The leg’s much better … thanks for the emails and private messages you all have sent. They’re very much appreciated. It’s only been a couple of days and already the pain has subsided substantially – I can get around without having to rely on my walking stick for support now. The redness has started to recede from the line the nurse put around my leg to show the upper point the infection had reached. (I hope she wasn’t a practical joker … I’d hate to find out she used indelible ink. I can see it now: “That’s an interesting tattoo. Is there a story behind it?”) Here’s hoping the issue becomes a distant memory shortly after I finish the antibiotics course I’m on. Another eight days …
Anyhow, here are the rest of the photos I promised earlier this week to post. There aren’t a lot of them, I’m sorry to say – the phone continues to act up. Hopefully I’ll have a new one before we leave New Jersey at the end of the month.
Antietam / Sharpsburg
Depending on whether you’re a Yankee or a Southerner, you know this battle site by different names. If you grew up a Yankee like me, you were taught “Antietam” in school. As with other Civil War battles, Southerners refer to the site by the name of the nearest town, hence “Sharpsburg”. I had ancestors that fought on both sides of the war. More importantly, I have dear friends in both parts of the country. I will refer to the place as “A/S” from here on out in order to show no deference.
This site wasn’t even on my radar until one of my Texas friends suggested that I visit there after I had posted about going to Gettysburg on Facebook. We had run out of time for a visit while staying at Circle M, but then once I realized that our next campsite was in the same general area, that was the first thing I planned on Frank and I driving to see. Chris, I’m really grateful for the suggestion. Like you said, A/S is nothing like Gettysburg. It’s much more pristine, very well preserved, and completely devoid of the “tourist” feel surrounding the latter.
We arrived around 11am and stayed until after 3pm. Visitors can see pretty much everything via a car tour. We were given a very detailed map, with descriptions for each of the various stops they suggest during your drive.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, A/S was the bloodiest, single-day battle that’s ever taken place on American soil. At the end of the day, almost 23,000 Americans were dead, wounded, or missing … 12.5 thousand Union soldiers and 10.5 thousand Confederates.
The battle had three distinct phases: in the morning, it was centered around a cornfield in the northernmost part of the site and in the woods to the west; in the afternoon, the battle moved further south and was centered around what’s become known as the “Bloody Lane”. In the evening, it moved further south still and was centered around a bridge that the Union army had to capture in order to flank the Confederates.
In the morning, the Union planned to attack from the north, aiming for Dunker Church, visible atop a small hill to the southwest. (I think it’s ironic that the church was used primarily by German immigrants that were known to be extreme pacifists.) You know, so many of the sites we saw here and at Gettysburg were given the moniker “bloody” – The Bloody Wheatfield; the Bloody Lane; and here, the Bloody Cornfield, which stood between the Union position and the church. To me, it almost diminishes the ferocity it’s supposed to represent, being used so many times to describe these battle scenes.
The battle raged all morning, back and forth through the field and through the woods to the west. It started with artillery barrages from both sides and ended in hand-to-hand combat. The Union Commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, had this to say about the morning battle … and to me, gives a much better understanding of what it must have been like to witness the horror of that day:
“In the time that I am writing every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in their ranks a few moments before. It was never my fortune to witness a more bloody, dismal battlefield.”
By the way, the historical photos are courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and were taken by two assistants to Matthew Brady, considered by many to be the first photojournalist. The photos were displayed in New York City and were the first time average citizens could view actual scenes of war. I found them in doing some research before visiting the battlefield. What I read though, was that the photos didn’t have the effect everyone was expecting. Instead of repulsion, they created a fascination amongst the people visiting the photo exhibition. What is it about humans that we’re drawn to the macabre? As an aside, I’ve never understood the popularity of horror films either, especially those that are violent and gruesome. But I digress …
By midday, the battle had moved a bit further south as the Union advanced on the Confederates, whose men had taken position in a sunken road that had been worn down by years of wagon traffic. The Union attacked, sending several waves of troops. This included the First Regiment of the 69th New York Infantry, better known as the Irish Brigade and comprised mostly of immigrants.
