Monday, December 28, 2009

Philadelphia Brigade Park

The Philadelphia Brigade Park is stop number 5 on the auto tour of the field. It is marked by a stone obelisk rising 73 feet above the surrounding 11 acre park. A recent study by Susan W. Trail titled, Remembering Antietam: Commemoration and Preservation of a Civil War Battlefield [1] describes the creation of Antietam National Battlefield. In it she describes how the Philadelphia Brigade Park came to be.

During the 1890s, national parks were established to commemorate the conflicts at Gettysburg, Shiloh, Chickamauga/Chattanooga, Vicksburg, and Antietam. Soon states and veterans organizations began erecting regimental, brigade, and state monuments along the roads and fields of these parks. At Antietam, the Philadelphia Brigade Association sought a suitable location to erect memorials to the four brigades--the 69th, 71st, 72nd, and 106th Pennsylvania--who fought under Oliver O. Howard and who were collectively known as the Philadelphia Brigade.

In the early spring of 1895, the Association contacted Antietam Battlefield Board President Major George B. Davis about creating monuments to each of the brigades' four regiments. Davis, in reply, expressed his "dislike of 'tombstones' across the battlefield, recommending instead that it erect one monument to the entire Brigade." p. 250.

The Association, adopting Davis' suggestion, then met with Ezra Carman in mid-August to select the monument's location. The property the Association wanted was owned by George H. Poffenberger, a farmer with a cantankerous reputation and a keen eye for profit. "The members had intended on buying a small lot just large enough to hold the monument, but when Poffenberger offered to sell them 1/4 acre for the exorbitant price of $400, or eleven acres for $1,000, they quickly chose the latter after consultation with Gen. Carman." p. 250.

With an agreement in hand, the Association began raising funds to purchase the land, make improvements, and build a suitable monument to the brigade. Of the contributors, the Pennsylvania State Legislature gave $5,000--a generous sum but less than what they would have given for four individual brigade monuments--which were allocated by the state at $1,500 each.

On September 17, 1896, the Association joined by governors from Pennsylvania and Maryland and "a substantial number of veteran's organizations" gathered to dedicate the park. p. 251.

While the Association had intended to turn its new park over to the War Department, this action was delayed. One possible reason was a "dispute arising over surplus cannon balls that the Secretary of War had agreed to provide the Association to embellish the grounds of the park. Evidently, the Association believed that this agreement included the cannon carriages, and did not find out otherwise until less than two weeks before the dedication. The controversy continued for another year, until the Secretary of War finally rescinded his original agreement." p. 251, note 22.

Left with the responsibilities of administering the park, the Association turned to the City of Philadelphia who took over the park in 1903. George H. Poffenberger was hired as caretaker--something he neglected and his employers regretted. As complaints about the condition of the Park rose, a military investigation found "a locked gate [to the park entrance], 'many benches scattered about, helter skelter, and an unsightly wire fence strung within the ornamental iron fence to keep in sheep that the caretaker is reported to pasture there to save the use of lawn mower." p. 311.

The Hagerstown Chamber of Commerce then got involved. Led by John B. Ferguson, the Chamber contacted the City of Philadelphia in May 1932 to propose that the city open the park to the public, dismantle the troublesome gate under the control of Poffenberger, and turn the maintenance of the park over to the War Department which was doing a good job with other parts of the field. The title to the park would be transfered to the War Department as well. After a number of false starts, the park came into the National Park Service hands in September 1940. p. 360.

The Third Delaware monument in the field due north of the Philadelphia obelisk in 1964 marked the final addition to the Philadelphia Brigade Park .

Today parts of the original fencing can still be seen marking the the 11 acre original purchase. The property to the south all the way to the Dunkard Church and to the west to the by-pass are now in NPS hands and a master plan for the West Woods (and the original Philadelphia Brigade Park) envisions a careful restoration of field and buildings to September 17, 1862.


[1] All page references are to: Susan W. Trail, Remembering Antietam: Commemoration and Preservation of a Civil War Battlefield. Dissertation, University of Maryland, College Park, 2005.

All photographs in black and white or sepia from the Antietam National Battlefield Library, courtesy of NPS Ranger Allan Schmidt.

Photo 1. The Philadelphia Brigade Park, ca. 1935. The two small signs to the right and left of the roadway read: (left sign) "Battlefield Visitors May Lunch Here 9 AM Till Dusk, No Entrance After Dusk"; (right sign) "Keep Motor Cars Off The Grass, Park 45o on Driveway."
Photo 2. The troublesome gate, ca. 1926.
Photo 3. Looking north to the Philadelphia Brigade Monument from the Dunker church, ca. 1950s. The George H. Poffenberger farmstead is in the far left of the frame.
Photo 4. The same shooting location as Photo 3 but a few years later. Looking north to the Brigade Monument from the Dunkard Church, ca. 1960.
Photo 5. Workers setting cement fence posts along the southern boundary of the original 11 acre Philadelphia Brigade Park, ca. 1930s.
Photo 6. Cement fence posts and rusted fence wire still mark the boundary of the original Brigade Park. Debris from the George H. Poffenberger farmstead still litter the newly-acquired property.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"As grain before the scythe:" The Nineteenth Massachusetts in the West Woods

On September 17, the 19th Massachusetts found itself "hotly engaged" in the West Woods where they would lose half the regiment. In the midst of this stood John G.W. Adams (1) a shoemaker from Groveland, Essex County, Massachusetts. Years later Adams would publish a history of the 19th and in it would record the loss of one brother and the reunion of another. (2)

"We arrived at South Mountain while the battle was being fought, but took no part in it. The 16th of September we reached Antietam, and formed in line of battle. On the morning of the 17th, with our brigade in the centre, we advanced in three lines of battle, over walls and fences, through fields, under a terrible fire of artillery. (3) The regiment was growing nervous but did not break. Colonel Hincks (4) halted us, put us through the manual of arms, ending with parade rest. Having become steady, we moved forward to a strip of woods, and came upon the enemy strongly posted. Grape and canister, shot and shell, volleys of musketry greeted us, - and our men fell as grain before the scythe.

One-half of our officers and men were either killed or wounded. Colonel Hincks was the first to fall, again terribly wounded. Capt. George W. Batchelder (5) was killed, and the command of the regiment and companies changed fast, as one after another officer went down. At the time we were so hotly engaged in the front we began to receive a fire from our left and rear, and discovered that we were being flanked, and must change front to rear. This was done by the 19th Massachusetts and 1st Minnesota. We were now under command of Colonel Devereaux,(6) and were ordered to take a position near a stone wall. We fired as we fell back, holding the enemy until we had reformed our lines, when we again went in and continued fighting until dark, when we were ordered to support a battery. We then had time to count the cost of the battle. Colonel Hincks was reported dying, and we mourned the loss of our brave leader.(7) Captain Batchelder was dead. He had been my tent-mate since I had been an officer, and had rendered me valuable assistance. Every one loved him; he was an ideal volunteer soldier. Having graduated at Harvard, he entered the army as an enlisted man in the Salem Zouaves at the first call for men, and had worked hard to bring the regiment to the state of efficiency which it had reached.

I had not seen my brother (8) since we had advanced in line. He was left general guide of the regiment, and his place was on the left. As soon as we halted I went to the company, but he was not there. The following day I searched the hospitals, but could not find him, and on the morning of the 19th, the rebels having left our front, I went where their lines had been and found him, with Jacob Hazen of Company C and George Carleton of Company B, near an old haystack. He had been shot in the right side of the neck, the ball passing out of the left shoulder; it had cut the spinal nerve, and he could not move hand or foot. I saw at once that he could not live and had him placed in an ambulance and carried to our field hospital. It was the saddest duty of my life. We had left home together, and had often talked of a happy reunion around the old fireside when the war should end. Now I must write to my old mother that one of the three who had bade her good-by in '61 would never return.

