About Me

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I am a lifelong student of military history with particular interest in the Battle of Antietam. I work for the federal government in Washington DC and have two teenagers who I love very much. I currently volunteer at the battlefield and devote much time to the study of this battle and the Maryland Campaign. I enjoy collecting notable contemporary quotations by and about the men of Antietam. These words often add a degree of color and character not found elsewhere in their stories. A feature of this blog is the presentation of some of these quotes. My perspective comes from a 28 year career in the U.S. Army. Travels took me to World War II battlefields in Europe and the Pacific where American valor ended the tyranny of Nazism and Empire. But our country faced its own greatest challenge 80 years earlier during the Civil War. And it was the critical late summer of 1862, when Robert E. Lee launched the Maryland Campaign that fortune could have gone either way. It is an incredible story of drama, carnage, bravery, and missed opportunities that culminated around the fields and woodlots of peaceful Sharpsburg MD. So join me as I make this journey South from the North Woods.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pry Ford on Antietam Creek




Last Monday, my colleagues fellow Antietam volunteer Jim Buchanan and intern Justin McIntyre went off the beaten path so to speak and hiked over to the area where the Pry Ford is located. The photos here are taken from the east side of Antietam Creek generally facing west. If you click on the slide show you will see in Google maps exactly where I shot the photos.

If you are around the park on weekends, there is a great chance you will meet up with Jim if you visit the Philadelphia Brigade monument in the West Woods at stop 5 on the battlefield tour. Jim is a student of the West Woods fighting. Last Monday he was looking for the area where the Union Second Corps crossed the Antietam early on September 17th, 1862. Sumner's lead division under John Sedgwick very likely crossed in the area that these photos were taken. Withing hours of crossing there, Sedgwick's division would meet its destiny in the West Woods. In desperate fighting, over half of the 5,000 men in this division would become casualties in under one hour. Come and see Jim and he will show you where this action occured.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer

I just finished reading G. Moxley Sorrel’s classic Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer. A well connected young Georgian, Sorrel makes James Longstreet’s acquaintance on July 21, 1861 literally amid the shot and shell of First Manassas. Longstreet immediately takes to the young man and assigns him to his staff, first as a volunteer captain and aide de camp, and eventually as his assistant adjutant general (AAG) and chief of staff. Sorrel and Longstreet are virtually inseparable from that day forward until nearly three years later when Longstreet is seriously wounded in the Wilderness. During this period, Sorrel will serve Longstreet as his principal staff officer through all the campaigns of the First Corps. Young Sorrel is an amazingly astute and perceptive young officer. In his position close to Longstreet and the high command of the Army of Northern Virginia, Sorell will come to know all of its principal commanders. His amazingly perceptive and evocative sketches of these men are true classics. In all, I found 53 quotes worth collecting from this work. As Sorell himself admits, his work is not a formal autobiography but what he calls a series of sketches. He writes from memory nearly forty years later and while he occasionally admits to lapses of memory his work is amazingly clear and compelling reading. Many of his portraits have found their way over the years into the works of other authors. Those of Longstreet, Lee, and D.H. Hill are well known. However, deep in the pages of his book are perspectives of other lesser known but important soldiers that should again see the light of day.

Sorrel paints a particularly interesting and humorous sketch of William “Little Billy” Mahone. This officer commanded a brigade in the summer of 1862 but is not present at Antietam having been seriously wounded on August 30th at Second Manassas. His brigade however participates in the Maryland Campaign under the command of Colonel William “Gus” Parham. It sustained so many casualties at Crampton’s Gap in the Battle of South Mountain on September 14th that it is temporarily attached to Pryor’s Brigade of Richard Anderson’s division. There, it fought in the Sunken Road.