They attacked directly at the center of the Confederate ranks, and while their maneuver allowed other parts of the Union Army to flank the line, they lost almost two-thirds of their men. I read that of all the regiments that fought in the Civil War, only two others suffered more losses over the course of the war than the Irish Brigade – one from Vermont and the other named “The Iron Brigade”, made up of units from Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan.
Anyhow, at some point, a weakness developed in the Confederate line and two regiments of Union soldiers were able to gain control of a small hill overlooking the sunken road. Again, fierce fighting took place. The three hours of battle that occurred in this little section of land resulted in over 5,600 casualties and the “Bloody Lane” label. I came across this quote from a private in the 9th New York Volunteers and was quite moved by his observation of the scene he witnessed after the battle was over:
“Before the sunlight faded, I walked over the narrow field. All around lay the Confederate dead…clad in `butternut’…As I looked down on the poor pinched faces…all enmity died out. There was no `secession’ in those rigid forms nor in those fixed eyes staring at the sky. Clearly it was not their war.”
When we visited the Bloody Lane, I was struck by how small an area it is. I was picturing it in my mind as some long highway, but on arrival, I was taken aback at discovering that it couldn’t have been much more than the length of a football field! The road took us past the start of it to the west and circled around to a parking lot on the east side. There, I got out to take a few photos and to stop for a moment just to try and envision what it looked like years ago.
A previous post mentioned the “Ghosts of Gettysburg” and how it seemed they were absent the day Frank and I visited. That wasn’t the case here. After snapping a couple of photos, I was hit by the eeriest feeling of the presence of dead souls. The hair on the back of my neck and on my arms were suddenly … and literally … standing on end. I tried to laugh it off as I walked back to the car. But as I opened the door, I saw that Frank had curled up into a little ball on the passenger-side floorboard … he was shaking and would not get up on the seat! That really freaked me out. I got back in the car and started driving to the next point on our guide map, and it wasn’t until we had been moving for about five minutes or so that Frank finally got back up on the seat.
Take a look at the photo to the left. It was shot from the eastern end of the sunken road. It extends to perhaps fifty yards beyond the tall monument you see in the distance. Look at it for a moment and then consider that in that little patch of ground, almost 2,000 men were killed or wounded per hour … and that went on for three hours straight! I recognize that in certain cases, war is a necessary evil. I hate that, but accept it. I wish though, that the war hawks in Congress … the ones who are responsible for sending off our boys to battle … were required to visit this place first. I doubt that many of them have any real inkling as to what war is really like, or the impact it will have on the young men who are the ones risking their lives. It reminds me of a verse in one of my favorite Jackson Browne songs, “Lives in the Balance”:
I want to know who the men in the shadows are;
I want to hear somebody asking them why
they can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are,
but they’re never the ones to fight or to die.
Odd, I have no idea where that soapbox came from. I’ll put it away now. Back to A/S …
I don’t have any photos from the rest of our visit. About ten minutes after we left the Bloody Lane, it started raining. After that, we saw the bridge that was seized by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside and thereafter named for him. Then we drove through the back area that was controlled by the Confederates and from which they retreated towards the Potomac River at the end of the day, followed by a drive past the national cemetery on the southeast edge of the battlefield. All along the route (actually, all throughout the the historic site), we stopped to read the placards that identified positions of the various regiments of each army along with the action they saw at each particular location.
The Road to Sharpsburg
We traveled through some absolutely wonderful countryside on our way to visit Antietam / Sharpsburg. To get there, we had to pass close by Gettysburg again, after which we were treated to more farmland … beautiful, expansive fields with silos and farm buildings in the distance. It reminded me so much of the farmland in eastern Tennessee I used to visit when I was a kid, going to see my grandparents’ farm outside of Knoxville. I love how they lie nestled among wide, rolling hills. There’s just something so “America” about it, to me. But as soon as we got off of interstate, we entered a thick woodland and began driving through Cunningham Falls State Park.
I’ve mentioned before that I absolutely love driving on roads like this, especially when there’s no other traffic, like the day Frank and I traveled this one. You get a chance to slow down to 30mph or so and really look at what you’re passing. There were a couple of times where we had cars come up on us (fortunately, the speed limit here wasn’t much higher than what we were driving, so it’s not like I was a hazard). When that happened, we just pulled off onto the shoulder and let people pass so we could continue to dawdle.
