On a recent park training held in Harper’s Ferry, I had the chance, after class, to drive over to Antietam National Battlefield and walk the grounds as the sun set on a crisp autumn day. In fact, the training was held in late September, just after the anniversary of this bloody and horrific day of American history.
When I returned to South Florida, I downloaded the pictures onto an external drive to be stored away for future research projects or in case a post-idea or question about the battle came up.
This past weekend, I was sifting through the drive to find a photo for something else when I came across the pictures from that battlefield visit last fall. I stopped at this photo;
And a memory struck me.
Twenty-seven years before, I was in this same position (okay, roughly in this same position) with my father. I credit that day with planting the seed of appreciation, of yearning, or interest in the American Civil War in my young brain.
My wife has heard this story numerous times and if you have heard me speak at a roundtable, historical society, and/or book talk, you have heard this story. So, feel free to stop reading.
I was three years old, my father had taken me out of the house, probably to give my mom a rest from me, and driven to Antietam to spend the day. It was a Saturday and there were demonstrations going on; artillery firing, musketry, troops marching, the whole works. I was enthralled. My father, at the insistence of my mother had brought the video camera, quite the contraption in those days, the type that you loaded a VHS tape into the side, sat on your shoulder, and had an eye piece that came across and covered one eye. I was the first-born, so an outing with dad had to be recorded according to my mother. And everyone obeys the commanding officer.
To this day, I do not know how my father did it, he had me interminably on his shoulders, with the video camera rolling at the demonstrations (my father is a Civil War enthusiast so he couldn’t help it). I was wearing a Union kepi and just sat as still as a three-year old could watching all the soldiers.
I could not wait to get home to show mom. When we made the trip back to Baltimore, my father said I raced up the steps, yanked open the front door, and yelled for her at the top of my lungs. I insisted we watch the tape, right then and there.
So, that is what we did. Except, all we could hear was the sound.
My father had left the lens cap on!
Disappointed, yes. But, the seed of learning, half-jokingly as I say to figure out whether the Civil War was fought in the dark or if that was just my father’s way of showing the “fog of war” was planted.
That leads me back to this view. Years later and at a momentous time. My father, who took me to my first battlefield, who let me know when I became a permanent ranger in the National Park Service that I was living one of his dreams from his youth, has just retired from federal service this year.
So much had happened in those twenty-seven years. So much to come for the next twenty-seven years and the twenty-seven years after that. My Dad and I still find time to visit a battlefield every time I am home.
Thank you Dad for bringing me to this same spot so many years ago. Thank you for connecting me with the interest and yearning for history. Next time I am up in Maryland, let’s trudge back out to Antietam. But, this time, I’ll be in charge of the camera!