Shepherd alumnus Kevin Pawlak returns for book discussion, signing
SHEPHERDSTOWN — After graduating from Shepherd University in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in history with a concentration in Civil War and nineteenth-century America, Kevin Pawlak continued to learn and develop his skills as a historian. Currently, Pawlak is the historic site manager for the Prince William County Historic Preservation Division, a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Antietam National Battlefield, a Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association board member and a Save Historic Antietam Foundation board member.
All of that experience led him to publish his first book in 2015, “Shepherdstown in the Civil War: One Vast Confederate Hospital,” which was followed by two collaborative book projects on the Civil War.
On Aug. 27, Pawlak returned to Shepherdstown to give a presentation in the Robert C. Byrd Center on his newest book, “Antietam National Battlefield: Images of America,” released on July 8, 2019. The book includes about 170 photos from the Civil War, which Pawlak said give a glimpse into the life of the battlefield — not just the battle fought on it on Sept. 17, 1862.
“An image is worth a thousand words — through these images, I want you to get a snapshot of the battlefield, not just the battle.,” Pawlak said. “Antietam is known as the site of the bloodiest moment in American history. It was about one person every second being killed.
“Alexander Gardner and James Gibson traveled up to Antietam Battlefield a few days after the battle ended, and immediately began to immortalize it. [They] didn’t just take pictures of civilians on the battlefield, but also of military commanders, including of General George McClellan,” Pawlak said, mentioning the photographers also moved corpses around the field to create dramatic photographs.
According to Pawlak, to understand the battlefield, viewers must see photographs of the battlefield’s development into a national park, from the aftermath of the war, through the complicated process of individual groups purchasing portions of the property to erect monuments on, to its current state. Even now, not all of the land from the battle has been incorporated into the battlefield.
“The park consists of 3,000 acres. At the time of its founding, it was about 890 acres,” Pawlak said. “It all came down to, how much the government had to spend, and who was willing to sell? That’s ultimately why some of the pieces were left out of Antietam National Battlefield, that we don’t interpret at all.
“Today, Antietam National Battlefield is one of the best-preserved battlefields in all of America, but it wasn’t always that. It’s an incredible story in itself,” Pawlak said. “But there would be no Antietam National Battlefield, if it wasn’t for Sept. 17, 1862.”