Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Antietam Up Close: David R. Miller farmhouse

Alexander Gardner probably shot this image of David R. Miller farmhouse on 
Sept. 19, 1862,  two days after the Battle of Antietam. (Library of Congress collection)
An enlargement of Gardner's image reveals five people, probably members of 
Miller's family,  on the porch. The Millers sought refuge nearer
 to Sharpsburg during the battle.
In this enlargement of Gardner's 1862 image, possible evidence of 
battle damage   may be seen on the side of the David R. Miller's house. 
Or does the arrow point to a water spout?
Appearing ghostlike, a man can be seen sitting on what appears to be a box
 or a stump in this enlargement of Gardner's image. Because of the limitations 
of 1860s technology, photographers  could not easily capture motion in images. 
Although some of the most intense fighting of the Civil War swirled around the property of farmer David R. Miller, his house and barn suffered surprisingly little damage during the Battle of Antietam. Only one outbuilding, a blacksmith shop, was destroyed, according to Antietam Farmsteads: A Guide to the Battlefield Landscape. His neighbors, Samuel Mumma and William Roulette, weren't so lucky. Mumma's house was burned to the ground by Rebels who feared it would be used by Union sharpshooters, and Roulette's house and barn were turned into a bloody mess for days when they were used as field hospitals.

Wounded were also treated at Miller's house, but those soldiers soon were moved to a larger hospital established nearby. Of course, the crops of all three farmers were ruined during the fighting or used to fuel both armies. Miller's cornfield, infamously known as The Bloody Cornfield (see my interactive panorama), is where the Yankees and Rebs slugged it out for hours starting about dawn on Sept. 17, 1862.
Draped with scaffolding, the Miller farmhouse is slowly being renovated by the 
National Park Service. It is the only remaining structure on the  old Miller property that 
dates to the Civil War. The original log portion of the  home dates to about 1800.
A tiny piece of history: A bullet from
 the Battle of Antietam.
Days after the battle, renowned Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner shot two images of Union burial details on Miller's property as well as an image of the farmer's house. A close-up of that image reveals remarkable detail, including what probably are five members of Miller's family on the small front porch, and perhaps battle damage on the side of the house. Just imagine what it was like for this family, especially the children, in the days after the battle. Freshly dug graves pockmarked the Miller property and the stench of decomposing human and horse flesh undoubtedly still filled the air.

I get a little nostalgic when I visit the old Miller farmhouse, currently under renovation by the National Park Service, which acquired the property in 1990. Way back when I was a cub reporter at the Martinsburg (W.Va.) Evening Journal in the early 1980s, I visited the Culler family, who had farmed the Miller property for 40 years or so, for a story on war relics they had found while farming the land. On a large table in the driveway leading to the house -- the same driveway that's there today -- the Cullers had laid out on a small table a collection of artillery shells, bullets and other detritus the armies left behind. A month or two later, while relic hunting with the Culler's permission in their freshly plowed field astride the Hagerstown Pike, I found the fired bullet at right. (Remember, it was private property then, and relic hunting was allowed with the owner's permission.) It may be insignificant to others, but that bullet remains my greatest Civil War find.


  1. Hi. Just an FYI on the photos of Miller's Farmhouse. Issue 22 (Winter 2016) of the "Civil War Monitor" magazine identifies the people/ages in the photograph, including the man sitting on the treestump. If you e-mail me at vardalm@yahoo.com I can send you a screenshot of the article if you like. --Mike Vardal

  2. Anonymous5:03 AM

    What a fascinating photo of the five members of the Miller family sitting on the porch there. One young woman is actually smiling. It is so unusual to see any emotion or facial expression on photos from that time.

    Actually, I have just discovered this blog and am captivated by the enlargement of the tiny details way off in the detail or in some tiny corner. A privileged glimpse of a tiny corner of the past. Unstaged, unposed, just there in the distance somewhere. Caught forever in time.

    Thank you to the blogger for this fascinating material.