Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
In the summer of 2007, I embarked on a series of road trips following the scenic byways plotted in the Maryland Civil War Trails maps with my dear friend Laura Hein, an Anne Arundel County educator. We visited nearly 215 historic sites, including Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg.
I chronicled our adventures in “On the Path of Remembrance,” which appeared in the 2008 Maryland Life Traveler (see related link). Although Laura does not appear in the piece, she is a very important silent character – and a link to the past.
Laura’s uncles, James and Charles Pasters (her great, great, great, great grandmother’s brothers from Baltimore – say that 10 times fast) fought for the Union, in Company B, Fifth Infantry – a Maryland regiment that served with distinction at the Battle of Antietam.
September 17th marks the 150th anniversary of the “bloodiest single-day battle” of the war. I chatted with Laura on the eve of this historic milestone.
Jason: What does it mean to you to have a connection to Antietam through your ancestors?
Laura: I like to think that [James and Charles] fought for the Union because they opposed slavery and wanted to preserve the Union. But it could have been that they were just young and looking for excitement. These were just ordinary boys, just 22 and 20. They probably didn't set out to do anything extraordinary.
As their regiment fought at Bloody Lane, they surely had no inkling that we'd be talking about that place today. I bring this up because it's important to remember that the United States is full of stories about extraordinary men and women and larger-than-life characters, but an important part of the story is ordinary people like James and Charles.
Jason: You are an educator. Why do we reflect on the Civil War 150 years later?
Laura: That's how we touch the past and it's how we share it with the next generation. I wanted to teach history because I am fascinated by the fact that everything is shaped by the past…I've always found that students enjoy discovering that things are the way they are because of things that happened in the past, not just by chance.
Jason: Looking back, what are your memories of our road trip to Antietam?
Laura: It strikes me that we covered a lot of ground in one day, ground that would have taken infantrymen days to cover. Whenever I read about the Civil War there is that feeling that soldiers were far from home and separated from their families by great distances.
I also remember that it was an extremely hot day and [your wife] Aileen reminded you to turn on the AC for me—certainly more comfortable conditions than in the 1860s.
Jason Tinney is a frequent contributor to Maryland Life. He also penned “The March,” an award-winning story that appeared in the October 2010 issue of Maryland Life, about his experience as a Civil War re-enactor at the battle of Antietam.