We also drove by an egress point on the Appalachian Trail. I’m including this photo, despite its “suckitude”. The grey blotch you see at the bottom was actually mist rising up from the gravel walk you would follow from the parking lot to get to the trail itself. There have been more than a few times where I’ve wished I was traveling with a professional photographer, one who could show me the proper way to shoot some of the things Frank and I have come across. I’ve read and read about photography – I bought a couple of “concept” books that were more about approach and less about settings, along with reading innumerable online “How you shoot ‘X'” instructions. They just don’t seem to take (pun intended). As I read them, I’m thinking “Ahhhhh” … but when I’m faced with a situation, I can no more remember what the book said than I can remember what I had for dinner last night! Alas, I have too small a hard drive inside my skull. One that’s near capacity and no longer benefits from any attempt to “defrag”! Ask what David Ortiz’s OPS was during the 2007 World Series, though (.945) … who can explain this shit???? :o)
I feel bad that I’m not doing our subject matter justice … that these shots do a disservice to you folks who are following the blog. Anyhow, take a look at this photo and imagine how it might have been captured by an Ansel Adams or a Jim Brandenburg … :o)
Frank Makes a Friend
I can’t put Otter Creek behind us without mentioning Moose … a basset hound that was camping a few sites away from us along with his humans, Bobbie and Mike. This was Frank’s first encounter with a relative and he really seemed to understand how close in breed they were! Frank’s normally the standoffish one when he meets another dog. It’s funny to watch him in a dog park … he’ll run up to a group of dogs, but then stay on the outer fringes. He’ll happily jump up and down along with the rest of them, but he’s always on the perimeter. Never in the middle of the group. It’s like he wants so much to join in, but he’s afraid he’ll get trampled or something. Hilarious to watch!
But that wasn’t the case when he and Moose met. In a matter of seconds, he became really excited, as if he was fascinated by the physical resemblance. I think Moose was a little bit taken aback at first. He just stood there while Frank was seeing if he could set a world record for the number of times he could circumnavigate a bassett hound in 60 seconds! The blur in the shot to the left isn’t the fault of the camera … none of us could slow Frank down! I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen him this wound up!
In the “small world” department, Mike came back for a visit after finishing his walk with Moose. We started talking about where we were from and places we visited. Mike mentioned that he was from a little town in the San Bernardino valley east of Los Angeles … Glendora. I said, “I know Glendora! My uncle lived here at one point. You don’t happen to know anyone with the last name ‘Tice’, do you?”
Mike replied, “Yeah. Mike Tice. He and I were friends in high school.” I think you could have knocked him over with a feather when he found out that Mike was my cousin! I’ve had a few “small world” experiences over the past year and never fail to be amazed by any of them. There were a couple of others that happened just his week! A woman was admitted to the ER while I was laying on my gurney with some antibiotics dripping into my arm through an IV. As it turned out, she was from San Jose and lives only a half mile or so from a home I used to own back there. Not only that, one of the nurses was from Pompton Plains, a town right next to where I grew up in Pompton Lakes!
Anyhow, Frank and Moose had another chance to visit later in the week. Bobbie walked him one morning and as they neared the Nutshell, Moose took a detour up our driveway and let out a bay. Frank heard it and jumped out of the Nutshell to scamper over and greet him as quickly as he could manage! Both their tails were wagging a mile a minute. Later that morning, the two of them had a short play date at the playground across the road, where Bobbie was watching her granddaughters on the swings and slide. They ran around each other as much as their leashes would allow (Moose and Frank, not the granddaughters … I felt that needed to be said). Bobbie and I spent most of the time doing a little dance as we tried to keep the leashes from getting tangled. Moose was baying like crazy and Frank had the biggest smile on his face I’ve ever seen! A good time was had by all.
That’s it for now. It’s Saturday morning in south Jersey. The campsite is near capacity now. We have tent campers on either side of the Nutshell and Frank has been straining at the end of his lead in order to capture as much activity as he can. He is one nosy neighbor, figuratively and literally! We’re about to take our morning walk, after which I’m sure Frank will hop back up into the Nutshell to take another of his midday naps. I’m pretty sure that in an hour or so, I’ll be joining him in Dreamland.
I hope everyone enjoys their weekends! :o)