Monday, June 30, 2008

Can you hear me now?

I had an unusual experience yesterday.

My wife has been back in Michigan for the last week visiting friends and family.  At the same time I took a week off to get a lot of work done around the house.

I noticed on the second day something very unusual.  I was living in silence, that is to say, I was silent, save for the occasional "ouch" or "oops" or "mmmmm...pepperoni".  I wasn't saying anything, to anyone.

After my six days off were up I returned to the battlefield yesterday, checked the schedule and found that I had the 10:00 a.m. tour...that's two hours of talking to a crowd, mostly outdoors.

My voice started to conk while I was announcing the tour over the PA.

"Uh-oh", I thought.

The tour went well but I could tell the pipes were only working at about 40%.  What a funny thing.  I guess the muscles that create voice need regular exercise just as any other muscles do.

Though the last thing I need is an excuse to talk,  just ask my coworkers.

Yours, in modulation,


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Just because I can

This evening I needed to get some odds and ends from the local home improvement store, and since it was such a beautiful evening I decided to go a little bit out of my way and swing by Antietam National Battlefield.

It is so close, and I did come from so far away to spend time at the battlefield, and many of you, I know, wish you lived but eleven miles from from that wonderful park.

So for all of us, I shot this picture of the New York Monument and a picture perfect evening.

Wish you were here.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A fine point, but a point nonetheless

As a substitute teacher I occasionally have to go to inservice trainings which I enjoy because I always learn something new and useful. Also I get to rub elbows with other subs as well as administrators.

Whenever a new sub introduces his or herself as "just a sub" the admin folks and full time teachers positively fall all over themselves to quickly and emphatically exclaim: "Oh! never say 'just a sub', you're a professional teacher and an indispensable member of the team!"

They say that all the time. I've noticed that the older more seasoned subs shoot each other wry glances whenever that overwrought testimonial is given. Hmmmm...

Last weekend, I had two full time Rangers from another park on my tour, and they really enjoyed it and had some very complimentary comments afterward.   I always enjoy meeting other National Park Rangers, its the closest thing a seasonal Ranger gets to professional development. These were swell guys and it was really nice having them on my tour and swapping Ranger stories with them. We all had a pretty jolly time.

When they first introduced themselves, just prior to the start of the tour they mentioned that they worked for the government, and I asked "In what capacity?" and they said " GS-9 Park Rangers". To which I responded:

"GS-9, cool! I'm just a seasonal".

Not a beat was skipped before they said in unison with great sincerity "Oh never say you're just a seasonal".

This was strangely familiar territory.

And I had the presence of mind this time to quickly respond:

"Yeah guys, tell that to my health care".

Sure, the syntax is strained, but they definitely got my point.

I'd prefer to being doing this for benefits, but for as long as I'm able, I'll do it because I love it.

Hoping you're loving what you're doing,

Ranger Mannie

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sesquicentennial, if the folks could see me now

Kevin Levin's most recent post reminds us that the Civil War sesquicentennial is just around the corner, and he reports on the preparations being made by the State of Virginia to commemorate this event.

After the hoopla of the Centennial, I distinctly remember asking my mom (who was the impetus behind my ACW interest) if there would ever be another Centennial.  She explained that there would be an observance of the 150th anniversary far in the future.

"When?" I asked.

"2011." She replied.

"How old will I be?"

She did some quick calculations.  "Fifty nine".

I was crestfallen, I knew that I'd be too old and decrepit to enjoy the 150th the same way I had the 100th, it just wouldn't be the same.

And I was partially right.  It won't be the same.   Looks like I'll be participating as a seasonal interpretive Park Ranger at my favorite Civil War site, Antietam National Battlefield.

A fat lot I knew as a little kid.

If the folks could see me now.

I think they'd be very happy for me.

Ranger Mannie

Monday, June 23, 2008

Speaking of toy soldiers

Scott Mingus was kind enough recently to feature some of my custom made pewter Civil War soldiers on his fine blog Charge! Civil War Wargaming and News, and you can see a bunch more of my guys by clicking right here

Here's some more pictures of the 54mm Old Third Michigan Infantry Regiment as they form a firing line in my back yard.

Although about half of my guys I cast from commercial molds, the other half are created by me and are unique. This is one of the high-temperature silicone molds I made to produce my own soldiers. On the left half rests one of my plastic prototypes and you can see the pewter version of that pose still embedded in the mold.  On the right half of the mold you can see at left the plastic prototype I made of the marching soldier, to his right is the finished pewter soldier, painted bright, and below both are the cavity in the mold that they hail from.  

