Monday, September 10, 2018

'Great Heaven!': Descendants step back in time at Antietam

The Wambold family -- Sophia, Grant, Andrea and John -- visited the Henry Piper farm in June 2017. 
An 1880 image of the back of the Piper farmhouse (left) and outbuildings. Elmer Piper, grandson 
of the farm's Civil War-era owner Henry Piper, appears in foreground.
 (Piper family images and present-day photos of farm courtesy Andrea Wambold)

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When 22-year-old Elizabeth Piper peered into the family's farmhouse after the Battle of Antietam, she was horrified.

"I entered the yard, which was covered with bloody clothing, straw, feathers, and everything that was disgusting," the daughter of Henry Piper wrote to a friend in Ohio. "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."

In June 2017, nearly 155 years after Elizabeth's gruesome discovery, Piper descendants stepped into the house for the first time. "It was pretty cool," said Andrea Wambold, who was joined on the one-day battlefield trip by her husband, 12-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son. Ever since Wambold heard about the farm from her grandmother when she was a child, the Minnesota native wanted to visit the old family homestead. A bed & breakfast earlier this century, the farmhouse is now a private residence, leased by a couple from the National Park Service.

"The history in the house was amazing with all of the memorabilia that Lou and Regina Clark had on display," Wambold said, referencing its current residents. "Regina told us that a soldier had died under the piano, and that was eerie wondering what the soldiers and Piper family must have gone through during and after the battle."

An amateur genealogist, Wambold said the best part of the battlefield visit was sharing the experience with her children, whom she hopes gain an appreciation of Piper history. She definitely has a deep appreciation for young Elizabeth Piper's long-ago fortitude. "It was brave on her part," Wambold told me about her ancestor's return to the blood-soaked house, also used as Confederate General James Longstreet's headquarters.

 At a dinner in the Piper house, Confederate generals James Longstreet (left) and Daniel Harvey Hill were 
served wine by the daughters of Henry Piper (center). Hatless in the image, Henry liked 
a "high silk hat of the 'stove pipe style,' " according to the Piper family history. He died in 1892.
Wambold also shared with me pages (below) from a Piper family history, created in the 1930s by Webster Piper. The album includes photos of family members, old images of the farm in Sharpsburg, Md., and three typewritten pages about the Battle of Antietam and its aftermath. Among the gems in the history is this story:
"Gen. Longstreet and Gen. D.H. Hill of the Confederate army ate dinner at the PIPER home just previous to the battle. During the serving of dinner the young daughters of Mr. & Mrs. Piper -- being Union ladies and very much freightened [sic] -- wishing to show kindness to these officers, offered them some wine they had in the house. Gen. Longstreet being very cautious and fearing that it might be baited for them refused, but Gen. Hill accepted and drank some. So Gen. Longstreet seeing that it did not kill Gen. Hill, said 'Ladies I will thank you for some of the wine.' "
Well aware a battle was imminent, the Pipers buried their dishes in an ash pile, packed furniture and other possessions in a large wagon and sought safety with their five children in a cave near the Potomac. They were joined by other Sharpsburg residents, who also sought shelter near the river.

During the battle,  Piper's farm most notably was scene of disaster for the 7th Maine. Vastly outnumbered, the depleted regiment of 150-plus soldiers suffered 12 dead and 60 wounded as it was mauled from three sides during its senseless charge.

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Besides human wreckage, detritus of war lay about the Pipers' once-prosperous farm. In October 1862, Elizabeth's father filed a damage claim with the government for $25. Later, Henry filed another claim, asking for thousands more. But the family was never compensated for their losses. Undoubtedly a minor consolation for the Pipers, battle leftovers were put to use.

"Fence posts from the Piper lane from the main road of Hagerstown pike into the barn have shells from the Civil War buried around them to hold them," according to the family history, "as there were so many of them."

Deactivated, we hope.

A bed & breakfast earlier this century, the Henry Piper house is now a private residence.
Enlarged since the Civil War, the Piper barn was used as a makeshift hospital during and after the battle.
Exterior view of Henry Piper farmhouse and slave quarters.
The interior of the old slave quarters. In 1860, Henry Piper owned six slaves.


"... the fight was so severe at this 'Bloody Lane' "according to the Piper family history, "that dead 
bodies lay three and four deep after the battle." Bloody Lane bordered the Piper farm orchard in 1862.
Before the Battle of Antietam, the "Piper family buried the dishes in the ash piles to save them."
In 1930, "Electric lights" were installed in the Civil War-era farmhouse, according to the family history.
The Piper barn, used as a makeshift hospital during the battle, as it appeared in 1890. The farm, bordered
by the Hagertown Pike, was behind Confederate lines on Sept. 17, 1862.
Image of the barn, with a 1912 addition, as it appeared in 1936. 

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


-- Wilmington (Ohio) Watchman, Oct. 23, 1862.


  1. I enjoy this site i love that you Shire pour history

  2. Henry Piper was my 4th great uncle.