Tuesday, June 27, 2017

On the field at Sharpsburg

The battlefield at dusk. 
Over three decades, this crazy life I live has taken me to some pretty remarkable places. The archives and libraries hold special treasures, but the fields themselves often hold the keys to whatever it is that I am writing. For years and years, I reenacted. There are still a few places, like Olustee in Florida, or Reseca, Georgia, where reenactors get to take the fields on the actual sites where the boys in Blue and Gray fought. A few years ago, I "retired" from reenacting. Yep - I hung up my sword. Instead, I became a volunteer interpreter. Instead of leading weekend warriors on some distant field, portraying for the masses what a Civil War battle might have looked like, I decided to get a little more personal. For several years, I (and my family) have volunteered at historical sites, trying to work closely with the public and interpret the events. And as a rule, we try to stay within two hours of our home here in the mountains of western North Carolina.  

Tarheels at the Dunker Church. 
Every once in a while, some event comes along that pulls me out of the mountains. When the opportunity came to portray elements of Branch's brigade at Antietam, and to talk about the General on the very ridge where he died, well, it was an event too good to pass up. So my son and I loaded up and headed to Maryland. We were able to camp behind the Dunker Church (and even slept in the church Friday night due to the rain), march onto the field, fire vollies from the Sunken Road, and interact with the public in a very special way.

Our camp for the weekend.
The highlight came on Saturday evening as I had a chance to stand by the cannon marking the site of Branch's death, which occurred on the evening of September 17, 1862. I had planned to speak on the life of General Branch, but my friend John Baucom read a brief biographical sketch of his life before it came to my turn. So just a couple of minutes before my turn came, I changed my talk, focusing on the men of the brigade as they came up from Harpers Ferry, the loss of Branch, James H. Lane's promotion, and the rest of their war. Some probably thought that it was all planned out. No, not really.  But 20 years of research into the Branch-Lane brigade can come in handy.

Camping on the ground where they fought, and marching over the fields where so many died, can give one a perspective very few others can get. It will be an event that I will always treasure, right up there with sleeping on Snodgrass Hill and in the Petersburg trenches. Three cheers for my friends in the 28th North Carolina Troops. It was a fantastic event! 
General Branch's memorial. 


Stephen Harris said...

Michael,...Having had a Great Great Grandad in the 28th Regiment North Carolina Infantry within the Branch -Lane Brigade I feel I can speak for others. I want to personally convey how much your involvement within the ranks, as a featured speaker at the public drills each day and as a presenter at the Branch Memorial service meant to us all. You are in my and many individuals assessment the authority on that Brigade and we could not have had the "complete experience " we had without your professional involvement. Thank you doesn't seem enough.......but understand its a heart felt appreciation from all of us that were at the Antietam National Battlefield this past weekend. A memory that will last those of us that have a connection with that Brigade a lifetime !

I have the honor to be yours, very respectfully

Sgt. S.C. Harris - 28th NCT Reactivated
GG Grandson of Pvt. Noah Cline 28th NCT

Michael Hardy said...

Stephen - I cannot begin to say thank you enough for allowing me to come and be a part of the event. I really think experiences like this are what many others are lacking. I, in some small way, understand what it is like to go a mile in their shoes, and that makes me a better historian. Thanks again for a great time!