Saturday, August 23, 2014

Antietam Q&A: Owners of farm that was Civil War hospital

Troy Cool and Emily Siwarski have lived on the historic Crystal Springs farm in Keedysville, Md..,
 since 2011.  The building in the background may have been used as a morgue for the
 hospital on the property after Antietam.
Like this blog on Facebook.

Eager to preserve a major piece of Civil War history, Troy Cool and Emily Siwarski purchased a 9 1/2-acre farm in 2011 that was site of one of the two largest Union hospitals following the Battle of Antietam. Known as Crystal Springs, Locust Spring or Big Spring hospital after the battle, their farm in Keedysville, Md., today encompasses a fraction of the area it did in 1862. Although a large chunk was sold for development, the core remains, including a beautiful farmhouse that dates to 1790 and a small white-washed outbuilding that may have been used as a morgue after Antietam.

These sheep served as tour guides during my 2013 visit.
While Siwarski's first love of history was for the Medieval period, Cool has had a longtime interest in the Civil War. As a teenager, he volunteered at the Cyclorama in Gettysburg before becoming a re-enactor and a volunteer at Harper’s Ferry National Park. Cool's great-great grandfather, who served in Cole's Maryland Cavalry, was captured and survived imprisonment at Andersonville.

The couple has dived into the farming experience whole hog, so to speak: They raise pigs, which they sell to market. (After sampling one of the excellent local and regional beers at Dan's Tap Room and Restaurant in nearby Boonsboro, Md., try the pork or ham on the menu. It just may be from one of the pigs from their farm.)  During an impromptu visit to the farm in the winter of 2013, I was followed by two inquisitive sheep as Cool explained the history of the property at 19200 Geeting Road, about a mile or so from the battlefield.

Of course, the Connecticut connection to the hospital site is especially interesting to me. The 8th, 11th and 16th Connecticut regiments bivouacked on the farm two days before the battle. Afterward, hundreds of wounded were treated at Crystal Springs, including 16th Connecticut Corporal Richard Jobes (amputated left forearm) and 16th Connecticut Private Henry Adams (wounded in the leg), whose mother traveled from Connecticut to tend to him. Private Francis Burr of the 16th Connecticut, whose brother was also wounded at Antietam, was among at least seven soldiers from Connecticut to die at the hospital. (See list below.)

"Here, I met many noble soldiers," a surgeon who treated wounded at Crystal Springs recalled decades after the war, "brave as lions, patient as lambs. Some got well and are scattered I know not where, many have died and have gone to their long home. Boys in their teens met death like martyrs. Many of those boys faces are as vivid in my mind as they were fifty years ago."

Troy and Emily, who enjoy researching the history of the farm, took time out recently to answer a few questions about their historic property.

The original part of the farmhouse dates to circa 1790, according to Troy Cool.

Why did you buy the farm?

EMILY SIWARSKI: To help preserve and protect history; it may have been turned into a housing development if we didn’t buy it. It didn’t need as much work as the first place we looked at on the other side of the battlefield.

TROY COOL: Emily offered to let me live here, and how could I say no? We’re hoping to be able to maintain and preserve the property, which includes two original buildings built circa 1790 and one barn that was re-built on the original foundation in 1915. We only have 9.5 acres of the original homestead, but that includes the spring, which gives the farm and the hospital its numerous names: Crystal Springs Farm, Locust Spring Farm, Big Spring, Geeting Hospital and Bishop Russell Hospital, which makes the research a little challenging. (Here's a Maryland Historical site survey of the property.)

Seven soldiers from Connecticut appear on a list of soldiers who died at Crystal Springs Hospital. 
In order, they are:  Private Henry Schofield (11th Connecticut), Corporal Andrew Kimball (8th), 
Private Thomas Remington (11th),  Private Frederick Culver (11th), Private Horace Hunn (16th),  
Private Francis Burr  (16th) and Corporal W. Farmer (8th).  The list was compiled by
 Surgeon Truman Squire. (Chemung County, N.Y. Historical Society) 

What’s the most compelling story you have uncovered?

