Saturday, May 19, 2018

Pssst! See soldiers' 'secret' carvings on Stones River rock

Larry Hicklen points out the name of  115th Ohio Private Daniel C. Miller carved into a rock wall 
on the bank of Stones River. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
Close-up of the handiwork of Miller, who was detailed to carve inscriptions on the Hazen Brigade 
monument nearby in 1864.  The 115th Ohio soldier survived the war.
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After two minutes of small talk outside his Civil War relics shop/house on the edge of the Stones River battlefield on Saturday afternoon, Larry Hicklen wanted to let me in on a "secret."

"Do you have about 20 minutes?" said the lifelong resident of Rutherford County, Tenn. "I want to show you something I think you'd appreciate."

Monument to Hazen's Brigade, which turned back four
Confederate attacks during the Battle of Stones River on
Dec. 31, 1862. It is the oldest Civil War monument still standing 
in its original battlefield location.
And so Hicklen and I hopped into my Nissan Murano, driving past the most famous monument on the battlefield -- blocks of limestone that form a 10-foot-high memorial to honor the 1,600 soldiers from Colonel William Hazen's brigade who tenaciously defended ground astride the Old Nashville Pike. "Hell's Half Acre," the Federals called it, because of the ferocity of the fighting near the Nashville & Chattanooga railroad tracks on Dec. 31, 1862. Four times the Confederates attacked Hazen's soldiers; four times they were turned back, leaving the ground soaked with the blood of scores of Yankees and Rebels.

      PANORAMA: The Hazen Brigade monument was placed amid the brigade cemetery
                     at Stones River. (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
Inscription on the east side of Hazen Brigade monument at Stones River battlefield.
After we parked in a lot less than a mile from the battlefield visitors' center, Hicklen and I walked 15 yards or so down a paved path. Then we carefully made our way between rocky crevices toward the banks of slow-moving Stones River -- the same route Confederates undoubtedly took as they made their way up from the waterway 155-plus years ago. Wearing a blue-and-white ballcap, overalls and a long-sleeve blue-checkered shirt, Hicklen wasn't dressed for the 90-degree weather. But he was well protected from poison oak, which I deftly avoided on our trek thanks to my eagle-eyed guide.

After we reached the river bank, Hicklen and I walked 15 paces downriver. A short distance away, a kayaker in an orange life jacket awkwardly maneuvered in the muddy water. This was familiar territory for Hicklen, who years ago had hunted for battle relics along the banks of Stones River.

Four Confederates rushed up this narrow, rocky passageway 
from the bank of Stones River on Dec. 31, 1862, Hicklen said, and  
three of them were killed a short time later.
"I found some bullets right up there," he said, gesturing toward the paved pathway. Feet away, a narrow passageway between boulders led from the river to the top of a hill. On Dec. 31, 1862, four Rebels took that route to battle, my mid-60ish tour guide told me, and three of them were killed shortly after they reached the top.

Then Hicklen pointed to our objective: a limestone wall with a slight overhang. "There," he said in his Tennessee twang "is what I wanted to show you."  Within the ornate carving of a ribbon, a soldier had etched his name and unit: Daniel C. Miller, Co. B, 115th O.V. I. A less ornate inscription by another soldier, J.C. Bauhof, appeared on the stone wall two feet from the inscription by Miller.

A corporal in the 115th Ohio, the Swiss-born Miller was 23 when he enlisted on Aug. 11, 1862. He was a strong supporter of the president, writing his parents in 1864 "if you love freedom, vote again for our old Abraham Lincoln ... Hurrah for old Abe." A carpenter by trade, he made rings for his fellow soldiers, selling some for $3.50, a tidy sum for the time. Miller survived the war, mustering out in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on June 22, 1865, and settling in Cleveland, where he died in 1902. In 1864, he and Bauhof were employed to carve inscriptions on the four sides of the Hazen Brigade monument, built by soldiers between June and October 1863.

