With Bearss in the Woods

Greg Bayne has kindly allowed us to publish this article he wrote about attending our 2012 seminar – “The Battles of South Mountain.” Greg is from the UK and is a member of the American Civil War Roundtable: www.acwrt.org.uk.

Enjoy! – Lark Plessinger, Program Coordinator

“We have all made that list. You know, the 100 things to do before you go up to Valhalla to talk to Massa Robert about what really happened at Gettysburg. I won’t detail my complete list out, but number 86 was recently fulfilled in an unexpected manner.

This tale also involves the “life sometimes throws up a surprise or two” trick. I had to make an unplanned trip to Virginia in October. My schedule was all over the place so I emailed all my US Contacts to say I was coming and I just might (emphasise might) be in their neck of the woods. Tom Clemens, who obviously hadn’t heard about my nocturnal snoring habit, insisted that I break my journey to Clifton Forge and stay with him and Angela and their dog Bomber. Plus if I could stay the next day, he had a very pleasant surprise for me.

That weekend the Chambersburg Civil War Seminars had organised a conference around the battles of the gaps during the Antietam campaign. A variety of speakers were on show including Ed Bearss. Ed was on the main coach and I was on the mini bus with Tom as we pulled into our first stop. It was the Schaffer House where the Union 9th Corps stopped for breakfast and lunch and I think if Franklin could have had his way, high tea as well, just below the mountain ridge. Ed skipped out of the bus and I immediately went over to say hi. “Ed,” I felt I could call him Ed, “I don’t suppose you recall the last time we met?” There was a slight twitch of his moustache as he was trying to decipher first the audacity of the approach and then the strange accent. Sensing a complete loss of face I blurted, “Oxford 2003″. An awkward moment of silence then “Ah, yes”. With a slight twinkle in his eye he was off.

Slightly crestfallen I went back to my place with the troops. The general idea of the tour was to have the whole South Mountain campaign explained by the Antietam experts, John Hoptak on most things, Joe Stahl on Fox’s Gap and Tom Clemens on Turners Gap. I say general idea because you could see Ed bubbling and bursting minute by minute until he could barely restrain himself with an impromptu running narrative. Whenever a speaker paused for breath, he was in there. We just stood and listened in awe.

We demolished the rebs on the extreme right then pursued them up to Crampton’s gap. At Crampton’s, Ed had a few moments berating some (but not all) of the previous Antietam park commissioners. I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about most of time, but it was highly amusing all the same. Then his gaze focused on me. I was completely alone having wandered off to take a few photos. He marched over on an intercept course. Catching me at the War Correspondent monument (note the irony here folks) he said, “You know, I had a very good time in England with your Round Table. Very knowledgeable group, good questions, nice people. Give my regards to them.” I smiled and mumbled “Thanks”. Before I could get my next comment in, he was off, explaining the sighting of the Confederate guns at the top of the road junction to another member of the group. Wonderful, just wonderful.

After a church hall lunch of roast chicken and Burkittsville cole slaw (a very secret recipe) went up to the Old Mountain Inn at Turners gap.  We hiked across part of the Appalachian Trail to Fox’s Gap, shadowing the Confederate defence line. Most of us trod carefully, mindful of the mud, deadfall, ticks and the odd slithery thing. Not our Ed, he was off yomping at the front. Thankfully he wore a red cap so we could keep him in sight. A short way in was a modern toilet block. Ed stopped “If any of you need to use the head, this is your last chance.” Seconds later he was off. At one point I thought I heard a voice behind me whisper. “For goodness sake tell him to slow down.” At Fox’s gap he was in good form then decided to route march to an undetermined place deeper in the forest where Haye’s was wounded. Thankfully a no trespass sign plus a large fallen tree barred our way or else he may have got there on his own, such was the rate of stragglers. Undeterred we bushwhacked back to the new North Carolina monument. I am pretty certain that we left no one behind but I couldn’t be 100% sure.

Back at the Reno monument we were treated to one of Ed’s favourite games where the participants were press ganged into Union and Confederate Regiments, “You sir,” he gravelled, “are the 3rd SC, and you are the 50th. You will oblique right and then be surprised by the Union forces in the road and take more than 50% casualties in less than five minutes.” You could almost smell the smoke as Drayton’s Brigade was destroyed piece by piece. Thankfully I was left guarding the supply train.

A traipse back to Turners gap and we had Tom Clemens wrap things up with a view of the evening assault. As darkness fell both sides lay down where they were amongst the rocks and trees. No campfires were lit such was the fear of being shot at from the darkness. Lee ordered a retreat. The Confederates slipped away quietly. The Battle of South Mountain was over.

So number 86 “Go on a Civil War tour with Ed Bearss” has been ticked off. There are three more CW related items still to tick off but let’s leave those for now. Many thanks to Tom Clemens and the Antietam team for what was a brilliant and totally unexpected day. If you ever get the chance to do number 86 for yourself, please make sure you take it.”

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