TROY: It would have to be a private in the 9th New York “Hawkins Zouaves,” who we believe to be Henry Sweetman.  Every account of a mortal wound is tragic and the words “mortally wounded” are easily tossed about by historians. After reading about this fellow, it holds a completely different meaning to me now.  We are pretty sure it is Henry Sweetman, but he is mentioned only once by name in three different accounts.

We first found the story in Dr. James Oliver’s memoirs, which are available online. Dr. Oliver, who served at the hospital, says it was his most fruitful and productive time in service.  Oliver mentions a particular day when his former instructor, Dr. Henry Bowditch, who volunteered at the hospital for a few days, helped dress a ghastly wound. The man had been struck in the right hip, the ball passing through and shattering his pelvis and exiting in the left small of the back.  It was necessary to lift Henry from the bed to remove the pus from his wound in the back.  I cannot imagine the intensity of the pain this must have caused.

Sweetman was attended by many but always by a messmate who never left him and cared for him the whole time. Oliver mentions finding his former instructor quietly weeping outside the tent afterwards.  In Bowditch’s autobiography, he also recounts the same story.  At that point we only knew it was a private in the 9th New York.

Gravestone at Antietam National Cemetery for Henry
 Sweetman, a private in the 9th New York who died at
 Crystal Spring Hospital. Troy Cool and Emily Siwarski often 
place flowers at his grave.
On tracking down the papers of Truman Squire, who served as chief surgeon for the majority of the hospital’s existence, we found a reply to an inquiry from Dr. Bowditch.  In the letter answering Dr. Bowditch, Dr. Squire tells him that Henry Sweetman had died a few days after Bowditch left and was buried in the cemetery created by the hospital staff across the road.  We are confident, but cannot conclusively state, that this is the same person.

Henry Sweetman would have been wounded during the battle in the Ninth Corps' assault on the heights south of the cemetery. Somewhere in those fields in the late afternoon of Sept. 17, his pelvis was shattered. He would have been carried from the field and eventually was brought to Locust Spring Hospital. After numerous treatments described above, Henry succumbed to his wounds on Oct. 27, 1862.  The words "mortally wounded" cannot be used as nonchalantly as I have used it in the past.

The story itself is compelling enough, but to find numerous sources detailing the same incident of a “mere” private really surprised me. In finding this one story, the multitude of lost stories terrifies me with the horrors of a war, which is far too often glorified even by those of us who want to convey the awfulness of it all.  I cannot show anyone around the battlefield without mentioning Henry as an example of all the “mortally wounded.”

EMILY: We’ve rather adopted Henry as ours. We located his grave at the Antietam National Cemetery and have been placing flowers there on the holidays that decoration is allowed.

This spring near the farmhouse pre-dates the Civil War.

What's the biggest surprise living there?

TROY AND EMILY:  That we are pig farmers!

16th Connecticut Private Francis Burr, who suffered a 
wound in the groin at Antietam, died at Locust Spring , one 
of several names for the hospital. Although he probably
 is buried at Antietam National Cemetery, there is 
 this marker for Burr in Higganum, Conn.

TROY:  That’s a whole other story for a different sort of blog.  I suppose the most surprising thing is how much is out there about the place.  People know Antietam, people know there were hospitals -- most think of Smoketown, if they go that far -- but rarely do you hear mention of the Locust Spring Hospital, which was its equivalent on the southern end of the field.  We have found records from the surgeons, regimental histories mentioning it, contemporary news clippings and even have a copy of [owner] Ephiram Geeting’s ledger accounting materials lost to the hospital. We have only scratched the surface and look forward to finding so much more and sharing it! Since it is so specific, just about everything we find corroborates another bit of the story we already have.

Ever find any physical evidence of the Civil War? Ever done a search of the property with a metal detector?

TROY: We have not, on both counts.  I don’t want to go about it haphazardly and am lucky enough to have some friends who have lots of experience in archaeology, and we are trying to coordinate a systematic survey that would have real value. We all know how hard it is to get friends coordinated! Also, I am holding out hope that somewhere someone sketched out the hospital. We have only scratched the surface in our research. It may be out there. We plan on being here for awhile and are in no hurry.  But I have to say we have gotten plenty of folks stopping by asking if they can hunt the property, which we politely decline.

