Saturday, October 15, 2016

Antietam: Echoes from Susan Hoffman Farm hospital

Susan Hoffman farmhouse, built in 1840s. PLEASE NOTE: This is private property. Do not trespass.
    PANORAMA: Scores of wounded were treated here on Sept. 17, 1862, and afterward. 
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On Oct. 21, 1862, The New York Times published 
a lengthy list of soldiers who died
at Antietam hospitals.
For many readers of The New York Times on Oct. 12, 1862, the death list of Union soldiers published on Page 1 must have been heartbreaking and mind-numbing. More than 300 men and boys in blue, according to the report that filled two full columns, had been buried or died at makeshift Federal hospitals near the Antietam battlefield.

At George Line's farm,  known as the "White House Hospital" because of Line's white-washed log cabin, the death toll was 156 soldiers -- 101 Union and 55 Confederate. At the "Stone-House Hospital," Samuel Poffenberger's farm, the total number of deaths was listed as 37. At a hospital run by 12th Massachusetts surgeon John Hayward, 11 soldiers were buried "whose names could not be ascertained."

And at the "Hoffman Farm Hospital," the beautiful home of 56-year-old widow Susan Hoffman, 57 soldiers had died -- mostly from General Edwin Sumner's II Corps that fought in David R. Miller's cornfield and in the East and West Woods. Among them, according to the Times report, were eight unknown soldiers, including a "large man" who wore a "red woolen shirt."

On the morning of Sept. 17, Widow Hoffman's farm along the Keedysville Road was an "appalling sight," according to a newspaper correspondent who happened upon the scene. "The wounded were lying in rows awaiting their turns at the surgeons' tables," Charles Carleton Coffin wrote. "The hospital stewards had a corps of men distributing straw over the field for their comfort."

                    Google Earth: Hoffman barn is the large building near center of image.

With a large farmhouse, barn and several other outbuildings and an ample water supply from a spring, Widow Hoffman's 284-acre farm was ideal for a military hospital. On Sept. 21, the U.S. Christian Commission established its headquarters at the farm, supplying a beleaguered Union medical staff with bandages, linens, medicine and the soldiers with Bibles and religious literature. Rev. Isaac O. Sloan, a member of the commission, described a harrowing scene:

Reverend Issac O. Sloan of the
U.S. Christian Commission
(University of North Dakota)
At the Hoffman Hospital there were at least fifteen hundred [wounded], and at the Stone House as many if not more. On Sunday succeeding the battle we established ourselves permanently at the Hoffman House, thinking it better to concentrate our energies upon one point. In every spot here -- the barn, the stable, carriage-house, sheds, straw stacks, orchards, and indeed everywhere --  were to be seen wounded and dying men. 
For the first few days, of course, all was bustle and confusion. Nothing scarcely could be thought of but affording relief to the sufferers. Prayer only could be made at the side of one drawing near to his end, or words of Scripture whispered into the ear of the moaning patient as we dressed his wound or gave him nourishment. We had scarcely a moment for sleep. Many incidents of thrilling interest occurred here. A great proportion of the sufferers were youths, ranging from sixteen up to twenty-one years. After a few days, when matters were somewhat systematized, we had religious services every evening, in the barn, in the dwelling-house, carriage-house, and wherever there was a large number collected.
On Sept. 17, 2016, the 154th anniversary of the battle, the owners of the farm gave me a tour of their circa-1840s brick farmhouse, the old slave quarters behind the house and a circa-1810 springhouse, perhaps the first dwelling on the property. Afterward, they graciously allowed me to examine the rest of the grounds.

Echoes of the past were everywhere.

(PLEASE NOTE: This is private property. Do not trespass.)

Religious services were held in the farmhouse (above), carriage house and elsewhere on the farm.
                               PANORAMA: Springhouse, circa 1810, and farmhouse.

Nurse Helen Gilson arrived at Antietam the
 day after the battle.
(Photo: Our Army Nurses)
Nearly two weeks after the battle, about 200 wounded remained at the Hoffman farm hospital, reported a New York Times correspondent, who made special mention of a woman who comforted soldiers there. Helen Gilson, a 26-year-old nurse from Chelsea, Mass., arrived at Antietam the day after the battle.

"She had been a very angel of goodness to the soldiers," the reporter wrote, "and her presence and conversation seem to inspire new life and courage wherever she goes." As she made her rounds one day, a wounded soldier asked Gilson if she would sing. She "instantly complied" with "inimitable spirit" with a rendition of The Star Spangled Banner.