Upon Sorrel’s promotion to brigadier general, in October of 1864, he is transferred to A.P. Hill’s Third Corps and assigned command of a brigade of Georgia troops. This brigade (commanded at Antietam by Ambrose Ransom “Rans” Wright) is now part of Mahone’s (formerly Richard Anderson’s) division. Sorell says this about his new boss:

"Maj-Gen William Mahone was a Virginian, about forty years of age. His appearance arrested attention. Very small both in height and frame, he seemed a mere atom with little flesh. His wife said "none." When he was shot (slightly) she was told it was only a flesh wound. "Now I know it is serious," said the good lady, "for William has no flesh whatsoever."

If you haven’t picked up this classic work, I urge you to do so. And if you read it long ago, this gem is worth another look. As we leave Moxley Sorrel, I close with the following sentiment made by the good Georgian and loyal aide to James Longstreet.

"An awful lot of lies circulate nowadays about the Civil War, and it is so long ago there is hardly anybody to contradict them."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn."

Whatever your political persuasion, I think that you can agree with these words made this afternoon by our new President. The lone soldier from the 124th Pennsylvania standing his post at Antietam recalls for us the sacrifice made on that field by another generation of Americans who gave their all.

"As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all." Excepts from President Barak Obama’s Inauguration Speech, January 20, 2009.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Antietam at Nine Degrees Fahrenheit Brrrrrr...




I was visiting Antietam National Battlefield yesterday with my new camera and snapped some pictures around the Joseph Poffenberger farm, North Woods, Cornfield Avenue, and the Visitor's Center. They are running in a slideshow in the left column of this blog. You can click on the pictures and get a caption and a map location where I made the shots. The problem with shooting pictures when it is 9 degrees outside and a "gentle" breeze is blowing, is that the fingers rapidly freeze up. I was only good for five or six shots at a time before I had to duck back in the car. Anyway the light was beautiful and I kept at it. I think you will agree that Antietam is one of our nations most pristine parks. Lets all work hard to make sure that it will always stay that way.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Old School...

"He was of the old school, rugged and stern, honest and brave. He detested frivolity, was austerely sober, and always reminded me of Cromwell's best puritan soldiers" Thomas Claiborne
This quotation was as applicable in 1862 as it was when made in 1847. It describes Edwin Vose Sumner, who commanded the Union Second Corps at Antietam. Sumner entered the Army directly from civilian life in 1819, having never attended West Point. Robert E. Lee was twelve years old in that year, and it was seven more years before George McClellan would be born. When the Mexican War broke out, Major Sumner at age 49 was already a senior Army officer with 28 years of service and commanding the Second Regiment of Dragoons.

Sumner distinguished himself in the Mexican War. At the Battle of Cerro Gordo on April 18, 1847, he was wounded as he brought up reinforcements from the Rifle Regiment to aid some of his dragoons who were trapped. A musket ball hit the star on his cap, slowing its momentum before hitting his forehead. Sumner earned the nickname “Old Bull” from this incident. Over time the story of his wounding was embellished to the point that Old Bull was so bull-headed that the bullet bounced off his skull. Sumner was brevetted (an honorary promotion) to Lieutenant Colonel for gallantry at Cerro Gordo and brevetted again to Colonel after the Battle of Molino Del Rey.

Cerro Gordo is where young Thomas Claiborne made Sumner’s acquaintance and where he made his observation. Claiborne was a young lieutenant from Tennessee assigned to the Mounted Rifle Regiment in Mexico. Like Sumner, Claiborne was not a West Pointer. A lawyer and newspaper editor from a distinguished Tennessee family, Claiborne was a clerk in the Treasury Department in Washington when he entered the Army on May 27, 1846. Claiborne was assigned to Company C of the Mounted Rifles, a new regiment being organized for service in Mexico. He performed well there being brevetted to captain. Claiborne elected to remain in the Regular Army after the war. He served mostly on the western frontier reaching the rank of captain at the time of his resignation in 1861.

