Honoring the Battles, Soldiers and Spirits

Vernon has been a Civil War buff since childhood, but had been inactive in Civil War history for over two decades. However, in the early 1990s his interest was rekindled after watching Ken Burns’ “Civil War Documentary” on PBS. He particularly became interested in the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) and decided to learn more about this epic struggle. 

 He read a couple of books on Antietam and decided to visit the battle site with his wife, Nancy, in May 1994. He and Nancy made a wide ranging trip visiting the Gettysburg battlefield for three days and Antietam battlefield for three days. While visiting the battlefield at Antietam, Vernon, utilizing the books he had studied, walked over each section of the battlefield and reviewed each battle phase concentrating on troop movements, unit placement and actual terrain.

During one of the outside lectures by a park ranger, Nancy got into a conversation with a park volunteer, Walter Smith, a long-time area resident who had studied the Battle of Antietam extensively. She sensed that he was a very unique person and introduced Vernon to Walter. Vernon immediately felt a strong connection to Walter and kept in contact with him. Vernon valued Walter’s opinions and insights on the battle and was able to visit with Walter when he made his yearly pilgrimage to Antietam. Vernon considered Walter as his mentor. When Walter died in 1996, Vernon started receiving poetic verbiage that he put down on paper, which resulted in the poem “Our Guide.”

 In the following years Vernon participated in some very highly attended reenactments including the 135th, 140th and 145th Gettysburg and the 135th and 140th Antietam. Usually during the night following these reenactments or, in the case of the 140th Antietam, while leaving the reenactment battlefield, descriptions of what had occurred at the actual battles and at the reenactment battles came to him in poetic form creating such emotion that he had to get the words down on paper so he could have some relief.

By the end of some of these poems the emotional release left him crying and to this day he can’t read these poems without the same stirring of feelings. Other poems have been written to show affection for close friends such as Karl Elsea, Torin Blanco, Chris Stewart, Don Crain, and Regina and Lou Clark, with whom Vernon and Nancy have become acquainted through Civil War reenacting. There is also a poem for his life long sweetheart and wife, Nancy.

 Vernon continues to study the Battle of Antietam, reading extensively, attending lectures and seminars and visiting the battlefield at least once a year and is a member of the 3rd Arkansas Volunteer Infantry. He is referred to as a high private by his captain, Keenan Williams. Usually, Vernon acts as the company’s second sergeant during the unit’s reenactments.