"The effect on these wounded soldiers was almost inspiring," the reporter wrote. "They clapped their hands and manifested the greatest pleasure. One poor fellow, who had lost a hand, cried out: 'I cannot clap, Miss, but I can pound,' and sitting the action to the word, struck his wounded stump upon the floor where he was lying, with impassioned earnestness. Miss G. is neither over 30 nor very homely, and in these particulars does not come up to the required standard of army nurses."

While working for the U.S. Sanitary Commission in Fredericksburg, Va., in the spring of 1864, Gilson was praised by a doctor who met her there for the first time:
"One afternoon just before the evacuation of Fredericksburg, when the atmosphere of our rooms was close and foul and we were longing for a breath of our cooler Northern air, and the men were moaning in pain or restless with fever and our hearts were sick with pity for the sufferers, I heard a light step upon the stairs; and looking up I saw a young lady enter who brought with her such an atmosphere of calm and cheerful courage, so much freshness, such an expression of gentle womanly sympathy that her mere presence seemed to revive the drooping spirits of the men... "
Alarmed that ill and wounded black soldiers did not receive proper care at City Point, Va. in 1864, Gilson, who served as a nurse through the end of the war, went to their aid. "These stories of suffering reached Miss Gilson at a moment when the previous efforts of the campaign had nearly exhausted her strength," a post-war account noted, "But her duty seemed plain."

In 1866, Gilson married E. Hamilton Osgood in Chelsea. Apparently still sufferring the effects of malaria from the war, she died in childbirth on April 20, 1868. She was only 32.

Hundreds of wounded lay in and around the Hoffman barn.
                    PANORAMA: Barn, carriage shed and farmhouse date to the battle.

After advancing past the dead and wounded from both armies that covered David R. Miller's cornfield, the 1st Minnesota pushed into the West Woods. "At last we halted at the edge of a cornfield by a rail fence," Color Sergeant Samuel Bloomer of Company B wrote in his journal, "but still we were in the woods. Had not been at the fence more than 15 minutes before a most terrific fire was poured into the left of our brigade from the rear & front & which fire came quickly down the line to the right where we were."

Color Sergeant Samuel Bloomer of the
1st Minnesota was wounded in the West Woods.
(Minnesota Historical Society)
As Bloomer lay the flagstaff on the fence, a Rebel bullet tore into his right leg, leaving a ghastly wound just below the knee. Soon, his regiment was forced to retreat, leaving behind the 26-year-old soldier from Stillwater, in the Minnesota Territory. Desperate to avoid being shot again, Bloomer crawled behind a large oak tree and dressed the wound, bathing it with water from his canteen.

"The advance of the secesh soon made their appearance &  passed by me but did not go a great ways further but formed their picket line about 40 rods in front of  me," Bloomer wrote. "Shortly their line came up & formed just where our line had stood, which left me about 40 rods in front of their line."

Captured by the Rebels, Bloomer lay on the field, "watching shells of both armies playing in or about there all day cutting off limbs of trees & tearing up the ground all around me, which made it a very dangerous place." After the war, Bloomer said several Rebels, including Sergeant William H. Andrews of the 1st Georgia, piled cord wood about him to prevent him from getting shot again.

The act of kindness  may have saved Bloomer's life.

"I have no doubt," he recalled, "that more than 100 bullets struck that barricade that day."

Later, Stonewall Jackson himself rode by, asked Bloomer what regiment he belonged to and ordered his men to make him as comfortable as possible. That night, a North Carolina captain struck up a conversation with Bloomer, giving the Yankee a canteen of water that the officer later replenished. Perhaps their kindly treatment of him made up for the behavior earlier of another Confederate officer, who caused Bloomer to seethe when the man cursed him and called him a "nigger thief."

1902 newspaper image of Bloomer, 
whose right leg was amputated
 in the Hoffman barn. 
(Walter Jorgenson's 1st Minnesota site)
"I had a revolver and short sword under by rubber blanket on which I lay," Bloomer said, "and in my rage I attempted to get at my revolver, intending to shoot that fellow. But he had his eyes on me and shouted, 'Disarm that man!' " Luckily for Bloomer, the Rebels didn't harm him further, but he was forced to part with his prized sword and two revolvers.

Until later the next day, Bloomer lay in the same spot, within sight of the bodies of his comrades. At about 6 p.m. on Sept. 18, he was taken on a stretcher by the Rebels to a nearby barn "surrounded with straw stacks," perhaps on Alfred Poffenberger's farm, where more than 100 Union prisoners were kept. Lee's army slipped across the Potomac River into Virginia that night, leaving the seriously wounded Bloomer and his comrades behind. "I for one," the Swiss-born soldier wrote in his journal, "slept but little last night for pain."

