This is the first essay in our monthly series “Finding Antietam – A Guide’s Story.” Each month, we’ll feature the story of one of our guides about what sparked their interest in Antietam and the Civil War and why they became an Antietam Battlefield Guide. Antietam Battlefield Guide Gary Rohrer began his love of the battlefield and the Maryland Campaign as a young boy growing up in Washington County and spending many summer/fall days on South Mountain.
My grandfather owned the Mountain House (he called the South Mountain Tavern) from 1925 to about 1960 and some of my aunts and uncles lived and worked there with him. My family had little interest in the Civil War other than there had been a general killed in a battle and there was a monument in his memory on South Mountain. Later, I saturated myself with as much as I could learn from local historians and, combined with my own knowledge of the terrain, I put it all together.
I remember the reconstruction and dedication of the Dunker Church, the Clara Barton Monument, and finding the Texas monument on Cornfield Avenue when I came home from college on Christmas break. I also remember driving over the Burnside Bridge when the monuments stood on the bridge’s corners just before it closed to vehicular traffic.
As a young Boy Scout, I had enthusiastically participated in the Centennial Celebration lasting from August 31 to September 17, 1962. It would be the last reenactment to take place on the battlefield. Last spring, I was going through a box of boyhood trinkets in the attic and found the concessions badge that I was required to wear while passing out Official Programs at the Dunker Church and later found an original copy of that program through a dealer in Gettysburg.
I believe that my interest in the Maryland Campaign of 1862 was ignited by my Boy Scout experiences. The Mason-Dixon Council had Camporees and I vividly remember camping in the area of the Final Attack, sitting around the bonfires with several hundred Boy Scouts and listening to E. Russell Hicks, a local historian, tell of the fight for the Burnside Bridge and Final Attack. We had another one at Crampton’s Gap. Back then, the area below the arch wasn’t as wooded and it made for a natural amphitheater in Whipp’s Ravine. Mr. Hicks told the Saturday night bonfire story of the Sixth Corps’ attack on the Confederates and painted an image so vivid, I was looking around for Jennings’ guns “Sallie Craig and Jennie” firing down the roads at the oncoming Federals. By then, I was hooked.
My passion for the Civil War and local history grew over the years and I got deeply involved with genealogy and learned that my paternal great-grandfather was a 5-year veteran of the Civil War. He was in the Potomac Home Brigade or Railroad Brigade, was captured at Harpers Ferry in 1862 and paroled. He fought on Culp’s Hill at Gettysburg and I’m fortunate to have his original discharge papers.
When I decided to retire in 2009, it was former Superintendent John Howard who suggested I consider becoming a guide. I began as a volunteer Battlefield Ambassador and studied every book in my library on Antietam and the Maryland Campaign for a year and with the aid of numerous mentors, I became an Antietam Battlefield Guide in 2011. I am so honored to be a part of this magnificent group.