 "It felt like home as soon as we got here."
-- Emily Siwarski

Across the road from your farmhouse there supposedly was a cemetery where soldiers who died at the farm were buried.  What can you tell us about it?

TROY: As I mentioned above about Henry Sweetman, Dr. Squire talked of it. This was one of those surprises of numerous accounts.  It is mentioned by Dr. James Oliver in his memoirs.  In the Squires letter to Bowditch, he mentions the cemetery and lays out his plans for it, including surrounding it with a stone wall and even describes the epitaph he plans on having inscribed on the memorial.  This was no makeshift affair. The Oliver reference describes it the same way. We found a newspaper article written by a visitor describing the cemetery and the good feelings it gave the veterans. According to the article, it was comforting to the wounded men in the ranks to know that their remains would be respectfully interred. Those buried in the cemetery were re-interred at Antietam National Cemetery upon its creation.  We have had several people show us where they believe it to have been. It is wooded now and is not part of our property.

Isn’t it eerie living there? Ever see any ghosts? 

8th Connecticut Lieutenant Colonel Hiram Appelman
recovered from his Antietam wound at Crystal Spring

 Hospital. Plagued by the gunshot wound  in his leg 
for the rest of  his life, he died in 1873, nearly
 11 years after the battle.
TROY: I only have two quick comments on that and then I have to turn this over to Emily. We were volunteering at an event for Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF), an awesome organization, and upon returning from a quick break I found Emily swarmed by the local ghost hunting paranormal society. I found this profoundly funny.  As with the metal detector people, she politely declined. Secondly, the place was home the moment I stepped foot in the door. I have never been uncomfortable here for any reason.

EMILY: I agree with Troy. It felt like home as soon as we got here. I’ve never felt uncomfortable or weird about being here due to ghosts; the middle-of-nowhere part gets me though!

I do have a ghost story about the farm: it was a big, beautiful full moon night when the dog got up and his nails tick-tick-ticking across the floor woke me up. I turned over to see what he was doing and there by the window looking out was a man in a Civil War overcoat with a floppy hat on. I assumed it was Troy and asked if he was OK. From next to me, Troy answered “Yes.” In the time it took me to process that the man at the window was not Troy, he was gone. Even that wasn’t a creepy moment;  it made perfect sense at the time that there would be a man in a Civil War overcoat and hat standing at our window.

TROY:  My daughter, Amelia, also claims an “otherworldly experience.”  She let out a real there’s-a serious-problem scream, so I think she saw something, but I am a nonbeliever so ...

Any other neat stories?

TROY: I have to mention the highest-ranking patient here -- you do focus on Connecticut troops after all! Lieutenant Colonel Hiram Appelman of the 8th Connecticut was treated here for his wounds received at Antietam. (Blogger's note: Appelman, plagued by his Antietam leg wound the rest of his life, died in 1873.)

John, I wanted to say thanks for the interview. I find the Maryland Campaign the most compelling time in the history of the war and possibly the history of the nation.  I feel privileged to live here and hope to be a good steward and share this story of Henry and all the others who passed through this place.

EMILY: We love visitors and everyone is welcome to come to the farm to check out the amazing piece of history we have here. We’re here most of the time, but ask that you get in touch with us before you come out so that we can make sure the sheep are penned and the pigs aren’t in the driveway! Our email is We look forward to sharing our farm and the Locust Spring Hospital with you.

                     A Google Maps view of the farm on Geeting Road in Keedysville, Md.


  1. This blog helped us locate the farm that my great grandfather, Dr. James Oliver served at as a surgeon for the Army of the Potomac. We were able to contact Troy and Emily and we visited last week. It was thrilling to think that we were in the same place that I read about in his diary. Your interview with Troy and Emily is terrific. It is wonderful that they are now the owners of the farm. It is in good hands. Thank you for helping us to connect with them.

    Harry Kendrick

  2. Harry: That's terrific that you went to visit the farm. I was there in late September. It's in great hands. Thanks for reading the blog.

  3. Loved this post, John. Quite interesting interviews, as well. Once again... well done, sir.

  4. I always enjoy your work. Nicely done!

    Thank you!