This was war, terrible war! As I was kneeling by his side, hearing his last words, a woman's voice said, "Is he your brother?" I explained to her the fact that I was in command of my company and could not stay with him, but could not bear to have him die alone. With tears streaming down her motherly face she promised me she would not leave him, but would see him buried and would send me word where he was laid, - which promise she faithfully kept. The name of this good woman was Mrs. Mary Lee of Philadelphia, Pa.(9) She had a son in Baxter's Fire Zouaves,(10) who was with her that day. Several years ago, when Post 2, G.A.R., of Philadelphia, was in Boston, I saw that one of the old battle-flags was the Fire Zouaves, and was carried by Sergeant Lee.(11) He proved to be the son I had met that sad day at Antietam; a few months later I visited his mother in Philadelphia, who was working just the same for the soldiers as she had done during the war.

While my brother lay wounded on the field inside the rebel lines an officer of the 8th South Carolina came along, and seeing 19 on his cap asked to what regiment he belonged. Being informed that it was the 19th Massachusetts, he said he had a brother in that regiment named Daniel W. Spofford.(12) My brother told him that his brother was wounded in the battle, and might be on the field. He searched for him but did not find him, as he was able to go to the rear before we changed front. Returning, he had my brother carried to the haystack where I found him, and rendered all the assistance possible. The name of the South Carolina officer was Phineas Spofford.(13) Both brothers survived the war. The Union soldier resides in Georgetown, Mass., the rebel in South Carolina, but he often visits his native State.

I also missed my boy Patch.(14) He was last seen helping a sergeant from the field. He turned up in Libby Prison a few days later. My old company had met with other losses than death. Four men had deserted on the eve of battle. They had taken the canteens of the company to go in search of water. No doubt they are searching yet, as they did not return. Two were non-commissioned officers, and all were intelligent men."


1. The 1860 Federal Census lists John Adams (age 18) and his brother Isaac (age 27) at home in Groveland, Essex County, Massachusetts. Both listed their occupations as shoemakers. They resided with their parents Isaac and Margaret. The 1850 Federal Census lists an older brother Asa F. Adams, then 23, who would have been about 35 in 1862.

2. John G.B. Adams, Reminiscences of the Nineteenth Massachusetts Regiment, (Boston: Wright, Potter Printing Company, 1899). This account was transcribed by Kerry Webb from a copy of Capt. Adams' book held in the National Library of Australia. The transcription can be retrieved at

3. "The Nineteenth Regiment was on the extreme right of the second line of battle, the Minnesota regiment being on the right of the first line, when the Minnesota was the last regiment in its line to leave the position, and was immediately followed by the Nineteenth." Official Report by Captain Harrison Gray Otis Weymouth, Bolivar, Virginia, September 29, 1862.

4. Col. Edward Winslow Hinks or Hincks.

5. George W. Batchelder was a 23 year old lawyer from Salem, Massachusetts. Commissioned 1st Lt. August 1861 and commissioned Captain March 1862.

6. Lt. Col. Arthur Forrester Devereux (1838-1906).

7. Col. Hinks (Hincks) survived his wounds. "In November 1862 he was appointed Brigadier General of Volunteers, and served on court martial and recruiting duty, was a prison camp commander, and commanded the 3rd Division/XVIII Corps (US Colored Troops) at Petersburg. He then had draft and recruitment duties. Continuing in US Army service he was Lt. Colonel of the 40th US Infantry in 1866, transferred to the 25th Infantry in March 1869, and retired at the rank of Colonel in December 1870. He died on February 4, 1894 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. " Retrieved from Brian Downey's definitive Antietam website: Antietam on the Web at .

8. Isaac Adams.

9. Mary Lee was one of the leading organizers of the Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon founded on May 26, 1861. Frank H. Taylor, Philadelphia in the Civil War, 1861-1865 (Philadelphia: Published by the City, 1913), p. 207. See further, Marjorie Barstow Greenbie, Lincoln's Daughters of Mercy (New York: G.B. Putnam's Sons, 1944).

10. The 72nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment was organized in Philadelphia.

11. Probably William H. Lee, Company A, 72nd Pennsylvania. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5; prepared in compliance with acts of the legislature, by Samuel P. Bates.
Author: Bates, Samuel P. (Samuel Penniman), 1827-1902.

12. Aaron and Betsy Spofford sent three of their sons to war from Boxford. Daniel W. Spofford (b. 11.30.34) enlisted in Company A of the 19th Massachusetts on August 9, 1861 and was mustered in two days later for a duration of three years. His wound put him in the hospital where he remained until October 12, when he again joined his regiment. His brother, Aaron (b. 4.20.33), had enlisted in Company E of the 12th Massachusetts on June 11 and was mustered in June 26 for three years. Aaron was killed at the Second Battle of Bull Run on August 30, 1862. Their older brother was Phineas F. Spofford (see note 13 below). Sidney Perley, History of Boxford, Essex County, Massachusetts, From the Earliest Settlement Known to the Present Time: A Period of about Two Hundred and Thirty Years (Boxford, MA: Published by the Author, 1880), p. 324.

13. "[T]hey spent the night following the battle in a neighboring barn [probably the barn in the Alfred Poffenberger farmstead], reviewing the past and present situation, and recalling the memory of their brother [Aaron] who had previously fallen a victim of the fratricidal strife."

Phineas F. Spofford was captain of Company D of the 8th S.C. He survived the war and in 1870 was living in Cheraw, South Carolina. He left the family home sometime before 1850 since that year's census shows him living and working in neighboring Georgetown. He was 22 and was listed as a shoemaker. He was living in company housing provided by a shoe factory probably owned by Luther D. Perley, listed in Census as "shoe manufacturer." The Spofford and Perley families were related by marriage at the turn of the century and there may have been some sort of familial arrangement that brought Phineas into the Perley shoe manufacturing business in Georgetown. What brought Phineas to South Carolina and into the 8th South Carolina remains a mystery. By 1860 he had established residence in the large household of South Carolina native R.L. Edgeworth in Chesterfield, South Carolina. One of Phineas' housemates was J.W. Kibbin, a shoemaker from Massachusetts. He remained in South Carolina after the war--the 1870 Census shows him living in Cheraw--and ten years later he had moved back to Chesterfield where he assumed duties as the town sheriff, was a bachelor, and "resided" with five men listed as prisoners. Perley, ibid., p. 324; Memoirs of Robert E. Lee, eds. Armistead Lindsay Long, Marcus Joseph Wright, (New York: J.M. Stoddart, 1886), p. 664; (; D. Augustus Dickert, History of Kershaw's Brigade (Project Guttenberg eBook, release date August 6, 2004 [eBook #13124]; 1850 Federal Census for Massachusetts; History and Genealogy of the Perley Family, M.V.B Perley, compiler (Salem, MA., self published, 1906), p. 80 and retrieved at; 1870 and 1880 Federal Census for South Carolina.

14. George H. Patch (1844-1887), Company I, 19th Massachusetts. Patch survived the war and settled in Framingham, Massachusetts. Adams, op. cit.; Historical Data Systems, comp.. U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2009; 1880 U.S. Census for Massachusetts.


First: Detail from Carman/Cope map, Library of Congress.

Second: Life Magazine Collection, Google Images.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Illumination--December 5, 2009

Every year for the past two decades or more the first Saturday of December marks the illumination of the battlefield. On that day (and the night before) thousands of volunteers place more than 23,000 candles on the field, each representing a casualty of September 17, 1862. The candles, which can burn for five hours, are encased in paper bags which are weighed down by a cup or so of sand. The effect, once lit, is unforgettable. The visual display of 23,000 casualties laid out from the Joseph Poffenberger farm on the northern edge of the field to the Burnside Bridge and beyond to the south is hard to describe. Just when you think you have seen all that a field of candles can offer, you crest a rise and before you lies other fields stretching on into the night each bearing their illuminations--their memories--of lives changed on this field those many years ago.

This year an early Nor'easter roared up the Atlantic coast. These storms, originating in the Gulf of Mexico, are snow machines. Their counterclockwise rotation wicks moisture from the warmer Atlantic and dumps it over the cold continental air mass--a conveyor belt of moisture turning to snow propelled by stiff winds.

