A New Vista

(from the June 2007 SHAF Newsletter)

by Ranger Mannie Gentile

As we all know relic hunting is strictly prohibited at Antietam National Battlefield. As a visitor this is a rule that I always followed and now, as a ranger its something that I help enforce. Imagine my surprise, then, as I found myself, in mid-January, actively seeking out a particular relic on park property.

The relic I was hunting was a view.

Over the course of 2006 plans were implemented to open three new interpretive trails at the park: a Sunken Road trail, West Woods Trail, and the Union Advance Trail. The Union Advance Trail focuses on the Ninth Corps’ efforts to get across Antietam Creek and the storming of Burnside Bridge.

This part of the battle has always been interpreted from a Confederate perspective, which is quite logical considering that from the bridge parking lot the view is from the Confederate position. The quarry pits used as rifle pits by the Confederates are at the visitor’s feet and a commanding view is provided of both the bridge below and the heights beyond. Those heights beyond are the Union positions and have always generally been merely the visitor’s view rather than the visitor’s experience. With the new trail a broader and richer story will be available to the visitor. Now a trail will follow the ridge opposite the bridge on the Union side of the creek to reveal a vantage point of the bridge lost for generations. This was the vantage point I was hunting as I climbed the steep face of that hill along the viewshed recently cut by the park’s natural resources department.

From the base of the hill I saw a rock outcropping about half way up. As I climbed toward it, with the bridge behind me, the outcropping revealed itself as a stone quarry, doubtless used during construction of the bridge. Gaining that quarry pit provided a nice breather as it is the only flat place on that slope. Flat enough for, say, a tripod?

Gentile view - quarry above Burnside Bridge
2007 View of Gardener’s Photo Site – Courtesy of Mannie Gentile

Even before I turned around I knew what I’d be seeing. This must be the spot from which Alexander Gardner captured this since long-lost view of the bridge.

A little background:
This new trail was the undertaking of interpretive rangers Keith Snyder, Brian Baracz and chief ranger Ed Wenschhof. I asked Keith and Brian if that Gardner view was something they were trying to restore. “Not initially” responded Keith. “We were mostly interested in providing the visitors with a glimpse of the difficult position that the Ninth Corps found itself in.” Brian added “It wasn’t until we discovered that quarry pit that we realized we’d come across Gardner’s vantage point, from there we looked through the brush, toward the bridge, and there it was”.

The “it” was that historic view, long lost, now regained. Back on the slope of the hill I turned from the quarry pit, camera in hand, toward the bridge, and there before me, this time in full color, was Gardner’s historic image of the bridge. A relic retrieved and available to park visitors this April.

Gardner view - Burnside Bridge Gentile view -Burnside Bridge1862 View – Courtesy of Alexander Gardner 2007 View – Courtesy of Mannie Gentile

Come see for yourself.

A Divine Hospital

(from the June 2007 SHAF Newsletter)
by John Schildt

It was Sunday, September 14, 1862. The sky was sunny and bright. The Roulette, Rohrbach and Piper families came to worship in their horse-drawn buggies. They heard a sermon by the Reverend Robert Douglas of nearby Ferry Hill Place. On the same September Sabbath armies were marching, and a battle was raging at Fox’s Gap. In the ranks of marching men was a new regiment, the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, largely from Hartford and the surrounding area. Within a week, the congregation and the lads from Connecticut would be linked forever.

Some of the Connecticut troops were issued weapons en route to Antietam Creek. On Wednesday the 17th they crossed the stream at Snavely’s Ford, and were soon in John Otto’s 40 acre cornfield when they were struck by Confederate troops under General A. P. Hill. In a matter of minutes 43 of the Connecticut men were killed and 161 wounded. After the battle some of the surviving “nutmeg” boys were brought into Sharpsburg, to the German Reformed Church to recover from their wounds. Pews were removed; straw and blankets were placed on the floor for bedding. In a short time the tranquil life of the congregation was turned upside down, and the floor of the church would be stained with the blood of these Connecticut soldiers.

16th CT window
16th CT, Photo Courtesy of Rev. Delancey Catlett

The years passed, wounds, both physical and mental, were healed and the veterans of the 16th CVI wanted to memorialize their comrades, and also remember the “dear and gentle people” in the German Reformed Church. As a result, on Sunday, June 14, 1891, several members of the regiment presented to the church a window, twenty-five feet high and ten feet wide. Placed between the towers of the church, the circular portion at the top has a laurel wreath and an eagle, with the words “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.” The left panel below contains a stand of colors, implements of war and the badge of the Ninth Army Corps. In the right panel are the regimental flag, above it the dove of peace, and the words “In Memory of the Sixteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers.”

The window was made in Utica New York, at the cost of approximately $400. It was designed by George Whitney of Hartford, CT. An article described the dedication in the June 26, 1891 Hartford Courant the church noted the church as having two smaller windows, one to Company H, 11th Connecticut and one from the Grand Army of the Republic posts in Pennsylvania. The Courant article concludes by saying “The people of Sharpsburg showed much appreciation of the gift and in many ways showed their good will and friendship to the visitors.”

After many years of exposure to the sun and weather the windows are in need of restoration. This project was quite expensive; estimates were near $10,000. Because these windows represent a special connection between the soldiers who fought at Antietam and the people of Sharpsburg the [SHAF] Board of Directors voted in our April meeting to donate $2,500 to the restoration project.