My Antietam Blog

  • Posted: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 8:15pm

    Speaking of postcards, last I spoke at the Franklin County Historical Society as a fill-in for a friend who was ill. The folks at the venue expected A/V but said I could only bring my presentation on a flash drive. Now, I have enough Antietam materials on my laptop to speak for days, but I did not want to spend four hours deciding what to show during a one-hour talk. Then it hit me.

    A few years ago I put a bunch of my older Antietam postcards on a CD-ROM and called it Antietam Artifacts. I remember how excited I was a few days ago to find that old Burgan of Mountain View and decided to just go through the CD and talk about some of my old card, and the stories they tell.

    Well, I think the evening was a success. I never use a script when I do talks and I enjoy it when I hear others talk extemporaneously. So my unsolicited advice to speakers who may be more interesting at the dinner before the talk than during the talk after the dinner (phew) ... when you get up there - just talk to me!

  • Posted: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 - 7:31pm

    Last week a buddy of mine called to say that he had bought a big box of postcards at auction and wanted to know if I was interested in seeing the lot before he put them for sale online. He assured me there was nothing exciting, but since that is usually what someone says before they pull out a great item we set a time to meet.

    As we went through the stacks there were, true to his word, a lot of common postcards. But then it happened. Toward the bottom of the stack I saw a 'diamond in the dirt.' It was an old Martin Burgan postcard of the Mountain View Cemetery in Sharpsburg. I have a pretty good collection of Burgans and the few I have seen that I don't own I have at least scanned - except for this one. I have seen it in a book, in black and white, but never in the flesh, in color. It was a thrilling moment.

    I asked my buddy if he was thinking of selling any of these cards. He informed me that he had brought the stack as a gift. Wow.

  • Posted: Monday, January 2, 2012 - 7:16pm

    I have put my "99 Places Every Antietam Battlefield Guide Should Know" online. It is a work in progress and is currently a bit of a mess, but I thought it would be fun to get suggestions before I spent too much time adding some new places I have learned about. For the record, this is not a list of obvious places a guide should know. These are those special places that guides have discovered that are fun to share with those who really care about minutia. Right now there are still some easy places on the list, but my hope is that will change soon. Any suggestions?

  • Posted: Monday, January 2, 2012 - 6:28pm

    I have been going crazy since I put up this site because some of the more advanced features have not been behaving themselves. The good news was that most of the features were on the admin side, so users would not know something was awry. Nonetheless, it was frustration to have things not work at the launch of a site. Those are the kins of problems that just get worse.

    The main issue was that the AJAX menus were not working. I spoke to my hosting guys and they said that any Javascript issues would be client-side. So I spent some time making sure Javascript was working in my browsers. Finally I checked my logs and saw that a file named misc/cookie.js was not loading. Ahha! Anyway, the file was there, Drupal was juts not seeing it. So I went up on the boards and searched around for a solution. Someone recommended that I set Drupal to aggregate all of the Javascript files. Then the system would not be looking for the offending file. I did that and Viola! Everything is working fine. Life is good! What a great way to start the New Year!

  • Posted: Friday, December 30, 2011 - 9:35pm

    At the end of William Frassanito's seminal work "Early Photography at Gettysburg," he mentions photographs by an obscure photographer:

    One of the most obscure series of Gettysburg stereos produced during the period of memorialization was taken ca. 1890 by a J.G. McPherson of McKeesport, Pa. (to date I have examined only one view from McPherson's series).

    I have actually found three of McPherson's Gettysburg views and three of his Antietam views. I have also found one of his Johnstown Flood views.

    I really wanted to have some of his images in my upcoming book about Antietam images, but I wanted to get up to McKeesport to find out a little about him first, and I have proceeded to do just that - I went up there and found little.

    Which reminds me of a story: When Mary Todd Lincoln was asked about how she met Abe, she said Abe came up to her at a party and he said that he wanted to dance with her in the worst way, and then he proceeded to do exactly that.

    Anyway, I took a two-day trip up to McKeesport to see if they had any of his images. No luck. What they did have, though, was his first name. I got that within ten minutes of being there.

