This is the ninth 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 Steve Stotelmyer has been visiting for as long as he can remember.
Ever since I can remember Antietam has always been a special place. I can truthfully say that I have been visiting Antietam since before I was born. I have a treasured old black and white photo of my mother and father at the top of the observation tower at Bloody Lane and mom has the proverbial baby bump and it is me. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my parents picnicking at the Philadelphia Brigade Park and playing Scrabble on a lazy Sunday afternoon while me and my sisters played around (and on) that towering monument. I also remember Saturday afternoon visits to the concession/souvenir stand at Bloody Lane. Dad would get me a soda and candy bars (for a quarter) and we would always end up at the tower.
This is the third 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 Tom Clemens began his love of the battlefield and the Maryland Campaign four decades ago when he moved to Washington County.
Growing up in Baltimore County during the Civil War Centennial, I was always fascinated by Civil War history, and moving to Washington County in 1978 only elevated that interest. I began volunteering at Antietam in the summer of 1979 and was immediately captivated by the beautifully evocative landscape and the remarkable level of preservation for that time. With friendly and accommodating National Park Service staff, I soon felt like part of the family. While places like Gettysburg attracted more people, I knew Antietam was a special place.
As I began to seriously study the battle other aspects of it became apparent to me. Although book-length studies of the battle existed, there was still much to be discovered. Many old myths and misperceptions lingered. My friend and fellow historian Brian Pohanka was the first to encourage and guide me on my path to discovering more about Antietam, and the men who fought and bled there. One of these myths or misperceptions he made me aware of was that Gen. George B. McClellan was not the bumbling fool most historians believed.
I thought there was more about Antietam that needed to be told. Civil War historian and professor Dr. Joseph Harsh, who I met in 1990, greatly enhanced this belief. I was privileged to not only have him as my academic advisor but also to read and critique the manuscript of his trilogy on the Confederate strategy in the Maryland Campaign. His passion for Antietam inspired me to edit and annotate Ezra Carman’s massive manuscript history of the battle. Carman served at Antietam as the commander of the 13th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry and Antietam’s first official historian.
The more I studied Antietam the more captivating it became to me. So many aspects of the campaign, the war, and politics were decided at Antietam. Lee’s first invasion of the north was defeated, ending perhaps the best chance for Southern independence; the intervention of foreign powers was eliminated by Lee’s failure; and McClellan’s victory allowed President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Antietam can thus be seen as arguably the turning point of the war. After forty years of studying Antietam as a volunteer, guide, and historian there is still much to discover. Sharing these discoveries with our visitors is one of the greatest privileges and joys of my life.
This is the second essay in our monthly series “Finding Antietam – A Guide’s Story.” Each month, we’ll feature the story of one of our guides about what sparked their interest in Antietam and the Civil War and why they became an Antietam Battlefield Guide. Antietam Battlefield Guide John Schildt began his love of the battlefield and the Maryland Campaign as a young boy through family connections to the Civil War.
Several events awakened my interest in the Civil War. My great grandmother was eight years old in 1863. She told the story over and over of standing in the rain with her siblings and giving milk and bread to Union soldiers marching to Gettysburg. She always stressed a rainy Monday. Later research revealed that it was Monday, June 29. The location was northeast of Frederick and the troops were part of Hancock’s command. This was the beginning.
Second, on Lincoln’s birthday in First Grade, many moons ago, the teacher brought in a miniature log cabin and other items related to Lincoln. Then she gave each of us a shiny penny. I still have mine.
Third, somehow, my folks obtained a copy of the 75th Anniversary program. I could not read, but just about wore the booklet out looking at the photos, being especially impressed with the stacked weapons of the 90th Pennsylvania Infantry.
For years, I led an all-day staff ride for the U.S. Army Chaplain’s School. They always ended with a short service at the south wall of the National Cemetery. I have always concluded my tours at the cemetery wall. One can almost visualize the lines of battle, the smoke hanging over the field, and hear the thunder of the cannon and the rattle of musketry while to the west is the monument to the 9th New York Zouaves. It is a mystical experience.
An unforgettable experience occurred on Sunday, September 17, 1989. On that day I had the honor, as a Protestant Chaplain sharing with a Catholic priest, of participating in the burial of the members of the Irish Brigade. Thus, I can say I shared in a Civil War funeral.
The great deeds and mystical experiences of yesterday live on as I find Antietam and re-find the saga of events on hallowed ground and share with others in being keepers of the fields of valor.