Sunday, October 23, 2016

Gettysburg Then & Now: Fallen Confederate 'sharpshooter'

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When nearly 100 Civil War photo geeks crowded around the (in)famous nest of a fallen Confederate "sharpshooter" in Devil's Den on Saturday afternoon, we were in for a rare treat: a real, live re-enactor willing to play dead. It didn't take much for the Center For Civil War Photography's Gary Adelman to persuade Bryan Parkhurst of Seven Valleys, Pa., who just happened to be on the scene, to duplicate the lifeless form of a Rebel photographed by Alexander Gardner assistant Timothy O'Sullivan on July 6, 1863, three days after the Battle of Gettysburg. Adelman, the CCWP's vice president/ball of kinetic energy, carefully posed Parkhurst, who lay motionless for 20 minutes or so while we CCWP "Image of War" attendees shot our own images at one of the most visited spots on the battlefield.

While I didn't nail this "Then  & Now," the chance to feature on the blog a re-enactor replicating one of the war's iconic images was too good to pass up. Download a high-res version of the 1863 photograph at the Library of Congress' excellent web site. And here's a detailed explanation of how the body of the young Confederate "sharpshooter" ended up behind the stone barricade.

For a "Then & Now" on steroids of the images above, visit my companion Civil War blog here.

Bryan Parkhust plays dead while Tim Smith of Center For Civil War Photography explains the scene.
Gary Adelman, VP of the Center For Civil War Photography,  holds a  copy of the iconic 1863 image.
Re-enactor Bryan Parkhurst, who represents a  2nd Maryland CSA private, was a popular 
photo subject at the Center For Civil War Photography's  annual "Image of War" seminar.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Hidden Antietam: Seldom-seen Alfred Poffenberger farm

In early 1960s,  Rt. 65 bypass construction cut through a major section of the Antietam battlefield.
(Antietam Library and Research Center)
       Google Street View of Rt. 65. 15th Massachusetts monument in far distance at right.
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Every time I drive down this road, especially in the eerie, inky blackness of a western Maryland night, I feel like I am trampling on hallowed ground. This is Rt. 65, which cuts through a section of the Antietam battlefield probably unknown except to diehards. Imagine a busy highway slicing through Devil's Den at Gettysburg or cutting across the slope at Malvern Hill or, as my friend Jim Buchanan of Walking the West Woods blog notes, through Bloody Lane at Antietam.

Pan to the right in the Google Street View to see the West Woods, scene of savage fighting on the morning of Sept. 17, 1862. Just beyond the woods is the iconic Dunker Church. To the left, behind the trees, is site of the seldom-visited Alfred Poffenberger farm, also scene of bitter fighting; a staging area for Confederate troops funneled into the West Woods and beyond and a Rebel aid station. On Hauser's Ridge, beyond the farm, Rebel artillery fire rained on the Federals.

In the early 1960s, construction of the Rt. 65 bypass cut through the heart of this area of the battlefield, leaving the original terrain largely to our imagination. The road is roughly a dividing line between Confederate and Union troops.

For an excellent, detailed account of the fighting here, read The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 Vol. II, Antietam by Civil War veteran and battle participant Ezra Carman and edited by the foremost Antietam expert, Tom Clemens. Or for a good overview of the fighting here, check out the recently published A Field Guide to Antietam by Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler. Or find Buchanan, an Antietam battlefield guide, at the Antietam visitor's center or sitting in a chair on weekends near the Philadelphia Brigade monument in the West Woods. (See Jim's posts on the Poffenberger farm here, here, here and here.)

On the 154th anniversary of the battle last month, I walked through the West Woods and visited the old Poffenberger farm. Here's a look at a part of the battlefield you may not have realized existed.

PLEASE NOTE: Consult with park rangers before visiting this site.

        PANORAMA: 15th Massachusetts dead were buried (foreground) near the cabin.
Protected by a canopy, the Mary Locher cabin is an ongoing restoration project.
A section of the cabin may date to the 1760s.
This sketch is believed to show Rebels firing from behind rock ledges on Alfred Poffenberger's farm.
(Alfred Waud | Library of Congress collection)
In 1862, Alfred Poffenberger, who leased this farmstead from Mary Locher, lived here with his wife and two young children. He and his family fled once it was clear a battle would be fought.