The combination of the heavy wet snow that fell and the winds conspired to test the best plans of the volunteers (and the National Park Service). All day, the volunteers struggled with their task. The snow, melted around the warm lit paper bags, collapsed them onto the candles which either extinguished the flame or sent everything up in one conflagration. By late afternoon, nearly all bags were soaked and the prospect of an illumination dimmed.

Instead of despair, the volunteers felt that they had done what they came for--to honor the memories of those whose lives forever changed that day. One Boy Scout, who had been working on the field for the better part of 8 hours said that he now had some appreciation of what the winter at Valley Forge might have been like. Others were satisfied that they had done their part and had done it well. For all on the field, NPS Rangers, volunteers, and others December 5, 2009 will be recorded in the oral history of the illumination for generations to come--"Remember that snowstorm? That wind wouldn't let up. I wonder if anyone found my lost glove? What're you going to do? It's Mother Nature."

Picture captions from top to bottom:

1. Looking north into the teeth of the storm from S.D. Lee's position on Antietam Ridge. The carefully laid rows of candles recede into the distance toward the Maryland Monument.
2. Looking west, a group of volunteers tending a candle in the far distance. The 20th New York Monument and the Visitor's Center stand to the right.
3. A volunteer, one of thousands who traveled from all over the country to create the illumination. The near-horizontal snow blowing southward.
4. NPS Rangers--the best--out since morning manning the traffic check points and still maintaining a sense of humor.
5. One of the few candles that defied the elements--at least for awhile. The bag sagging from the snow collapsed a few minutes later extinguishing the flame but not the memory.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Dunkard Church Rising

On September 17, 1906, Thomas J. Stewart, Adjutant General of Pennsylvania, addressed those gathered for the dedication ceremonies for the Pennsylvania Reserves monuments at the Antietam Battlefield.

"It is a glorious thing to be here," he told the crowd, "As long as this nation lasts the story of Antietam will be told and when these monuments have crumbled to dust, Antietam's story will live in the greatness of your example and in the glorious deeds done on this field. As long as the wind shall blow across yonder sunken road, they will sing the requiem for the mighty dead of this field; as long as the walls of the Dunkard Church shall stand they will seem to tell the story of the awful carnage of that place. …" (1)
Less than fifteen years later the walls of the Dunkard Church no longer stood.

After the battle, the damaged church was restored and rededicated the following year. Services were resumed in it in 1864. Around 1916 the Dunkards moved to a new church location in Sharpsburg and the battlefield church was abandoned.

Over the next five years, neglect and souvenir hunters--who chipped away at the brick--left the church walls weakened.

A heavy storm on May 23, 1921, caused the walls and roof to collapse. (3)

The furniture and some building materials including bricks were salvaged by Elmer Boyer.(4)

The church site was developed into a lunch room known as “Poffenberger’s Lunch Room.”

Eventually Boyer sold the original bricks and other building material to the National Park Service in 1951. A restoration project was finally completed in 1962 through a cooperative effort between the National Park Service, the Washington County Historical Society, the State of Maryland, and the Church of the Brethren. (3)

While the church was restored, its surroundings remained in private hands. The final photo in this series shows the Dunkard Church in 1971.

1) Albert L. Magilton, "Report of the Antietam Battlefield Memorial Commission of Pennsylvania Ceremonies: Dedication of the Monuments Erected by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Mark the Position Of Four Regiments Of The Pennsylvania Reserves Engaged In the Battle. (Harrisburg, Pa.: Harrisburg Publishing Company, State Printer, 1908). Retrieved from:

2) "The Angle" Gettysburg Civil War Roundtable Newsletter, May/June 2009, page 3.

3) Freeman Ankrum, from Sidelights on Brethren History, (Elgin, IL: The Brethren Press, 1962), pp. 99-108. Retrieved from

(4) Elmer G. Boyer ran a grocery in Sharpsburg, Maryland. He resided at 142 Chapline Street with his wife and two children. (US Census, 1930).

Photos from Antietam National Battlefield Archives and Library. Courtesy NPS Ranger Alann Schmidt.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Howard's Left (Part 2)

Over the summer I posted a note regarding the location of the left of Howard's Philadelphia Brigade in the West Woods. All accounts show that the 72nd Pennsylvania (Baxter's Fire Zouaves) took up the extreme left of the brigade; the exact position of the regiment, and Howard's left was the mystery. Some maps show them within the confines of the 11 acre Philadelphia Brigade park; others, including the Cope/Carmen map, show them much further south at the Dunker Church.

Don Gallagher, Historian of the 28th Pennsylvania Historical Association ( forwarded an article that supports the view that the 72nd operated near the Dunker Church. The article, written by James F. Larkin, Company K of the 72nd Pennsylvania, was published in the Philadelphia Weekly Times in 1882.

Don wrote: "[Larkin] mentions seeing the 28th PA as they were advancing out of the Cornfield and towards the West Woods. A large number of the men in the 28th were from Philadelphia and the whole regiment was organized and trained in the city. Several companies of the 28th were recruited from the same neighborhoods as 72nd and it's likely there were acquaintances. At the time I believe the 28th was just south of the Smoketown Road probably near or possibly South West of the Mumma Cemetery. This would place the 72nd pretty far to the left on Howard's line. "

Below is an excerpt from the article that Don forwarded and is posted here with permission. To the left is the Cope/Carmen map of the West Woods action between 9 and 9:30. This along with the Larkin account suggests that the left of Howard's brigade rested very close to the Dunker Church.

Larkin writes: "...On arriving at the Antietam creek, which was waist deep, we were compelled to ford it, holding our guns and ammunition up over our heads.

During our advance we passed through an apple orchard, the trees of which were fairly bending to the ground with their loads of ripe, luscious fruit, and the men actually under fire, with shot and shell screaming and tearing around and among them, their line dressed as if on parade, with arms at “right shoulder shift” went on at a “quick step,” eating apples. We had now reached the famous cornfield, and death and destruction were seen on every side of us.

We emerged from the cornfield into a freshly ploughed field. Here we passed Geary’s Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania Regiment lying as support or reserve, who gave us three hearty cheers as we passed on, and above the din and roar of battle we distinctly heard them give “three more for Philadelphia,” You cannot conceive with what wild joy and excitement the mention of our dear home at such a time created. It electrified the men, and the answering shout that went up from us was enthusiastic beyond description. Our advance was still beautiful, the alignment perfect, but still the cautionary command of the file closers of “steady men,” “guide on the colors,” was at short intervals heard.

We had now arrived within two hundred feet of a piece of thick woods, where the enemy’s artillery had been planted early in the morning and the hundreds of dead and wounded that strewed the ground in every direction, mutely attested with what terrible vigor and execution those guns had been served. Suddenly, loud above the rattle of musketry and the roar of the artillery, that historic rebel yell was heard. To those who have never heard it I will simply say that it is indescribable; but if ten thousand fiends were unchained and let loose it could not be more unearthly.

We rightly surmised that this yell boded no good to the Union troops, for immediately from the wood in front came pouring in the utmost disorder and confusion our whole front line in wild retreat. What caused this break is a mystery, as no better or braver troops than Sedgwick’s Division of Sumner’s Corps (the Second) ever shouldered gun or drew sword in defense of the Union. The command to fix bayonets was promptly obeyed, the object being to endeavor to prevent the breaking of our line, but in vain, for such was the rush and crush that it was beyond human power to stop the frantic retreat of the fugitives.

Our splendid line, before this mad rout, was broken badly and almost rendered useless for effective work; but the color guard with the colors still stood firm with four or five companies intact, and the remnant of the other companies, which had been shattered, quickly rallied on this point.