Early on the morning of Sept. 19, Union troops finally appeared, among them Bloomer's cousin, Adam Marty of Company B. About noon, he was transported by ambulance to the Hoffman farm, where he lay all night "with most dreadful pain." In and around the barn on a hill near the farmhouse, Bloomer saw "some 5 or 600 wounded soldiers."

At 8 a.m, the next morning -- a "day that will long be remembered by me," he wrote -- Bloomer was placed on an operating table in Hoffman's barn,. The sergeant's right leg was amputated by regimental surgeon Dr. Edwin Pugsley above the knee, "and from then," Bloomer wrote, "the suffering commenced in earnest."

Less than three months after Antietam, Bloomer was discharged from the Union army. He served briefly in the Veterans Reserve Corps as a lieutenant. On Dec. 6, 1863, one year after he was discharged, he married Matilda J. Burns, with whom he had four children.

A local newspaper trumpeted his return home.

"In the fierce struggle of Antietam, where so many brave hearts beat out their last pulses Sam lost one of his faithful legs and was forced to relinquish his glorious charge which he had so faithfully guarded to other hands," the Glencoe (Minn.) Register and Soldiers Budget reported on Jan. 10, 1863. "And so he is back again, a cripple for life ... his fund of good humor in no way diminished. Long may he live!"

After the war, Bloomer worked as prison guard, insurance agent and sewing machine salesman and was active in the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans' organization.. Shortly after he caught Matilda committing adultery, the couple divorced in 1875. He re-married in 1882 and lived out his days in Stillwater, Minn. By the time he was 80, the old soldier who lost his leg in a barn near the Antietam battlefield could barely walk. Bloomer died on Oct. 4, 1917 at  81.

Diary of Hallowell Dunham, a private in the 19th Massachusetts, who died at the Hoffman farm.

Hallowell Dunham's leather-covered diary
was discovered in the Hoffman barn. 
Twelve days before his regiment was cut to pieces at Antietam, 21-year-old Hallowell R. Dunham, a private in Company B of the 19th Massachusetts, wrote an entry in his leather-covered journal.
"Today is Sunday 7 a.m. but how different from our quiet New England Sunday. Nothing round me to remind one that it is God's day of rest. Much would I give if I could spend only one more Sabbath at home. But that cannot be. It may never be again. But I pray God that it may be. God help me to live so that if I never spend an earthly Sabbath at home with friends I love, that I may meet them in Heaven." 
On the morning of Sept. 17, the youngest son of Marcia Dunham was wounded in the foot in the West Woods. Transported to the Hoffman farm, Dunham -- known as "Hal" to his friends -- died there on Oct. 2, perhaps from infection caused by the wound.

For Marcia Dunham, the mother of nine children, the death of her son was another cruel blow. Her husband, Julius, had died in 1841, and before and after Hallowell enlisted in the Union army on July 26, 1861, the 62-year-old woman relied on her son's financial support. A clerk before the war, Hallowell paid the rent for his mother, who was a boarder at the home of a 38-year-old farmer named William Hoar in Littleton, Mass.

"We well know that her said son contributed the greater part of his earnings for her support prior to his enlistment and that he left her an allotment of his pay and has regularly paid her board and for her clothing," an affidavit in Marcia's claim for her son's pension noted. Shortly after her son died, Marcia filed a claim, and she soon was granted a payment of $8 a month.

Old slave quarters behind the Hoffman farmhouse.
The Hoffman family's slaves lived in this small outbuilding in back of the farmhouse.
Interior of slave quarters, now used for storage.

By 1868, Benjamin Remick Sr. was a broken-down man, "afflicted with atony ... which approaches a general collapse of the whole mental and physical condition." Only 58, he was "prematurely old and infirm," a physician wrote, "so that he can do but little work at his usual trade" and was "unable to support himself or his family."

Perhaps it was no wonder he was unwell. Six years earlier, the bootmaker from Milford, Mass., had suffered immense loss.  At Antietam, his 22-year-old son, Benjamin Jr., a private in Company H of the 2nd Massachusetts, was killed instantly during brutal fighting in Miller's cornfield. He left behind an 18-year-old wife named Susan and a 1-year-old son, Nathaniel. Moments before Benjamin was killed, his younger brother, 17-year-old Prescott, was severely wounded. A bootmaker like his father, the private in Company G of the 2nd Massachusetts stood just 5 feet tall and had hazel eyes, dark hair and a dark complexion.

2nd Massachusetts Private Prescott Remick's 
gravestone at Antietam National Cemetery.
"I noticed him in particular, as his position was very near my own," Lieutenant John F. George recalled about Prescott, "and I noticed with admiration the coolness and contempt of danger with which he performed his duty. He was shot (I think) in the shoulder while standing near his brother, who was killed almost immediately after. During the turmoil and confusion, I lost sight of him but, on making enquiries, ascertained that he had been sent to the rear."