"Hazen Brigade To the memory of its soldiers who fell at Stones River, Dec. 31st 1862. Their faces toward heaven, their feet to the foe," reads the inscription on the south face of the monument -- the oldest Civil War monument still standing in its original battlefield location.

"The veterans of Shiloh have left a deathless heritage of fame upon the field of Stone River," reads the inscription on the east side, believed by Hicklen to have been carved by Miller.

Hicklen -- who ran his Civil War relics shop near the battlefield for 41 years -- speculates the two Union soldiers carved their names for posterity on the Stones River limestone during a work break on the brigade monument. Perhaps the men were simply killing time after fishing.

For several minutes, we marveled at the off-the-beaten path site, known by few people. "Isn't it the coolest thing?" said the recently retired Hicklen, who was first shown the inscriptions by local "old-timers" long ago.

Cool indeed.

J.C.Bauhof of the 115th Ohio carved his name into limestone near the inscription 
of his comrade, Daniel Miller.  (CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)

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-- Daniel C. Miller war-time letter transcriptions, Ohio regimental files, Stones River National Battlefield, accessed May 19, 2018.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

In 10 images, the beauty of Carnton mansion in Franklin, Tenn.

A massive, ancient osage orange tree helps frame the Carnton mansion, built in 1826.
PANORAMA: A view of the 11-room mansion and outbuildings at Carnton.
(Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

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Like thousands of other families throughout the Union and Confederacy, Carrie and John McGavock and two of their children had front-row seats to the horror of the Civil War. The family's impressive, Federal-style house was a Confederate hospital during and after the Battle of Franklin (Tenn.) on Nov. 30, 1864. "Every room was filled, every bed had two poor bleeding fellows, every spare space, niche and corner under the stairs in the hall,  everywhere. ..." an Army of Tennessee veteran wrote decades after the war about Carnton, an 11-room mansion. "And when the noble old house could hold no more, the yard was appropriated until the wounded and dead filled that ..." On a hot afternoon recently at Carnton, visitors rocked in green chairs and chatted on the back porch -- the same porch where the bodies of four Confederate generals lay the morning after the battle.

The front entrance of Carnton, the ancestral home of the McGavock family. 
Perhaps this is the entrance President Andrew Jackson walked through as a guest at Carnton.
Side doors to the mansion, which served as the largest Confederate hospital at Franklin. 
View from garden of the back porch, where bodies of four Confederate generals killed at Franklin once lay.
           PANORAMA: Confederates used the McGavock's property as a staging area 
      during the battle on Nov. 30, 1864. (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
Set against a blue sky, the west side of the 11-room mansion.
Flowers bloom within site of  Carnton's second-floor porch.
       PANORAMA: On Dec. 1, 1864, the bodies of Confederate generals Patrick Cleburne, 
    Hiram Granbury, John Adams and Otho Strahl lay on the first-floor porch at right.
                                      (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Video: Sights & sounds from Perryville fields of carnage

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In these fields now bordered by a snake-rail fence and a wood line, the 79th Pennsylvania suffered 40 killed among more than 200 casualties during the Battle of Perryville (Ky.) on Oct. 8, 1862. Wounded in the left side by buck & ball, 79th Pennsylvania Private William Woodward lay here for 10 hours with multiple wounds. A soldier in the 41st Georgia gave the parched soldier a drink and a full canteen of water, and Woodward survived the battle and the war.

Field where 79th Pennsylvania Private William Woodward lay with multiple wounds.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

In 10 images, the beauty of Perryville (Ky.) battlefield

A field of buttercups where the 3rd Ohio and 15th Kentucky made their stand on the Union right flank.
    PANORAMA: From this ridge, Union artillery dueled with Rebel artillery positioned 
                    on hills in the distance. (Click on image for full-screen panorama.)

