by Sarah Johnson, ’15
This past week I was given the opportunity to interview D. Scott Hartwig, Chief Historian of the Gettysburg National Military Park. I was able to ask him several questions and these are his answers.
1) Your new book, To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, is the first part of a two volume series dealing with the lead up and the battle of Antietam. This first volume covers solely the two weeks leading up to the battle, and ends right on the eve of the battle itself. Why two volumes instead of one?
The Maryland Campaign is a big story and traditionally in single volumes about the campaign, the focus has been on the Battle of Antietam. I wanted to do a thorough treatment of the battles of South Mountain and the siege and capture of Harpers Ferry, which resulted in the largest surrender of U.S. soldiers until World War II. To do this it was necessary to cover the campaign in two volumes. I saw the night of September 16 as a natural point to stop volume 1, since, in a sense, that night marks the end of the America that was and the beginning of the America that will be. The Battle of Antietam will enable Lincoln to issue his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and this will set in motion forces that will permanently alter the country.
2) I’m hoping to eventually have a career in the National Park Service. What advice do you have for me and others who may want to join the NPS?
There is no clearly defined pathway into the NPS. I suggest pursuing internships and seasonal work to build experience. Obtaining a master’s degree is also helpful. In the field of historical interpretation you will be more competitive if you build knowledge, skills and the ability in doing historical interpretation, educational programming, and social media. The latter field is developing quickly as an effective way to connect with a large audience beyond the borders of parks. Education is important in the NPS but there are many interpreters who don’t like to work with kids or don’t have the skills to do so effectively. If you don’t like students my advice to people who ask about careers as an NPS interpreter is maybe this is not the career you want to pursue.
3) What is the most awkward/strange experience you have had during your career as a Park Ranger?
I don’t know if this qualifies as awkward or strange, but it was highly amusing. I was giving a tour of the battlefield to U.S. Senator Steve Symms from Idaho a number of years ago. We had stopped at the light at the intersection of Carlisle Street and Lincoln. In front of us was a fellow that used to ride a bike around through Gettysburg with a rabbit sitting in the basket on the bike’s front. While we were sitting at the light the rabbit jumped out of the basket and started running around in the road. Senator Symms and his friend jumped out of the car and helped catch the rabbit. It is not every day that you see a U.S. Senator chasing a rabbit on Carlisle Street. One more amusing story occurred sometime in the early 1990’s. General Colin Powell, then the chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had come to Gettysburg to be the keynote speaker for Dedication Day on November 19. Part of his role as the speaker was to place a wreath at the Soldiers’ National Monument. Powell’s office contacted the park and advised management that it was customary that a representative of the hosting agency have someone “assist” the general in placing the wreath. I was picked to do this. On the day of, General Powell and I were standing beside one another waiting for his turn to place the wreath. It had been explained to the general that I would be “assisting” him in placing the wreath. While we stood there he leaned over to me and said, “how exactly will you assist me?” I thought the general was more than competent to place the wreath on his own and that the “assist” business was standard protocol at the Joint Chiefs office. Frankly, I felt foolish standing there. So I replied, “I have no idea.” He smiled and said, “I got it,” and he did it himself.
4) What is the value of public history?
History only has value if it is relevant. What public history can do is help visitors make connections and find value in history and the preservation of historic places because they are brought to understand its relevancy. For example, at Gettysburg, on appropriate programs, we can help visitors understand how the Gettysburg Address and the events of the Civil War helped to shape what today many believe America stands for. Ask a student “what does America stand for” and you will invariably hear answers like “freedom,” “equality,” and a “government of the people.” But a majority of Americans in the past did not always believe those things, or believed they only applied to certain people.
5.) What are you passionate about besides the Civil War?
Fishing, being outdoors, reading, writing. I could go on – I have too many hobbies.