An online journal of Mannie Gentile, a National Park Service Park Ranger working on the National Mall in our nation's capital.
DISCLAIMER: please note that this blog represents only my views and not those of the National Park Service.
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It was a good morning for volunteering at Antietam today. I spent a little time on the Union Attack trail which takes the visitor along the approach of the Ninth Corps toward Antietam Creek and to Sharpsburg beyond. One of the icons of the battlefield, if not the Civil War, is Burnside Bridge (also known as Rohrbach, or Lower bridge.
In the days following the September 17th, 1862 battle, photographer Alexander Gardner brought his camera to the battlefield to record some of the most recognizable images of the war, including the bridge.
This morning I took my camera to Gardner's position to record what the scene looks like 155 years later. The view is from the point of view of the Ninth Corps, and as you can see that unlike today there was no cover at all for the Federals as the slope was clear cut. Also notice the very young sycamore tree at the end of the bridge, which is now the much beloved "witness tree" of the Battlefield.
It was a beautiful day at the battlefield yesterday - moist and overcast. The parking lot was full to overflowing and Gary Edelman and Tim Smith were leading one of their legendary eight-hour battlefield hikes to what looked like about 80 appreciative stalwarts.
I mostly hung out in and around Dunker Church chatting up visitors. Though I've forgotten a lot in the three and a half years since I left, things are slowly coming back. Everyone that I talked with marveled at what a beautiful park Antietam is, and comparisons always turn to the great contrast that is Gettysburg. Antietam, like Shiloh, is nearly pristine, and it's a joy to be a small part of it.
Yesterday was my regular volunteering day at Antietam and I spent a little time watching the guys build Virginia worm-rail fencing along the Sunken Road. It should be noted that much of the labor was provided by dedicated Antietam volunteers.
To make a worm rail fence, all you need is a zillion rails...
and a lot of elbow-grease...
but no post-hole digger or any fasteners of any sort. All you need is gravity.
It's a stacked fence.
The new-ness of the rails will last a few years as the weather works its magic.
I once had a little kid indignantly ask me why there were no bullet holes in the fences!
Unlike post-and-rail fences, worm-rail fences are portable...to move the fence, to adjust a borderline, to enlarge a pasture, all you have to do is restack the rails. Worm-rail fences take four times the wood but they provide a lot of flexibility to the farmer. The enormous amount of wood tied up in fences demonstrates the value to farmers of their prized woodlots. Imagine the financial hardship suffered by the farmer as armies on campaign consumed miles of fences in their cooking fires.
Watching other people work made me pretty fatigued, so I went up into the War Department tower and relaxed for an hour chatting people up.
Except for my posts from this week I see that it's almost exactly three years since my last post. Now that I'm back at my much-loved Antietam, I expect that I'll be posting with some frequency. Do stay tuned.
Just across the road from Dunker Church, on a slight rise, sits the Maryland monument. It is a little eight-sided temple - four sides for the Maryland units that fought in the battle and four for the Confederates. It's a reminder that divided Maryland was Unionist in the west, and had Confederate leanings in the east.
After three and a half years absence, I decided to get my park back. I started volunteering again at Antietam National Battlefield last Monday. This is how I started my NPS adventure nearly twelve years ago.
I'm still rangering full-time on the National Mall, and commuting twenty hours per week. I guess I got tired of waiting to be called back to Antietam. I was pretty broken hearted when I had to leave, and for over a year I expected to be hired back at any moment, but as the months turned into years, I realized that that chapter may be over. I was, I'll admit, a little angry that things ended the way that they did. But recently, I realized that any hard feelings were pointless and that I simply wanted my park back. Today was my second day on the job, hanging out in Dunker Church chatting up visitors. It sure feels good to be back... just south of Boonsboro. Mannie ps, as far as ever returning as a ranger...hope springs eternal.