An Interview with Ted Alexander (part three)

“Ranger Alexander explains how the musket works,” Ted says of himself, back in the day. After a 30-year career at Antietam, Ted retired at the beginning of this year.

part three

Although he retired at the beginning of 2016, former Park Service historian Ted Alexander plans to return to Antietam National Battlefield later this year. In my conversation with Ted, I asked him why he wanted to come back if he was just now retiring.

TED: Well, something to do. . . . (He laughs.) But beyond something to do, there’s a backlog of archival work here, and I want to help out with it.

I was hoping to work until 2017, at least. But here’s what’s happened… 

… and I don’t mind telling this. I came down with some heart problems this year and was in the hospital. Because of it I’ve only been able to work part time. Plus, insurance doesn’t cover all the bills. So, I’m taking a buy-out. This is a government means of thinning the heard: give people a buy-out in a lump sum on top of their retirement. So I’ve decided to take that and use part of the buy-out to pay the medical bills and the retirement to try and get my health back.

So, if it wasn’t for that, I probably would have stayed on at least until 2017, which would have given me 40 years with the government.

I’ll come back in the spring because I’m working on a number of projects and we still have the Chambersburg Seminar, which I’ll still help put on.

CHRIS: How long have you worked the Seminar?

TED: 1989. They called me in to edit a book project called Southern Revenge, which is a pictorial history of Chambersburg during the Civil War. They also wanted me to begin a seminar, which we’ve now been doing since 1989. And one important element of it is that we raise money for preservation. We have auctions and we have raffles, and we’ve raised, I think, about $190,000 for preservation over the years. Last year, we gave about $5,000 out. We give to groups like the Civil War Trust, Save Historic Antietam. Last year we were based in Richmond for our big event so we gave to a couple places around Richmond. We’ve given to the Museum of the Confederacy.

I have a business partner, and I couldn’t do it without him. His name is Scott Anderson. He’s the executive director of the dining hall at Shepherdstown University. But we’ve been friends for many years. For a time, he was a volunteer, helping out, then came on board as a business partner. At first, I did everything. It got to be too much. I develop the seminar, and then we have a great team of people pull it together. We’ve had all the top speakers. One of our regulars is Ed Bearrs. We’ve had James McPherson, Richard McMurry, Gary Gallagher, Bob Krick, Bud Robertson, Eric Wittenberg. Lt. Col. Ralph Peters—you see him on Fox News as a talking head—he’s coming in the spring. He spoke back in July for us.

CHRIS: It’s been who’s-who! Your impact on the Civil War Community has probably been as much through the Seminar as it’s been through your work with the Park Service.

TED: It probably has. Of course, I’ve been here for thirty years, here at the battlefield. But it’s almost equal. I’ve put a lot of work into the Chambersburg Seminars and battlefield preservation. So it probably has been almost equal.

CHRIS: Now that you’ll be retired, will you do more with the Seminiars?

TED: Possibly. When I retire I’m coming back here and volunteering, and help here in the library with the historical files and such. So I’m not leaving completely. And I plan to do a little traveling and hopefully work on a few more books.

CHRIS: What are you working on?

TED: Right now I’m trying to finish—it’s dragged on a little too long—but I’m trying to finish a book for History Press on the retreat from Gettysburg. And I’d like to do more Gettysburg campaign-related books and Antietam-related books.

CHRIS: Because you work for the NPS, their ethics rules don’t let a historian write about his or her battlefield and get paid for it, so you haven’t been able to write much about Antietam in all these years, have you?

TED: It’s varied, according to the powers that be. Earlier, I was able to do more, and then I had an ethics review, and they decided I could only do Antietam-related things if I didn’t get paid for it. So I’ve still done a few things, and I don’t get paid for them.

During my tenure, I’ve written a book on the battle. It’s by the History Press: Antietam: The Bloodiest Day. It’s somewhat unique from other Antietam books because, while all Antietam books go into the tactical level—I do too—but I also have a chapter on the opposing forces, their weapons, equipment, uniforms; I have a chapter on the farmsteads out here, the families that lived here, and what the rural life was like; and then I have a chapter on the aftermath, the care of the wounded and the burial of the dead. And then the final chapter is a history of the park itself, the development of the battlefield itself. You won’t find that in most other Antietam books; they focus strictly on the tactical, whereas I wanted to include those things.

The battle has been told many times, but I wanted to get that story in there about the history of the park and all that, stories you don’t get to read about.

And I’ve written a number of articles during my tenure here, for Civil War Times, Blue & Gray magazine—Antietam-related pieces.

Tomorrow, Ted talks about some of his favorite stories from the battlefield and from his career there.

5 Responses to An Interview with Ted Alexander (part three)

  1. Thanks for mentioning your Antietam book. I was hoping to find a shorter, information-packed book about the battle before I visit the battlefield and I’ve added yours to my “to-read” list! Thank you for writing about the civilians – I particularly look forward to studying that chapter.

    1. Sarah: Just to chime in, the book is an excellent (and inexpensive) purchase. As Ted suggests, it deals with several aspects of Antietam which you won’t encounter elsewhere.

  2. Ted,
    As I recall, the Chambersburg Civil War seminars were introduced as a result of a Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce committee recommendation. I was on that committee; and, although I did not avail myself of the seminars, I now wish I had! I, too, retired on January 1, 2016 (from Patriot Federal Credit Union in Chambersburg)—and, I am transitioning to retirement living in Bluffton, SC—of all places! (Did not know about Secession Oak when we chose to relocate there!) Since then, I have learned that my great, great grandfather served in the 36th VA Infantry, including under Jubal Early in the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. The good news: He was not with McCausland’s troops that burned Chambersburg. However, he was with Early when the Confederates were at Fort Stevens, the “doors of Washington”. He made it all the way to the battle at Waynesboro (VA); then, I believe he was either captured or injured, then, released when he signed the loyalty oath. Another ‘quirk of fate”: I was born and raised in WV. As you can imagine, my interest in “all things Civil War” is now very keen! Wish our paths had crossed while I was still in Chambersburg—but, maybe we will meet at a Civil War seminar somewhere along the way. (My first was just last weekend, in Harrisonburg, VA.) Congratulations on your retirement; and, thanks for all the work you have done (and will continue to do) to preserve the true history surrounding the Civil War!

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