Finding Antietam: A Guide’s Story, Marty Pritchett

This is the sixteenth essay in our monthly series “Finding Antietam – A Guide’s Story.” Each month, we’ll feature the story of one of our guides and what sparked their interest in Antietam and the Civil War and why they became an Antietam Battlefield Guide. Antietam Battlefield Guide Marty Pritchett shares his story this month.

Being a landlubber from Kansas the Coast Guard may not seem the first choice of military service. But there I was on a Coast Guard cutter patrolling Baltimore Harbor in the mid-1980s. There was an occasion where I was to escort a brand new Naval combat ship as it sailed through the Chesapeake and Baltimore Harbor for the first time much like I had done on the opposite coast when the Queen of England came to visit San Francisco a year earlier. Crewing my cutter was myself and a contingent of sailors that were from our local reserve for a force multiplier. I knew some, others I did not but they were well trained, and being reserves were from Maryland, a state I will come to find out I knew very little about. At about 2 am, while conducting safety patrol, one starts finding just about anything to talk about to keep aware and awake. So what had been bugging me all day finally made its way from my mouth. I asked, “Does anyone know what the name of the ship we are guarding means?” Antietam….anyone? It didn’t take but a second that I was given a rather vigorous and animated description of the bloodiest day in American history told by Maryland sons. When they were done swabbing the deck with me they pointed me in the right direction to visit the battlefield and I was bitten for good…But my Coast Guard career was only half over and I was sent to other parts of the country until I retired from the Guard from my last assignment in south Texas. Taking a position with the State of Texas environmental response division, I set my life on post-military retirement autopilot and worked on my Civil War interest. That’s when 9/11 occurred. My reaction to this horrific event was typical to most in that I wanted to do something but did not know what exactly to do. What I didn’t know was the Coast Guard opened an office in Martinsburg, West Virginia tasked with providing Maritime Domaine Awareness and were looking for candidates with experience to man the office. That was right up my specialty alley so I applied and left Texas for West Virginia. Antietam is just 12 miles from my office along with other battlefields nearby; I found myself in buff nirvana. I then became a volunteer at Antietam and after about 8 years of that decided to go for my guide license. So that is how I ended up at Antietam and becoming a guide.

Marty visiting the Burnside Bridge

 

Finding Antietam: A Guide’s Story, Sharon Murray

This is the fifteenth essay in our monthly series “Finding Antietam – A Guide’s Story.” Each month, we’ll feature the story of one of our guides and what sparked their interest in Antietam and the Civil War and why they became an Antietam Battlefield Guide. Antietam Battlefield Guide Sharon Murray shares her story this month.

Sharon Murray

Sharon walks the battlefield with her faithful companion.

Over forty years ago while lying flat on my back in bed trying to recover from a ruptured disc, I read Bruce Catton’s Civil War trilogy. I was intrigued by his writings. At the time I was studying history and political science at the University of Idaho. After completing a BA and an MA in history it was time to earn a degree where I could make a living therefore, one day, I walked down the hill to the College of Mines and Earth Resources and enrolled in their master’s program in Mining Engineering. Four years later I had another diploma and job potential. I worked underground in a deep lead, zinc and silver mine in the Silver Valley, at a surface mine near the Frank Church Wilderness in Central Idaho and then spent almost 20 years working in Mineral Leasing and Mined Land Reclamation with the Idaho Department of Lands. All the while I never lost my love for or interest in history. Continue reading →

Finding Antietam: A Guide’s Story, Kevin Pawlak

This is the fourteenth essay in our monthly series “Finding Antietam – A Guide’s Story.” Each month, we’ll feature the story of one of our guides and what sparked their interest in Antietam and the Civil War and why they became an Antietam Battlefield Guide. Antietam Battlefield Guide Kevin Pawlak shares his story this month.

Kevin Pawlak in front of Burnside Bridge

Antietam was not the first Civil War battlefield I visited. Nor was it my second. It wasn’t the third, either. In fact, it poured during my first two trips to Antietam. Due to the weather, they weren’t my most cherished visits to Civil War sites.

Since my trip as a nine-year-old to Gettysburg, where my family toured the battlefield led by a battlefield guide, I wanted to lead tours of Civil War sites. That goal ebbed and waned during my middle and early high school years. But by my junior year of high school, I knew that history, specifically Civil War history, was calling me.

Being born and raised in western New York, I had to look south to find a university in the heart of the Civil War. Naturally, Gettysburg College became a school to consider. I had been to Gettysburg countless times and remember touring the campus, looking up onto Oak Ridge, and thinking how neat it would be to live within walking distance of a battlefield. But my parents encouraged me to consider other schools to have options.

Truly by accident, I stumbled on Shepherd University, a school ten minutes from the Antietam battlefield. I enjoyed the school on my first visit, which brought me back for a second. On that return trip, my family and I drove a different route to Shepherd and we passed right through the Antietam battlefield. Antietam was not the purpose of our visit so we sped by. All I remember of the battlefield then is zooming by the 15th Massachusetts Infantry monument in the West Woods.

Though it was not within walking distance of Shepherd like the Gettysburg battlefield was in comparison to Gettysburg College, Shepherdstown, Sharpsburg, and the Antietam battlefield hooked me. When it came time to pick my school, I chose Shepherd.

Beginning my sophomore year, I explored the sites of the Maryland Campaign and visited the South Mountain and Antietam battlefields during the September anniversaries. During one of the Antietam tours, I met recently appointed Chief Guide Jim Rosebrock. He told me of the Guide program and of the opportunity to volunteer for the National Park Service at the battlefield. Naturally, I leaped at both chances and was fortunate enough to pass the Guide exam.  Continue reading →

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