Being a guide at Antietam is very similar to being a history teacher, the difference being that every day, the students are new. Similar to my former students, they come from varied background and ethnic groups. Their knowledge varies from little to nothing or to total immersion in the subject. Every time I go out on the field, I learn something new, something unexpected. For instance, a week or so ago, I took a couple to South Mountain, Fox’s Gap in particular. The lady in the party, earlier in her career had worked as a geologist. She found the cornerstone to Wise’s Field and the foundation of a stonewall on the Confederate right flank. All these years I had conjectured about those fields’ locations and finally, hidden on the forest floor were a few of the answers- literally under my feet.
Last week a gentleman and his son from South Carolina wanted to explore Fox’s Gap in depth because he had a relative there – Major Rice of the 3rd South Carolina Battalion. The regiment lost 145 of 160 men on the afternoon of September 14, 1862. Using two different interpretations of troop locations, we literally measured each one with a measuring wheel and believe we found where the battalion was slaughtered on that dreadful afternoon. It was a tremendous experience!
Another time, at the Cornfield at Antietam I took the great-great granddaughter of Henry Klinefelter (Battery B, 4th U.S.) to the approximate location of the 12 pounder Napoleon that he fired into the Confederates at point-blank range. She gave me a photo of him at the 1937 Gettysburg reunion. He lived to be 100 years old.
Earlier this year a met the great-great grandson of 4th Sergeant John Kahoe, 125th Pennsylvania. I showed the approximate location of where the sergeant and several comrades helped the dying General Joseph K. Mansfield from his horse along the Smoketown Road. We walked the rout of the regiment from the east woods to the Dunker Church and had a marvelous time piecing the action together.
When I get depressed and self-centered, I need to take the time to appreciate the privilege I have of introducing individuals to their past, and learning about the war from the descendants of the men who fought at Antietam. The blood ties of the Civil War run very deep even to this very day. What a blessing to work on such hallowed ground.