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At Perryville, golden skies reluctantly give way to ominous, black clouds. Despite threatening weather, much beauty remains this morning on a hilly Kentucky battlefield where Union and Confederate soldiers clashed on Oct. 8, 1862, in the unheralded western theater battle. Near where inexperienced 40th Indiana troops made their stand, a man in a brown checkered shirt, jeans and long boots rides a chestnut mare on a trail as his gray dog eagerly leads the the way. Buttercups dominate a field where the 15th Kentucky and 3rd Ohio valiantly attempted to hold off a Confederate charge on the extreme right flank of the Union army. Here a Rebel artillery shell ignited a barn --- the acrid smoke from the hit obscured the Federals' view -- but there's no trace of the structure today. And in a rolling field of green bordered by a snake-rail fence and a wood line, a marker reveals the horror of the marvelous landscape: 40 soldiers in the 79th Pennsylvania were killed here nearly 156 years ago.

A statue of a Confederate soldier stands watch at the mass grave of his comrades. Two hundred Rebels
may be buried in the cemetery opposite the small Perryville visitors' center and museum.
A marker at the base of the memorial and a Confederate national flag.
A tombstone for one of the two known soldiers buried at the Confederate cemetery in Perryville, Ky.
In a field on the Union right flank, buttercups bloom where wounded soldiers once lay.
      PANORAMA: Where 79th Pennsylvania suffered 189 casualties, including 37 killed.
                                       (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
Nearly pristine, the Perryville battlefield is known for rolling terrain that sometimes bedeviled soldiers.
            PANORAMA: From Starkweather's Hill, Union artillery was forced to retreat.
                                       (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
Union artillery position on Starkweather's Hill. The Federals were forced to retreat to another ridge.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Franklin 'constellation': Photographic evidence of brutal battle

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When I approached the outbuilding on the old Fountain Carter farm last Friday morning, my expectations were low for high-quality photography.  I had arrived well before the house and outbuildings at this important Battle of Franklin (Tenn.) site were open for tours, leaving me no opportunity for a prime inside photos. No matter. I pressed my iPhone 8 flush against a window pane of the former Carter farm office and got this surprising result. With light streaming in from the outside, the bullet holes lit up like constellations in the night sky -- further evidence of a horrific battle of Nov. 30, 1864.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Five notable Antietam sites you may have missed

Samuel Poffenberger farmhouse. The structure at left is a post-war addition.
These ancient steps lead to the front door. Who trod on these stones in 1862?
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A look at five seldom-seen Antietam sites:


NOTABLE: Hundreds of  Union wounded (and some Confederates) were cared for at the Poffenberger farm, also known as the "Stone House" hospital for obvious reasons. Famed nurse Clara Barton is believed by some to have served at the Poffenberger farm, but that's in dispute. According to Oliver T. Reilly, who grew up in the area and claims to have witnessed the battle as a youngster, Poffenberger hid eight horses in his large cellar to prevent their theft by the armies.

HOW TO GET THERE: The farm is private property, but it may be viewed from Mansfield Road. If you want to take a photo of the farm, be especially mindful of traffic on this narrow back road near the battlefield.


Circa-1840 farmhouse of widow Susan Hoffman, whose farm became a Union hospital site.
Original foundation of the barn, which sheltered scores of Union wounded.
NOTABLE: Hundreds of Union wounded were cared for at Hoffman's farm, located off Keedysville Road. Jonathan Franklin Dyer, a Federal surgeon, described the scene there in early October 1862:
"We have been removing the wounded as fast as possible, but have yet one hundred fifty here, all of them severe cases, amputations, fractures, etc. We have seven surgeons of whom three or four each day are unfit for duty, on account of the severe labor of the past fortnight, but each one has his ward to attend, and each one is obliged to dress all the wounds in his ward, none of this being left with nurses. We would have been glad if those surgeons who visited the army soon after the battle had remained to assist us, but they did not seem willing to remain and dress stumps.
"Many die of course, as the nature of their wounds is such that a large percentage of deaths is to be expected. I hope that all will soon be removed, as the atmosphere of the whole neighborhood is tainted."
HOW TO GET THERE: The Hoffman farm hospital site is also private property. You may view the farm from Keedysville Road, but be especially mindful of traffic on the narrow, two-lane country road. A Save Historic Antietam Foundation sign by the road notes the farm's use as a hospital site.