We were all this time exposed to a galling, murderous fire in front left flank and rear, and the casualties were terrible. Human flesh and blood could not stand that iron storm longer, and the command was given to “fall back.” The writer of this was wounded within thirty yards of the piece of woods where we first saw our front lines fleeing and lay on the field until late in the afternoon, and can, therefore, truthfully bear witness that the Seventy-second Pennsylvania was the “last to go” from that part of the field of Antietam, and for the information of our Massachusetts friend (1) I would state that the troops which we recognized as breaking through our line was the Thirty-fourth New York Volunteers and that they were either a portion of Gorman’s or Dana’s Brigade- he probably knows which. Who were “the first to go” I am unable to say; but this I do know, that after they did go, and were no longer to be seen, the Seventy-second Pennsylvania lost more than one-half it’s effective force."

Many thanks to Don Gallagher for his invaluable contribution to this post.

(1) A reference to Frances Winthrop Palfrey's criticism of the 72nd's action in the West Woods in his book published in 1882 titled The Antietam and Fredericksburg. Palfrey wrote: "The third line, the Philadelphia brigade, so called, was the first to go. Sumner tried to face it about preparatory to a change of front, but, under the fire from its left, it moved off in a body to the right in spite of all efforts to restrain it." Larkin titled his article "The Last To Go: A Description of the Charge by a Private in the Seventy-Second Regiment."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday, November 15, 2009

My route to the field takes me on U.S. Route 40 (Alt) west through Middletown, across Turner Gap, and then into Boonsboro.

This morning dawned clear and bright and dry--at least on the east side of the South Mountain.

As I came through Middletown, I noticed in the distance what appeared to be smoke--a lot of it.

It didn't take too much longer to realize that the smoke was heavy fog pushing its way out of the Pleasant and Antietam Valleys to the west of the mountain.

The photo at left is taken just west of Middletown looking west along U.S. 40 toward South Mountain.

The "smoke" is rolling off the mountain side.

The valleys to the west of South Mountain have their own microclimates, or so it seems. Clear on one side and fog on the other; snow on one side and rain on the other, and so on.

Crossing Turner's Gap, I went from bright sun to fog which grew denser with each mile.

The fog this morning brought to mind the conditions on the morning of the 16th September 1862--fog so thick that the west side of Antietam Creek was all but invisible to those on the east.

On the 17th "daylight was slow in coming. The rain had stopped but it had left a heavy overcast, a foggy mist that covered the fields." {1} Soon the fog would drift revealing to all the work before them.

Note: 1. James V. Murfin, The Gleam of Bayonets, (Baton Rouge, LSU Press, 2004 edition), p. 211.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Battlefield Souvenirs

As reported earlier, the NPS is working with groups such the Save Historic Antietam Foundation and the Boy Scouts to reforest the East and West Woods.

The original woods were cleared in the 1880s to make way for cultivation.

Shortly after the clearing, David Earle (right) of the 15th Massachusetts wrote of a visit to the West Woods in 1886,

"The trees on the ground where the Regiment stood during the battle were cut several years ago, and the ground has been broken for cultivation, but the buildings in front--the house and small barn (1)--still remain, and were at once recognized by the veterans who saw them on the eventful September 17, 1862.

Many interesting relics were found upon the ground where the regiment fought: bullets, Minnie balls, grape, pieces of shells, and fragments of equipments worn by our men who were brought away and were highly prized by the finders as relics found upon the battle-field twenty-four years after the battle."

Photo 1 shows the 15th Massachusetts Monument in 1959. The structure just beyond the monument is part of the old George Poffenberger farmstead.

Photo 2 looks north from the Dunker Church. To the left of the Hagerstown Pike is how the West "Woods" looked in the 1950s. In the left distance is the Philadelphia Brigade Monument.

Photo 3 looks south along the Pike. The house that appears in Photo 1 is adjacent to a stand with a sign advertising "Battlefield Souvenirs." In the distance between the house and first stand of trees, is the 34th NY Monument. (All photos can be enlarged by double clicking on them).


1. These buildings were the Locher Cabin and barn, part of the Alfred Poffenberger farmstead.
2. David M. Earle, History of the Excursion of the Fifteenth Massachusetts Regiment and its Friends to the Battle-fields of Gettysburg, Pa., Antietam, Md., Ball's Bluff, and Washington, D.C., May 31-June 12, 1886 (Worcester, Mass.: Press of Charles Hamilton, 1886, pp. 50-51. Quoted in Remembering Antietam: Commemoration and Preservation of a Civil War Battlefield, Susan W. Trail, PhD Dissertation, University of Maryland. at p. 162, note 48.

Battlefield photos from the Antietam National Battlefield archives--thanks to Ranger Alann Schmidt. Photo of David Earle retrieved from the 15th Massachusetts web site--one of the best regimental sites around--at

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"And I stood among strangers"--John Lemuel Stetson and the 59th NY in the West Woods

Traveling north from Sharpsburg along Route 65 you eventually come across a series of roadside markers on the right leading up to the 15th Massachusetts Monument. Before the markers, however, is an often overlooked memorial to John L. Stetson.

The monument, often mistaken for a tombstone, reads: "Here fell in the foremost of the advance of Sumner's Second Corps John Lemuel Stetson of Plattsburgh, N.Y. Lieut. Col. of the 59th New York 1862 - Volunteers - 1919." The year 1919 is the year the monument was placed by his family.

John Lemuel Stetson (March 8, 1832-September 17, 1862) was the son of Lemuel Stetson, an attorney, an Essex and Clinton County judge, and sometimes politician who served in the NY state assembly and in the 28th U.S. Congress (mid-1840s).

John married in 1856 Lucy Maria Platt (1835-1860) the great great grandaughter of the founder of Plattsburgh, Zephaniah. The photograph to the right was taken of the Stetsons in 1857. The couple set up their home and he his law practice in Plattsburgh. Maria died in February 1860 leaving no children.

With the outbreak of war, John helped raise the 59th New York and was commissioned as its Lieutenant-Colonel. The unit saw little action leading up to Antietam and spent most of its time on garrison duty in and around Washington.

In the days following the battle, families both north and south received telegrams telling of a son or husband's fate on September 17. Some received the news through the local newspaper's listing of the dead and wounded. If the family had the means, a father, mother, wife, or son traveled to Sharpsburg to their loved one. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., the father of Captain Oliver Wendell Holmes of the 20th Massachusetts (The Harvard Regiment), journeyed from Boston to Sharpsburg in search of his wounded son--he had received a telegram early on the 18th sent by Lt. Col. and Quartermaster W.G. LeDuc. The senior Holmes published an account of his journey in the Atlantic Monthly ("My Hunt After the Captain") and it represents the experience of those who hurried to the field to recover their own. While Holmes eventually reunited with his wounded son, Lemuel did not have as happy an outcome. What follows is a transcription of a remarkable letter Lemuel wrote to a friend and then published in the Albany Atlas & Argus of October 2, 1862 describing his journey and its sad ending. John Lemuel Stetson was the second son he had buried in the course of the then short war.

"Baltimore, September, 27, 1862.

