Saturday, October 01, 2016

Lincoln's visit to Grove farm: 'Not a dry eye in the building'

Lincoln walked through this doorway to visit with Confederate wounded.
            Panorama: Some Confederate wounded were cared for in tents in a side yard.

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The stone front steps leading into the early-19th century farmhouse are mostly gone, replaced by cinder blocks and wood. The window frames and door sorely need fresh paint, and shutters on the brick house, badly in need of repair, have certainly seen better days. But there is an unmistakable air of history about the old Stephen P. Grove farmhouse -- a distinct feeling that something important happened here nearly 154 years ago a mile west of the village of Sharpsburg, Md.

In early October 1862, the V Corps of the Union army -- part of George McClellan's "bodyguard," a perturbed President Lincoln supposedly called it -- camped in the large, rolling fields surrounding Grove's two-story house. On Oct. 3, the president, who had hoped to prod 'Little Mac" into action after the Battle of Antietam, met with Michigan troops and posed in front of the house with McClellan and his generals for a now-iconic image taken by Alexander Gardner.

But it's what happened inside this old house that fascinates, and horrifies, me.

More than two weeks after the terrible battle, hundreds of wounded lay in makeshift hospitals or private homes throughout the area. (See here, here and here.)  At Grove's farm, astride Robert E. Lee's retreat route into Virginia, Confederates cared for their wounded in the farmer's house, barn and yard. Some of their dead, including 28th Georgia Lieutenant Benjamin Brantley, were buried in woods behind Mount Airy, as Grove's house also was known. Union wounded, probably from the nearby Battle of Shepherdstown, Va., fought days after Antietam, also were cared for on Stephen and Maria Grove's property.

Inside the house, a large, rough-hewn table was used for amputations, and amputated limbs were placed by a stone fence in back of the barn. Surgeons in both armies shared quarters in Grove's attic and "ate together ...drank together, and had a high old time."

              Google Earth: View of old Grove farm, about a mile west of Sharpsburg, Md. 

Decades after Antietam, a Sharpsburg man named William Blackford, a boy at the time of the battle, told of scores of wounded Confederates at Grove's farm. In particular, he remembered a soldier who lay near the kitchen door talking about his mother and how desperately he wanted to see her again. Apparently not suffering much, the young man from North Carolina only complained of being cold. "Do you suppose that lady in the house would let me come into the kitchen and sit by the fire?" he told Blackford. Sadly, he died from his wounds the next day.

In 1934, a day after Blackford recounted that story to Fred Cross, the Massachusetts historian visited the Grove farm. When he told Blackford's account to the current "lady of the house," she invited Cross in and showed him the large kitchen fireplace. Then she took him to the parlor, lifted the rug and pointed to a large bloodstain on the floor -- long-ago evidence of tragedy that took place there during the Civil War.

"I have washed and scrubbed that spot again and again until I had I have thought I got it all out," she told Cross, "but as soon as the floor dried that spot would reappear as plain as ever."

A cropped close-up of photo of Lincoln 
during his visit to the Grove farm 
on Oct. 3, 1862.
(Library of Congress)
Sometime during his early October visit, the most powerful man in the Union entered Grove's house, probably strolling through the very parlor where Cross spoke with Mrs. Poffenberger. President Lincoln's visit there with enemy wounded left behind by Lee's army, according to one account, was highly emotional. Earlier in the day, Lincoln had visited seriously wounded Union General Israel Richardson at Philip Pry's house, about two miles away. The Washington correspondent of the Cincinnati Commercial, who witnessed the scene at the Grove farm, filed this report:
"After leaving Gen. Richardson the party passed a house in which was a large number of Confederate wounded. By request of' the President, the party alighted and entered the building, Mr. Lincoln, after looking, remarked to the wounded Confederates that if they had no objection he would be pleased to take them by the hand. He said the solemn obligations which we owe to our country and posterity compel the prosecution of this war, and it followed that many were our enemies through uncontrollable circumstances, and he bore them no malice, and could take them by the hand with sympathy and good feeling. After a short silence the Confederates came forward, and each silently but fervently shook the hand of the President. Mr. Lincoln and General McClellan then walked forward by the side of those that were wounded too severely to be able to arise and bid them be of good cheer, assuring them that every possible care should be bestowed upon them to ameliorate their condition. It was a moving scene, and there was not a dry eye in the building, either among the Nationals or Confederates. Both the President and Gen. McClellan were kind in their remarks and treatment of the rebel sufferers during their remarkable interview."
NOTE: The Grove farm is private property. Do not trespass.

SOURCES:

--Nelson, John H, As Grain Falls Before The Reaper, The Federal Hospital Sites And Identified Federal Casualties at Antietam, Privately published CD, Hagerstown, Md., 2004. (Nelson's outstanding work is the source for the description of the Grove farm's use as a hospital. He cites the source of that information, from Stephen P. Grove's granddaughter, as the John Philemon Smith file in the Antietam National Battlefield Visitor's Center Library.)

--Hagerstown (Md.) Daily Mail, March 12, 1934

--Herald of Freedom & Torch Light, Hagerstown, Md., Oct. 15, 1862


             Then & Now of President Lincoln at Grove Farm. Larger version here.


The farmhouse was probably built by Philip Grove in 1821. Click here for more information.
The farmhouse, privately owned today,  is badly in need of repair.
Another view of the Stephen P. Grove farmhouse. The farm is private property. Do not trespass.
        Panorama: V Corps of Union army camped in Grove's field in early October 1862.
               Pan to the right to see the long lane Lincoln used to reach the farmhouse.

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