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Monday, October 18, 2010

Antietam and Gettysburg weekend

Last night I came back from a very productive 3-day trip to Antietam and Gettysburg. I arrived in Gettysburg at Steve Stanley's house on Thursday evening. Friday morning, we drove down to Antietam to spend most of the day with good friend Ted Alexander, the head historian. In preparation for our upcoming The Complete Antietam Campaign Guide (scheduled release Summer 2011), Ted graciously agreed to take us on his extended "Off the Beaten Path" tour. We drove from Antietam to Hagerstown, Funkstown, Williamsport and back, with Ted pointing out many very interesting sites along the way, all related to the Maryland Campaign. And one little highlight - when we stopped and examined the 1700s-era Watkins Ferry and home site, there was an older gentleman in back of the home. The house is vacant and boarded up (after suffering a fire that gutted much of it). I walked up to the man, and he introduced himself - Joel Watkins, a direct family descendant. He proceeded to tell me a little about the property and family, and it was an incredibly fortuitous chance meeting. When I visit historic sites like these, it's always amazing and suprising the things you discover, and people you sometimes meet.

Ted did a wonderful job, and we still have 3 or 4 days we need to spend with him on the back roads of the campaign. These tours of obscure and little-known sites are really going to make this guide book special and unique. I have a legal pad with about 15 pages full of notes that I need to begin writing up - and this is only a start.

We got back to Ted's office at the historic Piper farm property, and he allowed us to check out the park archives. There isn't enough room here to describe the incredible stuff we got to see - and will be using - but suffice it to say we were like kids in a candy store!

Saturday Steve and I were booked for an all-day signing of our books and audio tours at the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center. We had a very busy time, and it was wonderful talking to so many people. One fellow told us that The Complete Gettysburg Guide was his "bible" when touring, and we were extremely flattered. I never get tired hearing folks tell me how they use the book and learn from it.

We also got a very nice surprise during the day. TV journalist Rita Cosby (of Fox News, MSNBC, and currently of CBS) was scheduled to also do a signing of her new book at the Visitor Center. She has written a book of her father's World War II experiences as a prisoner of war - Quiet Hero. It's a wonderful, personal story. I got a copy, and she wrote a very nice inscription for me. She gladly accepted a copy of the Gettysburg Guide, and loved it. During our breaks, I got to speak with Rita for quite some time, and we compared similarities in our family stories. Rita is a very personable lady and I very much enjoyed our conversation. That evening, she was driving to D.C. to accept an honor from the Polish Consulate (her father was a Polish soldier during the war and came to the US afterwards) and it's very much deserved. The picture of us shows Steve on the left, me on the right holding my copy of her book, and Rita is proudly holding her copy of the Guide.

Sunday was also special - I don't seem to get to spend much quiet time on the battlefield lately, so I took about 3 hours to visit several spots on the field before heading home. I really enjoyed that. I had no agenda - no studying to do or notes to take - so I was simply able to walk around on my own and enjoy the field and the monuments. I also took a quiet walk through the National Cemetery - something I always try to do on each trip. It really re-charged my batteries.

A very productive and busy weekend, capped off by some "alone time" on the field. Great weekend.