Friday, April 13, 2012

Antietam: Church of misery for 16th Connecticut

Wounded soldiers, including many from the 16th Connecticut, were treated at the
 German Reformed Church (now called Christ Reform Church) on Main Street
 in Sharpsburg, Md.,  after the Battle of Antietam. Left, church
 as it appeared in the 1890s and today. 
Top: 8th Connecticut private John Doolittle's
 death on Oct. 10, 1862 was recorded 
 by a surgeon in the  case book shown 
in  middle photo.  George Chamberlain, 
 a private in the 16th Connecticut, 
was also treated at the German Reform
 Church in  Sharpsburg, Md. He died nearly 
three years after Antietam from a wound 
suffered at the battle.
(Top, bottom photos: Middlesex Historical Society)
In October 1894, Connecticut veterans of Antietam, most in their early 50s and 60s, made a pilgrimage to the battlefield where many of their comrades suffered and died three decades earlier.

On Oct. 11, the old soldiers toured the field, swapped stories, collected war relics and attended the dedication of monuments to the 8th, 11th, 14th and 16th Connecticut regiments. "All of the above indicated monuments stand upon the advance positions of the respective regiments, where our friends placed upon the altar of the nation their heavy tribute of blood," the itinerary for the trip noted. (1)

The festivities that evening, according to the trip itinerary, included "interesting exercises, an address, camp-fire talks, and music, at the Reformed Church courteously offered for our use." (2)

Ironically, that same church was a place of horror 32 years earlier.

Houses, barns and churches in the Sharpsburg area became makeshift field hospitals during and after the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17. 1862. Many Connecticut soldiers were treated at the German Reformed Church, a small, brick building on Main Street a short distance from where Robert E. Lee held a council of war the night of the bloodiest day in American history. Wounded men were carried into the church on planks, laid across the pews, and operated on by surgeons, who tossed amputated limbs out the window. Parishioners aided the overtaxed doctors.

Soldiers from the 16th Connecticut, most of whom were wounded in farmer John Otto's cornfield about a mile and a half away, were treated at the German Reform Church well into October and November. In nearly indecipherable doctor's scrawl, surgeons E. McDonnell of the U.S. Volunteers and Truman Squire of the 89th New York detailed in a case book the treatment of those men, some of whom suffered from multiple -- and often ghastly -- wounds: (3)

Private Horace Lay, Company I, 16th Connecticut, Hartford: "Admitted to this hospital Oct. 5, 1862. Present condition (Oct. 6) fracture of left femur by a ball...

"...his thigh being quite small, would seem to invite the knife -- but I am sick today myself and cannot pursue action."

Lay's wife, Charlotte, traveled to Sharpsburg and was present when her husband died on Nov. 16, 1862. (4)

Private George Chamberlain, Company G, 16th Connecticut, Middletown: "Present condition: Wound from the entrance of a musket ball a little below the bend of the right knee ... he keeps the leg flexed at a right angle and is careful not to move the joint for reason of pain."

His mother, Mary Ann, traveled to Sharpsburg to help nurse her son back to health, and both of them witnessed the death of Horace Lay, an acquaintance of George's. (5) Chamberlain, 18 years old when he enlisted, was discharged from the army because of disability on April 1, 1863. He died of his Antietam wound on May 11, 1865.

Private John Loveland, Company C, 16th Connecticut, Hartford: "Lost more blood in the operation than I could have wished and the patient sank quite low after the removal of the limb and was long in coming from the influence of the chloroform. But tonight he has good pulse, good color, is rational, feels hopeful and the case appears ... promising."

Loveland died on Oct. 16, 1862. He left behind a wife, Anna, whom he married on Jan. 15, 1860.

Private William W. Porter, Company H, 16th Connecticut, Glastonbury: "Oct. 8: evening: Amputated the thigh this morning. Patient stood the operation well and is comfortable."

"Oct 9: Pulse quite feeble ... Stump looks well. ... Case now critical."

William Wallace Porter, a private in the 
16th Connecticut, was mortally wounded at 
Antietam. He is buried at ancient Green Cemetery
 in Glastonbury, Conn.
"10th Oct. morning: Died at 2 1/2 this morning."

Porter's father traveled to the battlefield and returned to Connecticut with his son's body. William Porter is buried in ancient Green Cemetery in Glastonbury next to his brother, John, who died in action near Petersburg, Va.

Private James Brooks, Company I, 16th Connecticut, Stafford: "He has six wounds...

"The boy is emaciated but has an appetite and there is hope."

"Oct. 7 evening: Doing pretty well considering multiplicity of his wounds."

"Oct. 9 morn.: Holding his own remarkably."

"Oct. 11th: Failing rapidly and might die soon."

 "Oct. 11th 3 p.m.: Just died."

Eager to memorialize their comrades and honor the good people of Sharpsburg who came to their aid, veterans of the 16th Connecticut graciously donated two large stained-glass windows (cost: $400) and $100 to the church when it was re-dedicated on June 14, 1891. 

The church, now called Christ Reformed Church, has been remodeled several times, and the bloody floorboards were reportedly ripped out in the 1940s. Unaware of the pain and suffering that took place within the building's walls, most battlefield tourists today rarely stop by the little church on Main Street, a scene of misery nearly 150 years ago.

(1) The Joint Excursion of Connecticut Regiments, Oct. 11, 1894
(2) Ibid
(3) Report Surgical Cases in German Reform Church Hospital, Sharpsburg, Md., 1862
(4) Widow's army pension document, Dec. 22, 1862 and Feb. 27, 1864.
(5) Widow's pension affidavit, Nov.10, 1863

His surgeon noted that Private James Brooks of the 16th Connecticut was wounded
six times at Antietam. Brooks, from Stafford, Conn.,  died on Oct. 11, 1862.
He was 19 years old. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)

MORE ON ANTIETAM: Read my extensive thread on the battle.


  1. Thanks for sharing these poignant vignettes. I had an ancestor, on my father's side, that fought with the 21st Mass. and was badly wounded at Antietam during the fighting for Burnside's Bridge. Thanks for all of your interesting postings on your blog, I have enjoyed slowly scrolling around and reading all of the tidbits. Cheers! Chris

  2. John

    This is unrelated to the Antietam Church photos which you posted (as always, interesting). I just noticed the photos on the left side of your site of the confederate dead along the Hagerstown Pike. These are members of my ancestors Louisiana Brigade - James M. Bennett, private, Co K, 9th Louisiana, Hays Brigade.