    It is at a moment like that that I find myself wondering how far I need to go with my research to make the time worthwhile. Obviously I would hope to go further than his first name, but how far? I spent three more hours and found neither an obit nor a grave site. He was not mentioned in the thousand pages of G.A.R. records I perused. I did have two addresses for him and went to those locations and took photographs. But, how much do I know about those locations? One of them looks like it was there in 1889 when he lived there, but if I take the time to search the deeds, how relevant is that to people who are curious about Antietam photographs?

    Now, the answer, of course, is that one often finds the best stuff while looking for the trivial. Like hunting for gold, that huge vein might be an inch away when you give up the hunt. So, being new to this whole 'historian' thing, I will follow whatever rabbit holes his name leads me down, time permitting, and try to parse out what is of value to readers of my books and find somewhere else to record what may be meaningful to someone down the road.

  • Posted: Friday, December 23, 2011 - 8:55pm

    When James Longstreet and D.H. Hill took over Henry Piper's house prior to the battle of Antietam, they told the Pipers to leave because of the impending battle. Piper and his family ended up at his brother Daniel's place along the Potomac.

    Until recently, no photograph was known to exist of that place. I have found one and, of course, it will be in my upcoming book. (Have I mentioned I'm writing a book?) Anyway, it has an interesting inscription. It starts with "World house on the Piper farm where I was cared for when sick..." Does anyone know what that means? I googled it and found MLK made a speech about this, but I am talking 1889.

    I spent the afternoon today looking around for the site of the house and I think I have found it. I scouted it out from the canal about a year ago but only today had time to drive up and introduce myself to the owner. It is a horse farm surrounded by private property so I wanted to be careful.

    So, anybody know what a "World house" is?

  • Posted: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 - 8:24am

    In an earlier post I related a story about a collector friend of mine who asked me to ID a relic of his. In our discussions I mentioned a piece that I had bought from a fellow who, some believe, had slightly misrepresented what the piece was. Ironically, he actually made it less desirable with his not-so-fact-based description. But the fact was that I was aware of something about the piece that made it very valuable, although the seller was unaware of this fact. My friend and I decided that the best case scenario is when you actually know more than the seller about a piece and get yourself a great deal.

    I think I have changed my mind. I think the best thing is when the dealer does not know something about an item, you buy it a a great price, and find out when it arrives that you did not know something cool about it and it is so much better than you had imagined. This just happened to me.

    I recently won at auction a group of Antietam stereoviews. Four of them are Phreaner views of the battlefield and two are later printings of the Gardner death studies. I really wanted the Phreaners and figured I could sell the Gardners to pay for the lot. I got them at a low enough price that I could still resell a few images at fair prices and make my money back. But when the images came I had a very happy surprise. The back of the images contain the writing of none-other-than Solomon McFarland, the Antietam veteran/photographer whose photographs are the heart of my upcoming book. He even signed and dated one. I could not believe it when I saw it. The only down side is that now I can't split this set.

    The death studies mean a lot more to me now than before. You see, when W.H. Tipton was up in Gettysburg in the 1880s-90s, wanting to publish a set of the Antietam Gardner studies on his own mounts, he was having trouble getting his hands on a set. So, Solomon McFarland loaned him his for Tipton to copy. I have one of these Tipton Antetam stereoview 'copies'. It will be interesting to compare these with that one to see if I can verify having just bought one of Tipton's copy photos.

  • Posted: Saturday, December 17, 2011 - 7:41pm

    This group of veterans from Rush Hawkins' 9th NY Zouaves are celebrating the dedication of their monument at Antietam. When they placed this monument, they put it in line with a stone wall that had been torn down just years earlier. It was the wall that they attacked at the climax of the Battle of Antietam. If you buy the premise of Ted Alexander and James McPherson that Antietam is the turning point of the Civil War, then that wall would be the true High Tide of the Confederacy.

    Tom Clemens and the Save Historic Antietam Foundation just did us all a great service by blazing a walking path up to this monument and the site of that wall. Imagine if only now you could walk the path of Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. It is that important.

    I took the opportunity to walk that path yesterday and it was a very moving experience. It is not marked at all (thank goodness) and feels very rustic, an experience you find less and less. It will take the purchase and demolition of the small house on that hill to walk in the exact footsteps of the 9th New York, but nonetheless it is a great addition to the battlefield.

