Civil War runs deep for author Ted Alexander

September 14, 2012|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE |
  • Chief historian at Antietam National Battlefield Ted Alexander's latest book, The Battle of Antietam: The Bloodiest Day, was released last year.
Photos by Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Ted Alexander, 63, was in elementary school when he made his first visit to what was then called the Antietam National Battlefield Site.

"It was led by the noted historian E. Russell Hicks," Alexander said during a telephone call from his Greencastle, Pa., home. "He just made history come alive."

Even then as young man, Alexander became interested in the Civil War.

He was weaned on stories by his maternal grandmother whose father had served with 1st Maryland Potomac Home Brigade. Alexander's paternal grandfather had served as a Union commander during the Battle of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and was one of the thousands captured, and later paroled.

And on his father's side, his great-grandfather served in the 31st Mississippi Regiment with the Confederate army. Alexander, himself, was born in Tuledo, Miss.

Today, Alexander tells the roles of both the North and the South as chief park historian for the Antietam National Battlefield.

"I feel I've been blessed," he said. "Because ever since I was a kid, I always said I wanted to be a ranger or historian at Antietam or Gettysburg."

Since 1985, Alexander has led visitors on the journey of the soldiers who fought at the battlefield. He's been the park historian since 1992.

Although Alexander holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Maryland, College Park and a Master of Arts from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, his real credentials come from the work he has done as an author, editor, lecturer and historian with the Civil War.

And his connection to the men in battle came from his own real-life experience as a Marine during the Vietnam War. He was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat V.

Last year, Alexander released his latest book, "The Battle of Antietam: The Bloodiest Day," based on the Sept. 17, 1862, Civil War battle.

"It was based, in part, of a lifetime of research," he said of the book. "It was built on work I had done over the years, magazine articles, lectures."

Although there are hundreds of books on the subject of Antietam, Alexander said he wanted to write a book that included information that isn't found in other books.

"My goal was to get beyond the battle and to look at other aspects of the Antietam story," he said.

Alexander interweaves historical facts with letters written at the time and includes photos — some never before published and ones from his personal collection — about the battle.

"The Battle of Antietam" covers the opposing sides of the war, what types of weapons they had, and the types of leadership they had, but Alexander also includes the people who were affected by the war. He writes about the aftermath and burial of the dead and the care of the wounded. The final chapter looks from the 1890s to modern times, when, after Sept. 11, 2011, thousands flocked to the battlefield to find some sense of solace.

Alexander has been busy this year with lectures about Antietam because of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War's Maryland Campaign, which of course, includes the battle.

He said people continue to be interested in the war. He's often asked about Gen. Robert E. Lee's Special Order No. 191, often referred to as the "Lost Order," which was discovered by Gen. George McClellan's men.

"There's a myth that (McClellan) had thousands of troops he could have sent into battle," he said. "That's a bit exaggerated."

 There is also a myth that the men on both sides were outnumbered, but Alexander said on many parts of the field there were a "parity in numbers" on both sides during the battle.

"I think the constant fascination, particularly in the Mid-Atlantic States, is because this is Civil War country," he said.

It also has to do with the story of the war, itself.

"Civil War, in general, it just has a lot of romance — misplaced romance, I mean ‘War is hell' it had these fascinating leaders, fascinating people like Abraham Lincoln, George McClellan, Robert E. Lee, ';Stonewall' Jackson. It's the most tragic period of our history, but one of the most interesting."

For Alexander's dedication to the Civil War, he was presented the Henry Kyd Douglas Award by the Hagerstown Civil War Round Table during a ceremony in April.

The acknowledgment was a special recognition, he said, which was presented by the Board of Directors of the Hagerstown Civil War Round Table, of which he's a lifetime member.

The award was presented to Alexander for his "contributions to the advancement of the study of the American Civil War through preservation, publication and education for many years."

"It was a great honor to be recognized by your immediate community," he said.

When he's not studying the Civil War, Alexander can often be found listening to either Elvis Presley or Jerry Lee Lewis. He enjoys watching Westerns and boxing.

Most importantly, though, as a dad he has passed on his love for the National Park Service. His daughter, Rica, is with human resources at Natchez National Historical Park. She started at Antietam volunteering.

"I'm very proud of her," he said.

Ted Alexander appearances
 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18

Antietam National Battlefield Visitors Center


Subject, "The Aftermath of Antietam"

7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20

Middleburg/Mason-Dixon Line  Historical Society

State Line Ruritan Building

15841 Park Drive

State Line, Pa.

"Washington County, Md., and Franklin County, Pa., and the Maryland Campaign."

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