This is the eighteenth 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 Chris Vincent shares his story this month.
My interest in the American Civil War and the Battle of Antietam, in particular, occurred many years ago when I was told the story of my great-great-grandfather, Henry Vincent. In August of 1862, Henry, who was from Montour County, Pennsylvania answered President Abraham Lincoln’s call for 300,000 nine-month militia. Henry enlisted in the ‘Danville Fencibles’ which was comprised of men mostly from the Danville Iron Works. Before the end of the month, they were mustered into service as Company A, 132nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and in defensive works outside Washington. Like many Union soldiers at Antietam, this would be Henry’s first time in combat. The 132nd Pennsylvania was one fortunate enough to be brigaded with veteran soldiers as they attempted to take the Sunken Road. They took heavy casualties, but Henry made it through his ‘baptism of fire’ unscathed. According to the county history, “his coat sleeve was completely shot off at Antietam.” Henry would continue to serve with the 132nd and participate in the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. He was promoted to Corporal in March 1863 and was mustered out with Company A on May 24, 1863. Henry returned home to Danville, to become a successful businessman, lawyer, and a father to eight children. He was an active member in both the 132nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Regimental Association and the Goodrich Post No. 22, of the Grand Army of the Republic until he passed away in 1916.
For years the story stayed in the back of my mind as I went off to college, spent a career in the Army, and had a family. In 2007, I was finishing up my Master’s degree and on my final duty assignment at Fort Meade, Maryland. One day my boss, the Division G-3 assigned me the task of putting together a staff ride program. Over the next few months, we conducted staff rides to Manassas and Gettysburg. As I was preparing for the final staff ride to Antietam, the story of my ancestor began to resonate with me and the fact that I was going to be retiring soon. Of course, I had a job lined up as soon as I took off the uniform, but was that what I really wanted to do as a second career? During my research for the Antietam staff ride, I came across the website of the newly formed Antietam Battlefield Guides. I had one of those “Eureka moments” – what better way to share my love of military history and connect with my family story.
After retiring we stayed in the Fort Meade area, but I came out to Antietam every opportunity I could, including bringing out our Boy Scout troop for a weekend every year. In 2012 during the 150th Anniversary of the battle, I spent the long weekend attending the talks and going on the hikes. Every chance I had, I talked with the Guides who were volunteering across the park. I met Jim Rosebrock, who had recently taken over as the Chief Guide. Jim explained to me the process of becoming a guide and the rigorous self-study program. By the end of the year, I became a volunteer in the park, working at the Visitor Center and out on the field as a Battlefield Ambassador. This experience helped me prepare for both the written exam and the field test. After successfully passing the written exam in the spring of 2014, I had to take a brief hiatus before completing the field test as we were moving to Sharpsburg and purchasing a Bed & Breakfast – the Jacob Rohrbach Inn. Since that time, I love standing next to the 132nd Pennsylvania monument in Bloody Lane, telling visitors the story of the regiment and of Henry Vincent.
I am so fortunate to live right here in Sharpsburg. Every time I drive past the battlefield or go up for a tour and pass by the Sunken Road, I cannot help thinking about my great-great-grandfather. Like so many other young men this was his first time in battle. This could have been his last day on earth, but somehow, Henry Vincent survived, and the seed was planted and passed on to each generation. This is how I “Found Antietam.”