A “Pop-Up” Conversation with Kevin Pawlak

cornfieldtasslesLast week, we spent some time talking with ECW historian Dan Welch about the upcoming Pop-Up Tour he’ll be co-leading at Antietam on Saturday, May 26. Today, we talk with Dan’s partner in crime, Kevin Pawlak, who’s a licensed battlefield guide at Antietam.

Kevin and Dan will start the tour at Miller’s Cornfield, following in the footsteps of George Hartsuff’s brigade.

ECW: The Cornfield at Antietam has become iconic in Civil War lore. How come? 

KP: There’s probably more than one million cornfields in America, but none are more memorable or infamous than David Miller’s 24 acres of corn. Within about two and a half hours of fighting there on the morning of September 17, approximately 8,000 casualties occurred in the small amount of space in and immediately around the Cornfield. It also features incredible stories of heroism and battlefield bravery amidst the destruction. Additionally, the clashing of personalities like Joseph Hooker and Stonewall Jackson, the Texas Brigade and the Iron Brigade, make it one of America’s most iconic Civil War landscapes.

ECW: What do YOU like about the Cornfield as a Civil War landscape?

KP: The fight around the Cornfield is incredibly complex and intriguing, and I think the fighting that takes place there on the morning of September 17 has important implications for how the rest of the battle of Antietam plays out. Walking that ground shows why so much confusion and destruction characterized the early stages of the Antietam battle. The terrain is rolling, tricky, and one cannot truly understand the fighting there without walking the ground.

ECW: What can you tell us about Hartsuff as a person and an officer?

KP: George Lucas Hartsuff is not a household name in the pantheon of Civil War commanders. He graduated from West Point in 1848, served in Florida where he was wounded, and seemed to be a hard-luck but very able general. Hartsuff constantly led his men from the front, and he often paid for it—even at Antietam—but I don’t think he would have had it any other way. Reading letters of the soldiers in his command, they all felt themselves in a much better position with Hartsuff leading them. And Hartsuff did whatever he could do to serve his country, including leading his men from the back of an ambulance during the Second Manassas Campaign. I find Hartsuff to be an incredible soldier.

ECW: You’ve been a licensed battlefield guide at Antietam for years. Have you done tours like this before?

KP: Most of the tours I give are standard two or three-hour tours of Antietam, hitting the “highlights” of the battlefield: the Dunker Church, Cornfield, Sunken Road, and Burnside Bridge. Occasionally, visitors will want to dive in-depth into a certain part of the battlefield or follow a particular unit that they have an interest in. I have been fortunate to give a number of these kinds of tours, but nothing exactly like our May 26 tour that follows the soldiers of one brigade from the battlefield to the hospital to their final resting places.

ECW: You obviously love to share the battlefield with people. What’s so special to you about that experience?

KP: Someone sharing a battlefield (Gettysburg) with me was my gateway to the Civil War. My parents hired a battlefield guide at Gettysburg when I was nine years old, and I was hooked. I hope that by showing visitors around such an important place in American history at Antietam, perhaps I can continue to grow the pool of Civil War historians and inspire others to do what I have the pleasure of doing every day I walk the Antietam battlefield.

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The caravan tour will begin at the New York State Monument monument adjacent to the Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center and end at Antietam National Cemetery. The tour will last from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The cost is $20 per person, payable by the link below. All proceeds from the tour will go toward preservation work with Civil War Trails.