Justus Wellington: 
15th Massachusetts
private was killed
 in the 
West Woods.
(Read more here.)
The 15th Massachusetts, which suffered 75 killed and 255 wounded in about 20 minutes in the West Woods, advanced to Poffenberger's farm, where it was attacked by regiments from Georgia and Virginia. After the battle, 15th Massachusetts dead were buried on the northwest side of the Mary Locher cabin in a trench that was "25 feet long, 6 feet wide and 3 feet deep," according to a Roland E. Bowen, a private in the regiment.

"The corpes [corpses]," he noted, "were buried by Co., that is the members of each Co. Are put together. Co. H was buried first in the uper [sic] end of the trench next [to] the woods. They are laid in two tiers, one [on] top of the other. The bottom tier was laid in, then straw laid over the head and feet, then the top tier laid on them and covered with dirt about 18 inches deep."

15th Massachusetts Private Justus Wellington, a 23-year-old shoemaker from West Brookfield, Mass., was killed in the West Woods and probably buried here.  The bodies were later re-interred, many in Antietam National Cemetery.

The cabin, a section of which is believed to have been built in the 1760s, is an ongoing restoration project and protected by a canopy..

The cabin is beyond this old root cellar, which dates to the battle.
The foundation is all that remains from the old Poffenberger barn, where wounded huddled during 
and after the battle. Confederate artillery was stationed on Hauser's Ridge, beyond the barn.
             Google Earth: Barn foundation and cabin to left of Rt.-65 (Sharpsburg Pike) .

PLEASE NOTE: Consult with park rangers before visiting this site.


From Ball’s Bluff to Gettysburg…And Beyond: The Civil War Letters of Private Roland E. Bowen, 15th Massachusetts Infantry, 1861-1864. Gregory A. Coco, editor, Gettysburg, Pa: Thomas Publications, 1994.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Antietam: Echoes from Susan Hoffman Farm hospital

Susan Hoffman farmhouse, built in 1840s. PLEASE NOTE: This is private property. Do not trespass.
             PANORAMA: These grounds were covered with wounded on Sept. 17, 1862. 
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On Oct. 21, 1862, The New York Times published 
a lengthy list of soldiers who died
at Antietam hospitals.
For readers of The New York Times on Oct. 12, 1862, the death list of Union soldiers published on Page 1 must have been heartbreaking and mind-numbing. More than 300 men and boys in blue, according to the report that filled two full columns, had been buried or died at makeshift Federal field hospitals near the Antietam battlefield.

At George Line's farm,  known as the "White House Hospital" because of Line's white-washed log cabin, the death toll was 156 soldiers -- 101 Union and 55 Confederate. At the "Stone-House Hospital," Samuel Poffenberger's farm, the total number of deaths was listed as 37. At a hospital run by 12th Massachusetts surgeon John Hayward, 11 soldiers were buried "whose names could not be ascertained."

And at the "Hoffman Farm Hospital," the beautiful home of 56-year-old widow Susan Hoffman, 57 soldiers had died -- mostly from General Edwin Sumner's II Corps that fought in David R. Miller's cornfield and in the East and West Woods. Among them, according to the Times report, were eight unknown soldiers, including a "large man" who wore a "red woolen shirt."

On the morning of Sept. 17, Widow Hoffman's farm along the Keedysville Road was an "appalling sight," according to a newspaper correspondent who happened upon the scene. "The wounded were lying in rows awaiting their turns at the surgeons' tables," Charles Carleton Coffin wrote. "The hospital stewards had a corps of men distributing straw over the field for their comfort."

                    Google Earth: Hoffman barn is the large building near center of image.

Because of a large farmhouse, barn and several other outbuildings and an ample water supply from a spring, Widow Hoffman's 284-acre farm was ideal for a military hospital. On Sept. 21, the U.S. Christian Commission established its headquarters at the farm, supplying a beleaguered Union medical staff with bandages, linens, medicine and the soldiers with Bibles and religious literature. Rev. Isaac O. Sloan, a member of the commission, described a harrowing scene:

Reverend Issac O. Sloan of the
U.S. Christian Commission
(University of North Dakota)
At the Hoffman Hospital there were at least fifteen hundred [wounded], and at the Stone House as many if not more. On Sunday succeeding the battle we established ourselves permanently at the Hoffman House, thinking it better to concentrate our energies upon one point. In every spot here -- the barn, the stable, carriage-house, sheds, straw stacks, orchards, and indeed everywhere --  were to be seen wounded and dying men. 
For the first few days, of course, all was bustle and confusion. Nothing scarcely could be thought of but affording relief to the sufferers. Prayer only could be made at the side of one drawing near to his end, or words of Scripture whispered into the ear of the moaning patient as we dressed his wound or gave him nourishment. We had scarcely a moment for sleep. Many incidents of thrilling interest occurred here. A great proportion of the sufferers were youths, ranging from sixteen up to twenty-one years. After a few days, when matters were somewhat systematized, we had religious services every evening, in the barn, in the dwelling-house, carriage-house, and wherever there was a large number collected.
On Sept. 17, 2016, the 154th anniversary of the battle, the owners of the farm gave me a tour of their circa-1840s brick farmhouse, the old slave quarters behind the house and a circa-1810 springhouse, perhaps the first dwelling on the property. Afterward, they graciously allowed me to examine the rest of the grounds.

Echoes of the past were everywhere.

(PLEASE NOTE: This is private property. Do not trespass.)

Religious services were held in the farmhouse (above), carriage house and elsewhere on the farm.
                               PANORAMA: Springhouse, circa 1810, and farmhouse.


Nurse Helen Gilson arrived at Antietam the
 day after the battle.
(Photo: Our Army Nurses)
Nearly two weeks after the battle, about 200 wounded remained at the Hoffman farm hospital, reported a New York Times correspondent, who made special mention of a woman who comforted soldiers there. Helen Gilson, a 26-year-old nurse from Chelsea, Mass., arrived at Antietam the day after the battle.

"She had been a very angel of goodness to the soldiers," the reporter wrote, "and her presence and conversation seem to inspire new life and courage wherever she goes." As she made her rounds one day, a wounded soldier asked Gilson if she would sing. She "instantly complied" with "inimitable spirit" with a rendition of The Star Spangled Banner.

"The effect on these wounded soldiers was almost inspiring," the reporter wrote. "They clapped their hands and manifested the greatest pleasure. One poor fellow, who had lost a hand, cried out: 'I cannot clap, Miss, but I can pound,' and sitting the action to the word, struck his wounded stump upon the floor where he was lying, with impassioned earnestness. Miss G. is neither over 30 nor very homely, and in these particulars does not come up to the required standard of army nurses."

While working for the U.S. Sanitary Commission in Fredericksburg, Va., in the spring of 1864, Gilson was praised by a doctor who met her there for the first time:
"One afternoon just before the evacuation of Fredericksburg, when the atmosphere of our rooms was close and foul and we were longing for a breath of our cooler Northern air, and the men were moaning in pain or restless with fever and our hearts were sick with pity for the sufferers, I heard a light step upon the stairs; and looking up I saw a young lady enter who brought with her such an atmosphere of calm and cheerful courage, so much freshness, such an expression of gentle womanly sympathy that her mere presence seemed to revive the drooping spirits of the men... "
Alarmed that ill and wounded black soldiers did not receive proper care at City Point, Va. in 1864, Gilson, who served as a nurse through the end of the war, went to their aid. "These stories of suffering reached Miss Gilson at a moment when the previous efforts of the campaign had nearly exhausted her strength," a post-war account noted, "But her duty seemed plain."

In 1866, Gilson married E. Hamilton Osgood in Chelsea. Apparently still sufferring the effects of malaria from the war, she died in childbirth on April 20, 1868. She was only 32.

Hundreds of wounded lay in and around the Hoffman barn.
                    PANORAMA: Barn, carriage shed and farmhouse date to the battle.


After advancing past the dead and wounded from both armies that covered David R. Miller's cornfield, the 1st Minnesota pushed into the West Woods. "At last we halted at the edge of a cornfield by a rail fence," Color Sergeant Samuel Bloomer of Company B wrote in his journal, "but still we were in the woods. Had not been at the fence more than 15 minutes before a most terrific fire was poured into the left of our brigade from the rear & front & which fire came quickly down the line to the right where we were."

Color Sergeant Samuel Bloomer of the
1st Minnesota was wounded in the West Woods.
(Minnesota Historical Society)
As Bloomer lay the flagstaff on the fence, a Rebel bullet tore into his right leg, leaving a ghastly wound just below the knee. Soon, his regiment was forced to retreat, leaving behind the 26-year-old soldier from Stillwater, in the Minnesota Territory. Desperate to avoid being shot again, Bloomer crawled behind a large oak tree and dressed the wound, bathing it with water from his canteen.

"The advance of the secesh soon made their appearance &  passed by me but did not go a great ways further but formed their picket line about 40 rods in front of  me," Bloomer wrote. "Shortly their line came up & formed just where our line had stood, which left me about 40 rods in front of their line."