John Otto's circa-1830s farmhouse is on National Park Service property.
Ruins of the Otto barn, used as a makeshift Federal hospital.
NOTABLE:  On the morning before the battle, John Otto and his family fled the farm, located on a hill opposite Joseph Sherrick's property. Hillary Watson, a former Otto slave, recalled in 1915 an encounter in the farmhouse that day with a Confederate soldier:
"I stayed on the place. Once, I fastened up the house tight and walked up in the field. By and by, I had the feeling that I'd better go back, and I went. I found someone had broke a pane of glass in a window and reached in and took out the nail that kept the sash down. Then he'd raised the window and crawled in. Close by, inside of the room, was a wash bench, and he'd set a crock of preserves and a crock of flour on it ready to carry away. I took the things and put 'em where they belonged and started on the trail of that thief. It was easy follerin' him, for he left all the doors open which he went through. In the dining room he'd poured out a lot of sugar on a handkerchief to take along, and he'd gone into my old bosses room and strewed his papers around the floor. Next he'd gone upsteps, and I went up 'em too, and hyar he was in a little pantry. He was a Rebel soldier -- a young feller -- and not very large. I was skeered, but he was no mo' skeered than I was -- certainly he was; and I said, 'you dirty houn' you, I have a notion to take you and throw you down those steps' ... He didn't say anything. He left. I rekon I was too big for him." 
HOW TO GET THERE: There is no convenient place to park at the Otto farmhouse, so consider parking at the nearby Joseph Sherrick farm on Burnside Bridge Road. Walk across the road and up the hill to the Otto property. Alternatively, consider parking at the Burnside Bridge lot and walking a trail back to the Otto farmhouse.

The ruins of the barn, used as a makeshift Federal hospital, are adjacent to a strip of woods, approximately 125 yards behind the house. Although the Otto house may be viewed from the outside, it's not open to the public, a pity because a 9th New York soldier carved his name on a window frame in a northeast corner bedroom.


View of Alfred Poffenberger root cellar and cabin, which is protected by a canopy.
15th Massachusetts dead were buried here on the northwest side of the cabin.
NOTABLE: During fighting in the nearby West Woods, Alfred Poffenberger's farm was occupied by Confederates. Poffenberger, who lived here with his wife and two young children in 1862, leased this farmstead from Mary Locher. The foundation of the Poffenberger barn, used as an aid station/makeshift hospital by the Rebels, is near the cabin and a stone root cellar, which pre-dates the war.

On the northwest side of the cabin, 15th Massachusetts dead were buried. "The corpes [corpses] were buried by Co., that is the members of each Co. Are put together," 15th Massachusetts Private Roland Bowen wrote. "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." The bodies were eventually disinterred and re-buried elsewhere.

HOW TO GET THERE: Before visiting the Locher cabin, consult with park rangers at the Antietam visitors' center. There is no convenient place to park off busy Maryland Route 65, so the best way to get to the cabin is by walking there on the trail leading from Dunker Church and then carefully crossing Route 65. The cabin, a section of which is believed to have been built in the 1760s, is an ongoing National Park Service restoration project and protected by a canopy. (For more on the Poffenberger farm on my blog, go here.)


15th Massachusetts monument was dedicated on Sept. 17, 1900, the 38th anniversary of the battle.
The impressive wounded lion on the 15th Massachusetts monument.

NOTABLE: Nearly 200 veterans and members of their families -- about 500 people in all -- gathered at the 15th Massachusetts monument for its dedication at 10 a.m. on Sept. 17, 1900, the hour the regiment went into action 38 years earlier. The Star-Spangled Banner was sung and John W. Kimball, a lieutenant colonel in the regiment, delivered an impressive speech.

