Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. For 2017 our ultimate destination of choice was the city of Baltimore, Maryland. You might remember it from such TV shows as Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire, not exactly the most enticing showcases to lure in prospective tourists. Though folks who know me best know I’m one of those guys who won’t shut up about The Wire, a Baltimore walkabout was Anne’s idea. Setting aside my fandom, as a major history buff she was first to remind skeptics who made worried faces at us for this plan that Maryland was one of the original thirteen American colonies and, urban decay notwithstanding, remains packed with notable history and architecture from ye olde Founding Father times. In the course of our research we were surprised to discover Baltimore also has an entire designated tourist-trap section covered with things to do. And if we just so happened to run across former filming locations without getting shot, happy bonus…
September 17, 1862: fourteen months before President Abraham Lincoln would deliver the momentous Gettysburg Address, a one-day clash between Union and Confederate troops near the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, would end with nearly 23,000 dead, wounded, or missing. The Battle of Antietam went down as the most horrendous battle of our Civil War, the deadliest single day on American soil in all of history.
155 years later, Antietam National Battlefield is now owned, operated, placed in context, and fully annotated by our National Parks Service. Shortly after we entered Maryland from the west, Anne and I showed up in our comfy rental car in search of local tourism, historical backdrops, and names and sights she recognized from her knowledge of the subject. Along the paths were a series of markers commemorating where various regiments and battalions made their stands and paid their prices for their beliefs. We had no idea that a month later, Civil War monuments would become a trending topic on social media. In that spirit, here some are.
Near the end of our tour, one of the tallest monuments saluted a Commissary Sergeant with the 23rd Ohio, who ran food and drink to Union troops in between hails of gunfire. That chef: Sergeant William McKinley, future U.S. President.
This gallery isn’t a complete accounting of every single pound of sculpture on Antietam’s property, but it’s what made it onto our cameras. The dearth of Confederate representation is neither an intentionally snarky snubbing nor a source of deep remorse for us. I understand somewhere on the premises is a statue of Robert E. Lee commissioned by a descendant, but we didn’t see it.
Local media recently interviewed NPS officials and confirmed none of Antietam’s monuments will be coming down anytime soon:
“Across the country, the National Park Service maintains and interprets monuments, markers, and plaques that commemorate and memorialize those who fought during the Civil War. These memorials represent an important, if controversial, chapter in our Nation’s history. The National Park Service is committed to preserving these memorials while simultaneously educating visitors holistically about the actions, motivations, and causes of the soldiers and states they commemorate. A hallmark of American progress is our ability to learn from our history…
“Unless directed by legislation, it is the policy of the National Park Service that these works and their inscriptions will not be altered, relocated, obscured, or removed, even when they are deemed inaccurate or incompatible with prevailing present-day values.”
As in many arenas of life, context is key. At the National Parks Service, it’s kind of their job. And the monuments were only one part of Antietam’s big picture.
To be continued!
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