Captured by the Rebels, Bloomer lay on the field, "watching shells of both armies playing in or about there all day cutting off limbs of trees & tearing up the ground all around me, which made it a very dangerous place." After the war, Bloomer said several Rebels, including Sergeant William H. Andrews of the 1st Georgia, piled cord wood about him to prevent him from getting shot again.

The act of kindness  may have saved Bloomer's life.

"I have no doubt," he recalled, "that more than 100 bullets struck that barricade that day."

Later, Stonewall Jackson himself rode by, asked Bloomer what regiment he belonged to and ordered his men to make him as comfortable as possible. That night, a North Carolina captain struck up a conversation with Bloomer, giving the Yankee a canteen of water that the officer later replenished. Perhaps their kindly treatment of him made up for the behavior earlier of another Confederate officer, who caused Bloomer to seethe when he cursed him and called him a "nigger thief."

1902 newspaper image of Bloomer, 
whose right leg was amputated
 in the Hoffman barn. 
(Walter Jorgenson's 1st Minnesota site)
"I had a revolver and short sword under by rubber blanket on which I lay," Bloomer said, "and in my rage I attempted to get at my revolver, intending to shoot that fellow. But he had his eyes on me and shouted, 'Disarm that man!' " Luckily for Bloomer, the Rebels didn't harm him further, but he was forced to part with his prized sword and two revolvers.

Until later the next day, Bloomer lay in the same spot, within sight of the bodies of his comrades. At about 6 p.m. on Sept. 18, he was taken on a stretcher by the Rebels to a nearby barn "surrounded with straw stacks," perhaps on Alfred Poffenberger's farm, where more than 100 Union prisoners were kept. Lee's army slipped across the Potomac River into Virginia that night, leaving the seriously wounded Bloomer and his comrades behind. "I for one," the Swiss-born soldier wrote in his journal, "slept but little last night for pain."

Early on the morning of Sept. 19, Union troops finally appeared, among them Bloomer's cousin, Adam Marty of Company B. About noon, he was transported by ambulance to the Hoffman farm, where he lay all night "with most dreadful pain." In and around the barn on a hill near the farmhouse, Bloomer saw "some 5 or 600 wounded soldiers."

At 8 a.m, the next morning -- a "day that will long be remembered by me," he wrote -- Bloomer was placed on an operating table in Hoffman's barn,. The sergeant's right leg was amputated by regimental surgeon Dr. Edwin Pugsley above the knee, "and from then," Bloomer wrote, "the suffering commenced in earnest."

Less than three months after Antietam, Bloomer was discharged from the Union army. He served briefly in the Veterans Reserve Corps as a lieutenant. On Dec. 6, 1863, one year after he was discharged, he married Matilda J. Burns, with whom he had four children.

A local newspaper trumpeted his return home.

"In the fierce struggle of Antietam, where so many brave hearts beat out their last pulses Sam lost one of his faithful legs and was forced to relinquish his glorious charge which he had so faithfully guarded to other hands," the Glencoe (Minn.) Register and Soldiers Budget reported on Jan. 10, 1863. "And so he is back again, a cripple for life ... his fund of good humor in no way diminished. Long may he live!"

After the war, Bloomer worked as prison guard, insurance agent and sewing machine salesman and was active in the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans' organization.. Shortly after he caught Matilda committing adultery, the couple divorced in 1875. He re-married in 1882 and lived out his days in Stillwater, Okla. By the time he was 80, the old soldier who lost his leg in a barn near the Antietam battlefield could barely walk. Bloomer died on Oct. 4, 1917 at  81.

Diary of Hallowell Dunham, a private in the 19th Massachusetts, who died at the Hoffman farm.


Hallowell Dunham's leather-covered diary
was discovered in the Hoffman barn. 
Twelve days before his regiment was cut to pieces at Antietam, 21-year-old Hallowell R. Dunham, a private in Company B of the 19th Massachusetts, wrote an entry in his leather-covered journal.
"Today is Sunday 7 a.m. but how different from our quiet New England Sunday. Nothing round me to remind one that it is God's day of rest. Much would I give if I could spend only one more Sabbath at home. But that cannot be. It may never be again. But I pray God that it may be. God help me to live so that if I never spend an earthly Sabbath at home with friends I love, that I may meet them in Heaven." 
On the morning of Sept. 17, the youngest son of Marcia Dunham was wounded in the foot in the West Woods. Transported to the Hoffman farm, Dunham -- known as "Hal" to his friends -- died there on Oct. 2, perhaps from infection caused by the wound.

