What could be better than spending a semester in Gettysburg? Spending a semester in Gettysburg and Antietam! I had the rare privilege of not only being able to immerse myself in the Gettysburg locale throughout the week, but found additional solace in my highly anticipated Saturday ventures to Antietam. I must admit that when I first contemplated this internship I had some reservations. I initially harbored a desire to work at the more popular Gettysburg and had mixed feelings about the length of the drive to Antietam. But I chose to accept the position at Antietam and have no regrets whatsoever for doing so. I quickly found that the scenic drive through Maryland was relaxing and afforded me time to reflect and stay connected with my friends and family back home via cell phone. My attitude toward Antietam itself changed as well as I came to appreciate the battlefield's unrivaled natural beauty, degree of preservation, and significance both militarily and politically.
Though my time spent at Antietam was brief, I was blessed with a plethora of opportunities. Most of my time was spent helping run the visitor center, encountering a wide variety of people who brought diverse knowledge and interests to the battlefield. I greeted many newcomers to whom I gave the standard orientation: the day's schedule of films and ranger-led programs, a brief history of the battle, and the principle sites not to be missed-the Cornfield, Sunken Road, and Burnside Bridge. These were offset by more notable encounters: conversing with visitors from my native state of Texas, assisting inquisitive men and women research the locations and roles of their ancestors' units in the battle, helping kids become official junior park rangers, and even getting to meet former Chief Historian of the NPS Ed Bearss!
My experiences were by no means limited to those I enjoyed behind the information desk either. During the anniversary weekend, I was able to participate in infantry and artillery firing demonstrations. One afternoon, a group of 20 bikers came in only to discover to their chagrin that they had missed the final ranger-led Orientation Talk of the day. I quickly volunteered and was able to lead the 30-minute briefing from the park's aptly placed observation room. I was also able to spend several hours each week on the battlefield itself through participation in the Battlefield Ambassadors program. This duty entailed me venturing forth to various sites on the battlefield-I usually chose the Cornfield in which my Texans fought-to provide narration and answers to visitors. One day I had the unexpected opportunity to give a tour to a remarkable man from England who was in the midst of a three-week backpacking trip along the East Coast in search of a greater understanding of our nation's fascinating history.
And as if that wasn't enough, I was blessed to become an active member of an incredible team of knowledgeable, fun loving, and close-knit rangers and fellow volunteers. I was able to periodically join ranger-led programs and often engaged them in conversations, gleaning much from their experience and expertise. And then there were the times we shared when visitation was slow or we were off duty. Who knew professionals could have so much fun? I do, however, think that a disproportionate number of jokes were leveled at me and my southern sympathies. Oh well, I probably deserved most of them.
As I reflect upon the many privileges afforded to me as a member of the Gettysburg Semester, my experiences at Antietam are among my most treasured.