Saturday, March 19, 2011

Spring has sprung in Maryland!

I knew it would get here if we just waited long enough. Spring is finally here. I’m sure you’ve noticed a reduction in the number of posts over the winter. That is because I turned up the burner on the book and haven’t really been out to any new sites for several months. Nevertheless, my way of checking in with you will be to provide a weather report from Antietam and bring you up-to-date on the writing project.

Antietam by Bicycle

The last post I told you about going for a winter hike at Antietam Battlefield and showed you some pictures of the trails covered in snow. Well, how things change in just a few weeks. Yesterday was our first day over 70 degrees (Thursday it was in the middle 60s). I feel like a groundhog coming out of hibernation. Thursday I took a short bike ride on the C&O Canal. Yesterday, my lovely wife Sheila and I went for a bicycle ride around Antietam.

We parked by the Poffenberger Farm (Auto tour stop number 2) and rode down to Burnside’s Bridge and back. There are a couple of decent hills on the battlefield, but nothing that the average recreational bicycle rider can’t handle. The only thing that made it hard was the fact that we haven’t been working out all winter. Bicycling is a great way to tour the battlefield. It is quiet, you can take in the terrain, and enjoy the warm weather. This is a great time of year for it too, before the summer crowds arrive. We know how lucky we are to live so close to sites like Antietam, Gettysburg, and the C&O Canal. But when you are heading out on vacation, plan a stopover and bring your bicycles. ;-)

When we left the battlefield, we drove out the east side of the park on Mansfield Ave. This country road winds through farmland and intersects with Keedysville Road at the upper bridge over Antietam Creek. This area is outside of the park boundaries. It is the bridge that some of the Union forces, under Hooker and Mansfield, used to cross the Antietam the night before the battle. We saw a man working with a metal detector in a farmer’s field. It all reminded me that the Civil War was not just limited to the area claimed by the National Park Service.

Book Project Update

The book project on the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion continues. We now hope to get the book “on the street” sometime in May or June. Again, as it is my first book project, it is hard to estimate how long it will take to accomplish our intermediate goals. I’m currently working on the sixth of nine chapters. This one concerns fighting in Italy prior to Anzio. As I’ve said before, I wish someone would write a book on how to write a history book. I have started to keep a spreadsheet with daily average writing goals. This seems to be the perfect cure for procrastination, sometimes misidentified as “writer’s block.” Unfortunately, life does get in the way and that makes it hard to estimate completion. The whole family had a bout of the flu the week before last, which kept me from writing for almost a week. And then there was the weekend festival that was my 50th birthday. I’m sure that right now, anyone reading this is probably thinking “quit messing around and finish the book!” Well, I’m right there with you. But even though we want to get to the destination, I’m really enjoying the journey. I only wish I had started sooner.

In December, I sent out a survey letter to a list of surviving WWII veterans who served in the 509th. I’m happy to say that I’ve been in contact with about a half dozen of them. With a couple, I have had lengthy written correspondence or telephone conversations. I’m sure I will have more. I cannot begin to describe what a privilege it is to have these veterans share their stories and pictures with me. I only hope that the book will do them the honor and convey the gratitude that I hope for.

The last bit of news is that Sheila is starting to work on a companion website for the book. We will post some of the primary source documents, additional pictures, some video clips, and appendix articles that compliment the book. Stay tuned, more to follow.

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