The imposing wounded lion.
"We are gathered on this great battlefield of the Civil War to dedicate this monument," the 72-year-old veteran said, "the voluntary and generous gift, I am proud to say, of the few surviving members of the 15th regiment infantry, Massachusetts volunteers, to the memory of our loved comrades who gave up their lives, and whose great heroic spirits went up to God from this field through the fire and smoke of battle."

Few battlefield tourists today, however, venture into the West Woods to see my favorite Antietam monument, which is topped by a magnificent wounded lion. Soldiers killed or mortally wounded in the 15th Massachusetts (and Andrew's Sharpshoooters) are listed on a large plaque mounted on back of the monument. Among those Antietam dead is 15th Massachusetts Private Justus Wellington, whose ambrotype image is part of my modest collection.

HOW TO GET THERE: Walk the trail several hundred yards behind the Dunker Church, past the 125th Pennsylvania and 34th New York monuments, to Maryland Rt. 65. The 15th Massachusetts monument is on a knoll overlooking the busy state road, an unfortunate 20th-century addition cutting through the battlefield landscape.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Dyer, Jonah Franklin Dyer, The Journal of a Civil War Surgeon, edited by Michael B. Chesson, Lincoln, Neb., University of Nebraska Press, 2003.
-- From Ball’s Bluff to Gettysburg…And Beyond: The Civil War Letters of Private Roland E. Bowen, 15th Massachusetts Infantry, 1861-1864. edited by Gregory A. Coco, Gettysburg, Pa: Thomas Publications, 1994.
-- Reilly, Oliver T., The Battlefield of Antietam, Hagerstown Bookbinding and Printing Co., Hagerstown, Md., 1906
-- The Baltimore Sun, Sept. 18, 1900.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Friday, May 04, 2018

Photo gallery: Who remembers Confederate dead of Franklin?

Within view of the Carnton plantation house, a Confederate field hospital during the 
Battle of Franklin, a marker for 104 dead. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
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Early on a warm spring morning, a lone visitor walks among the Confederate dead of Franklin, inspecting graves for tokens of remembrance. As at Antietam two weeks earlier, he does not have to look for long. Two pennies lay atop a small, square gray-granite memorial in the clover at McGavock Confederate Cemetery  A pile of stones rests on a marker for unknowns, killed in the awful battle here in Tennessee on Nov. 30, 1864. A single, white rose is discovered on the ground near another marker in the cemetery where nearly 1,500 Confederate dead rest. "The brave die never," American author Minot Judson Savage once wrote, "though they sleep in dust: Their courage nerves a thousand living men."

For someone, this soldier is unforgettable.
Among the clover and wildflowers, a memorial stone and two pennies.
"Fell in Franklin," read words on  22-year-old Missouri soldier Alfred Nuckol's marker.
Four pennies on a stone denoting Texas dead.
A visitor, the only one in the cemetery, inspects the South Carolina marker.
Grave for 25-year-old John B. Womack, 16th Tennessee, "killed in a charge on the works" at Franklin.
Next to a marker for Louisiana dead, a chipped stone for South Carolina fallen topped with a penny.
On a marker for unknowns, a small pile of stones.
A white rose at the foot of a marker for Confederate unknowns.

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-- Womack Genealogy, The Official Publication of the Womack Family Association, Vol.IV, No. 1, June 1960. (Accessed online May 4, 2018.)

Friday, April 27, 2018

A white cross and red roses: Remembering Private John Roby

10th West Virginia Private John Roby's grave in Antietam National Cemetery.
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Walk through Antietam National Cemetery and you're sure to find a token of remembrance atop many of the weather-worn Civil War gravestones. You may see a pebble, a penny or two, perhaps a flower or a jar with a small candle -- all efforts by someone to tell us an ultimate sacrifice long ago still has deep meaning.

