tangible reminders of the events that shook this valley emerge from right under our feet. Though we step over these hidden witnesses daily, it's easy to forget that the battle was much more than just a story from long, long ago.

It's nice to know that these reminders are safe and secure under a blanket of sod, available to provide us with an occasional history lesson... a moment to excite the imagination, to startle, and even thrill, the most jaded among us.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Scooped!: Antietam Illumination

I was going to craft a post regarding the annual Illumination at Antietam National Battlefield this Saturday, but, as Ranger Paul Chiles used to always say, " why reinvent the wheel?".

For great coverage go to Antietam on the Web for an outstanding post on the subject.

Also, this being my first one, it'll all be new to me, and I'm really looking forward to the experience.

I'll be shooting video footage so watch for a Youtube link in the near future.

See you Saturday night!

Ranger Mannie

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Remembrance Day parade! (click this title to view)

I've always been ambivalent about the hobby of reenacting. Most reenactors tell me that they do it to educate the public about the Civil War. I'm often skeptical of the actual educational value of their efforts.

Now, I grant you that many reenacting groups do an outstanding job of Civil War education. Antietam National Battlefield utilizes living history groups as an educational asset throughout the spring and summer season. They are outstanding groups that work hard to convey the feel and meaning of soldier and civilian life during the war. From Sharpshooters, to infantry, to the civilians of the U.S. Sanitary Commission,
to the spectacular of Artillery weekend,
what all of these reenactors have in common seems to be an overarching passion to explain the people and technology of the era to a wide audience without trivializing the impact and carnage of combat. They do a great job of "making history come alive"...also they don't spend time pretending to get shot.

Which brings me to that other aspect of reenacting: bogus combat.

Reenacted battles don't resonate with me as an educator. As a didactic resource I find sham battles about as authentic as a Roadrunner cartoon. Seems that no matter how many times Wiley E. Coyote gets blown up with Acme dynamite , or has a 5,000 lb Acme anvil dropped on his head, he always shakes it off and gets up again. So too with reenactors "killed" or "wounded" on the field; when the smoke clears they get up, brush themselves off, and head back to camp for slab bacon ("Fortunately I keep my feathers numbered for just such an eventuality")none the worse for the experience.

That's not an accurate representation of the carnage of combat nor is it particularly educational...though sure, it looks like fun.

Then there are the "Reenactors Only" events. One is occuring during the 145th anniversary of Antietam next year. At the park I get lots of calls from people who want to know if we're having a big reenactment. I inform them that we don't do battle reenactments at the park. I mention that there is a private reenactment going on at that time, however, their press release states that its for "reenactors only". One caller recently responded: "Well what's the sense of that?". Good question. I had nothing to tell him.

Perhaps that will be important "alone time" for the reenactors to educate each other about thread count, correct buttons, the perils of farbiness, and other such stuff. Have fun guys.

There is another echelon of reenactors who tell me that they do it simply to honor their Civil War ancestors.
I find that both touching and legitimate. I hope that one day my great-great-grandchildren will dress up as park rangers
and give tours of historic places in tribute to me.

(that's a really fun image).

Others tell me that they reenact because it's a fun way to campout with the guys and play war, and I really appreciate the candor of that response. Everyone's entitled to a hobby.

All that being said, this past weekend another Antietam ranger invited me up to his home in Gettysburg for a private battlefield tour and the opportunity to experience Remembrance Day", the commemoration of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

At Remembrance Day I encountered the the spectrum of reenacting, from the zany (General Santa Klaus C.S.A.)
to a very heavy, heavy dragoon:

to absolutely the greatest use of reenactors I've ever seen; THE PARADE!
Seeing thousands of reenactors marching in ranks, accompanied by drums and bands was one of the most evocative Civil War education experiences I've ever had.

Thinking of the 1865 Grand Review, I commented to my host - "So that's what it must have looked like".

I shot and edited a short video of the event which I've posted on Youtube. You can click the title of this entry above or go to:
to view it. I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think of it.

The Remembrance Day parade is a spectacle of pageantry, pomp, power, and patriotism. It really conveys the dynamism of a vast Civil War army on the march. And I think that it may be reenacting at its very best. I highly recommend that you put next year's Remembrance Day on your calendar. Dress warm, grab a hot soft pretzel from Trader Vic's, and I'll see you curbside next November!