Our Country's Fiery Ordeal

A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)

Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Antietam 150th: Looking Back On My Top 5 Moments

Now that we have had some time to catch our collective breath, I wanted to post a few more thoughts and photos from the Antietam 150th. Here are my top moments from the 150th commemoration activities on the 14th through the 17th...

5. Getting to work with some of the best park rangers and battlefield guides around was a great part of the 150th weekend. For several days, it was non stop interp alongside some great historians. I got to work with folks such as Tom Clemens, Frank O'Reilly, Chris Bryce, Bill Sagle, and Jim Rosebrock, along with many others, all top notch Civil War historians and interpreters. This is not to mention my colleagues on staff at Antietam, who I will get to a little later on in the list.
A few shots of me doing talks at the Cornfield on Sunday, September 16th 

Jim Rosebrock, myself, and Bill Sagle
4. On the morning of the 15th and 16th, I was tasked with leading the Cornfield overview hikes. On Saturday, I had at least 150 people, and on Sunday, I had at least 200. Thankfully, on Sunday a few boy scouts came along to carry a speaker so I did not have to lose my voice halfway through the 150th events. We covered the Cornfield and West Woods action in about 90 minutes each day, providing an overview of the first few hours of Antietam. The people who came along on the hikes were wonderful. They asked great questions, were very interested in the topic, and they couldn't have been friendlier. They were also very much surprised when I told them that I had never led hikes like those before this weekend. Leading those hikes was a real highlight and thrill for me.

A quick cell phone picture that I snapped while heading out on my Saturday morning hike. As you can see, the group was quite big, and it grew even larger when we reached the Cornfield.

3. At 10 am on September 17th, I began a Cornfield program for over 100 people. When I wrapped up at 10:45 am, it was roughly the time 150 years to the moment from when my ancestor was killed in the West Woods (remember, no daylight savings time in 1862). I was able to stand on Antietam National Battlefield and tell Ellwood Rodebaugh's story to what was by then a group of over 150 people. At the end I began to tear up, so I thanked everyone for being there and explained my personal story and the significance of the moment. Many of the visitors had some tears as well. Following the program, I went to stand along the fence line, currenly Starke Avenue, where Ellwood was last seen alive. Ranger Tom Jones snapped my picture there to mark the moment, which was one I will never forget.

 Standing on the same spot where 150 years earlier my ancestor gave his life so that this nation might live. One of the most emotional and meaningful moments of my life. It would soon be topped, however.

2. Sunrise in the Cornfield

AT 6:30 am on the morning of the 17th, the park interpretive staff and 600 of our closest friends gathered at the Cornfield for a program to mark the moment 150 years from when the battle began. The program featured an introduction by Antietam Ranger and Chief of Interpretation Keith Snyder. Ranger Snyder was followed by the rangers present reading quotes and providing brief narration. Each reading was composed of words from soldiers, both Union and Confederate, which described the night before Antietam and the start of the battle. A few quotes in, cannon fire and musket fire began. With the mist hanging in the damp early morning air, the artillery fire echoed across the hills, and the intervening moments between gun fire and rangers reading quotes was eerily silent. To have over 600 people gathered together in complete silence to hear an echo of artillery fire 150 years to the moment from when the battle began is something which I will remember for as long as I live. There are no words to describe this experience. Only the photos below do it justice. They are all taken from the NPS social media team, which did outstanding work over Antietam's 150th weekend.

Ranger Alann Schmidt, myself, and Ranger Keith Snyder

 I am proud to call these rangers my colleagues and friends. They are an exceptional group of historians. I would say that one would be hard pressed to find a more professional and oustanding interpretive staff in the country today (left to right: Brian Baracz, Mannie Gentile, Alann Schmidt, Mike Gamble, Chris Gwinn, myself, Keith Snyder, John Hoptak, Mike Weinstein).

1. The closing ceremony in the National Cemetery was incredible. It featured a reading of the names of all those who died at Antietam, a very special way to commemorate their sacrifice. It was wrapped up with Ranger Alann Schmidt reading the "Bivouac of the Dead" poem and a 21 gun salute.
 Ranger Alann Schmidt on the rostrum leading the closing ceremony, reading the poem, "The Bivouac of the Dead"

Jim Rosebrock and park volunteer staff preparing for the 21 gun salute

Now, here is where it gets really cool. 

I wrapped up doing my last program at Burnside Bridge at around 5 pm on the 17th. I decided to drive up to the National Cemetery to see how things were progressing there. I never thought that I would be there in time to read my ancestor's name, so I didn't give it much thought. However, my good friend and colleague Ranger Alann Schmidt kept the sheet with Ellwood's name separate in case I could be there. As I walked into the cemetery, Alann saw me, and signaled for me to come to the rostrum in the National Cemetery. He handed me a sheet of paper and said, "Get in line." I was just in time to read Ellwood's name.

All weekend long, I had done programs for hundreds of people, but this was the only time I was nervous. My friends and colleagues were all there to witness the moment, as was Park Superintendent Susan Trail. When the time came, I ascended the stairs, stepped up to the mike, and read a list of names of those who died at Antietam. When I read the name of Ellwood Rodebaugh, I paused and simply said, "He was my great-great-great grandfather." I continued, and upon finishing the list, when I stepped off the rostrum, I lifted my head up to the sky, and said a few simple words....

"Thank you grandpa"

A photo of me reading Ellwood's name at the National Cemetery. There is an album of pictures on the park facebook page as well, available here.

There are not words to describe how amazing Anniversary Weekend was. If there ever was a weekend where it was clear to me that I am a ranger at Antietam because that is God's plan for me, the weekend of the 150th was it. I am very blessed indeed. I will remember those days for the rest of my life.

1 comment:

  1. I have my top five too and several intersect with yours. It was a pleasure to work with you on that remarkable four days from Friday to Monday.