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 young adult children who I love very much. I currently volunteer at Antietam 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. Since 2013 I have been conducting in depth research on the regular artillery companies of the Union Army and their leaders. I hope to turn this into a book on this subject in the future. 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. 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, February 14, 2013

Geography Lesson

Hill 876 & Showman Farm (top left) Elk Ridge (lower right)
The signal station image that I discussed in my last post was made famous by Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner. The image is titled Signal Tower. Elk Mountain, Overlooking Battlefield of Antietam, Maryland.  The problem is that this particular station is NOT on Elk Mountain or more commonly known Elk Ridge. 

I unintentionally perpetuated this mistake in my last post about our visit to this signal station site. 

What is known as Elk Ridge begins its rise from the ground just south of Dogstreet Road.  The ridge runs generally south south west for a distance of 9.4 miles to the Potomac River. At its southern terminus overlooking the Potomac at Harpers Ferry it is known as Maryland Heights.  At its highest elevation, Elk Ridge towers at some points over 1,500 feet above sea level.

Most people don’t realize that there is another ridge to the west and assume that the Elk Ridge is a solid mass of rock that rises up just west of Keedysville.  That was the error that Gardner made when he titled the signal station image. 

This other ridge also rises south of Dogstreet Road but is about one mile west of Elk Ridge.  It is bisected about three miles to the south by Sharman’s Run, a tributary of the Antietam.  The northern half of the ridge is Red Hill.  It is about three miles in length. Porterstown Road crosses the hill at its midsection.  At its highest elevation Red Hill is about 900 feet above sea level. 

"Showmans Knoll" site of the signal station
The southern half of this ridge is really a series of hills identified on the topographical map only by their elevation. Burnside Bridge Road and Sharman Run form the northern boundary of this ridge.  Mills Road is the western boundary.  Just south of Sharmans Run on Mills Road is the Showman Farm.  Sharman in fact is a corruption of Showman.  This was the site of McClellan’s headquarters for several weeks after the battle and one of the locations that Lincoln visited.  The signal station is behind the house on one of the hills of that unnamed ridge. 

After I incorrectly referred to the signal station as being located on Elk Ridge, I had several e-mail conversations with Tom Clemens and Dennis Frye about the precise location of the signal station.  Dennis who has done a great deal of research and hiking in this area identifies Hill 876 as the location. While not an official designation, Dennis refers to the site as Showman’s Knoll. The next time you view the Gardner image of the signal station, consider again the importance of being precise when it comes to identifying geographical features and locations.

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