If you ventured toward the back of the beautiful, well-manicured grounds recently, past the massive soldier's monument known as "Old Simon," John Roby's grave may have caught your eye. A large, white cross affixed with fresh, red roses leaned against the marker for the 10th West Virginia private. More than 155 years after he died, someone still cares. The discovery sparked our curiosity: Who was John Roby?

In this document dated April 28, 1864, a surgeon at the Union hospital
 noted John Roby's cause of death: "phthisis pulmonalis," commonly 
known today as tuberculosis(National Archives via
A laborer from Anderson's Store, Va., he enlisted in the Union army in Bennett's Mill on Sept. 25, 1861, leaving behind a wife named Elizabeth and at least two children living at home: Marcellus, 10, and Falista Margaret, 8. John may have been in his early 60s, more than 35 years older than the average age of a Civil War soldier. When hostilities began in Charleston, S.C., in April 1861, the Robys had already been married for nearly 34 years.

In early December 1862, Roby contracted a "disease of the lungs" near New Creek, Va., while he was "engaged in the normal duties of a soldier." Days later, he lay in "U.S. General Hospital" near Cumberland, Md., probably the Clarysville Hospital that opened in early March 1862 for the care for hundreds of ill and injured Union soldiers. On Christmas Eve, Roby died of disease, by far the leading cause of death during the war.

On June 6, 1863 -- 12 days before West Virginia was granted statehood and became part of the Union -- Elizabeth traveled to the courthouse in Lewis County, Va., where she provided evidence for a widow's pension claim. The 54-year-old woman declared she had married John in "David Heart's house" in Pendleton County, Va., on Aug. 30, 1827, and said the couple had 13 children together. Two friends of the family vouched for Elizabeth's claims, noting letters from 10th West Virginia soldiers that confirmed Roby had died in a Union hospital. Although she initially could not provide acceptable evidence of the birth of her youngest children, Elizabeth's claim was approved in 1864 at the standard $8 a month.

Signature of John Roby's widow on a pension file document. (National Archives via
Whether Mrs. Roby traveled to Cumberland to mourn at her husband's grave is unknown. In a massive post-war effort by the Federal government, thousands of Union dead who were buried on battlefields or at church graveyards, hospital sites or elsewhere were disinterred for re-burial in newly established national cemeteries. John's remains may have been identified because of a well-marked grave or perhaps by a personal item such as a watch or another keepsake. When Antietam National Cemetery was dedicated on Sept. 17, 1867, Roby's grave probably was marked by a wooden marker, later replaced with a pearl-white tombstone.

Of course, we'll probably never know who left the magnificent remembrance at the old soldier's final resting place on the hill in the village of Sharpsburg, Md. But that's OK. When you remember one, someone once said, you remember them all.

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-- 1860 U.S. census
-- John Roby widow's pension file, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C., via

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Antietam video: A visit to seldom-seen Union hospital site

An early-morning view of seldom-visited site of the old Otho J. Smith farm. 

PANORAMA: O.J. Smith farm on cold, misty morning. 
(Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

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In heart-rending accounts, nurses who served at the Otho J. Smith farm-turned-Union hospital near the Antietam battlefield wrote of wretched soldiers under their care. About one thousand Union wounded and some Confederates were patients at the division hospital for Union General William French after the battle on Sept. 17, 1862.

"Many last messages were taken and many precious treasures were committed to our charge to be sent along with a lock of hair and the last words to the sorrowing ones at home," recalled Maria Hall after the war.  Elizabeth Harris also aided wounded on Smith's farm, just off present-day Mansfield Road. She remembered:
"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."
In the video above, lifelong Washington County (Md.) resident and historian Richard Clem talks about the site of the former Union hospital where Alexander Gardner shot images in the fall of 1862. Smith's barn and house are long gone, and the privately-owned site is seldom visited by battlefield wanderers today. (Note: In the video, Clem refers to wounded at the Smith farm in the I Corps. He meant II Corps.)