"TUEBOR" is the legend on the Michigan flag which translates to: "I will defend".

The flags, by the way, started out in civilian life as Hunts tomato sauce cans.

The young victorian diarist and Grand Rapids resident, Rebecca Richmond, wrote extensively in her diary about the presentation of the colors to the regiment prior to their departure for Detroit and the seat of war beyond - Washington D.C.

Here's the link to Steve Soper's excellent blog on the Old Third, it is comprehensive and outstanding!

Jack Dempsey, I know you're on hiatus, but I hope your tuning in.

Lastly, here's a little i-movie using some of my pewter guys to symbolize the development of the "ring forts" the Civil War defenses of Washington D.C.  This is from a larger project entitled Washington D.C.: Lincoln's Fortress City which is taking forever for me to get back to working on.

Unfortunately, I neglected to remove an eerie sound effect at the end of it.

Nonetheless, I hope you like it.

Digging in, just north of Boonsboro,


Five Days Off + 12 Yard Dumpster =

My Motto this week:  Git 'R Done!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The world just got a little less angry, and a whole lot less honest

                           George Carlin   1937 - 2008

Mountain Living: water

Starting tomorrow I'm taking a week off.  Until recently (with the end of the school year) I've been working six day weeks.  That limits time for projects and gardening, and I really like to stay busy with projects and gardning.  

Lately I've been getting up at six a.m. and spending two hours out in the garden before having to get ready to go into the park.  These long days of extra daylight have seen a lot of fun things get accomplished around the house.  I've now gotten six rain barrels installed.  That's a lot of free water.

Up here on the mountain, about half of the houses, including mine, have cisterns (big built-in water tanks) rather than wells.  Every month and a half we have to get 2,000 gallons of drinking water trucked in to fill up the cistern in the basement.  I've only ever experienced wells or city water before moving up here, and this arrangement makes one very water conservation conscious.

I happened to notice one day while looking up at the sky that water was falling out of it.  It occurred to me that if I want to have a garden I'd better find a way to harness all of this free water.  My gutters and downspouts had been simply directing rainwater away from the house and down the mountain.  Not any more.

I started making rain barrels.

My goal is to be able to have 300 - 600 gallons on hand at any given time for gardening.  This amount will see me through the sort of dry spell that we had last year.   Right now I have the capacity to store 267 gallons.  

The tomatoes, peppers, and watermelons will all thank me for it.

 The raised bed I made last year from scrap lumber left behind by the previous homeowner

                                                     Our herb garden

                                                    The watermelon patch

As a kid I used to dread the hours I spent with a hoe in my hand out in the folks pickle patch, or the endless weeding of tomatoes when my plastic army guys were calling to me. Somewhere along the line the tranquility of tending a garden became even more of a pleasant diversion than toy soldiers. Though, the truth is, both will still find me playing in the dirt...until it rains.

Watching the sky on South Mountain,


Things that catch your eye

Gorgeous bookbinding at the Park library.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The heritage door swings both ways

I know that the Confederate battle flag of Civil War days was, usually, square, unlike the two segregation era rectangular ones mounted on the pickup truck that went spraying gravel down my otherwise quiet road this evening.  The three would be Nathan Bedsheet Forrests in its cab were regaling our quiet mountainside neighborhood with post-adolescent rebel yells and other such fiercesome uulations.  Yikes!                                                    

Happy Juneteenth, Boonsboro!

                   ----    ----    ----    ----

Today at the battlefield I was involved in a very long conversation with a very enthusiastic visitor who had lots of questions and interesting opinions as well as many shop-worn assumptions about the battle of Antietam.  He was asking those questions that always seem to begin with; "Were they stupid back then..." usually referring to the manner in which mid 19th century soldiers fought, or "Why didn't General_____ just..." the preamble to an assessment of the, now obvious, mistakes made by Union or Confederate field commanders.

I always enjoy these conversations as they are opportunities for a good discussion of how a little humility can go a long way in trying to understand or interpret the events of the past.

It was a nice conversation, but then it took, quite out of the blue, an awkward turn which caused me, in my capacity as a public servant, to have to find other things to attend to.

The gentleman was telling me of his membership in a very cool sounding Confederate Cavalry reenacting group, and not one of those dopey "dismounted" organizations, this guy's group was the real deal with horses and everything.  He went on to say how they got to participate in the Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena a few years ago, and how exciting that was.

Then his face clouded and he said "But, of course [of course], they [they] wouldn't allow us to carry the Confederate battle flag."

"How very unfortunate for you" I responded.

