Sunday, June 21, 2020

Re-discovered Antietam map gives new life to a soldier's story

A cropped enlargement of the S.G. Elliott's Antietam map shows dozens of Confederate graves (dashes)
and 10 U.S. Army graves (crosses) near the Dunkard Church. The "apostrophes" mark sites

 of dead horses. EXPLORE A COMPLETE, HIGH-RES VERSION on New York Public Library site.
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re-discovered map of Antietam showing battlefield graves set the Civil War community abuzz in June 2020. Drafted in 1864 by cartographer Simon Green Elliott, it includes the location on the battlefield of more than 5,800 graves of Union and Confederate soldiers. Elliott marked U.S. Army graves with crosses; Confederates' with dashes. He even denoted the location of dead horses — 269 in 40 locations, according to National Park Service research.

The map — similar to a well-known Gettysburg graves map created by Elliott — is a stunning visual of the carnage from the battle on Sept. 17, 1862. A digitized version of the tattered original in the New York Public Library's collection was recently found on the NYPL web site by researchers Timothy Smith and Andrew Dalton.

A cropped enlargement of an Alexander Gardner image shows
the grave of a 51st New York soldier by a stone wall 

near Burnside Bridge.  (READ MORE ON MY BLOG.)
Many questions remain about mapmaker Elliott, a shady railroad engineer. Did he have aid, military or otherwise? Where did Elliott create it? Did he keep detailed notebooks of his work and, if so, do they survive? How accurate is the map? Mistakes have already been noted. The grave of a "J.O. Burns" of the 16th Connecticut in the 40-Acre Cornfield, for example, must be  another soldier — perhaps Jesse Barnes of Canton, Conn. No soldier with the surname "Burns" in that regiment was killed at Antietam.

But there's no doubt Elliott's creation will fuel story-telling and much more for historians and others. It might fuel some anger, too — the Antietam visitors' center footprint appears to cover 1862 soldier gravesites. In 1866-67, the remains of hundreds of soldiers were exhumed from battlefield graves and elsewhere in the area for re-burial in Antietam National Cemetery. Could more rest on the hallowed ground?

Besides "Burns," the names of 49 other soldiers and their marked gravesites appear on Elliott's map. I focused on one — "J. Adams 155 Pa." — who, according to the map, was buried near 17 other U.S. Army soldiers a short distance from Main Street in Sharpsburg.

Unlike the other named soldiers, Joseph Adams, a 39-year-old coal miner from Elizabeth Township, Pa., wasn't a battle casualty at all.

According to S.G. Elliott's 1864 map, Joseph Adams was buried in a field outside Sharpsburg,
near a mass grave for 17 Union soldiers and a strip of woods. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)
By the time the 155th Pennsylvania arrived in Sharpsburg, the Battle of Antietam was over. But Private Adams and other soldiers in the newly formed regiment got an ugly eyeful in the western Maryland village.

"On porches and in back yards were to be seen terrible effects of battle, many dead bodies of Confederate soldiers, terribly mangled, lying where they fell," according to the Zouave unit's regimental history. "The scenes being the first introduction that the new troops had to real war made a deep impression upon all."

Surprisingly, Company G — whose officers were the "most inexperienced, and least competent at that time" — was sent on a reconnaisance across the Potomac River in Shepherdstown to aid the 118th Pennsylvania. (The Corn Exchange was routed on the bluffs near the town on Sept. 20, 1862.) Meanwhile, the rest of the 155th Pennsylvania set up camp near the river.

A cropped enlargement of Alexander Gardner's photograph
 of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Sharpsburg. It was used as 
a V Corps hospital by the U.S. Army.  Private Joseph Adams died here.
(Library of Congress | READ MORE ON MY BLOG.)
During the day at Camp McAuley, soldiers enjoyed the picturesque scenery; at night, they listened to music until the wee hours. One afternoon, officers were among the many in the regiment who gathered in a grove to watch two privates settle a dispute "according to the Marquis-of-Queensberry rules of the London prize ring." (The mock bout ended in a draw.)

