Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Chambersburg Civil War Seminar comes to Antietam

Park Historian and general big wheel in the Civil War scene, Ted Alexander, is bringing the Chambersburg seminar to Antietam in observance of the 145th anniversary of the battle.

I am pleased to be included in the proceedings.

Although I'll be in the company of some of the most recognized names in the field of Civil War history I can't get get too big a head. Here's how it went down.

The phone rang at the visitor's center and I answered. It was Ted asking if I'd be willing to participate in the seminar and provide a themed hike.

I replied I'd be happy to, in fact, I'd been preparing a program specifically for the seminar, Ted seemed excited:

"Great!" he said. "Whatcha' got in mind"

"Well, now that Paul is retired..." Paul is Paul Chiles the legendary ranger who was the go-to guy regarding CW artillery

" that Paul is retired..." I continued

...I'd like to stake out artillery at Antietam as my niche. I've got a pretty good grasp on the subject and have given many presentations over the years, so now that Paul is retir..."

I didn't get a chance to finish the sentence

"Paul's doing artillery. So what else can you do?"

Following in the footsteps of a legend is a sure way to shed your hubris in a hurry.

Come join Paul Chiles, Ted Alexander, and other legends at the 2007 Chambersburg Civil War Seminar

Ranger Mannie

Monday, May 28, 2007

Go, man, go: this year of living rangerously

On May 28th 2006 I started as a seasonal ranger at Antietam. Although I was in a ranger uniform I noted that I hadn't worn that many hand-me-downs since fifth grade. I don't think I've ever been welcomed so warmly into an organization as I was by the other rangers.

As an educator, this has been the most satisfying year of my career, and frankly, I'm simply having the time of my life.

I'm here because my wife and I took a big risk, a leap of faith. We had enough faith in our abilities to sell our home and come to a place that we were pretty certain we wanted to live. Friends thought we were crazy, but here we are, living a dream.

Like the tattoo says - "who dares, wins"

You follow your dream, mine is just north of Sharpsburg.

Ranger Mannie

Friday, May 25, 2007

Memorial Day at Antietam National Cemetery

Tomorrow is Memorial Day.

Come participate in this Civil War holiday at the place where, tradition holds, it all started, Sharpsburg Maryland.

The observance at the National Cemetery will get underway just following the parade.

See you just up the hill from Sharpsburg.

Ranger Mannie

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

More joys of living in Civil War country

So My wife gets home from the bookstore the other day and says:

"Hey didja' see the guy up at the corner has a cannon?"

We walked down the road and took a gander.

Not quite authentic, but certainly better than not having a cannon at all.

I reminded her that my birthday is the end of this month.

'nuff said.

Ranger Mannie

Monday, May 21, 2007

Rolf's wall: Part two and conclusion

Today was a red-letter day at Antietam. Rolf, the master wall builder, set his form and level for the final time on the magnificent Hagerstown Pike wall.

( mortar of any sort)

One year ago I posted a piece on the long, dry-laid, stone wall that Rolf from the Cultural Resources Division of Antietam National Battlefield has been working on for years ( You can click on the title of this post to go back there.

Knowing that he's been coming down the home stretch for the past month I reckoned today would be a good day to drop in on him and his assistant, Andy, to see how things were progressing. It was the ideal moment.

The morning was perfect, crisp and clear with the scent of new-mown hay in the air. I approached Rolf just as he was setting his "a-frame" wall form for the final time on this project. He was happy to see me with camera in hand as all three of us knew that this was a special day.

Rolf has been working on this project seasonally (March through October) for seven years. How many people do you know who can account for every day of their labor for the last week let alone the last seven years? Rolf needs only to look back at the half mile or so as his wall rolls on toward Sharpsburg.

As Rolf leveled and squared his form I looked toward the near horizon, his perfectly uniform work of art marches up the hill and beyond. What an elegant accomplishment; simple and sublime. There's no reason that this beautiful wall won't still be there to greet the 250th anniversary of the battle.

