This is the seventh 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 Rosebrock first came to the Antietam battlefield with many different perspectives from his reading as a child and service in the Army.
Antietam has held a special place for me ever since I was a child growing up in the Buffalo, New York area. Like so many students of the Civil War who were children in the 1960s, the American Heritage’s Little Golden Book of the Civil War started my lifelong journey as a Civil War historian. I spent many hours poring over the beautifully rendered picture maps with their tiny soldiers in blue and gray charging over cornfields, woods, and bridges.
In high school, it was the stirring prose of Bruce Catton’s Mr. Lincoln’s Army which permanently set the hook. By then I was interested in all eras of military history and began amassing a collection of books and the early Avalon Hill wargames. There was much to be read and war-gamed about Gettysburg, but I could find little about Antietam.
I went to college, got a history degree and became an Army officer. I dragged my growing library and wargame collection around to wherever I was stationed. It was as a young Army captain that I discovered James Murfin’s Gleam of Bayonets and Stephen Sear’s Landscape Turned Red. These two books, now heavily dog eared and annotated, were my first deep dive into the Maryland Campaign.
After nine years in the Army, I landed in the Washington DC area. I stayed in the Army Reserve and eventually retired after 28 years. My own military experience drew me more and more to the leadership of George B. McClellan and Robert E. Lee. For me, this remains a favored area of study.
Strange as it may seem, I still had not visited Antietam. It wasn’t until I settled in this area in the early 1990s that I made my first visit. The occasion was a picnic in the West Woods with my wife and young son. Unlike the hectic pace of Gettysburg where I had visited before, Antietam was different. It was quiet and out of the way. I was drawn to that. I started to visit when family came to town.
In 2007 I decided to become a volunteer at Antietam. Ranger Christie Stanczak got me started volunteering at the desk on Sunday afternoons. I learned so much about the battle from outstanding rangers who pulled the Sunday shift with me. I can’t say enough about the experience and learning that I gained working with all the outstanding men and women of the Park Service. I’m proud to call them my friends.
I also found my “spot” on the field when I became a battlefield ambassador. I sought a place more off the beaten path even for quiet Antietam and chose the North Woods. I spent many volunteer hours at that secluded place talking to visitors and contemplating the hills, woodlots, intermittent streams, and farms around me. I realized how nuanced and important the terrain was to the battle. And in those quiet places, the voices of the men who fought here and the families who lived here spoke to me in many ways. I started a blog called South from the North Woods to capture some of my impressions. I began collecting notable contemporary quotations by and about the men of Antietam and started a second blog, Antietam Voices, where I posted many of these quotes.
I became one of the first members of Battery B, Fourth U.S. Artillery, Antietam’s all-volunteer artillery group and I’ve been with that great group of volunteers ever since. My interest in artillery led me to begin conducting an in-depth study on the regular artillery companies of the Union Army and their leaders. I hope to turn this research into a book in the future.
In 2007 I talked to Steve Recker about becoming an Antietam Battlefield Guide. As I prepared for my examination, I read the works of Joe Harsh and Ethan Rafuse. I learned there was a lot more current objective scholarship out there about the Maryland Campaign than I imagined. I learned the importance of being objective about the history of this place and of the people who fought here. I learned to separate history from historiography. It was a proud moment when Antietam Historian Ted Alexander certified me as an Antietam Battlefield Guide after my successful field test with him and Steve.
I was now a member of a small group of devoted students of the Maryland Campaign. Guides come from many backgrounds, perspectives, and walks of life. We share in common a passion for the Maryland Campaign and the people, places, and events of that critical moment in American history. Some guides are familiar names in Maryland Campaign scholarship. But every man and woman who is a guide, share a devotion for this place, and along with our partners in the National Park Service, spend more time at Antietam than anyone around.
In 2011 I became Chief Guide. It was my honor for the next seven years to play a role in the development and growth of the guide program. We worked to instill a sense of community, collegiality, and collaboration among the members of the guide team. I am proud that the guides here at Antietam share our knowledge, socialize, cooperate and support the Park and organizations like Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF). It is important to me to give back and so many guides do.
Antietam is an incredible story of drama, carnage, leadership, and bravery, that culminated around the fields and woodlots of peaceful Sharpsburg, Maryland, in the bloodiest day in American history. The Union victory here changed the course of the Civil War. So many people contribute to making Antietam the wonderful place that it is. I am honored to be part of that team and I hope to see you here soon.
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.