But the seemingly carefree atmosphere was soon fraught with peril. Typhoid fever swept through General Andrew Humphreys' III Division in the V Corps. Two newly appointed assistant surgeons reported to the 155th Pennsylvania at Camp McAuley, but they were handicapped by a lack of medical supplies, hospital tents and other accommodations.

"This camp was ... the scene of much suffering and misery because of the inadequate provision for the care of the sick," the regimental history noted, "and the increase of the mortality among the soldiers war very great." Enlisted men and officers were incensed, and "discipline was severely impaired."

In mid-October, 19-year-old Abraham Overholt of Company E died of disease in the V Corps, III Division hospital at the Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Sharpsburg. He was given a military funeral and buried in the church cemetery among the freshly dug graves of other soldiers.

At about the same time, Adams was suffering from either typhoid fever or dysentery -- symptoms of both can include severe, often bloody, diarrhea. He also was sent to the Lutheran church hospital,  where the father of five children died on Oct. 26, 1862.

Using documents from his widow's pension file, let's tell the rest of the story.

(National Archives via | CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)

In this declaration for a widow's pension from 1865, we find important details of Adams' family life. On May 19, 1846, he married his wife, Mary Jane, in a Presbyterian church in Saltsburg, Pa. The couple had five children: Ann, 15; William, 10; Mary, 8; Sarah, 6; and Laura, 3.

From left: 155th Pennsylvania Private William Rankin, Lieutenant James Strong and Private Philip Douglass.
Rankin and Douglass were at Joseph Adams' funeral. Strong was one of Adams' commanding officers.
(PHOTOS: Under The Maltese Cross: From Antietam to Appomattox)
(National Archives via | CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)

In this signed deposition from August 1866, William Rankin and Phillip H. Douglass — veterans of the 155th Pennsylvania's Company I — noted they "visited [Adams] and helped to take care of him while he was in the regimental hospital in Sharpsburg." They attended the funeral for Adams, "a man of good moral character." Adams' cause of death was misspelled "disentary."

(National Archives via

In this document, 155th Pennsylvania 1st Lieutenant James Strong, one of Adams' commanding officers, noted the cause of Adams' death (typhoid fever) and that he "attended to" the private's burial.

Did Adams also receive a military funeral, as Private Abraham Overholt had earlier in October 1862? And why was Joseph buried in a strip of woods, near the mass grave of 17 other Federal soldiers, instead of in the cemetery by the Lutheran church where he died? Was the church cemetery graveyard already filled by late October? Or was there another reason for this burial location?

Joseph Adams' gravestone
at Antietam National Cemtery.
(Find A Grave)
Thanks to Simon G. Elliott and his newly re-discovered Antietam map, we have another source to use to explore the stories of soldiers from the bloodiest day in American history. And who knows -- perhaps a Civil War photography collector or Adams descendant will read this post and share with the rest of us a war-time image of the 155th Pennsylvania soldier.

Postscript: James Strong, "a gallant and faithful officer," was killed at Quaker Road, Va., on March 29, 1865. He left a wife and six children "in a little cottage by the coal works on the Youghiogheny" to mourn, according to the regimental history.

In 1868, William, Sarah and Mary Adams were living at a soldiers orphans home, perhaps a sign Mary Jane was struggling financially. Mrs. Adams initially received a widow's pension at the standard rate of $8 a month.

By 1867, Joseph Adams' remains had been recovered from his burial site in a field near a strip of woods and re-buried in the newly established national cemetery in Sharpsburg. Adams, who served only 73 days in the U.S. Army, rests under Grave No. 3,601.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.
-- Explore a complete, high-res version of the Elliott map.



  1. Thanks for digging all this out, John! What a great tale.

    1. Thanks, Brian. The dectective work sure is enjoyable -- as you know. :)

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

  3. Anonymous6:03 AM

    Thanks so much John So interesting. I enjoy your posts. Your a great writer!