    Note: my upcoming book, Rare Images of Antietam, Vol. 1, features a recently discovered and unpublished photograph of that stone wall.

    Here is a panorama of the High Water Mark site.

  • Posted: Saturday, December 17, 2011 - 5:02pm

    Speaking of projects, a few years ago I met O.T. Reilly's family and they asked me to re-publish his famous guide book. I had the privilege of not only seeing but scanning his original hand-written manuscript and his battlefield guide log books.

    When I get back into that project in earnest I will blog about it, but for now let me just say that I am happy to be able to do it at all. You see, our family moved to Smithsburg from Hagerstown about a year ago. In the move I 'lost track' of the project files. Everything. The scans and the InDesign files. You see, I got my first computer in 1986 and have kept just about every computer, hard drive, and file since then. I have stacks of boxes. When I was in Hagerstown I could find things, but having consolidated everything for the move, well, that made it harder to find things. But yesterday I made a point of going through hundreds of discs and a stack of hard drives. Finally, there they were!

    I had forgotten how much work I had already done. I have six different releases of his book and I had gone through them all and reconciled the texts and scanned the photographs. And when O.T. first put out the book there were a lot more pages of photographs. He took a bunch out to make way for his stories. In my new version, all of the pictures and all of the text will be united as never before. I am just thankful that I don't have to do all of that work again.

  • Posted: Saturday, December 17, 2011 - 4:56pm

    Well I finally did it. I have committed to self-publishing Rare Images of Antietam, Vol. 1. I had been approached by a leading CW publisher about doing the book with them, and we had many subsequent discussions, but in the end I have decided to go it alone. I am very excited about this project and appreciate the help so many have given and continue to give. The plan is to release the book at Ted Alexander's Antietam conference next July. BTW, Ted has just agreed to write an introduction. So, here we go!

  • Posted: Friday, December 16, 2011 - 12:04pm

    Every year I give a tour to a bunch of nice folks that come out on the day that the illumination candles come out. They are big relic guys and it is always fun to compare notes on our latest finds. One guy recently acquired what was represented as a shingle from the Dunkard Church. When he was first researching the piece he found an old post of mine in which I quoted O.T. Reilly from an old 1892 newspaper item:

    The old roof of the Dunkard church has been replaced with a new one. O.T. Reilly bought two spring-wagon loads of the wood and will sell some of it as relics of that historic church.

    During our tour he mentioned the shingle and I, forgetting about the earlier post, chimed in about the article I had that dates when O.T. probably got the shingle he owned. The problem was that I got the year wrong. He corrected me, but I did not mind because, I jested, I was being corrected by such an "authoritative source"...myself!

    Anyway, he asked if he could send me a photo of the tag to see if I thought it was O.T.'s writing on his artifact. I pieced together his image with some samples from Reilly's own hand and I have attached the result. I have my opinion, but you can decide for yourself.

  • Posted: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 11:00pm

    I think I have this site running rather well on the new host that I tried. There were a few glitches, one that I have fixed and one that persists, but I am going to try to work it out on this host. I really want to get back to my book about Antietam images, but I need to get this site settled first. I tried the Media Gallery module yesterday and it was very buggy, so it appears it still make take me a few days to figure out the best way to have image galleries. That is such an important component. But the Ajax menus are broken and that is task one.

  • Posted: Monday, December 12, 2011 - 10:25am

    Well, the upgrade is going well. It will still be a few weeks before I get the URL switched over, so between now and then I will just be working away. The technical difficulty I am hitting now is getting the panoramas into a format that will play well on current browsers and within Drupal. I am probably going to be using Flash for Drupal and HTML5 for mobile apps. It is amazing how far HTML has come. It was an old, sorry language there for a while, but now it seems to be where the action is.

  • Posted: Saturday, December 10, 2011 - 6:47pm

    I am migrating Virtual Antietam over to Drupal 7. This is exciting for me because I have a lot of interesting ideas for projects that I hope to have released before the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 2012, and Drupal 7 can handle all of them. Well, I'd better stop yackin' and get codin'. Thanks.