Saturday, March 28, 2009


The West Woods, December 28, 2005, 4:15 p.m.

In 1869, a veteran of the 15th Massachusetts, who fought along with his comrades in the West Woods wrote "These brave soldiers are gone. They have left their foot prints on the sands of time, a lesson for the nation. It was a hard struggle and consumed men and money. Let us all, every spring of roses, revive their memory."

My name is Jim Buchanan and I am a volunteer at the Antietam Battlefield National Park. On most weekends you can find me sitting under the Maple tree in the foreground of this picture. The footprints that Elmoine Clemans, the probable author of the reminiscence above, are still there. Not only are they of our ancestors who struggled mightily in this place but they come from those who visit this hallowed ground.

Most folks visiting this part of the field know that they are at Stop 5 on the Antietam Tour Map and pause to read the markers, survey the field, take in the air. Many are families with small children in tow. There are couples sharing time together on a beautiful afternoon. There are groups of brothers-in-laws who are just happy to be free for a few hours while their better halves flank regiments of bargains at the outlet malls up the Hagerstown Pike. All are delightful to chat with.

Then there are historians--professional and otherwise who come from as near as Hagerstown and as far as Turkey. They visit year round but mostly on the edges of the summer season and throughout the winter--"you can see the field then." Some are regulars who visit once or twice a month; others are here for the first time and are trying to make sense of the three-dimensional nature of the ground they have read about but only could imagine. These are the ones that say--"You have to walk the field to understand it--to feel it." Maps, even topographical, can only take you so far. I learn more from these visitors than I give. For these folks, all that is required is to orient them North and South. Soon, the recognition borne of years of reading kicks in (the "aha" moment) and off they go--some with GPS; some with maps; others with dead reckoning.

Every so often individuals will visit the Woods with a different purpose. They are here to connect to an ancestor once lost and now found. "Excuse me but can you tell me where the 1st Minnesota fought?" "I am looking for the 15th Virginia--do you know where they were?" Thanks to the maps that I carry with me, I can usually walk them to the part of the field where their ancestor stood. Once placed, we usually part.

It is now late March and spring is slowly coming to the field. The Maple is starting to bud and before long will bear leaves once again. The footprints are appearing in greater numbers; the families, the husbands and wives, the brothers and sisters, foreigners, Americans coming once again to this hallowed ground. The words of Elmoine Clemans call us: "Let us all, every spring of roses, revive their memory."

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