This is the tenth 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 Randy Buchman’s interest in the battle grew from an eighth-grade school project.
In the fall of 1968 in my eighth-grade history class in New Jersey, the teacher assigned a project that we could each pick one Civil War battle about which to write a research paper. I chose Antietam for two reasons. First, it is a very cool-sounding word (that in Indian talk means “fast-flowing waters”). And secondly, I knew this was the biggest battle in the state of Maryland. And having a beloved older sister and brother-in-law who lived in the Baltimore area, I was fascinated with all things related to the state.
Soon after finishing the paper, my family celebrated Thanksgiving together in Baltimore. The next day, I talked my father and brother-in-law into driving me an hour west to visit the historic Antietam National Battlefield. It was a cold day with sleet and freezing rain, but I was totally in my element. In retrospect, that was my first narrative tour of the Battlefield as I excitedly told my family about the events surrounding the Cornfield, Bloody Lane, and Burnside’s Bridge.
I could have never imagined at that time that 26 years later I would answer the call of a Hagerstown area church to come serve as their pastor and that I would build a home on the Potomac just miles from the historic battlefield. It was a joy to live so close to this sacred place of special interest and to grow into a deeper understanding of the unique place of this battle and of the Maryland Campaign within our nation’s history.
Another 12 years after becoming a local resident, a close friend was organizing an effort to establish the Antietam Battlefield Guides. Knowing of my interests and of a research project that I was undertaking at that time toward the possible writing of a book on Civil War General Abner Doubleday, he invited me to seek acceptance into the initial group of certified guides. And it was my privilege to become one of those who established the guide service in 2006.
Since that time, I have been around the Battlefield with about 800 groups of visitors. Along with the amazing privilege of sharing this most pristine of historical sites especially with families and school groups, it has been a joy to meet many interesting people. Among them have been descendants of Generals Meade and French, as well as noted journalists, congressional members and staffers, and even a presidential cabinet officer.
But my mind always returns to that first visit in the autumn of 1968, and the delight of a young teenager who imagined history coming alive upon the very terrain being traversed. And it is my effort to bring that enthusiasm and imagination to each and every visitor I am privileged to meet. This is a special place, worthy of the extraordinary efforts to retain both its beauty and sacred solemnity. It is a place everyone needs to experience, and I would love to share it with you.