Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Antietam: Little-known hospital cemetery in Keedysville, Md.

                      Ephraim Geeting's house and farm were used as a Union hospital after 
                                the Battle of Antietam. The farm is privately owned today.

In the weeks after the Battle of Antietam, the piazza and rooms of Ephraim Geeting’s farmhouse as well as his outbuildings were filled with wounded soldiers, many of them from Connecticut. Heart-rending scenes played out on the farm-turned-Union army hospital in Keedysville, Md., known as Crystal Springs and Locust Spring, among other names.

A teen-aged soldier from Massachusetts, who suffered from a bullet wound through the pelvis, was nursed by a comrade, who almost constantly remained by his side. When his wound was dressed in a tent one day, the wounded soldier screamed out in agony, bringing the doctor who was treating him to tears. “Oh this wicked cruel war,” cried the physician, whose young patient later died. “Oh, take me to my mother,” another wounded man, a young soldier from Pennsylvania with a chest wound, moaned repeatedly before he “fell asleep and was transported to that home where the weary are forever at rest.”

LEFT: Marker for 8th Connecticut Lieutenant Edwin Main in South Cemetery in Brooklyn, Conn.
RIGHT: Marker for 16th Connecticut Private Francis Burr in Higganum-Burr Cemetery
in Higganum, Conn. The 23-year-old soldier's remains were buried at Antietam National Cemetery.
Both soldiers died at Crystal Springs hospital in Keedysville, Md.

At least seven soldiers from Connecticut who suffered wounds at Antietam died at Crystal Springs hospital in October 1862, including 18-year-old Henry Fanning, a private in the 8th Connecticut from Norwich who succumbed to his wounds 152 years ago today. Private Francis Burr of the 16th Connecticut, who suffered a bullet wound in the groin and had lain with his wounded brother in a cornfield for 40 hours until they were rescued, died there on Oct. 12. Corporal John Bentley of the 8th Connecticut, who vowed to get revenge on the Rebels for the death of his son at the Battle of Seven Pines, died Oct. 17, likely from infection, from a bullet wound in the ankle. Days earlier, according to a comrade, he had "appeared very cheerful."

Gravestone for 8th Connecticut  Corporal John Bentley at
Antietam National Cemetery. He died at Crystal Springs hospital on
Oct. 17, 1862, one month after the battle.
Well into November, Connecticut soldiers were dying at Crystal Springs hospital. Suffering from a severe hip wound, 8th Connecticut Lieutenant Edwin Main was comforted at the hospital by his wife, Mary, who had traveled from Brooklyn, Conn. The 40-year-old officer died there on Nov. 17, exactly two months after he was wounded. Two days earlier, 18-year-old Private Henry Dodge of the 11th Connecticut and 8th Connecticut Corporal Andrew Kimball, who had been wounded in the shoulder, also perished. In all, at least 17 soldiers from Connecticut died on Geeting's farm. (Click here for my downloadable Excel spreadsheet of Connecticut Antietam deaths.)

Many of the dead were buried on the farm, probably on a knoll across the road from the farmhouse. In April 1863, the cemetery, which was enclosed by a stone wall, included 63 wooden grave markers, each painted white and marked with a soldier's name, regiment and date of death.  A monument made from a cannon tube from the battle and topped with a cannonball had been placed among the grave markers. A plaque on it read: “Sacred to the memory of Union soldiers who lost their lives in defence of their country at the Battle of Antietam."

"I am sure anyone who visits this spot, sacred to the memory of our brave dead, will feel grateful to those who have shown respect for their remains," reported Reverend J.O. Sloan, a delegate of the U.S. Christian Commission of Maryland. "Ought not our Government to see that every burial place attached to a field hospital is enclosed and properly protected, and the graves marked. The dead deserve this mark of respect."

After the war, the remains in the hospital cemetery were disinterred and re-buried in Sharpsburg in the national cemetery, which was formally dedicated in 1867. No photo or illustration is known to exist of the original resting place of the soldiers who died at Crystal Springs hospital. The site believed to have been used for the cemetery is overgrown with trees and weeds and rarely visited today. (For a Q&A with the current owners of the Geeting farm, click here.)

The Crystal Springs hospital cemetery is believed to have been located across the road from the 
Geeting farmhouse. Nature has taken over the site.

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