On Sept. 24, a week after the battle, a Wisconsin soldier wrote to Benjamin Sr, about the condition of his son, who was cared for at the Hoffman farm, and broke grim news about Benjamin Jr.:
"Last Sunday on visiting the hospitals near the battlefield near Sharpsburgh, Md., I saw your son Prescott, who is wounded through the back. He suffered considerably -- the next day (Monday) I saw him again, when I found him much more easy -- having had the ball extracted. He requested me to write you, which I promised to do. He has the sad news to add to that of his fate -- the death of his brother Benjamin -- who was shot at his side just as he himself fell. I could not stay long with him. I am detailed to see to wounded and am permitted to travel at all times between Washington and the battle fields, and may meet him again. I will be happy to answer any enquiries you may make in regard to him as far as I know if you address me at 329 New York Avenue Washington. If I don't answer at once you may know that I am out on the field but on my return will attend to it.  
 Respectfully yours Wm. P. Taylor 2nd Wis. Vol.
Three days later, on Sept. 27, Prescott died. His remains were buried at a small cemetery at the Smoketown Hospital, a short distance from Hoffman's farm. A battlefield visitor, probably a soldier from Massachusetts, discovered Remick's grave there in the summer of 1863. In a lengthy letter rich with detail about Antietam, he wrote:
"The shade on this summer morning is calm, deep and holy. From the field there is the odor of clover blossoms. There is not wanting the hum of bees and the songs of birds to lend a charm to the hour. The paling is neatly whitewashed which surrounds the consecrated spot. There are a hundred and fifty-nine graves, each with its rounded, white headboard, and rude lettering, with name, company and regiment of the dead. A loving heart, a faithful hand has planted a rose bush above the dust of Prescott Remic, of Company G, 2nd Massachusetts. It is fresh and green; its roots are creeping down to the coffin lid, and will draw its nourishment from the mouldering form beneath. Another year and the crimson flower will bloom with rarest beauty and richest fragrance.
After the war, Prescott remains were disinterred from the Smoketown hospital cemetery and reburied in Antietam National Cemetery. His remains lie there today under grave marker No. 978.

The springhouse may be the original dwelling on the property.
A view of the springhouse from the second-floor porch.
Back of the two-story farmhouse. Amputated limbs were tossed from 
windows, according to family lore.
Sign on Keedysville Road noting historic significance of the Hoffman farm. Please note: This is
private property. Do not trespass.

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


--1860 U.S. Federal census
--Antietam on the Web, accessed Oct. 14, 2016
--Hallowell Dunham, Benjamin and Prescott Remick pension files, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. via
-- Confederate Veteran Magazine, April, 1909, Page 169.
-- New York Times, Oct. 6 and 12, 1862
-- Find a Grave.
-- Gallipolis (Ohio) Journal, Sept. 3, 1863. The Antietam account of Prescott Remick's grave came from this Ohio newspaper. The account evidently was printed in several U.S. newspapers in 1863.
-- Gardner Holland, Mary A., Our Army Nurses, Boston, B. Wilkins & Co. Publishers, 1895.
-- Moss, Rev. Lemuel, Annals of the U.S. Christian Commission, Philadelphia, J.P. Lippincott & Co., 1868
-- 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 a terrific resource on Antietam hospitals.)
-- Samuel Bloomer's journal excerpts are from Walter Jorgenson's excellent 1st Minnesota web site.  The journal is part of the Minnesota Historical Society collection, which Jorgenson cites on his web site.
-- The Century Magazine, "Antietam Scenes" by Charles Carleton Coffin, June 1886.


  1. A few years ago I was taking some photos of the farm from the adjacent public road when a neighbor walking by ordered me to stop as I was taking pictures of private property without permission. I guess in Maryland one isn't allowed to take photographs of private property from a public road? Guess I will have to rely on photos from Mr. Banks--if that is OK?

  2. BTW, How did you get access to the farm?

  3. Thank you, Mr. Banks, for another great post and pictures. Makes me feel as if I were there...

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. I very much enjoyed reading this article and viewing the photography; well done!

  6. Great article and great info/pictures. Samuel Bloomer, however, spent his final days and was buried in Stillwater, MN (not OK). He kept up quite a correspondence with his cousin Adam Marty of the 1st MN after he went home due to his wounds.

  7. I so love these stories of the Civil War. My husband and I are traveling to the DC area to spend time with my son in a couple weeks, and Antietam is on my list of battlefields to visit. Thank you so much for the pictures and stories that bring the Civil War to life for me.

  8. I spent time here as a child 1970ish I remember a man called Doc fishing and exploring. Wow