Sunday, April 26, 2009


So while our wives went off to a women's retreat with church, my friend W and I took our kids up to tour the Antietam Battlefield in Sharpsburg, MD. Overall, the kids did great and we had a really good time.

I used to think Antietam might not be such a great place to take kids, being the bloodiest battlefield and all. However, the National Park Service has really put in a LOT of effort to restore the battlefield to the way it looked in 1862, and they have lots of great ways for kids to learn about the Civil War there.

Last night, I downloaded and printed out the Junior Ranger booklets off the NPS website. They have one for 6 yrs and under, one for 6-8 year olds, and one for 9-12 year olds. Then, in another spot on the website, they have a battlefield scavenger hunt that's sort of an 12+ yr old version of the other booklets.

ES and W's oldest daughter CJ did the battlefield scavenger hunt. YB and his classmate R did the 6 yrs and under one. C did the 9-12 year old version. They all seemed to have fun with it.

The Junior Ranger Booklet

All but the oldest age bracket booklet had this activity where you try to find all these different shapes on the cannon. Even so, ES and CJ helped the younger kids to find the various shapes.

We totally didn't plan this, but had the extremely good fortune to arrive at the visitor's center just in time for a park ranger to give a 30 minute talk about the battle.




They offer a video in a little movie theater in the visitor's center every 30 minutes, but after having this awesome, interactive talk with the park ranger, we opted to skip the movie. If you have any intention of going to Antietam, then I HIGHLY recommend planning your visit around the Park Ranger's talk.

First, we sat on the grass and he told us a little bit about the events leading up to the battle and the personalities of the generals on both sides.

Next, he explained the significant geographic features of the battle. He grabbed people out of the audience to help him lay down blue ropes for the Potomac River and Antietam Creek. Then he laid out brown ropes for the roads. Then he put out little wooden buildings and bridges for the significant landmarks.

Dunker Church and the Lower Bridge (Burnside Bridge)

Then he grabbed kids out of the audience and placed them like chess pieces on the map. Again, we totally didn't plan this, but as luck would have it, our kids were all spread out along the front row of the audience. In the process of picking out the generals to place on the battlefield, he used 3 out of our 5 kids.

General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (ES on the left),
General Robert E. Lee (CJ on the right), and
General McClellan (kid in the black shorts)

General Jones (W's youngest son R)

He talked about where each general was and what his perspective of the battlefield was, and he moved them around the map to show the sequence of events on the battlefield. It was really cool.

After that, they had a Civil War reenactor dressed up in his Union soldier uniform and a park ranger talk to us about what life was like in the Army during the Civil War, what were the components of his uniform, what did he carry in his bag, and then walked through what it took to load and shoot his rifle.

They also did a cannon demonstration, but we didn't realize that was coming and had gone inside to use the restrooms and drinking fountains.

We did the driving tour of the battlefield after that and stopped several places to walk around and look up answers for the kids' scavenger hunt sheets.

For example, there are six cannons like these with their muzzles embedded in a brick and cement base. They mark the locations where six generals were mortally wounded on the Antietam battlefield. All but one of them are fairly easy to spot along the driving tour route.

Luckily, there's an explanation and a map of where all six are located at the one in the West Woods.

There are two podcasts you can download and use as your virtual tour guide. We spent longer at the visitor's center than we thought we would, so we skipped the first hike & podcast at the cornfield and headed down to the Burnside Bridge to do that 1.3 mile walk.

Blunoz Self Portrait at the Lower Bridge
(called the Burnside Bridge after the battle)

In the background of the picture above, you can see the heights above the bridge from where the Confederate soldiers could easily shoot at anybody and anything trying to cross the bridge.

YB examines the bridge from General Burnside's perspective.
The podcast was pretty cool. CJ brought a pair of small speakers that we plugged into my BlackBerry so we could all listen to the tour guide describe where we were and what happened there.

