This is the fifth 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 Gordy Dammann has a medical interest in the Battle of Antietam.
I am often asked at the beginning of my battlefield tours why I chose to be a guide at Antietam National Battlefield. Because of my interest in the medicine of the Civil War, I was drawn to this historical site. It was here on this hallowed ground the medical corps of both armies received their “baptism of fire.”
A year earlier after the Battle of Bull Run or Manassas, many injured soldiers were left to die on the fields for weeks to die. No one had planned for mass casualties or an extended period of fighting.
Early in the 1970s, no one had heard of Surgeon Jonathan Letterman (USA) or Surgeon Lafayette Guild (CSA) and what they did here to alleviate untold suffering. They both took on the responsibility to establish a system where wounded soldiers were given immediate attention at a field dressing station and removed to a field hospital site by a workable ambulance corps.
Battlefield medicine was born here.
This is the fourth 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 John Michael Priest never tires of taking visitors on tours of this pristine battlefield.
When I started collecting material on Antietam forty years ago I had no idea that it would evolve into my first book Antietam: The Soldiers’ Battle (White Mane, 1989), and that it would still be in print thirty years later. Antietam Battlefield is a serene, non-commercialized treasure. Visitors often comment on its verdant, undulating hills and its hauntingly beautiful landmarks – the Dunker Church, Burnside Bridge, and the Sunken Road. The wonderful hiking trails, and the wide variety of wildlife – groundhogs, deer, fox, turkey buzzards, hawks, and squirrels – add to the tranquility of the site of one of the bloodiest battles in U.S. history.
I really love giving tours because I have a chance to weave a tapestry of military and civilian history into a visual tapestry of how and why the battle evolved as it did. I approach it from the front-line soldiers’ perspectives by relating how the ground and the atmospheric conditions of that day contributed to the chaos of the battle. I get to talk about the military technology of the day and the military tactics. I also get to discuss Civil War medicine and the American System which Dr. Jonathan Letterman introduced to the army at Antietam.
The battlefield has so much to offer its visitors. Topics which I cover on the field range from farming techniques to tourniquets; Brethren religious practices to dealing with the influx of so many foreigners – predominantly the Germans and the Irish – into both armies; personal hygiene during the Civil War to the diseases which plagued civilians and military personnel alike. The story of Antietam is an all-encompassing narrative of the American experience.
As a guide, I get to drive almost every kind of vehicle on the market and I get to meet individuals from all over this great country and the world beyond it. It is a privilege and an honor to work here. I never tire of going out on the field with our guests.