We are just weeks away from the first ever ECW Pop Up Tour at Antietam. On May 26, Kevin Pawlak and Dan Welch will trace the fighting of George Hartsuff’s brigade in the famous Cornfield. No other First Corps brigade sustained more casualties during the fight than Hartsuff.
In preparation for the tour, we asked guide Dan Welch a few questions.
ECW: The Cornfield at Antietam has become iconic in Civil War lore. How come?
DW: In the field of military history, it is often the stories heroism or great sacrifice that become a draw for researcher and enthusiast alike. The Cornfield at Antietam has no shortage of either, with the shear number of casualties and minutes of terrifying violence drawing even more significance to that small tract of land.
ECW: What do YOU like about the Cornfield as a Civil War landscape?
DW: For me, I like walking the landscape, becoming a part of it. I can’t even count the number of times I have walked from the North or East Woods through that field following in the footsteps of numerous Union soldiers. Watching the horizon, watching the terrain, both changing about me as I move forward—it becomes part of you.
Most my memorable interaction with the landscape was walking that tract of land on the 150th anniversary. I was working that day and could not get down to the battlefield until 6:30 p.m. that night. Even on the anniversary, I had the Cornfield to myself. I imagined the fight earlier that day and what it must have been like to walk that ground in the late evening among the dead and dying.
ECW: Of all the places on the Antietam battlefield you could’ve chosen to take people, why follow the footsteps of George Hartsuff?
DW: Well, Hartsuff’s brigade will take us to one of most famous and iconic locations on the Antietam battlefield, but it will also tell the story of the some of the units in the Federal army that suffered the highest number of casualties in combat during the battle. When we talk about the destruction and death of the Cornfield, we often talk in abstract numbers and statistics. Hartsuff’s units will personalize that story for us on this tour.
ECW: Your tour will really take a personal focus on the men, following in their footsteps during the battle and talking about their experiences afterwards. That seems like a different approach than the “standard” battlefield tour. Tell us about that?
DW: Kevin and I have talked numerous times in preparation for this tour and how unique this approach is. Both of us have given numerous tours and have been on numerous tours on many, many battlefields, but none of them followed a specific unit throughout their entire battle experience. To take attendees over the ground this brigade fought on, to the hospital where their wounded began a new battle for survival, and the final resting place of those who died on the field and at the hospital will be a moving and powerful way to tell the larger story of the battle through a representative unit.
ECW: Aside from spending time on the battlefield, the tour will visit the Smoketown Hospital and the National Cemetery. What will those sites do to help illuminate the story you’re going to be telling?
DW: We are going to humanize the story, make it personal. Yes, a unit in Hartsuff’s brigade suffered 67% casualties. Who were the men that made up that number? What did they look like? Where were they from and what did they do before becoming soldiers?
ECW: You’ve been doing a lot of work lately focusing on the Smoketown Hospital, which’ll be on your tour. What draws you to that place?
DW: Over the years, the aftermath story of Gettysburg has finally been drawing attention, both in scholarship and public programming. Few other sites of engagements have received that same level of attention for that story, but it’s a story that needs to be told. Smoketown Hospital will ultimately become the largest field hospital at Antietam and the longest serving.
What fascinates me most about Smoketown are the challenges the wounded and doctors faced in an outdoor field hospital during the winter months of 1862-63 in western Maryland, and the fact that as the battle of Chancellorsville waged, and, later, as the Gettysburg campaign began, the wounded of Antietam were still on that battlefield recovering from their wounds months earlier.
ECW: What should people keep in mind as they prepare for the tour? Do they need to study up before they show up? Any logistical things they should prepare for?
DW: Prepare for the weather, rain or shine. Boots if it’s muddy. Sunscreen if it’s sunny. Water and bug spray. There are a number of excellent works on Antietam to study or read before the tour; however, the story of Hartsuff’s brigade will be complete, so just come and enjoy it.
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.
We’ll hear from guide Kevin Pawlak next week!