For Marcia Dunham, the mother of nine children, the death of her son was another cruel blow. Her husband, Julius, had died in 1841, and before and after Hallowell enlisted in the Union army on July 26, 1861, the 62-year-old woman relied on her son's financial support. A clerk before the war, Hallowell paid the rent for his mother, who was a boarder at the home of a 38-year-old farmer named William Hoar in Littleton, Mass.

"We well know that her said son contributed the greater part of his earnings for her support prior to his enlistment and that he left her an allotment of his pay and has regularly paid her board and for her clothing," an affidavit in Marcia's claim for her son's pension noted. Shortly after her son died, Marcia filed a claim, and she soon was granted a payment of $8 a month.

Old slave quarters behind the Hoffman farmhouse.
The Hoffman family's slaves lived in this small outbuilding in back of the farmhouse.
Interior of slave quarters, now used for storage.


By 1868, Benjamin Remick Sr. was a broken-down man, "afflicted with atony ... which approaches a general collapse of the whole mental and physical condition." Only 58, he was "prematurely old and infirm," a physician wrote, "so that he can do but little work at his usual trade" and was "unable to support himself or his family."

Perhaps it was no wonder he was unwell. Six years earlier, the bootmaker from Milford, Mass., had suffered immense loss.  At Antietam, his 22-year-old son, Benjamin Jr., a private in Company H of the 2nd Massachusetts, was killed instantly during brutal fighting in Miller's cornfield. He left behind an 18-year-old wife named Susan and a 1-year-old son, Nathaniel. Moments before Benjamin was killed, his younger brother, 17-year-old Prescott, was severely wounded. A bootmaker like his father, the private in Company G of the 2nd Massachusetts stood just 5 feet tall and had hazel eyes, dark hair and a dark complexion.

2nd Massachusetts Private Prescott Remick's 
gravestone at Antietam National Cemetery.
"I noticed him in particular, as his position was very near my own," Lieutenant John F. George recalled about Prescott, "and I noticed with admiration the coolness and contempt of danger with which he performed his duty. He was shot (I think) in the shoulder while standing near his brother, who was killed almost immediately after. During the turmoil and confusion, I lost sight of him but, on making enquiries, ascertained that he had been sent to the rear."

On Sept. 24, a week after the battle, a Wisconsin soldier wrote to Benjamin Sr, about the condition of his son, who was cared for at the Hoffman farm, and broke grim news about Benjamin Jr.:
"Last Sunday on visiting the hospitals near the battlefield near Sharpsburgh, Md., I saw your son Prescott, who is wounded through the back. He suffered considerably -- the next day (Monday) I saw him again, when I found him much more easy -- having had the ball extracted. He requested me to write you, which I promised to do. He has the sad news to add to that of his fate -- the death of his brother Benjamin -- who was shot at his side just as he himself fell. I could not stay long with him. I am detailed to see to wounded and am permitted to travel at all times between Washington and the battle fields, and may meet him again. I will be happy to answer any enquiries you may make in regard to him as far as I know if you address me at 329 New York Avenue Washington. If I don't answer at once you may know that I am out on the field but on my return will attend to it.  
 Respectfully yours Wm. P. Taylor 2nd Wis. Vol.
Three days later, on Sept. 27, Prescott died. His remains were buried at a small cemetery at the Smoketown Hospital, a short distance from Hoffman's farm. A battlefield visitor, probably a soldier from Massachusetts, discovered Remick's grave there in the summer of 1863. In a lengthy letter rich with detail about Antietam, he wrote:
"The shade on this summer morning is calm, deep and holy. From the field there is the odor of clover blossoms. There is not wanting the hum of bees and the songs of birds to lend a charm to the hour. The paling is neatly whitewashed which surrounds the consecrated spot. There are a hundred and fifty-nine graves, each with its rounded, white headboard, and rude lettering, with name, company and regiment of the dead. A loving heart, a faithful hand has planted a rose bush above the dust of Prescott Remic, of Company G, 2nd Massachusetts. It is fresh and green; its roots are creeping down to the coffin lid, and will draw its nourishment from the mouldering form beneath. Another year and the crimson flower will bloom with rarest beauty and richest fragrance.
After the war, Prescott remains were disinterred from the Smoketown hospital cemetery and reburied in Antietam National Cemetery. His remains lie there today under grave marker No. 978.