He continued

"Yeah, we couldn't carry the Confederate battle flag in the parade, but they let the Buffalo Soldiers participate."

"Buffalo Soldiers?" I replied, wary of where this was going.

"Yes" he went on "Black reenactors could march but we couldn't carry our flag".

"Oh my", I interrupted, "look at the time, I've got a tour to get ready for!"  and with that I left him in the hands of a volunteer who was more at liberty to pursue that line of reasoning to a suitable conclusion.

So I'm left wondering, if the Confederate battle flag has nothing to do with racism then why did this nice man equate the exclusion of a Confederate symbol with the inclusion of black people?

Very curious.

                     ----    ----    ----    ----

It was, by the way, while I was relating this to my wife over dinner, that the above mentioned rebel heritage pickup truck went barreling past our drive.

"Perfect timing" said the missus.

                     ----    ----    ----    ----

Nonetheless, happy Juneteenth everybody.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Somebody explain this to me:

This is a cannon:

This is a bike rack:


Bike rack

Bike rack as viewed from cannon:

End of slide show.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Not a plug, just the anticipation of something good.

Today I got a peek at somebody else's advance copy of
ONE CONTINUOUS FIGHT: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863 by Eric J. Wittenberg, J. David Petruzzi, and Michael F. Nugent

I thumbed through it and found myself reading about Funkstown, Hagerstown, Williamsport, and many other little towns that dot this valley which I want to know more about. It's as if this book was written for the Civil War enthusiast who also happens to be a newcomer to the area,  like me!

I wasted little time getting to the bookstore to pitch the manager on the idea of carrying this new book. It looks really good.  And I can't wait to glom onto it (especially at my employee discount!!).

And the authors are pretty cool cats to boot.

Happy reading,


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Not just any flag

A man asked me today why a Confederate flag doesn't also fly over Antietam National Battlefield.

An odd question, especially on Flag Day.

Ranger Mannie

click here for a rerun of a very short video I made last Christmas Eve

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Reminder: Tomorrow and Sunday are Artillery Weekend at Antietam National Battlefield

Come out to Antietam to see artillery in action for the next two days.  This is always one of my favorite events.  I'd post more but I'm bushed.  I had the tour today and the heat really got to me.

Ride to the sound of the guns...
just north of Sharpsburg.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Laurie Chambliss and Joe Avalon, thanks for looking in

Laurie Chambliss and Joe Avalon run the great ACW site Civil War Interactive.

For a very long time they've been doing an exhaustive (and apparently exhausting) weekly roundup of a number of  Civil War blogs out there, including mine.

Laurie, I believe, was responsible for the prose which was always clear, concise, and very droll.
I'm sure that I'm not the only blogger who looked forward to, and read with relish, her weekly comments on all of our efforts.  

Do to many other worthy committments, CWI can no longer devote the time to this weekly roundup.  I know I will miss their humor and encouragement and I wish them the very best of luck with all of their endeavors including Civil War Interactive, an outstanding clearing house for Civil War information.

Laurie and Joe, thanks for noticing my blog and doing so much to direct other folks to it.  

Hope you find your pot of gold.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Speaking of safety

Yesterdays post brought this thoughtful question from Hank:

Ranger Mannie,

I always wonder with all that black powder and sparks in one area...are extra precautions taken with swabbing, safe distance, time between discharge, et al?

It could ruin a great day to be half finished loading a gun and encounter an ember...



I'm glad you asked. Every agency is different, but the National Park Service requires that "black powder events" (like cannon fireings" be scrupulously supervised by trained "black powder safety Rangers". Training for such Rangers requires an intensive and hands-on two week course in the safe operation and handling of black powder, black powder small arms, and cannons. Refresher training (another two weeks) is required every few years.

Here's Ranger Keith inspecting Cartridge and Cap boxes to insure that they are empty as a group marches on to park property last year during battle anniversary. Rangers Keith, Christie, and Brian, our black powder Rangers, are on hand at all of our black powder events. They have eagle eyes and are absolute sticklers for safety. And all of them have extensive experience with black powder weaponry, from side arms to twelve pound light-gun howitzers.

Ten minutes have to elapse between shots from an individual tube. Yes, the cannons are swabbed out with a damp sponge rammer to extinguish any sparks or smoldering embers that may be left behind. Also to prevent those embers in the first place, cartridges are made from foil rather than flannel.

The safety requirements at the National Parks are absolutely inflexible, as many a disgruntled reenactor will attest. Safety of the participants, the visitors, and the park will always trump any other considerations, like "ooh ahh" rapid firing, or photographers trying to worm under the saftey line to get that perfect, though dangerous, angle ( I use a remote and a tripod for my pics).

