Category Archives: Finding Antietam: A Guide’s Story

Finding Antietam: A Guide’s Story, Sharon Murray

This is the fifteenth 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 Sharon Murray shares her story this month.

Sharon Murray

Sharon walks the battlefield with her faithful companion.

Over forty years ago while lying flat on my back in bed trying to recover from a ruptured disc, I read Bruce Catton’s Civil War trilogy. I was intrigued by his writings. At the time I was studying history and political science at the University of Idaho. After completing a BA and an MA in history it was time to earn a degree where I could make a living therefore, one day, I walked down the hill to the College of Mines and Earth Resources and enrolled in their master’s program in Mining Engineering. Four years later I had another diploma and job potential. I worked underground in a deep lead, zinc and silver mine in the Silver Valley, at a surface mine near the Frank Church Wilderness in Central Idaho and then spent almost 20 years working in Mineral Leasing and Mined Land Reclamation with the Idaho Department of Lands. All the while I never lost my love for or interest in history. Continue reading →

Finding Antietam: A Guide’s Story, Kevin Pawlak

This is the fourteenth 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 Kevin Pawlak shares his story this month.

Kevin Pawlak in front of Burnside Bridge

Antietam was not the first Civil War battlefield I visited. Nor was it my second. It wasn’t the third, either. In fact, it poured during my first two trips to Antietam. Due to the weather, they weren’t my most cherished visits to Civil War sites.

Since my trip as a nine-year-old to Gettysburg, where my family toured the battlefield led by a battlefield guide, I wanted to lead tours of Civil War sites. That goal ebbed and waned during my middle and early high school years. But by my junior year of high school, I knew that history, specifically Civil War history, was calling me.

Being born and raised in western New York, I had to look south to find a university in the heart of the Civil War. Naturally, Gettysburg College became a school to consider. I had been to Gettysburg countless times and remember touring the campus, looking up onto Oak Ridge, and thinking how neat it would be to live within walking distance of a battlefield. But my parents encouraged me to consider other schools to have options.

Truly by accident, I stumbled on Shepherd University, a school ten minutes from the Antietam battlefield. I enjoyed the school on my first visit, which brought me back for a second. On that return trip, my family and I drove a different route to Shepherd and we passed right through the Antietam battlefield. Antietam was not the purpose of our visit so we sped by. All I remember of the battlefield then is zooming by the 15th Massachusetts Infantry monument in the West Woods.

Though it was not within walking distance of Shepherd like the Gettysburg battlefield was in comparison to Gettysburg College, Shepherdstown, Sharpsburg, and the Antietam battlefield hooked me. When it came time to pick my school, I chose Shepherd.

Beginning my sophomore year, I explored the sites of the Maryland Campaign and visited the South Mountain and Antietam battlefields during the September anniversaries. During one of the Antietam tours, I met recently appointed Chief Guide Jim Rosebrock. He told me of the Guide program and of the opportunity to volunteer for the National Park Service at the battlefield. Naturally, I leaped at both chances and was fortunate enough to pass the Guide exam.  Continue reading →

Finding Antietam: A Guide’s Story, Jim Buchanan

This is the thirteenth 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 Jim Buchanan shares his story this month.

A unique visitor keeps Jim Buchanan company in the West Woods

I first became involved as a Guide at Antietam National Battlefield through volunteering. After some rounds helping out at the Visitors’ Center desk, I started walking the fields more and more. A couple other volunteers started doing the same and after awhile three or four of us explored the fields together, comparing notes, asking questions, and enjoying the beauty that the field has to offer. These informal excursions usually involved food, and eventually breakfast or lunch at the local eatery called the Red Byrd was added to the itinerary. As volunteers, we also started posting ourselves at particular stops on the tour route. I chose to set up shop at Stop 5, the Philadelphia Brigade Park.

I did so for two reasons. First, the shade offered by the abundant trees at that part of the field kept me comfortable as I set out my camp chair, foldable table, and waited for visitors to amble by. In those days (about 15 years ago), posting at Stop 5 meant that maybe 15 visitors would come by in a six-hour period. Sitting there, I would see folks coming down from the Cornfield heading south along the Hagerstown Pike. They would slow down at the turn off to the Philadelphia Brigade, idle for a few seconds, and then continue on to the Sunken Road. Bus caravans wouldn’t even bother to slow down. It was a lonely volunteer post. But it gave me time to read and that was the second reason. Time spent reading under a maple tree pulls you chapter by chapter, article by article, into the Antietam narrative. At first occasionally and then regularly other volunteers would join me in the shade as the afternoon grew late. They would join the camp with their own foldable chairs and we would go into the early evening puzzling the mysteries of the field. Continue reading →

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