Thursday, May 02, 2013

Antietam story: 'Borrowing' from Private Barney Houser

Bob Eschbach, holding a copy of a photo of Private Barney Houser, lives next to
Christ Reformed Church, which was used as a hospital after the Battle of Antietam. 
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When Barney Houser went off to fight the Rebels, he probably didn't expect anyone to one day come calling to borrow an iron kettle, a skillet, four window blinds, four ladles .... and his house. But war has a way of turning lives upside down.

A private in the 1st Maryland Potomac Home Brigade from August 1861-August 1864, Houser lived in the house next to the German Reformed Church, a small brick structure on the main street in Sharpsburg. After the Battle of Antietam, the building was one of three churches in town used as a hospital. Wounded men were carried into the church on planks, laid across the pews, and operated on by surgeons, who tossed amputated limbs out the windows. At least seven soldiers from Connecticut died within the walls of the 40 x 80-foot building, including 16th Connecticut privates James Brooks of Stafford and Horace Lay of Hartford and 8th Connecticut private John Doolittle of Middletown.

From Sharpsburg, Md., Barney Houser was a
 private in the 1st Maryland Potomac Home  Brigade.
Hard-pressed to deal with the influx of patients at the German Reformed Church, Union medical personnel used Houser's home, just 15 feet across an alley from the church, to accommodate more wounded men. And they also borrowed a litany of items from the soldier's house.

Bob Eschbach, current owner of the residence, received the evidence several years when he gave a tour of the house to Houser's descendants, who traveled from Kansas to Sharpsburg to learn more about their ancestor. The family gave Eschbach copies of a wartime image of Houser and a receipt he received from the army for items borrowed from his home for use in the hospital next door. In all, 14 different items are listed, including two bed ticks ($3),  four chairs ($2), two bedsteads ($6), one waiter (75 cents) and one Dutch oven ($1). (See copy below.)

Whether Houser actually received financial compensation from Uncle Sam is worth investigating. My hunch is that getting cash from the government was a struggle, if he received any compensation at all.

Worship service is still held on Sunday at the German Reformed Church, now called Christ Reformed Church. The building was extensively renovated after the Civil War, thanks, in part, to donations from Connecticut Civil War veterans, who paid for a beautiful stained-glassed window that faces Main Street. As for Eschbach, he has no qualms about living next to the scene of horror and pain so long ago.

"People have to live somewhere," he said. A frequent visitor to the battlefield, Eschbach has lived in the house since 1993.

Private Barney Houser lived in this house in Sharpsburg during the Civil War. According to
 the current owner,  part of the house dates to the Revolutionary War.
A copy of the receipt Barney Houser received for items borrowed from his house
for use in the church hospital next door.

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