The springhouse may be the original dwelling on the property.
A view of the springhouse from the second-floor porch.
Back of the two-story farmhouse. Amputated limbs were tossed from 
windows, according to family lore.
Sign on Keedysville Road noting historic significance of the Hoffman farm. Please note: This is
private property. Do not trespass.

--1860 U.S. Federal census

--Antietam on the Web, accessed Oct. 14, 2016

--Hallowell Dunham, Benjamin and Prescott Remick pension files, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. via

-- Confederate Veteran Magazine, April, 1909, Page 169.

-- New York Times, Oct. 6 and 12, 1862

-- Find a Grave.

-- Gallipolis (Ohio) Journal, Sept. 3, 1863. The Antietam account of Prescott Remick's grave came from this Ohio newspaper. The account evidently was printed in several U.S. newspapers in 1863.

-- Gardner Holland, Mary A., Our Army Nurses, Boston, B. Wilkins & Co. Publishers, 1895.

-- Moss, Rev. Lemuel, Annals of the U.S. Christian Commission, Philadelphia, J.P. Lippincott & Co., 1868

-- Nelson, John H, As Grain Falls Before The Reaper, The Federal Hospital Sites And Identified Federal Casualties at Antietam, Privately published CD, Hagerstown, Md., 2004. (Nelson's outstanding work is a terrific resource on Antietam hospitals.)

-- Samuel Bloomer's journal excerpts are from Walter Jorgenson's excellent 1st Minnesota web site.  The journal is part of the Minnesota Historical Society collection, which Jorgenson cites on his web site.

-- The Century Magazine, "Antietam Scenes" by Charles Carleton Coffin, June 1886

Monday, October 10, 2016

Antietam Then & Now: Pennsylvania artillery battery

Alexander Gardner's image of  Knapp's battery was taken near the present-day visitor's center.

Click here for a larger presentation of Then & Now images for desktop and tablet.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Antietam hospital scene: 'Hold my hand till I die'

        (HOVER OVER IMAGE | Then: Library of Congress collection | Now: John Banks.)

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I had passed the site of this scene dozens of times over the years without knowing what really happened here. During the Civil War, this farm was owned by Dr. Otho J. Smith, whose property was used as a hospital for Union and Confederate wounded after the Battle of Antietam. On or about Sept. 20, 1862, Alexander Gardner shot four photographs at the farm, about a mile from the battlefield (see Google Earth view below), while wounded soldiers occupied Smith's barn and outbuildings. (See hereherehere and here.) Other wounded were cared for in makeshift tents covered with straw.

Elizabeth Harris, wife of a Philadelphia physician, and another nurse, Maria Hall, aided the wounded on Smith's farm, the division hospital for Union General William French. Harris described a heart-rending scene:
"... then came on to French's Division hospital, where were one thousand of our wounded, and a number of Confederates. The first night we slept in our ambulance; no room in the small house, the only dwelling near, could be procured. The next day was the Sabbath. The sun shone brightly; the bees and the birds were joyous and busy; a beautiful landscape spread out before us, and we knew the Lord of the Sabbath looked down upon us. But, with all these above and around us, we could see only our suffering, uncomplaining soldiers, mutilated, bleeding, dying. Almost every hour I witnessed the going out of some young life. No words can describe the wonderful endurance -- not a murmur, not a word of complaint or regret.
"Many such expressions as the following have been heard: 'Yes, I have struck my last blow for my country; whether I have served my country well others may judge. I know I love her more than life.' The lip quivered with emotion, and the face was full of meaning, as he added, 'I am done with all this, and must meet eternity. I have thought too little of the future. I had a praying mother. O that I might meet her!' Another, a mere youth, with full, round face and mild blue eyes, said, 'Hold my hand till I die. I am trying to think of my Saviour; but think of my mother and father; their hearts will break.' "
Smith's farmhouse, barn and outbuildings were torn down about the turn of the 20th century. My friend Richard Clem, a longtime Civil War relic hunter, told me that on sunny days, he saw broken glass from old medicine bottles glistening in this field -- further evidence of the farm's long-ago use as a hospital.

Cropped enlargements of the original Gardner image reveal interesting details:

Split-rail fences -- including a broken section ...

... a massive hay stack and a soldier apparently staring at Gardner and his camera ...

... and one of several tents covered with straw, a temporary shelter for wounded soldiers. Who knows what suffering took place there?

         Alexander Gardner shot image from approximately upper left of dark-green field.


