Sunday, September 25, 2016

Antietam: Is this house where General Joseph Mansfield died?

2000: During a renovation of the house,  the current owner discovered log construction underneath.
(Images showing log construction courtesy Marvin Diller)
TODAY: The old Daniel Bovey house. The log portion of the house is behind 
the brick and to the right of the front porch.
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Three Union generals were mortally wounded at Antietam, and for students of the battle, the houses where two of them died are well known.

Israel Richardson, struck in the chest by an artillery shell fragment near the Sunken Road on the morning of Sept. 17, 1862, was taken to the Philip Pry farm, where a makeshift hospital had been set up in the barn and house. President Lincoln visited him in Pry's house in early October, and the general's wife Fannie and sister traveled from Michigan to help care for him there. But the 46-year-old officer -- "Fighting Dick," he was called because of his prowess on the battlefield -- died of complications from his wound on the second floor on Nov. 3, 1862. The beautiful, brick house is now home for excellent displays by the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Wounded in the chest during the IX Corps' afternoon attack, Isaac Rodman died on Sept. 30 in Henry Rohrbach's farm house, near Burnside Bridge. His wife Sally, who had traveled from Rhode Island, was by his side. Before his death, the smell of the 40-year-old brigadier general's wound became so offensive, according to a witness, that the dinner table was moved outside to the porch for meals. Privately owned, the Rohrbach house is inaccessible to the public.

Antietam proved to be the first and last Civil War field command for Joseph Mansfield, who had served far from major action until he was given the reins of the XII Corps only two days before the battle.

General Joseph Mansfield of Middletown, Conn., died 
 of  his Antietam wound on Sept. 18, 1862.
(Middlesex County History Society)
Wounded in the chest by a bullet in the East Woods, Mansfield was carried about a quarter-mile to the rear by soldiers, who used their muskets to form a stretcher. Then he was taken by ambulance another quarter-mile or so to to a log house owned by farmer George Line. On his way there, Mansfield, his wound tightly bandaged to stop the bleeding, repeatedly said, "Oh my God, am I to die thus!" and "Oh my poor family!"

Line's two-story house, which measured about 26 feet by 22 feet, became known as the "White House Hospital," undoubtedly because the logs were painted white. A thousand wounded soldiers, including more than 100 Confederates, received care in his house and in the outbuildings on his farm.

Patrick Henry Flood, the 107th New York surgeon who came to Mansfield's aid after he was shot, feared the general would die before he even arrived at Line's farm. The bullet penetrated about "two inches from the nipple ... passing out at the back, near the shoulder blade," Flood wrote to Mansfield's wife, Louisa, in April 1863. (Read the complete letter on my blog here.) "The lung was much torn," the surgeon added, "and I saw at a glance the wound must prove fatal."

At 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 18, 1862, about 24 hours after Mansfield was shot, the 58-year-old officer from Middletown, Conn., died in a bedroom in Line's small house. Just off the gravel, war-time portion of Smoketown Road, a short distance from the site of Line's house, a small, black-and-white metal marker points to where Mansfield's life ended.

That sign is wrong.

Mansfield didn't die at noon on Sept. 17, and although he indeed died in the house on George Line's farm, the 1862 log house was long ago moved and forgotten.

Until now.

A sign just off Smoketown Road incorrectly notes the date and time of Mansfield's death. The
 log house in which the general died was purchased by Daniel Bovey, who moved it
sometime during the 19th century and reassembled it on his nearby farm.
This house on the site of George Line's log house was probably built after the Civil War. 
This is private property. Do not trespass.
             Google Earth view of the old Line farm. The house shown in the image above 
                        is in the grove of trees to the right of the long, thin outbuilding.

On a Saturday morning in Captain Bender's Tavern on Main Street in Sharpsburg Md., my friend John Rogers and I marveled at tales told by Richard Clem, who has a longtime passion for hunting for Civil War relics in area fields and woods. Clem pulled from a small case pieces of art made from lead by Civil War soldiers -- a VI Corps badge, a cannon tube and even a small, intricately carved walnut. A lifetime Washington County, Md., resident, Clem also has a remarkable knowledge of local history. The 78-year-old retired woodworker still fondly remembers his grandmother recounting visits with Civil War veterans, proving the war isn't as long ago as some of us might think.

An 1877 Washington County atlas shows the location of 
the old Daniel Bovey farm near Hooker Bridge, also
known as Upper Bridge.
During our visit, Clem casually mentioned he knew the location of General Mansfield's death house.
And so we three history geeks hopped into Rogers' car to find out more about a footnote in history.

After a quick stop at the site of the old O.J. Smith farm/Civil War hospital on Mansfield Road near the battlefield, we drove a short distance before we made a right turn up a long, gravel lane. At the top of the hill, we saw a two-story brick house with a modern addition and a friendly dog. (See Google Earth view below.) In the far distance, we could barely make out the old Hooker Bridge (or Upper Bridge), named for the general whose I Corps marched across it on the way to battle. Richard knew the owner of the farm, Marvin Diller, who had an interesting story to tell. During renovation work on the house in 2000, he discovered a log structure beneath the brick exterior. He even had pictures to prove it. Each log was marked with Roman numerals, Diller said, which seemed odd a first.

