Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Changing the trajectory of American Freedom

After spending Thursday and Friday at Harpers Ferry documenting the 150th Anniversary of the battle to capture the town, on the night of Friday the 14th I officially moved to the hotel in Shepherdstown from whence we would cover the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Antietam. I captured a lot of special moments over the course of the commemoration, but here are some of my favorites.  



Saturday the 15th began with me checking in with the admin folks and then embarking on the first of what be four in-depth hikes of the battlefield that I documented.  I was the only photographer on this particular hike which means that This Album,the first to be posted on Saturday, consists entirely of my photographs!
Robert Hodge, of "Confederates in the Attic" fame
During this program I learned a great deal about the fighting around the cornfield during the first phase of the battle.  I had volunteered to go on these 3 hour in depth hikes for precisely this chance to expand my own knowledge through the interpretation of some of the most knowledgeable rangers at Antietam.

I greatly enjoyed each of the programs I attended and even got to do some of my own interpretation when visitors asked me questions about the battle. If you wear a Park Service uniform to these programs people like to ask you questions! It was fun to get to directly interact with visitors, something I do not get to do too frequently these days.

These are a few of the visitors I captured during ranger programs.




 And here are a few of my favorite ranger action shots.  

Even Rangers need refreshment

Ed Bearss on the walking tour
I also had the pleasure of attending a walking tour by the legendary historian Ed Bearss, who despite being 89 years old, was still leading tours of the battlefield! I was amazed at how fast he could move!

The attendance for each of the tours was impressive. The Ed Bearss walk had over 400 people, the Cornfield Program had over 500, and the all day battle walks on the actual anniversary of the battle on Monday began with over 600. Here are a few pictures to give you a sense of the crowds present for each of these programs.

More than 600 people joined us for the all day hike on the actual battle anniversary

Gathering on the side of the cornfield from whence the Union I Corps first launched their attack
The weather was absolutely perfect throughout out the commemoration which made my job as a photographer a lot easier and more enjoyable. Antietam is a beautiful battlefield and there are no shortage of picturesque vistas.  
The Cornfield
Looking across the field toward "Bloody Lane"
Burnside Bridge
Monument to the 8th Connecticut on the Final Attack Trail
During the commemoration more than 450 living history volunteers were onsite to portray various different units and tell their stories all over the battlefield. While their role during the Cornfield Program was the most profound and impactful for me, I enjoyed seeing and photographing them throughout the weekend. 

The 6th Wisconsin charges toward the Cornfield
Union infantry advancing toward "Bloody Lane."

On Monday, in addition to the ranger led and living history programs there were also special ceremonies near the visitor center and in the National Cemetery. During the first Dr. James McPherson addressed the crowd for the second time after giving a joint lecture with Ed Bearss the evening before. McPherson is widely regarded as one of the premier Civil War historians (as is Bearss) and I jumped at the chance to get to hear him speak about Antietam.  

James McPherson signs autographs

The commemoration officially ended with a special closing ceremony in the National Cemetery.



I was blessed to be a part of capturing the story and sharing it with others. One of the most significant moments that I got to be a part of was telling the story of  Ranger Dan, whose  great great great grandfather was killed at Antietam. Dan read his name as a part of the ceremony of remembrance at the cemetery.
Ranger Keith Snyder
We received a plethora of positive feedback over the course of the event. One of my favorite responses actually came in the form of a Blog in which one of the visitors praised our team and referenced me personally. 

If you haven't had enough of my pictures from the event, this album of my Civil War Photography includes photographs from Richmond, both First and Second Manassas, Harpers Ferry, and the sesquicentennial of Antietam.

It was a weekend I will carry with me for the rest of my life. What happened at Antietam helped to change the course of the war and the trajectory of American freedom. It was a great honor for me to be  part of its commemoration. Ranger Keith Snyder captured it well at the beginning of the all-day battlefield hike on Monday: "What happened here redefined American Freedom, saved this nation, and set the standard for all mankind."

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