Moore, Frank, Women of The War, Their Heroism and Self-Sacrifice, Hartford: S.S. Scranton & Co., 1866.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

The art of war: A double-rack 'organ' of Springfield muskets

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We usually equate the implements of war with death and destruction. As this double-rack organ of 645 1861 Springfield muskets at the Springfield (Mass.) Armory National Historic Site shows, that need not always be the case. After muskets were assembled, this is the way they were stored back in the day. My dad, "Big Johnny" Banks, would have loved this. (Click on all images to enlarge.)

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Lincoln's visit to Grove farm: 'Not a dry eye in the building'

Lincoln walked through this doorway to visit with Confederate wounded.
            Panorama: Some Confederate wounded were cared for in tents in a side yard.

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The stone front steps leading into the early-19th century farmhouse are mostly gone, replaced by cinder blocks and wood. The window frames and door sorely need fresh paint, and shutters on the brick house, badly in need of repair, have certainly seen better days. But there is an unmistakable air of history about the old Stephen P. Grove farmhouse -- a distinct feeling that something important happened here nearly 154 years ago a mile west of the village of Sharpsburg, Md.

In early October 1862, the V Corps of the Union army -- part of George McClellan's "bodyguard," a perturbed President Lincoln supposedly called it -- camped in the large, rolling fields surrounding Grove's two-story house. On Oct. 3, the president, who had hoped to prod 'Little Mac" into action after the Battle of Antietam, met with Michigan troops and posed in front of the house with McClellan and his generals for a now-iconic image taken by Alexander Gardner.

But it's what happened inside this old house that fascinates, and horrifies, me.

More than two weeks after the terrible battle, hundreds of wounded lay in makeshift hospitals or private homes throughout the area. (See here, here and here.)  At Grove's farm, astride Robert E. Lee's retreat route into Virginia, Confederates cared for their wounded in the farmer's house, barn and yard. Some of their dead, including 28th Georgia Lieutenant Benjamin Brantley, were buried in woods behind Mount Airy, as Grove's house also was known. Union wounded, probably from the nearby Battle of Shepherdstown, Va., fought days after Antietam, also were cared for on Stephen and Maria Grove's property.

Inside the house, a large, rough-hewn table was used for amputations, and amputated limbs were placed by a stone fence in back of the barn. Surgeons in both armies shared quarters in Grove's attic and "ate together ...drank together, and had a high old time."

              Google Earth: View of old Grove farm, about a mile west of Sharpsburg, Md. 

Decades after Antietam, a Sharpsburg man named William Blackford, a boy at the time of the battle, told of scores of wounded Confederates at Grove's farm. In particular, he remembered a soldier who lay near the kitchen door talking about his mother and how desperately he wanted to see her again. Apparently not suffering much, the young man from North Carolina only complained of being cold. "Do you suppose that lady in the house would let me come into the kitchen and sit by the fire?" he told Blackford. Sadly, he died from his wounds the next day.

In 1934, a day after Blackford recounted that story to Fred Cross, the Massachusetts historian visited the Grove farm. When he told Blackford's account to the current "lady of the house," she invited Cross in and showed him the large kitchen fireplace. Then she took him to the parlor, lifted the rug and pointed to a large bloodstain on the floor -- long-ago evidence of tragedy that took place there during the Civil War.

"I have washed and scrubbed that spot again and again until I had I have thought I got it all out," she told Cross, "but as soon as the floor dried that spot would reappear as plain as ever."

A cropped close-up of photo of Lincoln 
during his visit to the Grove farm 
on Oct. 3, 1862.
(Library of Congress)
Sometime during his early October visit, the most powerful man in the Union entered Grove's house, probably strolling through the very parlor where Cross spoke with Mrs. Poffenberger. President Lincoln's visit there with enemy wounded left behind by Lee's army, according to one account, was highly emotional. Earlier in the day, Lincoln had visited seriously wounded Union General Israel Richardson at Philip Pry's house, about two miles away. The Washington correspondent of the Cincinnati Commercial, who witnessed the scene at the Grove farm, filed this report:
"After leaving Gen. Richardson the party passed a house in which was a large number of Confederate wounded. By request of' the President, the party alighted and entered the building, Mr. Lincoln, after looking, remarked to the wounded Confederates that if they had no objection he would be pleased to take them by the hand. He said the solemn obligations which we owe to our country and posterity compel the prosecution of this war, and it followed that many were our enemies through uncontrollable circumstances, and he bore them no malice, and could take them by the hand with sympathy and good feeling. After a short silence the Confederates came forward, and each silently but fervently shook the hand of the President. Mr. Lincoln and General McClellan then walked forward by the side of those that were wounded too severely to be able to arise and bid them be of good cheer, assuring them that every possible care should be bestowed upon them to ameliorate their condition. It was a moving scene, and there was not a dry eye in the building, either among the Nationals or Confederates. Both the President and Gen. McClellan were kind in their remarks and treatment of the rebel sufferers during their remarkable interview."
NOTE: The Grove farm is private property. Do not trespass.