In September 1862, tents for Antietam wounded occupied Otho J. Smith's field.
(Alexander Gardner | Library of Congress)
In this image by Alexander Gardner, 14th Indiana regimental surgeon Anson Hurd tends 
to wounded at the Otho J. Smith farm. (Library of Congress)
   Alexander Gardner shot first image above from approximately upper left of large field.
                                                               (Google Earth)

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

Monday, April 23, 2018

Masterpiece: A visit to Widow Hoffman's farm at Antietam

Circa-1840 Susan Hoffman farmhouse. Her farm was a Union hospital site during and after Antietam. 
                PANORAMA: Panning from left, the barn, house, spring house and spring.
                                     (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

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On a spectacular spring morning, the old farmstead near the Antietam battlefield is a landscape painter’s dream. A circa-1840, red-brick farmhouse, magnificent inside and out, and an immaculate garden seem worthy subject matter for Claude Monet or any of the other great French impressionists.

Inside a small outbuilding, once quarters for the farm's slaves, guests gaze at the well-worn stone steps and wonder about long-ago occupants in the brick structure. At the 2 1/2-story spring house, probably the first residence of the farm’s original owner, ripples of water flow from underground while inside, a miniature Elvis — a misfit among great history— peers from his perch on a brown mantle in front of a wall painted light blue.

While two visitors admire the grounds, a graceful red hawk, buoyed by air currents and perhaps eyeing prey near an ancient corn crib below, circles high above them. On a narrow, winding country road nearby, the engine of a motorcycle, apparently muffled by the folds of land, is barely audible.

Spectacular view of countryside from the second-floor porch of the house.
Spring house, believed to be the first residence of the farm's original owner.
Elvis has not left the building: A mini-Presley stands guard on a mantle in the spring house.
Meanwhile, on a hillside overlooking the farmhouse, a massive barn, its original stone foundation intact, stands watch against a blue sky brushed with clouds. On its upper floor, huge bales of hay produce a distinctive, almost pungent, odor. A guest inspects the structure’s impressive, wooden beams marked by Roman numeral etchings, tell-tale evidence of 19th-century craftsmanship. Another visitor stoops to examine the old, handcrafted nails in the floorboards.

On the ground floor of the Pennsylvania-style bank barn, cows crowd into the dingy, confined space and nervously eye an unwelcome visitor, who admires the stonework and wonders about the tragic history of this special place.

Scores of Union wounded sheltered in this barn after the Battle of Antietam.
Cows occupy the ground floor of the barn, where hundreds of wounded were cared for in 1862.
Roman numerals etched in wooden barn beams, evidence of 19th-century craftsmanship.
Ancient wooden beams in the Hoffman farm barn.
Behind the farmhouse, the original corn crib.
On a short walk back to the farmhouse, an owner of the property tells the story of a piece of crafted metal he retrieved for his guests’ inspection. The boot scraper stirs imaginations: What soles/souls used this handiwork, probably created by a local blacksmith long ago? How many Federal soldiers scraped their boots on the ornate antique?

At least one of the guests briefly closes his eyes and imagines the scene in September and October 1862 at widow Susan Hoffman’s farm, used as a Union hospital during and after the Battle of Antietam:

Boot scraper: What Federal soldiers used it before entering
the Hoffman farmhouse?
Hundreds of wounded and dying soldiers, torn apart by chunks of metal. Blood-soaked surgeons. Amputated limbs in grotesque piles. The sickening smell of decaying flesh. Mounds of earth for freshly dug graves. A nurse, sweat pouring from her brow, tenderly consoling a grievously injured Yankee.

"On Sunday succeeding the battle," a member of the U.S. Christian Commission wrote, "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 wounds…"

Most of the wounded soldiers, the man recalled, were 16 to 21 years old.

After the visitors thank their gracious hosts, they drive off on the long, gravel lane. Comparing notes, they both quickly agree: It's a blessing to have the opportunity to walk among the ghosts ... and to view a  masterpiece.

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