Published: April 2005
Michael Melford

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

Before I started this assignment, I didn't have a big interest in the Civil War. In fact, the only thing I really remembered from my American history class in high school was the monotone of my teacher's voice. But I found that it was a real privilege to go to these battlefields at dawn when nobody else was around and try to comprehend what had happened on them. When most people visit battlefields, they only get to spend a few hours, but I had eight weeks and got the real education I missed in high school.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

After photographing a battlefield during stormy weather, I started driving back to a Civil War reenactment camp in Spotsylvania, Virginia, where I was staying. But I only got about half a mile before I found an oak tree that had fallen over and was blocking the road. I called 911 on my cell phone, but they kept shuffling my call around and my battery went dead before I could get any help. By that time it was night, and I had to find a way to get out of there. So I went into the woods and started clearing a path by hand that would get my car around the oak and back onto the road. It worked, but farther down the road I came across two more blown-over oak trees, and both times I had to go back into the woods and clear out another path.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

I wanted to photograph a historical home in Antietam, Maryland. But when I knocked on the door to get permission, nobody answered. Since I had to leave that morning, I decided to take a few pictures and get in touch with the owners later. I had only shot about five frames when an irate elderly woman came toward me, demanding my film. I apologized and offered to erase the files from my digital camera, but she couldn't quite comprehend that. So she started hitting me so hard that she almost knocked off my glasses. Then she went for my tripod, which had an $8,000 camera attached. I tried calming her, but she kept yelling. So I decided I'd better get out of there.

I was pretty shaken up afterward, so I called a few people at a preservation trust that owned the development rights to the home. They laughed and told me to get in touch with her husband. I showed up one day at the restaurant he owns and introduced myself. His wife hadn't said a thing to him about the incident. I then told him that she had attacked me. He started laughing and said, "You're lucky she didn't shoot you."