--Nelson, John H, As Grain Falls Before The Reaper, The Federal Hospital Sites And Identified Federal Casualties at Antietam, Privately published CD, Hagerstown, Md., 2004. (Nelson's outstanding work is the source for the description of the Grove farm's use as a hospital. He cites the source of that information, from Stephen P. Grove's granddaughter, as the John Philemon Smith file in the Antietam National Battlefield Visitor's Center Library.)

--Hagerstown (Md.) Daily Mail, March 12, 1934

--Herald of Freedom & Torch Light, Hagerstown, Md., Oct. 15, 1862

             Then & Now of President Lincoln at Grove Farm. Larger version here.

The farmhouse was probably built by Philip Grove in 1821. Click here for more information.
The farmhouse, privately owned today,  is badly in need of repair.
Another view of the Stephen P. Grove farmhouse. The farm is private property. Do not trespass.
        Panorama: V Corps of Union army camped in Grove's field in early October 1862.
               Pan to the right to see the long lane Lincoln used to reach the farmhouse.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Antietam: A little-known tragedy at David Reel's barn

      Top above: Interactive panorama of old Reel farm, barn. Above: Google Earth view.

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Of  the thousands of tragedies that played out during the Battle of Antietam, one that gets little attention occurred on David Reel's farm on a ridge behind Confederate lines. The Rebels used Reel's property as a staging area, and as wounded came streaming from the West Woods and elsewhere, the farmer's bank barn became a makeshift field hospital. One scene in particular stood out for a Sharpsburg man named John Philemon Smith:
"While staying at Mr. Reels I saw a number of wounded and dead Confederates brought into the yard; some were having their limbs amputated, others horribly mangled were dying. One man in particular I shall never forget. His entire abdomen had been torn and mangled with a piece of exploded shell. He uttered piercing and heart rendering cries and besought those who stood by for God's sake to kill him and thus end his sufferings. Death came to his relief in a short time and he was hastily buried in a shallow grave dug in the orchard nearby." 
But sometime during the battle, an even greater horror occurred. Federal artillery struck the barn, setting it afire and burning to death some of the wounded. When local boys went through the ruins of the barn, they found lumps of lead ... and bones of human beings in the ashes. It's not known how many Confederate soldiers died in the barn fire.

"The fire of the Federal Batteries on this point was terrific," H.W. Addison, a captain in the 7th South Carolina of Kershaw's Brigade recalled decades after the battle. "I finallly got off some hundred of yards toward the Town," added Addison, "I looked back, and saw that the Barn or building had been fired, and suppose some of our wounded were burned to death."

During a visit to the farm on the 154th anniversary of the battle, the scene was quite different. Chickens clucked in the barn, and cows nervously stirred in a nearby field. I stepped through muck to find the spot where Alexander Gardner set up his camera to record an image of the burned-out shell of the barn on Sept. 21 or 22, 1862.

There wasn't another soul in sight.

      Visit my Civil War Then & Now blog for a larger presentation for desktop and tablets.

An image of the Reel barn taken from a similar vantage point as Alexander Gardner's 1862 image.
Two outer stone walls appear to be all that remains of the war-time barn.
A close-up of an outer stone wall.
Lower level of the barn. Was this hell on Sept. 17, 1862?
A view of the length of the barn. The old Reel farm property is owned by the Civil War Trust.

-- Buchanan, Jim, Walking the West Woods blog. (Buchanan cites H.W. Addison's 1898 letter to Ezra Carman, who wrote a detailed study of the battle, as source for the description of the shelling of the Reel farm and barn. Accessed Sept. 25, 2016.)

--Nelson, John H, As Grain Falls Before The Reaper, The Federal Hospital Sites And Identified Federal Casualties at Antietam, Privately published CDHagerstown, Md., 2004. (Nelson's terrific work is the source for the quote from John Philemon Smith. He cites the source as the Smith file in the Antietam National Battlefield Visitor's Center Library.)

--Reilly, Oliver T., The Battlefield of Antietam, Hagerstown Bookbinding and Printing Co., Hagerstown, Md., 1906.