A little local history lesson made sense of it all.

In 1906, O.T. Reilly authored The Battlefield of Antietam, a 32-page booklet of  photos, stories and remembrances about the battle. Reilly, who claimed he witnessed the battle as a 5-year-old, was the first Antietam guide, serving as a battlefield expert for decades. In his booklet, the longtime area resident wrote this brief passage:
O.T. Reilly 
(Image courtesy Stephen Recker)
The brick house that stands near the Hooker Bridge, on the southwest side, is the old log house that formerly belonged to George Line and was purchased by Mr. Bovey, removed, rebuilt and brick-cased, and was the house in which General Mansfield died. Mr. George Line built a new house on the site of the old one. The road to the left (southwest) of the Hooker Bridge was, during war times, only a private farm road, but now is a county road. The road to the right is the old road running through Bakersville to Williamsport; a portion of the army took this road before the battle to get on the right. All the buildings as you pass along were, for a short while, filled with wounded soldiers until they could be placed in the regular hospitals.
A similar account, perhaps borrowed from Reilly, appeared in the regimental history of the 124th Pennsylvania, which bivouacked on Line's farm the night before the battle. Further evidence that Line's log house was moved comes from this 1996 survey by the Maryland Historical Trust, which noted the brick house on the property today "shows characteristics of later 19th century construction."

Bovey was Daniel R. Bovey, a local minister, farmer and longtime Keedysville, Md., resident. The exact date of his purchase of the house from Line is unknown, although it must have been before 1892, the year Bovey died. When Bovey reassembled the house on the hill near the Hooker Bridge, the Roman numerals on the logs evidently made reassembling it easier. The date the house was brick-cased, apparently a fairly common practice in Washington County, merits more research. Diller's property encompasses what was the old Bovey farm, which is shown in the 1877 Washington County atlas.

The available evidence seems to add up -- the house Mansfield died in has indeed survived the ravages of time.

Whether Mansfield died in his house or on Mars, it doesn't really make a difference to Diller. When I asked him how he felt living where a Civil War general died, he looked me in the eye and smiled.

"We don't even think about it," he said.

A 1906 reunion of the Bovey family at the family farm. An arrow points to Mary Ann Bovey, 
Daniel's wife.  Daniel Bovey died in  1892. (Courtesy Bovey descendant)
Another view of the log construction of what once was George Line's house...
... and the same view today. The current owner of the house,  Marvin Diller (blue pants), appears at right.
View from the front of the house. The Hooker Bridge. or Upper Bridge, crosses
Antietam Creek in the middle distance.
A brick on the house designates the year it was renovated.
Google Earth view of the old Daniel Bovey farm. The brick-cased log house
is next to the Creekview Dairy designation.

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


--Find a Grave

--Hagerstown Daily Mail, Feb. 16, 1934. Description of Rodman's offensive wounds comes from Fred Cross, a military archivist at the Massachusetts Archives, who was told the story by area resident Jacob McGraw. McGraw helped Rohrbach clean up his property after the battle.

--Maryland Historical Trust, Inventory of Historic Properties, accessed online Sept. 25, 2016.

--Nelson, John H, As Grain Falls Before The Reaper, The Federal Hospital Sites And Identified Federal Casualties at Antietam, Privately published CDHagerstown, Md., 2004. (Nelson's excellent work is source for description of Line's farm as the "White House Hospital" and dimensions of Line's log house. He cites The Medical Department of the United States Army in the Civil War by Louis Duncan, published early in the 20th century, as source for number of wounded treated at the Line Farm. He cites Dr. Elisha Hunt's "Report on Field Hospitals Indicated on Map of Battlefield of Antietam" for note on Confederate wounded treated at Line farm. Harris was in charge of distribution of supplies by the United States Sanitary Commission.)

--Dr. Patrick Henry Flood letter to Louisa Mansfield, April 28, 1863, Middlesex County Historical Society, Middletown, Conn.

--Reilly, Oliver T., The Battlefield of Antietam, Hagerstown Bookbinding and Printing Co., Hagerstown, Md., 1906


  1. Thanks for this informative post. James F McKnight, my 4th great-uncle, also died at the White House Hospital. It's amazing to see pictures of the place.

    Mary Burtzloff

  2. The thorough, on the scene research is highly commended.

  3. Awesome, These are some of my direct Ancestors
    Jason Simmons
    301 331-1550

  4. Fascinating piece of detective work and article, John. Mansfield has always been of interest to me as I have several of his letters. I visited the spot where he fell with Stephen Recker several years ago. Now I know what happened to the home in which he died. Thank you.

  5. Fascinating piece of detective work and article, John. Mansfield has always been of interest to me as I have several of his letters. I visited the spot where he fell with Stephen Recker several years ago. Now I know what happened to the home in which he died. Thank you.