Dear Sir:

I left Albany on the evening of the 19th quite abruptly and without seeing you as I desired. I had just seen my son's name, John L. Stetson, Lieut. Col. of the 59th, in the Journal's list of the casualties of the battle of Antietam; but it did not state whether killed or only wounded, and of course I went forward under anxious suspense. Arriving here the following afternoon I found at the U.S. Hospital two wounded privates of the 59th, just brought in from the battlefield. They left me little to hope; they reported him killed upon the field. I pursued my journey with many others, principally from Massachusetts and Rhode Island, who were equally anxious. We went by a special train to Frederick, and then via Middletown, Boonesboro, and Keedysville, by wagons and ambulances. At the latter place I came upon the hospital of Sedgwick's Division and found there a large number of wounded officers and men of the 59th. They confirmed the previous report. The Lieutenant Colonel was shot from his horse, in the heat of the action, at nine and a half o'clock A.M., Wednesday, the 17th of Sept. He was struck by a Minnie ball, in front, just below the pit of the stomach. The 59th stood in the center of Dana's Brigade; the 42nd N.Y. and the 7th Michigan being on the left, and the 19th and 20th Mass. on the right. They had pushed up the west bank of the Antietam two miles from Keedysville, crossed the turnpike leading from Sharpsburg to Hagerstown a mile and a quarter north of Sharpsburg, and entered the oak openings to the west of a broad cultivated filed a little way north of the Dunkard's Meeting House. They entered the forest under the direct order of Gen. Sumner, upon the doublequick. As they left the clear ground they passed a crest running north and south to which point they had been all the way ascending from the Antietam. This crest had protected them from the shot of the enemy--concealed by the forest to the west--while they were in the cleared field, except from shells thrown over the forest. Entering the forest the land descended considerably to the west, and then formed a plain some forty rods in width to the edge of the oak openings on the west side of the forest. This plain, however, was undulating and formed into gently rising mounds. At the edge (west) limestone rocks cropped out on the same level with the plain, and along this was a gully or ravine some six or eight feet deep, forming an impregnable line of defence for the rebels. From this ravine or natural wall or ditch, the land rose sharply to the west for half a mile, and upon this eminence the Confederates had planted batteries which raked the plain over the heads of their own men concealed behind the abrupt line of limestone ledge. Dana's Brigade, brought to the centre of the oak openings, received the double fire of cannon shot and small arms. But this was not all; the Divisions were not closed on the South, and the Confederates entering the opening flanked the Brigade as they stood exposed to the terrific cross-fire. The 7th Michigan and the [42nd N.Y.] {1} were turned, and General Sumner, ordered the line to fall back, which they did by moving hurriedly to the north upon their own line, under the pressure of the flank attack upon the left.

"The position of Lieut. Col. Stetson was at the right of his regiment, and as the men fell back to the point he changed front to the South, and earnestly stimulated the men to rally upon their colors. It was here that he received the fatal shot. He fell, and his horse galloped from the field. The Confederates occupied the spot until the following Friday morning, when the threatened pressure upon other parts of their line forced them to abandon this, the only point in the field from which they had been directly forced. Then the body of the Lieut. Col. was recovered, and was immediately interred, under the advice of Dr. Burr, the surgeon of the regiment.

"The rebels had rifled his pockets and turned them inside out. They had taken his hat and boots. But a Rebel Major returned his wallet, marked with his name and residence, to Lieut. Rosa, of the 59th regiment, lying wounded upon the same field, saying that it contained nothing of value which they wished to keep. They had emptied it of everything but Confederate notes, which had been procured near Richmond, and held as curiosities. Lieut. Rosa gave the wallet to Captain Lyne, and then died of his wound, and Captain Lyne placed the wallet in my possession.

"They buried the Lieutenant Colonel on the spot where he fell, upon a gently rising mound. Two trees stand to the west of the grave, the one, three paces from the head, and the other a like distance from the foot. The trees are scarred by shot, and the one at the south has three fresh hacks on the east side. Eight feet east of the grave lies and oak top, felled by a cannon shot. To the southwest and close upon the two oaks, the mound is skirted with several clusters (5) of dark brown moss covered limestone rocks, that crop out from one to four feet. Directly south on the next gentle mound or swell, is a long line of fresh earth; it covers the remains of the gallant men of the 59th, who perished in the same conflict. They were collected an interred by the burial party of the regiment, on Saturday. The forest is so open that you may drive a carriage almost in any direction; but the oaks are nearly every one marked with bullets, grape, cannon shot or shell. On some I counted over a dozen bullet marks. The marks upon the trees are so thick that it is wonderful that any one could have stood there in the conflict unharmed.

"I found the burial rude and imperfect, like all soldiers' graves upon the field. On Tuesday morning I returned from Sharpsburg with a burial party, and had a wall twenty inches high built around the grave, close to the vault. This was filled with fresh earth and raised above the wall, and completed in the usual form. Then along the sides to the crest I laid slabs of dark brown limestone, at at the head and foot stand heavy stones trenched into the ground. Over the whole I lad green boughs cut from the top of the white oaks felled by the cannon shot, nearby. The duty was ended; the burial was complete--complete as might be under an exigency, which cannot be understood without too long an explanation--and I stood among strangers,--the rank and file of the army,--to make my grateful heartfelt acknowledgments for their kind assistance.

"But you may in all times of affliction rely upon the the human and generous sympathy of the common soldiers. They have a respect for grief, and feel sympathy by instinct. I thank them again, one and all, for their kindness. The burial place and the field of battle at that point are owned by Colonel Miller, of Sharpsburg, now in the seventieth year of his age. He was a Captain in the war of 1812, in the 2nd Regiment Maryland Militia, and second under Colonel Richard K. Heath. I called upon him and received his own as well as the lively sympathies of his amiable family. His is a spirit of undoubted loyalty to the Union; and, I will say here that, I did not anywhere in all my journey and intercourse with citizens, from Baltimore to Harper's Ferry, meet any expressions or manifestations of feeling except of earnest loyalty. I have fixed your attention upon mine and myself--it was due to the occasion; but I do not desire you to think, that amidst my own profound grief, I was unmindful of the sufferings that everywhere, clustered along my path in the track of the army. I threaded the hospitals from Baltimore to Sharpsburg in search of a particular fact and the horrors that met my startled vision everywhere as I progressed were too appalling ever to be forgotten. Every church was a hospital. Private houses and barns were converted to the same use. Hundreds lay quietly upon the same church floor. The horror was not from any screeching or other manifestation of bodily pain. The wounded were without a solitary exception quiet and resigned. But it seemed that I had arrived among a race of men fashioned unlike the rest of mankind,--men with only one arm--men with only one leg--men with no arms--men with no legs--men with bodies otherwise disfigured, and yet men who talked and cheered, smiled and thanked God that it was no worse with them. Then again, in the vestibule of the church lay a naked body of a young man of exquisite form slightly covered with movable drapery. One large red dot in the breast marked the entry of the Minnie ball, another smaller one near it marked a slight bayonet wound, and the half closed eye and oppressed respiration told the beholder that his relief was nigh, and they he had given to the cause of the Union--all that a man could give--his life. I do not conjure up figures, I describe positive facts, unwelcome as they may be to the sensibilities of readers in the vale of comparative peace and happiness in the Northern States. Can you not see that when there are 10,000 killed and wounded, that there must be among the surviving sources of suffering and misery indescribable--not merely to themselves, but to anxious near relatives and friends?

"But I am departing from my purpose--the curse of mankind--war, is upon us; and yet it is only by war--vigorous, earnest, resolute war to the knife,--war in the minds and hearts of our people at home, as we see and feel the horrors of the front, and in the track of battle, that can save our nationality and preserve to us, or recover for us, the decent respect of mankind.

"From Sharpsburg, I returned by the way of Harper's Ferry, staying two nights on the crest of Bolivar Heights in Virginia, Sumner's Camp. The rebel pickets were two miles to the west. To get into camp I was forced to ford the Potomac, by the stupid driving of a full-blooded contraband. He did not know how to manage six mules with a single ribbon. He shut his eyes, threw up the rein, yelled and let the mules have their own way; they went wild and stuck fast against a heavy wagon loaded with part of a pontoon bridge. He lost his position in line of transportation, and wagons and artillery swept by for an hour. To extricate myself I took off my boots, put my sox in my pocket, rolled my pants up to my knees and took to the water. The water was warm and agreeable but the sharp stones in the bed of the river hurt my feet, but I had to bear it, for no teamster would take pity on me. I asked the passing artillery to let me mount a cannon, and offered money, but no, it was against orders,--red tape prevailed. I got three-fourths of the way over, and stopped on an island of small boulders, made by the low water, when a fine looking officer of the artillery recognized me, and asked if I could ride. I replied that I could ride better than I could swim or wade. He dismounted the private from a fine supernumery artillery horse, and I sprang into the saddle with the renewed horsemanship of youth and rode into camp at the very elevated Bolivar Heights with the pride and dash of a cavalry officer. My deliverer was Lieutenant Egan, of Rickett's Battery, a cadet of the last class at West Point--a native of my own village, a generous, whole-souled Irishman--a gentleman, soldier and humanitarian. I dined with his mess; and thanking him for his humanity, hope he will soon recover from fever and ague. Recovering the horse and accoutrements of my deceased son, I returned to this place last evening by train from Sandy Hook, one mile below Harper's Ferry. Some days may elapse before I can return North.

