This is the ninth 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 Steve Stotelmyer has been visiting for as long as he can remember.
Ever since I can remember Antietam has always been a special place. I can truthfully say that I have been visiting Antietam since before I was born. I have a treasured old black and white photo of my mother and father at the top of the observation tower at Bloody Lane and mom has the proverbial baby bump and it is me. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my parents picnicking at the Philadelphia Brigade Park and playing Scrabble on a lazy Sunday afternoon while me and my sisters played around (and on) that towering monument. I also remember Saturday afternoon visits to the concession/souvenir stand at Bloody Lane. Dad would get me a soda and candy bars (for a quarter) and we would always end up at the tower.
I became aware that something very special happened at Antietam during the Centennial celebration (I was 12 years old) and that sparked a lifelong search to find out what made the battle so special. I camped on the battlefield as a Boy Scout and continued to visit family and friends as a teenager. As a young adult I taught 5th grade at and an elementary school in Hagerstown. Every Spring I would take them on a day long field trip to the battlefield. Every trip was a learning experience for me as well. I met my wife while we were both teachers and as fate would have it, we purchased a home within 10 minutes driving time to Antietam. It remained a popular place to visit with family and friends. My wife also played violin with the Maryland Symphony. In 1986 family history seemed to be repeating itself as my wife was 8 months pregnant with our second daughter during the first Salute to Independence. Consequently those 4th of July weekends became yet another special family memory connected to Antietam.
This was about the same time as my career change from teaching to surveying/engineering. Because I worked in Frederick my morning commute took me through Turner’s Gap. My daily journeys over South Mountain sparked an interest in the Maryland Campaign that continues to this day. When I retired, I discovered that the Antietam Guides were taking applications for the guide exam. It seemed like the natural thing to do. Becoming a guide at Antietam has provided me the opportunity share my lifelong process of discovery about that special place. I continue to learn with every tour I give. I am often asked by visitors how long have I been giving tours at the park. I tell them officially since 2013, unofficially almost as long as I can remember.