Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Antietam visit: Connecticut church windows

Detail of stained-glass windows donated by veterans of the 16th Connecticut to the
Christ Reformed Church in Sharpsburg, Md. The window on the right features the white flag
of the 16th Connecticut. The church 
was used as a hospital after the Battle of Antietam.

Stained-glass windows
from outside church.
From the outside, it looks like many small churches in the United States.

Brick facade. White double doors. Neatly landscaped property. Pointed roof and a bell tower.

But nearly 150 years ago, the Christ Reformed Church on West Main Street in Sharpsburg, Md., was anything but ordinary.

Amputated limbs littered the floor and cries of wounded soldiers filled the air as blood-spattered surgeons tirelessly worked after the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862.

Like most churches in the Sharpsburg area after the battle, the Christ Reformed Church, built in 1832, was used as a hospital for Union soldiers. The wounded were carried into the church on planks, which were laid across the pews, and parishioners helped care for them there.

Among the men tended to were soldiers from the 16th Connecticut, an untested regiment that suffered 43 killed and 161 wounded at Antietam, its first battle of the Civil War. The 16th included men from Hartford and the small towns surrounding the state capital -- including Avon, where I live now. Most of the losses suffered by the 16th occurred in farmer John Otto's 40-acre cornfield about a mile and a half from the church. (After Gettysburg in July 1863, the church was used as a hospital by retreating Confederates heading back to Virginia.)

Christ Reformed Church in early 20th century and today.
Three decades after Antietam, the Christ Reformed Church was badly in need of remodeling. In 1890, Lizzie Miller, treasurer of the Ladies Aid Society of Sharpsburg, Md., sent a letter to Connecticut Civil War veterans soliciting their help. In part, it read:
"The members of the congregation gave all the assistance in their power in aid of the wounded after the battle. Some of you may have been the sick or wounded comrade cared for in this church. Some of the ladies of the Aid Society may have ministered to you as you languished in your bed of pain within the walls of this sanctuary.

The church was greatly injured during those trying times, and the congregation has never been able to put the building in thorough repair since the war. When vacated little remained but the walls. To repair, so as to afford a place of worship, was no little tax on the people over whose farms and homes had swept the raking destructive shot and shell from friend and foe, and what was still worse, the presence of two armies had depleted garner and cupboard. Indeed, the community has never fully recovered from the effects of the war."

We propose to give an opportunity for the Grand Army Posts whose comrades fell at this battle to put one or more memorial windows in the church to commemorate their names, and thus render this church historic. Year by year thousands of comrades visit the battlefield and we desire to make this a place of attraction, where each comrade may feel he has a personal interest." 
The window donated by the mysterious
"Comrade T," perhaps a veteran of
 Company H of the 11th Connecticut.
The veterans of the 16th were eager to memorialize their comrades and honor the good people of Sharpsburg who came to their aid, so they graciously donated two large stained-glass windows (cost: $400) and $100 to the church, which was re-dedicated on June 14, 1891. The windows, inset in the wall opposite the altar, measure about 25 feet by 5 feet and include the words "Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men" in the circular portion at the top.  Another smaller stained-glass window, to honor the dead of the 11th Connecticut, was placed inside the entry way. It was donated by a mysterious "Comrade T," perhaps a veteran of the 11th Connecticut that fought its way across Antietam Creek. Apparently there's no record of his real name.

Delancy Catlett, pastor of the church since 2005, was kind enough to allow me to tour the church by myself on a recent Saturday morning. (See video above. I hope the Lord doesn't hold the baseball cap against me.) The church isn't on any standard tour of Antietam, although the National Park Service ocassionally takes more hardcore battlefield tourists there. Upon entering the sanctuary for the first time, I was impressed with the  beautiful Connecticut stained-glass windows, especially when the sunlight streamed through them.
Closeup of the bottom left of the main window.

Extensively remodeled in 1890, the church still includes the original walls. The blood-stained floorboards dating to the battle were ripped out in the 1940s, although Catlett believes some of the original flooring remains.

On Sundays, Catlett preaches to from 15 to 40 members of his small congregation. When he thinks about the pain inflicted within the walls of his tiny church nearly 150 years ago, it boggles the pastor's mind.

"I can't fathom it," Catlett told me. "It's beyond my comprehension."


  1. John,
    This post reminds us that there is much more to the Sharpsburg community than just the battle and that we must never forget the service and suffering of this community throughout the war. Thanks for offering this story. Regards. Jim Rosebrock

  2. Jim: Pastor Catlett was kind enough to let me tour the church. Go see those windows. Beautiful when the sun streams through. Earl Roulette, great-grandson of the owner of the Roulette Farm, attended there for many years. John Banks

  3. I know that I'm about 3 years late to the party, but do you remember where you saw the letter from Lizzie Miller? I'm working on an article, and would love to use a quote from it...

  4. I know that the original post was 3 years ago, but do you remember where you got the Lizzie Miller quote?

  5. Adam: Sorry for late reply. Believe I got that from DeLancy Catlett, the pastor at the church. JB

  6. What is the current status of the window? Is it in need of restoration? Could you contact me via email? I am the city historian of Norwich, CT. Dale Plummer, email