This is the twenty-first 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 Brad Gottfried shares his story this month.
My interest in the Civil War began as a youth—probably when I was about 10 years old. I was too young to digest more factual books on the war, so I concentrated on picture books, such as the big American Heritage book on the Civil War.
Growing up in Philadelphia, the Gettysburg battlefield was the closest to my home. I would visit frequently, but when I was able to drive, I made my first trip to the Antietam battlefield. I always felt a special connection with these fields and returned as often as I could. I earned my degrees, started a family, and took jobs in the Midwest. A decade passed without visiting the battlefield. My family drove back to Philly for a wedding and I saw the sign to the battlefield, so we got off Route 70 and headed to the Visitors Center. One of my lasting memories is my five-year-old daughter in tears when she saw the movie. She got it. She understood what these men sacrificed and it moved her deeply. I was proud that it was not merely a superficial experience for her.
As a trained scientist, I study things, and after I earned my doctorate, my studies mainly involved biological topics, but with a family, it became easier to study something I could do at home. That launched my study of the Civil War. Fourteen books later, I am still learning, but now concentrate on map studies and, of course, Antietam.
After retiring in 2017, I looked around for things to do and noted that I could be an Antietam volunteer. I joined and also became an Ambassador. It was just a natural progression to become a guide. I now return to the battlefield frequently. Yet, I never lose my awe of what it must have been like to fight on that blood-soaked day for something these men deeply believed in. Walking the fields never becomes common-place or routine and I learn some new perspectives every time I visit. There are so many stories, so many things to learn, that it would take a life-time and more to truly understand the battle. As a life-long student, Antietam has become a wonderful teacher.