After Mexico, Sumner would hold a series of important military assignments through the 1850s. For a short time in 1856, young Captain George McClellan was under Sumner’s command in the 1st Cavalry Regiment stationed in Kansas. By 1861, Sumner would be one of the senior officers in the United States Army now with over 41 years service. He was one of the officers who escorted president-elect Abraham Lincoln to Washington in early 1861. Promoted to brigadier general in the Regular Army on March 16, 1861, he was in command of the Department of the Pacific when the First Battle of Bull Run occurred. Returning east, Sumner was made one of the first corps commanders in the Army of the Potomac, much to the ire of George McClellan. Sumner fought in the Peninsula Campaign, Maryland Campaign and Fredericksburg Campaign before requesting a new assignment with the ascension of Joseph Hooker to command of the Army of the Potomac. Enroute to his new assignment in Missouri, Sumner died in Syracuse New York on March 21, 1863.

Thomas Claiborne would join the Confederate Army in 1861. During the Civil War he rose from the rank of captain to colonel while serving under the commands of Generals Joseph E. Johnston (in Virginia), and in the West under Albert Sidney Johnston, P.G. T. Beauregard, Simon Bolivar Buckner, and E. Kirby Smith. Claiborne was present at the Battle of Perryville and distinguished himself at Murfreesboro. He also fought at Chickamauga with Longstreet. When the war ended, he was assigned to Kirby Smith in the Trans-Mississippi. Claiborne was a farmer in the Nashville area for the balance of his life, active in Confederate Veteran organizations. He died in 1911.

I found the Sumner quote in Timothy Johnson’s new book A Gallant Little Army. This is a great read on the Mexico City campaign. Everywhere you turn in the book you run into the likes of Robert E. Lee, George McClellan, Thomas Jackson, Edwin Sumner, Napoleon Dana, D.H. Hill, and countless other young subalterns who would meet each other on opposite sides of the fields and woodlands outside Sharpsburg Maryland on a September day, nearly 16 years later.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Thank You!


I would like to extend a belated thank you to Antietam Ranger John Hoptak for kindly mentioning this blog at The 48th Pennsylvania Infantry/Civil War Musings the other day. One of the great things about volunteering at Antietam has been meeting and getting to know the truly outstanding rangers who work at the park. Over the past year, I have been fortunate to get to know the rangers who usually work there on Sunday afternoons. Guys like John, Mannie Gentile, Mike Gamble, Brian Baracz and volunteer coordinator Christie Stanczak, have freely given of their time and expertise to make my volunteering at Antietam a truly outstanding experience. I have found that I share with John a great interest in the stories of many men who served their cause faithfully and well, but who are not generally recognized by most folks. The lives of these men who played an important role at Antietam and other battles needs to be known by a wider audience and John’s sketches at his blog do a great service to the civil war community.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Quote Count (and other stuff).

On the left side of this blog, I have added a list of the people who I have collected quotations on, either made by them personally, or made about them by their contemporaries. As the number of quotes and people quoted increase, I will update this count on a weekly basis (give or take). Also, I will try to add a new “quote of the day” every day. Today I moved George McClellan's quote off and added one about A.P. Hill. On a less frequent basis I hope to post a quote with more detailed background and discussion every week or so. This will be a regular feature in my blog. Finally, the pictures that accompany each post are taken around Antietam National Battlefield as I am out and about on my volunteering days. Thanks to those of you already who are encouraging me and providing me with your suggestions.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Well Here Goes!

I volunteer at Antietam Battlefield on Sunday afternoons. We have a program called battlefield ambassadors where volunteers go out on the battlefield and answer questions and tell the story of the battle. Today was way to cold to be outside so I got the chance to work at the information desk inside the Visitor Center. I told my friend Mannie Gentile author of several wonderful blogs about my own plans for a blog and he suggested that I dive right in! What makes mine worth your attention? I am a collector of quotes. As I read books, I highlight the quotes and add the quotes to a database. For example, after reading Walter H. Hebert's autobiography of Joseph Hooker, I collected 21 quotes, mostly about Hooker, but also for some others like George Meade and Oliver Otis Howard. I use the quotes for some other leadership programs that I have developed in my real job with the federal government. But I thought that I would share some of these quotes here on my blog. As I get into this blogging thing more and more, I will add other features but for now, I will start with the quotes. I hope that I can make this a product that some of you out there will find interesting.