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.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Artifact

Today we had a rare opportunity to visit a location important to Maryland Campaign history. This is a location relatively unknown to all but the truest Maryland Campaign enthusiasts.  It is a location not to difficult to find but one that would reveal some very important lessons to us on this day. 

The Artifact
On a cold brilliantly clear February afternoon Harpers Ferry Chief Historian and well known author Dennis Frye and Tom Clemens editor of Ezra Carmen’s Maryland Campaign of 1862, took a number of Antietam Battlefield Guides and NPS volunteers to the historic Showman Farm and then to the Elk Ridge Signal Station. The Showman Farm on Mills Road outside of Sharpsburg was McClellan’s headquarters for several weeks after the Battle of Antietam.  The farmhouse is south of the Burnside Bridge and fairly close to the Antietam Iron Works and the confluence of Antietam Creek and the Potomac River. We learned some very exciting things about the farm and its proximity to the location where Alexander Gardner captured the iconic images of Lincoln and McClellan.  I will not go into any further details about this part of the hike and allow Dennis Frye to fully explain his discovery concerning the true location of the iconic photographs.

That revelation was exciting enough.  However the coolest moment of the entire hike occurred an hour later.  After a rigorous ascent to the top of Elk Ridge we stood at the actual site of the signal station with the valleys spread below us in all directions.

This was private property with a SHAF negotiated historical easement.  We were not on National Park Service. At that location, Jim Buchanan (author of the Antietam blog Walkingthe West Woods) discovered something. As he listened to Dennis’s discussion, Jim happened to look down at the base of the tree he was standing next to.  Thinly covered with a layer of soil, he observed what at first appeared to be a very squared off piece of rock to manmade to be natural.  A closer look and a careful brushing off of the soil revealed an axe blade. 

You gotta love technology. (Well no you don’t have to). Jim googled civil war axe blades on his smart phone. There on remote Elk Ridge in a matter of seconds he had the exact image of the item he just found.  We believe Army of the Potomac pioneers constructed the signal station or the camp around the station and left the axe. 

Dennis Frye and Jim Buchanan
The series of photos here were taken at the exact moment of the discovery.

We were absolutely thrilled.  High on a ridge that few people have seen, much less know about, this common axe blade lay for 150 years. It was not special at all when a Federal soldier, likely an Antietam veteran, some how dropped it.   But on a beautiful winter day it became very special to a passionate group of Maryland Campaign enthusiasts.  No longer mundane it was a link to the past - a discovery that none of us privileged to be there at that moment will ever forget.

Atop Elk Ridge
All day, Dennis had challenged us to look past the main scene of an image.  He avowed that in the margins and the fuzzy hard to distinguish areas were things worth discovering.  He was right.   We did just that - on a hilltop so close and really so far away from the battlefield.  It was a terrific moment.

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