This is the twenty-second 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 Mac Bryan shares his story this month.
Growing up a stone’s throw from the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia my family and I often visited the many sights of our Nation’s Capital. Trips to the National Mall with stops at the Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln memorials were a regular summer diversion for me and my favorite museum remains the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
At an early age, Virginia history became all-consuming and luckily it was all around me too. Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg were only a few hours drive away but Civil War history were even closer. Manassas, Fredericksburg, Harper’s Ferry and Gettysburg were typical and frequent destinations for my family.
The arrival of its Centennial in the early 1960’s brought me featured articles about the Civil War in our local newspaper and some of those I still have to this day. On special dates our daily paper ran extended sections teaching me about the battles, the soldiers that fought them and the significant changes to our nation brought about by this brutal conflict. Continue reading →
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.
This is the twentieth 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 Laura Marfut shares her story this month.
My introduction to Antietam began as a young girl living in nearby Hagerstown, when our family would pile in the car for family trips to the battlefield. My father, a WWII Navy veteran, was probably more interested in history than he thought his young daughters would want to hear, so instead we climbed the observation tower and played around the Dunker Church and Burnside Bridge. Years later, with a dose of high school history and hikes through the battlefield with my Explorer Post Scouting friends, I started to feel a tug that there was something special about Antietam. My friends felt it too, which led us on a late-night mission into the Sunken Road to detect whatever historical presence we thought we’d detect, though our nervous chatter over expecting to be expelled by a park ranger at any moment turned the event into something less somber than planned.
With college, ROTC and Army assignments, years passed without visiting Antietam, but I felt that tug again while stationed at Fort Hood, Texas in the 80’s. A friend loaned me a copy of William Frassinito’s book, Antietam: A Photographic Legacy of America’s Bloodiest Day, which compared photographs taken while the dead still lay where they fell, to the same fields I had traipsed with my family and friends. While growing up, I remembered articles in the Hagerstown newspaper about the community’s fierce resistance to development around the battlefield. As a result, Antietam is one of the most well-preserved and restored battlefields you’ll find. That’s something I hadn’t realized before, but the images in Frassanito’s book nearly took my breath away. You don’t have to use your imagination to see the battlefield through the eyes of those who fought there in 1862. Continue reading →