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  • Writer's pictureBeth Stenstrom

Third Quarter Newsletter, July 1 - September 30, 2020

FoWB is working closely with the administrative staff in the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park to safely implement reopening of the battlefield visitor centers in the face of the COVID - 19 public health concern. Please be patient. The safety of our rangers, volunteers, and guests is of the utmost importance. In the meantime, check out the various You Tube videos the park has created for our visitors to at least enjoy a virtual experience.

Thank you.


A Tribute to Greg Mertz

A Very Special Ranger and Friend

by Beth Stenstrom, FoWB Volunteer

FSNMP Chief Supervisory Historian Greg Mertz

My first experience with the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park Chief Supervisory Historian Greg Mertz was the day he came to Ellwood to train the class of new interpreters in February of 2012. We were quite a diverse group, if I remember correctly, and we had a wonderful time during the training. Greg made it fun and he was so patient with our numerous questions and concerns.

Greg grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and his boy scout troop would take a trip to Shiloh Battlefield National Park in Shiloh, Tennessee, every spring. There were six different trails and the scouts and their leaders would split up and would choose a trail depending on how new they were to the troop.

For example, the newest members would take trail number one, while the more experienced scouts might take trail number four or trail number six. Greg remembers that some years they had scouts on all of the trails the same weekend!

Greg started his career with the National Park Service in May, 1980, and he will have been with them officially for 40 years this coming August! The Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park has been fortunate in that 36 of those years have been right here with us!

Ruggles' Battery was the largest massed artillery bombardment ever seen in North America as of April 6, 1862, during the Battle of Shiloh. The artillery pieces were of various types and sizes as was usual during the War Between the States.

The most interesting part of his job, which he loves, is being able to help people develop skills and passion for sharing their stories with the public. It is so much fun to see the light come on in someone's eyes when they suddenly understand a new concept or realize there is so much more to the story! Rangers and volunteer interpreters alike have experienced this, and a lot of it is because Greg has trained us so well. He has given us the tools to assist our visitors when they come to the park, and help to make their visit a memorable and pleasant experience for them.

I asked Greg what the most frustrating aspect of his job was and he told me the changes of policies or practices! It seems that as soon as he would learn a specific policy or way the park wanted something to be done, someone would change it and want everyone to do it a different way. As a retired school teacher, I can relate! Some changes are welcome and needed but sometimes it just didn't make any sense to change something that seemed to be working well as is.

There have been many societal changes throughout Greg's career, such as the use of computers and visitation patterns. Following the Ken Burns series about the Civil War, the attendance at our visitor centers doubled. That trend did not continue, unfortunately, but they definitely had to scramble to be able to accommodate them at the time. Computers have made a large impact, along with the creation of the internet, as now people can visit a park by watching a virtual tour on their computer or by watching a You Tube video on TV. So much more information is available to people without ever having to leave the comfort of their favorite armchair.

There have been some changes in interpretation, as well, especially following the protests where people were demanding the removal of Confederate statues. While in the beginning, interpreters were advised to "understand there are both sides to the story" and let people believe what they want, now there is more of an obligation to gently point out that there are several ways of looking at things.

While the Civil War is Greg's favorite era of history, the second Mexican American war, Zachary Taylor's campaign in particular, is a close second! Being a Texas girl, we enjoyed a fun side conversation about the Texas Revolution!

Greg has published a book called Attack at Daylight and Whip Them, The Battle of Shiloh April 6-7, 1862 ,which is a part of the Emerging Civil War Series. People may buy a copy in our American Battlefield stores at both the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center and the Chancellorsville Visitor Center. People can also order a copy from if they are unable to visit one of our local visitor centers.

He first became involved with FoWB when the Ellwood Program got started. He trained the new interpreters and helped develop the program overall. He has been with us every step of the way, along with Chief Historians Robert K Krick and John J Hennessy, and we have appreciated their support and guidance.

Working with FoWB volunteers is different than working with volunteers at the other sites in the park, primarily because there is not a ranger present all day long at Ellwood, like there is at the visitor centers or at Chatham. Because of this, it has been helpful for both us and the park for Greg to sit in on our various committee meetings and be a part of our planning sessions. This ensures close communication between the park and our volunteers, which ensures that we are

following the policies and procedures of the National Park Service, and stewarding the property the way we should. This is also why the refresher training for the interpreters is key, so our volunteers get to spend time with the park rangers and are up to speed on any new changes or updates on policies or information.

Greg and his lovely bride, Diane, have been married for 24 years! They met on one of Ed Bearss's bus tours of a battlefield in West Virginia, when a mutual friend saved them both a seat right next to each other! Diane always accompanies Greg to our volunteer appreciation picnics and she is a delight! Both will be missed when Greg retires, which will happen sometime within the coming year.

He will always remember the day some of us at Ellwood played a practical joke on him. It was a Living History Day and we knew he would be stopping by, and we found this dirty piece of plastic that looked a lot like a human bone in the parking lot, and we said, "We have SO got to mess with Greg!" We very carefully wrapped it up in a paper towel, and set it aside. Sure enough, before long, here he came and we said, "Greg, we are SO glad you are here! A visitor found this by the cemetery!" We very carefully handed him the fake "artifact", which he very carefully unwrapped, all the while thinking about park protocol and paperwork, and looked at it really carefully and then he looked up and we were all grinning and taking his picture! He was such a good sport about it and he tells that story to new volunteers to this day!

Greg, thank you so much for everything you have done for the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and for the Friends of Wilderness Battlefield. You have touched our lives in a way that has made us all better people and you have given us the skills to help bring those stories alive. We wish you the best in your retirement and we are looking forward to seeing you leading your own tours around the battlefield at your leisure!


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Third Quarter 2020
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