Throughout April and May I've been having my lunch every Friday with the folks at Cultural Resources, and they are a fine bunch of banannas. I've really enjoyed getting beyond just a nodding acquaintance with Rolf and Andy. They are emblematic of everyone in that division, hard-working, incredibly talented, and very funny. Recently Rolf told us over the lunch table that "a stone setter is nothing but a carpenter who's had his brains knocked out" or at least that's what a carpenter told him. That got quite a laugh from all hands, especially because of the irony of the statement. This particular stone-setter, the powerfully built and affable Navy veteran, has created an enduring piece of functional art and all with his bare hands, an intuitive knowledge of each stone, and a very keen eye.

Traditional skills live on...

just north of Sharpsburg

Ranger Mannie

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Evidence of Battle

Whenever this vechicle is on the premises, something cool is afoot...or actually, underfoot.

A couple of months ago Park Service archeologists came to the park to sweep an area in which an historic orchard will be replanted. This is routine prior to any digging or excavation within park boundaries. These aren't the metal detector wielding vandals who steal history for the quick profit of ebay...these are the good guys;

Park Service professionals engaged in recovering, mapping, and cataloguing the detritus of battle in a way that casts even more light on the story of the battle and those who fought here.

The area in question was the scene of intense action on the morning of September 17th 1862, as evidenced by this "32 cal. "buck and ball",

found as the crew was simply calibrating their equipment. It became immediately apparent that this would be a very productive project

As the teams fanned out their method became clear.

Each time they got a buzz, or a "hit", on the metal detector a small flag was planted on that spot.

The person following would start digging up whatever piece of metal caused the"hit".

When the piece was recovered it was placed at the foot of the little flag and a pink ribbon would be attached to the flag.

A veritable sea of pink ribbons demonstrates the intensity of combat in this area.

Another team member would come along and bag and catalogue the object, keeping a record of the exact location of the object relative to every other object.

Here is a sampling of what was unearthed:

I think one of the coolest things recovered was a copper rivet from a cartridge box that still had a little bit of the leather attached (preserved by the copper).

According to the local newspaper nearly 400 objects were recovered, mostly shell fragments, bullets, balls and cannister. These objects, recovered in their historical context, will provide a great deal of insight about the flow of action and the relative positions of the troops engaged on this part of the field. A minie ball in a relic shop teaches us nothing, but a minie ball in the context of its location on the battlefield can teach us volumes.

By the way, its very gratifying that while all of this was going on, numerous visitors and local residents (who watch that park like hawks) called to inform us of people with metal detectors in the park. We've got lots of allies here, helping us to protect and preserve this very special place.

Protect our parks and our history, and leave the digging to us please.

...and to this guy:

he's got a lot of experience.

Gotta go wash up.

Ranger Mannie

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Antietam foxes: Part Two (click on this title to link to movie)

Here's a very short Youtube movie I put together yesterday and today on those little foxes. I hope the music makes up for recent grumpiness.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Antietam foxes

The fox kits are emerging on the battlefield. One was spotted above Burnside Bridge this afternoon and as I was leaving the building ranger Brian called me from his cel phone about three more. On my way out I grabbed a camera, drove to a nice vantage point, and started clicking away.

I must have watched them frolicking around for about twenty minutes. I also pointed them out to thrilled park visitors as they drove by. Everyone stopped and was mesmerized with delight as we watched these little battlefield residents get familiar with their surroundings.

I love spring at Antietam.

Wishing I had a long lens, just north of Sharpsburg.

Ranger Mannie

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Quipstory and Quipstorians

I've found a new sound that has replaced celtic music as my least
favorite thing to hear.

It is that oft-told story about McClellan reporting to Lincoln that his
cavalry horses are tired, and Lincoln responding with “ Will you pardon
me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the Battle
of Antietam that fatigues anything?”

Har, har, har! Didja' hear that Ma? That Macllellander sure was an

I hear this one a lot at the park, usually by casual visitors and all
too often by outside "expert" tour guides who bring groups
through..."the carriage trade".

If you've ever been to lovely Mackinac Island in Michigan's upper lakes
region ( you've probably gone for a carriage
ride. The carriages are driven by college kids who learn early to lay
on the apocryphal island stories thick because tourists who laugh the
most are generally swell tippers.

Let's not confuse entertainment with history, or Mr. Lincoln's sense of
humor with his grasp of matters military.