"The conduct of Colonel Tidball, and Major Northedge, of the 59th, is described as gallant and resolute in the action of the 17th. The regiment went into action with less than 400 men. It lost in killed 47; wounded 143; 13 of 21 officers were killed or wounded.

Respectfully yours, L. Stetson."

Stetson Kindred of America, Account of Second Reunion and Other Data, (n.p., n.d.); Brian Downey's Antietam on the Web at (blog entry); Freepages Genealogy (listing for Riverside Cemetery); Touched with Fire: Civil War Letters and Diary of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., ed. by Mark De Wolfe Howe (NY: Fordham University Press, 2000), p. 65-66 notes; Freepages Genealogy (; Maj. William Glidden (Ret), letter to the editor, Albany Times Union (September 20, 2009. Retrieved 11/11/09 at; photo John Stetson from Antietam National Battlefield Library.

{1} In article, "62nd N.Y." The 42nd New York was on the right of the 7th Michigan.

Monday, August 24, 2009

West Woods Witness Trees

Those who have visited the Burnside Bridge know that at the far end of the bridge on the left side is a "witness tree." A witness tree is a tree that was alive on September 17, 1862.

There are at least five other witness trees in the park besides this one--three are in the West Woods on recently acquired property.

Of these three, one is dead but still standing, the other two, which are White Oaks, appear to be healthy.

These pictures were taken last weekend at around 9:30 a.m. and look southwest.

It is hard to tell in this picture just how large this tree is.

I estimate it to be about 175 feet tall and about four to five feet around.

To the left of the dead tree are the two other witness trees.

On September 17, 1862 these trees would have stood just to the left of the 59th New York Regiment. Jubal Early's brigade rushed past these trees on its way to engage the New Yorkers.

In the Cope/Carmen map (left), the dead tree is marked in gray and the two live trees in green.

The blue lines indicate the camera field of view (click to enlarge the map).

If you are ever in the West Woods, be sure to visit these magnificent trees--living witnesses to history.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Howard's Left

What was the position of Oliver O. Howard's brigade of Sedgwick's division in the West Woods? Howard's brigade was the third of three brigades that made up Sedgwick's division--the first was Willis Gorman's and the second, Napoleon J.T. Dana's.

According to Ezra Carmen "Howard's line advanced from the East Woods in some disorder. As it approached the Hagerstown Road, the right of the brigade began obliquing to the right, while part of the left wing (which had been halted) was attracted by the contest around the [Dunkard] Church and began to oblique in that direction. Part of the 69th Pennsylvania followed the 106th Pennsylvania, and part overlapped the 72nd Pennsylvania but was soon moved to the right. Under a fire that struck down many, the 72nd reached the road [Hagerstown Pike]--somewhat broken by the rush of the retreating 125th Pennsylvania through it. It was aligned by dressing to the right and then advanced about ten yards into the woods. Its left, which was near the church, could not fire because some of the 34th New York were in front, but the right wing was uncovered and began firing."[1] The colored map at left is the familiar Cope/Carmen Map and faithfully reflects Carmen's narrative.

Here's the problem. Nearly all of the recent accounts of Sedgwick's advance place the left of the including Howard's brigade much further to the north and in the clover field adjoining the West Woods At left is Marion Armstrong's map that shows the 72nd further north and well away from the church.[2] Richard F. Miller puts the 34th and 125th at the Dunkard Church and, like Armstrong, locates Howard's brigade northward.[3] So does John Priest [4]. Luvass' Guide to the Battle of Antietam, appears to place only two units near the church which are unlabeled but can be assumed to be the 34th NY and 125th Pa. [5] On the web, the ehistory site at Ohio State University places Sedgwick and all of his brigades at the same map location as Armstrong and others. [6] Ethan Rafuse places the 72nd Pa. according to the Cope/Carman map but does not note the location of the 69th Pa. and instead shows the 7th Michigan on the right of the 72nd. [7]

So what to make of this? It appears that there are two map models representing very different unit locations. One representation replicates the Cope/Carman map; the other consistently follows what I will call the Armstrong map (even though some maps here precede Armstrong's map). So who is right? Where was Howard's left? Who wants to challenge Carmen? He was there and spent his life chronicling the battle. Nearly all of the histories above agree that the 34th New York angled down to the church--that is not in dispute. What is in dispute are the locations of the 69th and 72nd Pennsylvania of the Philadelphia Brigade. Consulting the ORs do not provide a definitive answer (is there one?). For example, here's Col. James A. Suiter's report for the 34th New York:

"From some cause to me unknown, I had become detached from my brigade, the one hundred and twenty-fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers being on my right. On my left and rear I was entirely unsupported by infantry or artillery." -- Col. James A. Suiter's (34th New York) OR.

Where are the 72nd and 69th? According to Carmen/Cope, they should have been right behind the brigade. If so, why does Suiter say he was unsupported in the rear by infantry?

Joshua T. Owen's report on the 69th Pennsylvania further confuses things. He writes:

"With some confusion upon the left, the brigade retired. The Sixty-ninth, One hundred and sixth, and Seventy-first Pennsylvania Volunteers retired in good order; the Seventy-second Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, however, being on the extreme left, subjected to a heavier fire, and the first to encounter the panic-stricken fugitives from the left, did not retire in the same good order as the other three regiments, nor was it reformed, nor did it rejoin the brigade until a late hour in the afternoon." --Joshua T. Owen, (69th Pennsylvania), OR, 9.21.62.

According to the Carmen/Cope map, the 125th and 34th appears to have retreated through the 69th and 72nd positions but Owen reports that only the 72nd encountered the unknown "panic-stricken fugitives from the left." Could these "fugitives" have been the 7th Michigan and the 42nd New York which were to the left of the 72nd in the Armstrong map?

The 72nd's commander Col. Dewitt Clinton Baxter left no report and the division commander Oliver O. Howard does shed any light on the location of the left of the division.

I hope someone who finds this entry may be able to clear up the two map representations and help find Howard's left. If you are out there and can help, please post.


[1] Joseph Pierro, ed., The Maryland Campaign of September 1862: Ezra A. Carman's Definitive Study of the Union and Confederate Armies at Antietam ( New York: Routledge, 2008), p. 264.

[2] Marion V. Armstrong, Jr., Unfurl Those Colors! McClellan, Sumner, and the Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign (Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press, 2008), p. 186.

[3] Richard F. Miller, Harvard's Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2005, p. 166).

[4] John Priest, Antietam: The Soldier's Battle (New York: Oxford University Press), p. 121.

[5] Jay Luvaas and Harold W. Nelson, eds. Guide to the Battle of Antietam: The Maryland Campaign of 1862 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1987), p. 166.

[6] Map of General Sedgwick's assault on the West Woods, retrieved on August 10, 2009 at

[7] Ethan Rafuse, Antietam, South Mountain & Harpers Ferry: A Battlefield Guide, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008), p. 71.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Route 65 and the Old Wood Road

Visitors to the West Woods who venture over to the 15th Massachusetts Monument often are surprised to find traffic zooming by not 25 yards away. This is Route 65 which connects Hagerstown and I-70 with Sharpsburg.

If you stood on the same spot on September 10, 1862 you would notice the land gradually falling away to the Alfred Poffenberger farmstead of a cabin, barn, orchard, haystacks and corn (see earlier posts). You would also see a wooden road that if you took it north would come upon the Nicodemus farmstead. If you stood on the spot seven days later, you would be in the middle of the fierce firefight between Gorman's brigade of Sedgwick's Division and remnants of Jackson's Division who were occupying the farmstead. If you stand there today, you would look over a high speed highway that has obliterated all remains of the farm lane and much of the topography of this part of the battlefield.

