|In an undated image, the Henry Piper farmhouse. (Library of Congress)|
|The Piper farmhouse and outbuilding date to the war. (Library of Congress)|
|Confederate General James Longstreet used |
Henry Piper's farmhouse as headquarters
during the Battle of Antietam.
(Library of Congress)
We can only imagine the death and destruction that took place in late-summer 1862 on Piper's farm, in the center of the Confederate line, just south of the infamous Bloody Lane. Elizabeth Piper, who fled the property with her family before the battle on Sept. 17, witnessed it first hand.
In a remarkable letter written on Oct. 4 , 1862, and published in the Wilmington (Ohio) Watchman 19 days later, Henry Piper's 22-year-old daughter described Confederates arriving at the farm two days before the battle. She also claimed she met Longstreet, Robert E. Lee and Daniel Harvey Hill on the Piper's porch.
But it was the horrible aftermath of the battle that was seared into Elizabeth's brain.
"When I reached home, I could scarcely recognize the place," she wrote in the letter to her friend, Sally Farran of Wilmington. "I entered the yard, which was covered with bloody clothing, straw, feathers, and everything that was disgusting. I went up the steps and opened the dining room door and was thunderstruck. Great Heaven! What a sight met my gaze. The room was full of dead men! Pools of blood were standing on the floor. "
Jacob Rohrbach Inn)
Elizabeth Piper's letter -- discovered recently on microfilm in an Ohio library by friend of the blog Dan Masters and first published on his blog -- was described as "very interesting" by the Watchman editor. "...we commend it to the perusal of our readers,” he wrote, adding it “bears upon its face the imprint of truth and honesty.”
(Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
Near Sharpsburg, Maryland
October 4, 1862
As all have gone from home this morning I find it very lonesome and I know of no mode in which I could more pleasantly pass an hour or two away than in answering your letter which I received a few weeks ago; but I write this letter under far different circumstances than the last I wrote you. I suppose you know to what I refer: the battle of Antietam, or more properly called the Battle of Sharpsburg though I presume you have no idea how it was.
You have heard of the Rebel army crossing into Maryland. They were in the state a week or more before they were molested. On Sabbath morning, General McClellan's army overtook them on South Mountain which lies between Frederick and Boonesboro. The Rebels were there defeated. The first I saw of the Rebels was early Monday morning. They would come in six, eight, and ten at a time for breakfast. About 9 o'clock, I went up on the hill above our house as I heard the Rebel army was all moving across the river. The principal part of them was then crossing into a field about half a mile from where I stood. I was there perhaps ten minutes, when I observed they again had marching orders. In a short time, I perceived them throwing down our fence, and the whole column was entering. In a few minutes, the fences were all level with the ground and as far as the eye could see was one living mass of human beings.
|In her 1862 letter, Elizabeth Piper claimed she met|
Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet and
Daniel Harvey Hill on the family's porch
before the Battle of Antietam.
(Library of Congress)
Our house was completely surrounded with cannon and before 2 o'clock I was startled to hear the report of the cannon of the Federal army, which was not more than two miles back. The shell exploded about ten yards from the house and wounded two men. The next moment a messenger came directing us to leave the house instantly as it was in the range of the Federal army's guns. We took a few dresses on our arms, locked up the house, and started off. The man who is living with us took the horses and we all walked about a mile and a half when father said, if possible, we should walk on and they would go back for the buggy. They again reached the house though it was raining grape and shell in every direction.
We went three miles back of the Rebel lines to my uncle's place (Samuel Piper) where we remained Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday till the afternoon, when the Federal army began shelling a house just below where we were. We were quite near the river and there was no other alternative; we were compelled to cross into Virginia, and remain until that battery was removed. We then returned to uncle's and remained until Friday morning [Sept. 19] when we heard they were all gone, or at least the greater portion of them.
We knew it was impossible to get home with the buggy or horses and, as excitement gives strength, Sue and I determined to walk home. A gentleman offered to accompany us and off we started, prepared to encounter all we should meet. We had not proceeded more than a mile when we came to a Rebel hospital. I stopped a few minutes to look at the wounded. It was sickening in the extreme. My heart bled to see human beings in such a state of suffering. The yard was filled with the dead, dying, and wounded, the latter dying from starvation. I had nothing with me to give them, so I procured a few apples with great difficulty and gave to a few. You could hear nearly all of them calling their dear old mothers' names, or their wife, sister, or some other absent loved one.
|Henry Piper's barn, enlarged since the battle. (Library of Congress)|
|An undated image of slave quarters on the Piper farm. (Library of Congress)|
|Another undated view of the slave quarters. (Library of Congress)|
When I reached home, I could scarcely recognize the place. I entered the yard, which was covered with bloody clothing, straw, feathers, and everything that was disgusting. I went up the steps and opened the dining room door and was thunderstruck. Great Heaven! What a sight met my gaze. The room was full of dead men! Pools of blood were standing on the floor. I only looked one glance and passed on. I next went into the parlor. The dead had been removed from here, but the carpets were full of stains, the furniture broken up, and everythe ing destroyed. The house had been pillaged from garret to cellar. Our clothing was taken, and what they could not take was torn up, in fact everything of any value whatever was gone. Our shoes, stockings, shawls, dresses, bonnets, even down to our toothbrushes, and if you would have gone from cellar to garret, not a mouthful could have been found to eat. Our cattle had been killed; the sheep, hogs, chickens, and everything were gone. We had 300 chickens, besides turkeys, geese, etc., but now we have not one.
|In Alexander Gardner's image, Confederate fallen in Bloody Lane.|
"The dead were lying so thick in this lane," Elizabeth Piper
wrote, "that it looked like the living mass."
(Library of Congress | See "NOW" version here.)
In the evening I went to Sharpsburg. I did not return until Monday. The dead had not all been buried when I returned. I tell you we are living in style now; no carpet on the floor in some of the rooms and only one room in the house that a cannon ball had not penetrated. Everything is remarkably high priced. My friend, I have not told you half, but I can write no more at present. Do not understand me to say that all the damage was done by the Rebels; at least half was done by Federal forces.