The group that I most often videotape is from South Mountain State Battlefield Park, headed up by Al Preston. They are all State Park Rangers and are absolutely no-nonsense about saftey, which they achieve through practice, practice, practice, plus a large helpiing of professionalism.

So much for the sublime, now for the absolutely ridiculous. Here is one of my favorite videos. It nearly defies description. 

To entice you to follow the link, imagine a real-life granny from the tweety-pie cartoons leading an army of post adolescent girls in the unsafe loading and firing of a battery of the goofiest (though quite lethal) cannons you'll ever see.

"Give that powder a good bashing, luv"

Click here, and prepare to cringe.

I'll meet you in the bunker,

Ranger Mannie

Monday, June 09, 2008

Fire on the Mountain: Bondurant's battery at the Battle of South Mountain

This past weekend I went up to Fox's Gap to watch a spectacular program put on by our colleagues at South Mountain State Battlefield. Six Confederate guns were doing battle with two Union guns, on the actual battlefield. This was a first (since the battle that is) as the field in question, with its panoramic view and astounding echo, is private property. The land owner was gracious enough to allow this event and seemed to enjoy it immensely as did the audience of about 60 spectators.

My Ranger hat's off to the Maryland State Park Rangers who made this incredible event happen. Let's hope it can become a regular event!

Here's a little video I put together this morning that captures just a fraction of the excitement.

Thanks, by the way for all the complimentary comments regarding the storm cleanup effort at the park, I'll pass your kind words on to the folks who did the hard work.

Stay tuned.

Ranger Mannie

Friday, June 06, 2008

What a difference a day makes



It is simply incredible how quickly the various divisions of the park are getting things back in order.

Ranger Mannie

The History Channel Lets Facts Escape

What exactly do they think the Battle of Shepherdstown was?

(this is my Dimitri impression, by the way)

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Storm Recovery at Antietam National Battlefield

(Many more photos available in the video viewer at the bottom of this page)

At 2:30 in the afternoon of June 4, 2008 Antietam National Battlefield and the surrounding Sharpsburg area were wracked by a severe and damaging wind storm.

Amid sheets of rain described by park rangers as a "white out" the park endured an intense ten minute onslaught of rain and very high winds.  When the storm moved on it became immediately apparent that damage could be significant.

No sooner had the storm abated than an army of green and grey descended upon the battlefield.  The men and women of the National Park Service immediately began prioritizing tasks and coordinating the recovery.  State road 65, blocked by numerous downed trees, was cleared within an hour by park personnel from various divisions working shoulder to shoulder to reopen access to the park.

Within two hours all park and surrounding county roads were open and visitor traffic again flowed unimpeded.  Crews worked through the evening to plan a strategy for the following days and weeks of tree removal and structure repair.

Although many beautiful mature trees were damaged or destroyed throughout the battlefield. the "witness trees" those that were here at the time of the battle escaped unscathed.

Entire panels of fencing were shattered by fallen trees...

with many yards of worm rail fence at the Sunken Road strewn helter skelter reminiscent of and earlier storm in September of 1862.

Patrolling park staff were relieved and gratified to discover that damage to monuments and historic structures was minimal.  One or two War Department tablets were knocked from their iron pedestals but not broken.

 One of the granite "chessmen" that stand sentinel at Philadelphia Brigade Park was, however, severely though not irreparably, damaged by a fallen tree.

Perhaps the greatest loss of large trees occurred in the Antietam National Cemetery.  Considering the number of huge trees that came crashing down, it is quite uncanny how not a headstone was damaged.

The great flagpole at the cemetery was damaged but undaunted.

Where the Park really dodged a bullet was with our historic structures, although there were numerous near misses, here at Dunker Church...

and also here at the D.R. Miller house.

The only historic building to suffer significant damage was at the Park or Cunningham farm...

where a Civil War era barn had one wall driven in by the high velocity winds.

Removal of downed trees at the Dunker Church typifies the speed and efficiency with which Park personnel attacked the challenge.  By noon the churchyard was clear of all debris! 

Play the movie below to see the action and crank the volume.

Despite the damage, the following day found flocks of visitors enjoying their National Park just as on any other beautiful spring day.

You can be certain that in short order the dedicated men and women of the Park Service, folks that I am proud to call colleagues, will have the battlefield restored to that beautiful and evocative place that Americans have visited and cherished for generations.

Come and see for yourself, just north of Sharpsburg.

Ranger Mannie

P.S. Hit "play" for a slide show of many, many,  more pictures of the aftermath and recovery,