The "old wood road"[1] of 1862 eventually became a paved country road and a century later was widened to the present Route 65. The first illustration (left) in this post shows the widening of the road around 1962.[2] The exact location of this construction is difficult to pinpoint but there seems to be a parallel road to the east visible through the woodline which could only be the Hagerstown Pike. The high ground rising to the right (or east) of the Pike resembles the high ground around the Miller Farm and, if so, the location of this photo would be north of the Alfred Poffenberger farmstead.

As Route 65 approaches the park from the north it skirts west of the old Hagerstown Pike at the Joseph Poffenberger farm and then rejoins the Pike south of the Visitor's Center. Up until the last decade, the highway lay west of the Park's boundaries. Now, with the acquisition and donation of land to the Park, it runs through the National Park Service controlled property.

Regardless of who controls the land west or east of the highway it constitutes a high-speed bypass dividing the opposing lines of Gorman's Brigade (Sedgwick's Division) and the remnants of Jackson's Division in a "field of grain, hay-stacks, buildings, and a thick orchard."[2a]

Carmen narrates: "The [15th] Massachusetts regiment...came directly in front of the Alfred Poffenberger buildings...As it gained the summit of a slight elevation, its left became hotly engaged with Jackson's Division...many of them covered by the barn, stacks, and rock ledges, not over twenty-five yards beyond the wood road bordering the west edge of the woods." [3]

The second illustration is a detail from the Hotchkiss map showing the Alfred Poffenberger farmstead. I have added arrows and numbers to help orient the following two photographs.

The next illustration is a view, taken from the 15th Massachusetts monument [Hotchkiss map reference 2], that shows Route 65 as it heads into Sharpsburg.

To the right of this photo is the Alfred Poffenberger Farmstead (obscured by trees) and to the left is the western edge of the West Woods.

Note the location of the original Army interpretive markers that mark the west and east boundaries of the original automobile tour that ran through this part of the park.

The last photo looks north [Hotchkiss reference 1] and shows more clearly the original Army auto tour route.

Remnants of the original curbing are visible just to the left of the retaining wall. The 15th Massachusetts Monument is just to the right of this photo.

Someday, a wealthy benefactor may donate money to the Park to make Route 65 an underground bypass much like those in Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown.

Until then visitors will enjoy the Harleys, Winnebagos, and F-150s that make their way along this historic site.


[1] Carmen, p. 263.
[2] Park Ranger Alann Schmidt kindly furnished photos of the widening of Route 65.
[2a] Lt. Col. John W. Kimball, 15th Mass., September 20, 1862. Official Reports, Series 1, Vol XIX, Part 1; retrieved from Antietam on the Web, July 31, 2009.
[3] Carmen, p. 261.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Clara Barton and the "Friends of the Missing Men"

Last Friday I went through some boxes in the Clara Barton Papers at the Library of Congress to find out more about the bureau she set up in Washington immediately after the war called "Friends of the Missing Men of the U.S. Army." Between 1865 and 1868 she lead the effort to catalogue those "who have been killed in battle, died in southern prisons, or otherwise lost in the service, and whose fate is unknown to their friends" [1] By the time she and her colleagues closed shop in 1868, they had responded to 63,182 letters of inquiry and identified 22,000 missing war dead. [1a]

In 1865 and 1866 Barton published the names of the missing in hundreds of newspapers around the country.

Barton prefaced the publication of each "roll" with a direct appeal to the comrades of the missing whose whereabouts "may be known only to you. The thousands of letters making these inquiries are in my possession," she wrote, "filed and recorded, and the bereaved families and friends are anxiously waiting the information which they hope to obtain from you."[2]

Publishing the rolls generated even more inquiries from parents, wives, and friends. By May, 1866 Barton was getting hundreds of inquiries a day. These were not only seeking information on Union soldiers but Confederate as well as letters from mothers and fathers of the Confederate missing started coming in.

The letters, catalogued in the Barton Papers in the Library of Congress, are from fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends. One mother from Illinois wrote:

"My son was twenty-two years old, wore no moustache or beard, was about six feet in height. When in College he was rather spare, but the out door life of the army had given him a robust appearance. He entered the army as Aid to General Richardson.[2a] After that officer's lamented death, he served in the Michigan Fifth. He had participated in more than twenty battles. Was severely wounded at Gettysburg, but from which he wholly recovered..."

"It may be well to add my son's name to the many missing ones, and could you by any means give to me any knowledge of the last resting place of my darling one you would confer such a favor as none less desolate than myself can appreciate. P.S. I neglected to mention that my son had dark hazel eyes, hair almost black."[3]

Barton's efforts in some cases paid off and individuals were found and reunited with friends and family. On at least one occasion, however, her efforts were not appreciated. On October 17, 1865 Joseph Hitchins wrote:

"Madam: I have seen my name on a sheet of paper somewhat to my mortification for I would like to know what I have done so that I am worthy to have my name Blazoned all over the Country. If my friends in New York wish to know where I am let them wait untill I see fit to write them. As you are Anxious of my welfare, I would say that I am just from New Orleans. Discharged in my way North but unluckily taken with Chills and Fever and could proceed no farther for some time at least. I shall remain here for a month."

Barton, nicknamed the Angel of the Battlefield, responded.

"Sir: I enclose copies of two letters in my possession. The Writer of the first I suppose to be your sister. The lady for whose death the letter was draped in Mourning, I suppose to have been your Mother. Can it be possible that you were aware of that fact when you wrote that letter! Could you have Spoken thus knowing all? The cause of your name having been "blazoned all over the Country" was your unnatural Concealment from your nearest relatives and to great distress it caused them. 'What you have done' to render this necessary I certainly do not know. It seems to have been the misfortune of your family to think more of you then you did of them, and probably more than your deserve from the Manner in which you treat them. They had already waited until a son and brother possessing common humanity would have seen fit to write them. Your Mother died wailing and the results of your Sister's faithful efforts to comply with her dying request "mortify" you. I cannot apologize for the part I have taken. You are mistaken in supposing that I am "anxious of your welfare." I assure you that I have no interest in it, but your accomplished Sister, for whom I entertain the deepest respect and sympathy, I shall inform of your existence lest you should not "see fit" to do so yourself." [5]

For further reading on Clara Barton at Antietam click here.


[1] Clara Barton to Soldiers and Friends of Soldiers, May 1, 1866 and published in various newspapers throughout the country. Clara Barton Papers, Reel 65, Frame 005, Library of Congress.
[1a] Judith E. Harper, Women During the Civil War: An Encyclopedia (New York, Routledge, 2004), page 31.
[2] Barton Papers, Reel 65, Frame 005.
[2a] General Israel Richardson, commander of the First Division, II Corps, was mortally wounded in the fighting around the Bloody Lane at Antietam. He died at the Pry House (McClellan's HQ) on November 3, 1862.
[3] T.B. Hurlbut to Clara Barton, September 26, 1865 with notation: "Found in an evelope marked: Scraps for my Book." Clara Barton Papers, Reel 64, Frames 756-57, Library of Congress.
[4] Joseph Hitchens to Clara Barton, October 16, 1865. Clara Barton Papers, Reel 64, Frames 756-77, Library of Congress.
[5] Clara Barton to Joseph Hitchens, [no date], Clara Barton Papers, Reel 64, Frames 758-59, Library of Congress.

Photograph: National Park Service

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The West Woods Missing, Part 3: Charles C. Cooper, 72nd Pennsylvania

In an earlier entry I listed six members of the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment who went missing in the West Woods on September 17. At that time, I posted a report on William Butler, whose story is still unknown. Today's report, also unresolved, is that of Charles C. Cooper.

