This is the seventeenth 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 Rogers Fred shares his story this month.
Antietam National Battlefield was the first battlefield I ever visited and remains my favorite. My parents, sister, and I made several picnic trips to the field in the early 1960s. We always went to the same spot in the West Woods. I recall riding in the car as we drove along the Sunken Road and across Burnside Bridge. Happily, we can’t do that any longer but, at a tender age, I fell in love with the beauty and history of this sacred place.
My interest in the Civil War started with my Grandfather. He enthralled me with stories told to him by his grandfather and great uncle, both members of Mosby’s Rangers. He went to school with and was a friend of Mosby’s grandchildren and even met the Colonel himself on a couple of occasions. Visits to Manassas and Gettysburg followed Antietam and I was hooked.
While history is a lifelong interest, I majored in biology at Washington and Lee University and later graduated with a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Virginia Tech. Following the completion of a specialty residency in oncology at the University of Pennsylvania, I’ve practiced veterinary oncology for over thirty years in New Jersey and Virginia. After returning to Virginia nearly ten years ago, I began volunteering at Antietam National Battlefield first behind the desk at the visitor center then as a Battlefield Ambassador on the field. One of the most fortuitous moments of my life was taking a battlefield tour during this time with the Dean of Antietam Battlefield Guides, John Schildt. During the tour, we ran across the chief guide at the time, James Rosebrock and I had the opportunity to talk with him about the guide program. By the conclusion of the tour, I knew I wanted to be a guide at Antietam. Three and a half years of study and intense preparation resulted in National Park Service certification as a guide in 2015.
Since then, I have been privileged to work with the members of the guide service – a group of historians dedicated to constantly learning about the battle, sharing that information with other guides and passionate about telling visitors the story of this wonderful place. And that is the best part of being a guide at Antietam; meeting visitors from across the country and around the world, telling them the stories of the men who sacrificed their all here, showing them the terrain and answering questions about this pivotal moment in our country’s history.
A veterinary colleague of mine succinctly summed up my perspective on history and being a battlefield guide. He told me “veterinary medicine is your vocation, history is your passion.” When it comes to Antietam National Battlefield, that is so true.