In Memoriam: Ted Alexander

Emerging Civil War was saddened to learn earlier this week of the death of our friend Ted Alexander, former historian at Antietam National Battlefield and director of the Chambersburg Civil War Seminars. In 2016, Ted was the inaugural recipient of the Emerging Civil War Award for Service in Civil War Public History (click here for details).

Several of ECW’s historians had the privilege to work with Ted over the years in various capacities, and we asked them to share their remembrances.

Kevin Pawlak (left) presents the ECW Award for Service in Civil War Public History to Ted Alexander (right)

Bert Dunkerly: I first met Ted through email while I was in graduate school and researching battlefield parks. I was blown away by his generosity in helping me. Over the years we’d occasionally cross paths. A few years ago, Ted invited me to speak at some of the Seminars he ran. Ted was such a good person, always helpful and willing to work together on things. He brought a lot of people together, which is what the best in the field of history do.

Chris Kolakowski: I’ve known Ted since 1998, when I showed up at his office as a college student researching the IX Corps in Maryland. Our paths crossed many times since, and I spoke several times to his Chambersburg Symposium. He was a generous man with an encyclopedic knowledge. What he did for public history and battlefield preservation will stand as a great legacy. Ted will be greatly missed.

Chris Mackowski: In 2016, I had the chance to sit down with Ted in his office for a couple hours and do an extended interview with him. It appeared as a five-part conversation on the blog. Ted loved talking about his work and all the wonderful things he’d been able to do over his long career and all the great people he had the chance to meet and work with and help over those years. He always kept coming back to the people. I could tell he really enjoyed that aspect of his work. He was really gratified by that.

He also told me during that conversation about how, as a kid, he got hooked on the battlefields, and that hooked him on the Civil War. That same “wow, gee whiz” spirit he had as a kid seemed to be something he kept with him to the very day I spoke to him, like he couldn’t believe his great good fortune that he got to do Civil War history every day. I think that enthusiasm, and that willingness to help, made him such an important role model, and that’s why he made such an impact on the field.

Kevin Pawlak: When I was just a college student, Ted worked with me to get some of my research done in the Antietam National Battlefield Library. He always lent a helping hand and provided sound advice about other places to search for sources. Ted also gave me a chance to speak for and lead tours with the Chambersburg Civil War Seminar. I learned a lot from him, and owe even more to him. The hole left by his loss in the Civil War community will be tough to fill.

Ryan Quint: I unfortunately did not get to know Ted all that much, but knew he was very respected in the historical community and knew even more of how great a historian he was. So I was honored when he agreed to write the Foreword to my book Determined to Stand and Fight: The Battle of Monocacy and was very excited to get to work with him, even in a limited capacity. Ted remains an example for other historians to strive towards, and his knowledge and caring for history will be sorely missed.

Eric Wittenberg: In the spring of 1992, I had the great good fortune to meet Ted Alexander, the chief historian at Antietam National Battlefield. We quickly struck up a warm friendship that lasted for nearly 30 years. Ted had a heart as big as his body–if he liked you, he would do anything for you. That’s the thing that I always will remember about him. He became like a big brother to me.

Ted is who got me interested in the retreat from Gettysburg, which was long one of his specialties. We spent many an hour together exploring those roads and obscure battlefields. He was always El Jefe de Retreatistas, and when the time came for J. David Petruzzi, Mike Nugent, and me to put together our book on the retreat–especially the driving tours–Ted was the first person we called.

Along the way, Ted invited me to present at one of the programs of the Chambersburg Civil War Seminars, and I soon became one of the regulars at those events. Attending year after year, I got to know many of the participants–they became friends.

Unfortunately, Ted had to step down as program coordinator last year due to health problems, and having understudied him for some time, I became the logical successor. While I was–and am–honored to be the one to succeed Ted, it made me terribly sad to have to do so, because it meant the end of an era.

A cascade of health issues forced Ted to have to move into an assisted living facility a number of months ago, and I hoped that he would be comfortable there. Due to COVID-19, I hadn’t been able to go visit him there.

Tuesday, I learned that Ted was in the ICU in a hospital in Hagerstown, Maryland, and that the prognosis wasn’t good. And this morning, I awoke to the unhappy news that Ted has left us. I’m grateful that he didn’t suffer for long, but I will greatly miss my friend.

Sleep well, my dear friend. You’ve earned it. You leave behind a giant pair of shoes that I can only hope to try to fill, and you will be badly missed.

7 Responses to In Memoriam: Ted Alexander

  1. Too many empty chairs at the table. But what an amazing roundtable discussion in heaven right now !

  2. I first met Ted at one of Bud Robertson’s Campaigning With Lee conferences, then at my wedding to Dick Sommers, and many times after. He was a caring and kind friend. He and Dick would have long phone discussions on an aspect of the Civil War and Dick was a frequent presenter at Ted’s conferences. Ted called to chat with me after Dick passed away, even when he was not feeling well. A very selfless gesture which I greatly appreciated. Thank you, Ted, you will be missed.

  3. Ted was a legend and a true scholar and friend to many. Peace to you in Heaven my friend and I know you are having some great discussions about what happened in the past and what is happening in the present.

  4. Coming to this very late, but preparing a visit for Antietam and rereading Ted’s History Press book on Antietam. The vignettes he brought to life and the care he put into researching inclusive narratives from the battle stands out. From stories of Hispanic Confederate veterans at Antietam to unearthing the story of Leopold Blumenberg, a German Jew abolitionist from Baltimore. The passion of the Vietnam vet bleeds through the pages as well in his defense of the American flag, and how men had no qualms over dying for it in the 19th century. It’s obvious when you look at the prescient interpretation on any Antietam NPS page what an influence Ted had as Chief Historian.

    I interned in the Antietam library during grad school and got to chat military history/music/politics with Ted every week for a semester. He was someone you could truly have a conversation with, even if you disagreed on the topic. And he’s the only person I ever met who also loved the Bob Dylan album Self Portrait. Looking at the copy of his book he signed for me, the date is 5-6-16. I couldn’t have imagined he’d be gone just 4 years later. But his legacy endures every time one of us walks the battlefield using one of the many lessons he taught us regarding the Battle of Antietam. Rest in peace.

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