Private Cooper, 21 years old, enlisted in Company E of the 72nd Pennsylvania on October 8, 1861. At the time of his enlistment, he lived in the Kensington section of Philadelphia north of city center and situated along the Delaware River north of the Franklin Bridge. The 72nd recruited heavily in the Philadelphia neighborhoods of Kensington, Fishtown, and the Northern Liberties all of which lay in the 16th, 17th, and 18th Census Wards of Philadelphia. Many of those in the 72nd grew up together, went to the same schools, played on the same streets, went to the same church, and joined the same neighborhood social clubs such as the local volunteer fire association.

The wards were, for the most part, populated by second or third generation Philadelphians and first generation, German, Irish and English immigrants. Most were employed as skilled tradesmen, journeymen, artisans, and laborers. Charles Cooper listed his occupation at time of enlistment as a shoemaker apprentice.

Charles Cooper's mother, Julia Cooper, was 55 years old at the time of his enlistment. She headed the household that included Charles' sisters Rachel (24), who was a sewing machine operator, Elizabeth (12), and Ida Ruth (1). Charles' brother Thomas (18) also lived in the household and worked as an apprentice caner. There is no mention of the whereabouts of his father in the 1860s census.

Company E of the 72nd Pennsylvania (also known as the Philadelphia Fire Zouaves) was a veteran outfit that had been involved in numerous engagements including Balls' Bluff and the actions that were part of the Peninsula Campaign. The company was led by Charles H. Banes, also from Philadelphia. During the battle in the West Woods, the 72nd was positioned on the left of Howard's Brigade which was the third brigade in Sedgwick's Division. There is some dispute as to where exactly the 72nd was positioned (Carmen has them split into left and right "wings" closed up behind the 34th New York at the Dunkard Church; others put them farther north into what has become the Philadelphia Brigade Park. One thing is certain--the 72nd, and Charles Cooper's Company E took the brunt of Anderson's and Barksdale's Brigades counterattack that morning. Somewhere in the melee, Charles C. Cooper went missing; lost to his company, his family, and to history.

In the years following Antietam, the Cooper family stayed together. By 1870 the family had moved to a different dwelling but stayed in the same Kensington neighborhood. Julia Cooper, told the census taker that she "keeps house" and held real estate valued at $2,000 with a personal estate of $200. Her children lived with her. Rachel followed Charles' avocation and became a shoe binder along with her sister Elizabeth (or Lizzie). His brother, Thomas, listed himself as a brick layer. Charles was not listed in the family census.

Notes: 1860 and 1870 U.S. Census, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; American Civil War Records Database; Penn State University Records, Company E, from Philadelphia County; Image: Library of Congress, Philadelphia Fire Zouave, retrieved from American Memory Project.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"I could not refuse if my life paid the forfeit." A letter from Thomas C. Fisher, 125th Pennsylvania, to his father.

In the fall of 2008 an image of a letter was posted at an auction gallery website. By December 28, 2008 the letter had been sold. What follows is a transcript of that letter from Thomas C. Fisher, in Company C of the 125th Pennsylvania to his father.

I've added annotations to the letter. These annotations come mainly from the History of the One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1862-1863 by the Regimental Committee (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1906), particularly the memoir of Capt. William W. Wallace published in that history.

Maryland Heights Oct 5th

Dear Father

I had a letter from you some two or three days ago and one from Rash written from New York, and of course they were welcome as news from home is the greatest enjoyment of the soldier. I wrote to you from the Heights yesterday was a week ago, the day after we were moved around on the hill above Sandy Hook[. ][1]

[W]hile encamped there we were visited by Mr. Strickler, Hagy and Squire Snow and John Fockler whom we were all of course glad to see the Old Squire[,] luckily for him[,] had a pleasant night to stay in camp[,] if he’d been with us last night I am afraid he would have suffered a little. On Friday we were moved back again to our present encampment, last night up where we are now. It was unpleasant both to sleep without tents or any shelter of any kind.

You asked in your letter who took charge of the Colors after Geo. Simpson was shot.[2] [F]or my part I did not see anything of them myself as my position was at the right end of the company, when the firing commenced. I stopped some four paces in the advance of the company line as I was more afraid of being shot by the rear rank than by the rebels. I got down on my knees and loaded and fired as fast as I could deliberately, as there is no use wasting ammunition shooting into trees. The order to retreat was given to our company three times before it was obeyed.] [U]ntil I turned around to retreat I did not know there was a single man hurt. The first man I saw was Nicholas Decker badly wounded about the ankle, his ankle bone shattered badly. Capt Wallace, Lieut Ziegler[3] and I helped him behind a large tree when we were compelled to leave him (we have since heard from him he is in one of the Hospitals, his leg was amputated below the knee).[4] After I came out into the field about twenty paces, a member of the 102 New York scrambled up off the ground and prayed me to help him. Of course I could not refuse if my life paid the forfeit. I assisted him the whole way over the field to a place of safety under fire, and perhaps it was my act of mercy to him that saved me. The only running I did was across the field to get out of the range of our battery which was beginning to open on the enemy before I had gotten away from the font of it.[5]

But to return to the colors[.] [T]he true version of the affair as nearly as can be ascertained is as follows. George Simpson was shot dead in the ranks in the woods, the colors were then picked up by a boy in Capt. Gregg’s[5a] company by the name of Eugene Boblits[6] he carried them some thirty paces when he received a ball in his leg and fell. A young fellow in our company by the name of Peterson[7] then called to Walter Greenland[8] “there is the Colors, ” bring them off! Walter picked them up carried them some thirty or forty paces and handed them to Capt Wallace who brought them off the field.[9]

I suppose Rash will be home in a few days with new goods, when you will of course be busy for a while at least. I wish I was there to help you, as you having been sick may overexert yourself.

My love to Mother sisters and all friends. Your affectionate Son Tom

[1] William W. Wallace, Captain, Company C of the 125th Pennsylvania contributed to the regimental history an essay titled “Reminiscent and Historical.” In it, he recounted the regiments action at Antietam. “We arrived at Harper’s Ferry about noon on the 19th, and were kept shifting to and fro between Maryland Heights and Pleasant Valley until October 3d, during which time much sickness prevailed and many died from camp fever, etc.” History of the One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1862-1863 by the Regimental Committee (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1906), pp. 179-80 (hereafter, History).

[2] Color Sergeant George A. Simpson was killed in the West Woods that day. The statue to the 125th Pennsylvania is modeled after him.

[3] William L. Zeigler, 1st Lt. Company C.

[4] Wallace writes: “Early on the morning of the 18th I accompanied a detail in search of my own compay’s killed and wounded. …Nicholas Decker was our next ‘find.’ Stretched upon the ground with a badly shattered leg, he had been lying there helpless and exposed all these weary hours. All that hospital care and skill could do was done for hime, but he lingered and died October 11th.” History, p. 175.

[5] “The events following the collapse of the southern end of the West Woods unfolded very quickly. To most of the men, the one hundred yard dash from the church to the cover of Monroe’s Battery seemed much longer. The survivors of the 125th Pennsylvania found themselves trapped between Battery D, 1st Rhode Island Battery [Monroe’s Battery] and Kershaw’s South Carolinians.” John M. Priest, Antietam The Soldiers’ Battle, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 122.

[5a] Captain Henry H. Gregg, Company H.

[6] Eugene J. Boblits of Company H. “Born December 21, 1846, he was probably one of the youngest soldiers in the army [15 years old at the time of Antietam]. He was one of the color-guard at Antieta, and when that gallant color-bearer, Sergeant George A. Simpson, was killed, Boblits bore the colors until he was also prostrated by a bullet, which left him crippled for life.” History, 207

[7] William H. Peterson, Company C.

[8] Sgt. Walter Greenland was in Company C. He survived the war and became, on March 8th, 1892, Adjutant-General of Pennsylvania. History, 208

[9] Wallace recounted: “The next object that immediately claimed my attention was Seargeant Walter W. Greenland approaching me with the flag in his possession, which he had just received from one of the color guard, who had been wounded. As Walter was not one of the color guard, I relieved him of it, to use it in rallying the regiment.” History, 173.