“He has got the slows, Mr. Blair.”

Quips are no substitute for analysis although it is astonishing how
many peddlers of history will practice otherwise.

People enjoy jokes, but they value knowledge...

and knowledgeable guides.

Ranger Mannie

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Lincoln, Whitman, and Lilacs

I visited the Roulette Farm again today. Usually overlooked by the visitors this tranquil and original battlefield farmstead is a favorite place of mine. This picture of the last of the lilacs in the dooryard ...

brought to mind Walt Whitman's lamentation upon the death of Abraham Lincoln. Here follows just two excerpts from

"When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd"

WHEN lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

O powerful western fallen star!
O shades of night—O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear’d—O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless—O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.

In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle—and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.

Coffin that passes through lanes and streets,
Through day and night with the great cloud darkening the land,
With the pomp of the inloop’d flags with the cities draped in black,
With the show of the States themselves as of crape-veil’d women standing,
With processions long and winding and the flambeaus of the night,
With the countless torches lit, with the silent sea of faces and the unbared heads,
With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces,
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn,
With all the mournful voices of the dirges pour’d around the coffin,
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs—where amid these you journey,
With the tolling tolling bells’ perpetual clang,
Here, coffin that slowly passes,
I give you my sprig of lilac.

Come find the poetry among the fading lilacs,

just north of Sharpsburg.

Ranger Mannie

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

My Birthday Tradition

May is my birthday month.

My childhood birthdays were characterized by lilacs, Memorial Day, the end of school, and indulgent (though nearly poor) parents.

My tenth birthday in 1962 came at the height of the Civil War Centennial. That year brought a trip to Gettysburg (No small undertaking from Michigan in a Corvair; my dad being a life-long GM employee) and a big Louis Marx "Blue and Gray" playset.

Over the last ten years or so I've tried to continue this tradition, a trip to Civil War country and indulging myself with a few dozen plastic CW soldiers to add to the heap. Some things don't change even though here in Maryland the lilacs will be finished long before my birthday.

Yesterday, May Day, my wife and I, along with two very good friends, piled into the Toyota (sorry pop) and turned north to G'burg for a visit and the purchase of some more plastic Civil War soldiers.

With all of its changes, Gettysburg retains all of it's magic for this nearly fifty-five year old kid... and so do the army guys.

I think for most of us it began when we were children, that's an important thing to not lose sight of.

Lighting the spark of a kid's imagination is, I think, one of the best and most noble things that an adult can do. One just never knows what might stick in a child's head to take root and blossom even twenty or thirty years later.

All of us CW authors, bloggers, experts, "experts", buffs, and hangers-on can keep the imagination sparks flying, and its so easy. Seems every year bunches of coffee table pictorials about the war spring up like mushrooms on the clearance tables.
Some of these books are good and some are totally lackluster, but they usually have lots and lots of cool pictures. These books may come our way as gifts, swag, or promotions. Although these tomes may lack a certain depth for us smarty-pants types, they may be just perfect thing... for a kid.

Pass those books on to the child that you know who has expressed a budding interest in the American Civil War, you may be planting the seed that brings us the next great Civil War historian, or buff,enthusiast, or's all good. Pass on the spark.

The greatest birthday gift that my parents gave me was the gift of lifelong learning about the American Civil War. I wish they could see me now.

Gotta go blow out some more candles...

just north of Sharpsburg.

Ranger Mannie

Been to Gettysburg of late?

The park north of here continues to undergo a major makeover of historic proportions. Gettysburg National Military Park is making great strides toward restoring the battlefield's appearance to that of 1863. It looks a little rough right now, but after just one or two seasons it is going to be well worth the effort for the visitor and the interpreter alike.
This is the view from Devil's Den looking toward Little Round Top. That little outhouse and the land behind it have been hidden from view for generations. All over the park scrub and forested areas are being removed or thinned, giving breathing room to the remaining "witness trees" and leaving the surrounding terrain just as the soldiers saw it during those three days in July.

It's always nice to see our tax, and preservation, dollars paying off. Hats off to our colleagues up at the big park.

Ranger Mannie

And do come visit America's most pristine battlefield park - Antietam.