Unfortunately, we only got to listen to the first 3 out of like 7 stops on the podcast. It isn't dividided up into tracks like a CD. You're just supposed to the playback as you walk from one tour stop to the next. Well, as we walked from stop 3 to stop 4, I somehow caused the BlackBerry to jump back to the beginning of the podcast.

Unfortunately, when you try to make one device that replaces several other devices, you tend to lose some of the details in functionality. The BlackBerry music player doesn't have a fast-forward feature, so we couldn't skip through the previous 3 stops we had already listened to. We tried just letting it keep playing through the previous stops while we kept walking, but we finished the walk before the podcast tour guide caught up with us.

Note to self: Next time, take a music / MP3 player that can fast forward.

There isn't much at all in the town of Sharpsburg, but if you take Rt. 65 north out of town heading back up to I-70, there are several chain restaurants and fast food places near I-70. We went through the Wendy's drive through and hit the road headed back to Ashburn.

Overall it was an awesome day out. I wouldn't mind going back to do the other podcast walk at the Cornfield. The kids did a great job with the scavenger hunts and junior park ranger booklets, so we rewarded them with a stop at Maggie Moo's on the way home.


Navy Blue Cougar said...

I have been to the DC area twice and only for short visits. Both times were short trips and I tried to get in as much sightseeing as time allowed.

On the first trip, I was most excited to see the National Archives and the Declaration of Independence. After waiting in line for what seemed an eternity to see the Declaration of Independence, we were forced past it so quickly we barely caught a glimpse of it. Needless to say, it was a big letdown.

My buddy wanted to stop in at Ford's Theatre and I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about it, but we went anyway. It was fantastic and I am glad that we went. There was a presentation given by a park ranger and he was an incredible storyteller. I guess you guys must have had someone like him to tell you about Antietam.We were also able to see some items like suits that were worn by Lincoln and the official China used by the Lincolns. I think we also went next door to the boarding house where Lincoln actually died. Of course, kids might not enjoy it as much as adults, but I sure liked it.

I was in DC about this time last year for a funeral at Arlington. I had hoped to take another tour of Ford's Theatre, but unfortunately, it was closed for renovations.

Anyway, sounds like you and the kids had a great time. Must have been a great day trip.

blunoz said...

For anyone interested, I uploaded a 3 minute video of the Park Ranger's talk to my YouTube profile (click on the YouTube link on the upper right side of my blog).

blunoz said...

Steve - Yes, I also went to an awesome performance at the Ford Theater. It was probably about 8 or 9 years ago now. They put on a play of sorts. On one side of the stage was an Oval office / front door of the White House setting where a guy dressed up like Lincoln or Lincoln's secretary dramatically read letters from Lincoln to the Union commanders on the front lines. On the other side of the stage was a sort of general's headquarters tent setting where a revolving set of Generals dramatically read their letters back to Lincoln and their excuses for not finishing off Lee's Army. It was a spectacular and awesome performance that I will never forget.

I hear they have since done some significant remodeling of Ford Theater, but I have not been back yet.

The Silver Fox said...

"my friend W"

Your friend... W? Not... the... W? I've been wondering how he's kept busy since January...

"I used to think Antietam might not be such a great place to take kids, being the bloodiest battlefield and all."

I wouldn't have worried. They've had 147 years to clean up all the blood... (Sorry.)

I was raised in Oxford, MA, birthplace of Clara Barton. I'll never forget reading the story of how she was kneeling or seated on the battlefield at Antietam, tending to a wounded soldier whom she held in her arms. Suddenly she felt a tugging at -- IIRC -- the sleeve of her dress. The tugging was caused by a stray bullet which had passed through her dress, leaving her unscathed, but killing the unfortunate soldier she was attending. So sad.

blunoz said...

David - yes, the cleaned the place up pretty nicely. :-)

One of the questions on the kids' scavenger hunt was which monument had a red cross on it and why. (It was the monument to Clara Barton.)