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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.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

To My Colleagues on Battery B


Members of Battery B,

It was an honor to serve with all of you this weekend.  We once again demonstrated that Antietam's Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery is one of the premier volunteer living history groups around. 

Three events stand out in my mind. 

Confederate Artillery Fire
The first was on Sunday morning when with a four gun battery, we engaged the Rebs on the Dunker Church plateau.  Seeing the flash of their guns nearly a mile away, smelling the smoke and then hearing the boom seconds later was awesome.  Peter did a great job commanding the battery.   We experienced the sound of fifes and drums as we jumped into action that day, the roar of our own pieces, the smell of the powder and the smoke hanging in the fields in front of us, I couldn’t help but think of the gunners of old who stood on that field that day.  Sunday was also the day that we were introduced to our beautiful new artillery guidon and the national colors thanks to the efforts of our "Sarge" Jerry.  It was great to see as it waved around our camp for the next two days.

Photo by John Teller
The New Guidon
The second experience was the first shot on Monday morning.  This was the moment that all of us had waited for.  We had the honor of firing the first artillery shot for the real-time Cornfield program.  Ahead of us hundreds gathered and rangers prepared to read from the letters of the participants in the Cornfield.  In the misty dark air as the first sliver of orange light appeared over South Mountain, we gathered on the ground where Confederate gunners hurled shot and shell at the advancing Federals in the Cornfield.  The valley of the Antietam was covered with a line of fog.  There was an occasional hushed word or two as we took it all in.  The moment before the battle.  It seemed like we waited forever on that cold silent hill for the command to FIRE.  And when the command was issued, the ten pound Parrot that we manned that morning cracked with a unique sound of its own.  Ours was the first shot, seconds ahead of Parkers battery to our left.  The explosion echoed in the hills around us for several seconds.  The smoke hung in the air and our shadowy dark silhouettes were frozen in time.  Each of us had our own thoughts and reflections as we peered northward and listened to the rattle of musketry from the Cornfield, saw the clouds of smoke from the small arms rise above that bloody ground, and smelled the sulphur.  Thankfully, the only thing missing was the shouts and cries of wounded men.  More shots followed and the tempo of the musket fire increased.  As impressive as it was, I kept thinking that this was but two guns and maybe fifty muskets, a fraction of the actual numbers.  But in its way, it captured for us the sound, sight, and smell of that day at Antietam.  The photos taken by John, and Dave's awesome video (at the top of this post) will be great memories of that incredible moment. 

Practice
The final moment, and for me the proudest was the 21-gun salute that members of our battery fired at the conclusion of the reading of the names of the dead at the National Cemetery on Monday evening.  Jeff Baldwin, one of our own, was also the organizer of a number of other living history events at the commemoration that included the Confederate musketry program at the Cornfield on Monday morning.  He was asked to organize the salute.  Jeff could have assumed command of the detail but he generously and graciously offered that honor to me.  Jeff's job would be the more challenging one however.  You see, we are an artillery battery and while a good number of us have had experience firing muskets, we had none firing a 21-gun salute.  Jeff spent all of Monday afternoon in between our firing demonstrations at the New York Monument, whipping us into shape.  It was a tall order.  Again, we had some folks with lots of experience but we needed to get the timing down, and equally important, I, as the detail commander, needed to remember that we were not a "section" but a "detail", and that there was a difference between "order arms" and "shoulder arms", and that my commands needed to issued loudly, clearly and not too fast.  Jeff was patient but strict and in the end, got us to where we needed to be.  Twelve hours after our first shot of artillery, Battery B made its way to the Cemetery. As the speakers intoned the last names of the dead, we lined up.  God had blessed us with four days of perfect weather and now the sun began to set in the west at the end of the last day.  It was time.

FIRE BY DETAIL, READY, AIM, FIRE!  Seven muskets cracked in almost perfect unison
LOAD! READY AIM, FIRE!  Again a sharp, explosion on the firing line.
LOAD! READY, AIM, FIRE!  The final seven shots.
ORDER ARMS!  PRESENT ARMS!

(Photo by Gary Rohrer)
As the muskets came to salute and my sword dropped to the side, the mournful sound of Taps sounded across the lines of white marble stones at the Cemetery.  Two buglers echoed the tune penned by Daniel Butterfield 149 years ago.  I thought of those who slept here, and I thought of those living now who man the frontiers of freedom, who stand in harm’s way, and who keep this nation free. 

I was honored to work those three days with an amazing group of living history volunteers.  They include our sergeant Jerry Bucey, Brad and Janet Fountain, Jim Buchanan, Susanne Engelhardt, Jeff Baldwin, David Maher, Mike Young, Audrey Scanlon-Taylor, Tracey McIntire, and John Teller.  We owe the opportunity to participate in the 150th Commemoration to our Living History Coordinator, Antietam Ranger Christie Stanczak.  At times stern drill sergeant, black powder instructor but always a friend, Christie had the vision to organize this group five years ago, and most important to keep us safe at all our practices and demonstrations.  With her we have had the opportunity to do things and be at places that I wouldn’t have thought possible way back then, Thank you all for making this weekend for me, a most memorable experience!

Jim

4 comments:

  1. Jim, very much a remarkable weekend for all. It was a great coming together by the park staff, the various authors, the living historians, the Battlefield Guides, and hundreds of other volunteers that paid a fantastic tribute to those who served and sacrificed during the Maryland Campaign of 1862. I thank all of you guys who serve in your own way.
    Ron Dickey

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    1. Ron, It is very much a labor of love. Glad you were able to experience it. Look forward to seeing you again soon on the field. Warmest Regards Jim

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  2. we had none firing a 21-gun salute. Jeff spent all of Monday afternoon in between our firing demonstrations at the New York Monument, whipping us into shape.

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  3. Thats so great!!! Good writing, when is your first book coming out?

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