Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Here are some views of the middle section of the West Woods taken on Saturday.

In this view above, you are looking south from a point about 150 yards due west of the Philadelphia Brigade Monument. This location is in the newly-acquired property that is the West Woods proper. The 59th New York and the far left of the 15th Massachusetts passed over this ground on their way to the Alfred Poffenberger Farmstead.

This section of the woods was cleared in the 1880s and then farmed until a few years ago. At the time of the battle, the woods were filled with widely spaced mature hardwood trees. There was little undergrowth since farmers fenced in crops and let their livestock roam (and graze) freely in the woodlots and other unfenced land. You will notice the newly-planted trees, part of the reforestation going on throughout the park. In about 100 years, the West Woods will look much like it did on September 17, 1862.

The second image is from the same location but looking north. In the distance, just beyond the first set of trees, is Starke Avenue and beyond that the extreme right of Sedgwick's Division over which the First Minnesota passed. You might be able to make out additional reforestation efforts on that part of the field as well. The middle distance is where the 20th Massachusetts stood. The distance between the wood line in the first photo and Starke Avenue is about 500 yards.

Click on map to enlarge.

I have tried to mark the shooting location and direction of these two photos in order to give you a better sense of where this is on the field. The blue arrows indicate the shooting angle. The southward pointing arrow corresponds to the first photo above; the northward to the second photo. The number indicates that it is the first in a series of photos that I will be posting over the next few weeks. Hopefully this will provide a better reference to view these postings.

The map used here depicts unit positions at 9 a.m.. It is from the Atlas of the Battlefield of Antietam [1] commonly known as the Carmen/Cope Map. Much of the information about these positions came from Ezra A. Carmen, who was a Colonel with the 13th New Jersey at Antietam. "Within weeks of the fighting [Carmen] toured various sections of the field, interviewed local inhabitants and Confederate prisoners, and began the barest preparations for a map and narrative of the battle--projects he would continue to perfect for nearly half a century." [2] He carried on "tremendous correspondence with hundreds of fellow veterans of the battle, supplemented by oral interviews and walking tours of the field with his subjects."[3] Carmen drew on this wealth of eyewitness information and recollection to help create the Atlas which has left us with an invaluable understanding of the movement of units at various points throughout the day (there are 14 maps in all).

Click on any of these photos / images to enlarge them.


[1] Atlas of the battlefield of Antietam / Surveyed by Lieut. Col. E. B. Cope, engineer, H. W. Mattern, assistant engineer, of the Gettysburg National Park. Drawn by Charles H. Ourand, 1899. Positions of troops by Gen. E. A. Carman. Published by the authority of the Secretary of War, under the direction of the Chief of Engineers, U. S. Army, 1904. The 1904 series can be downloaded from the Library of Congress, American Memory Project. The URL is http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?gmd:24:./temp/~ammem_I7Hy::

[2] The Maryland Campaign of September 1862: Ezra Carmen's Definitive Study of the Union and Confederate Armies at Antietam, edited by Joseph Pierro (Routledge, New York, 2008), p. x.
[3] Ibid.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Monument
West Woods, Antietam National Battlefield, May 23, 2009, 9:30 a.m.

A Sonnet For Memorial Day

"It was George Orwell who said: 'People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.' We are here to honor those who went to war and did not mean to die, but did die grievously -- in 1861 and 2004, though they were as peaceable as you or me. Young and cheerful, knowing little of horror, singers and athletes and all-in-all well bred. Good sergeants turned them into warriors and in the end, they were moving straight ahead. As we look at these headstones, row on row on row, let us see them as they were-- laughing and joking in that bright irreverent morning long ago and once more let our hearts be broken. God have mercy on them for their unhappy gift, may we live the good lives they would have lived." -- Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion, May 24, 2008

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The West Woods Missing: Some Preliminary Research

On September 20, 1862 Brig. Gen. Oliver O. Howard filed his official report "of the part taken by General Sedgwick's division" in the West Woods on September 17.

At the conclusion of the report, Howard gives the totals for that day's fighting: 355 killed, 1,577 wounded, and 321 missing. Of those wounded between 15 and 20% would die.

What of the missing?

We know that some who were listed as missing eventually returned to their regiments. But many did not. Of these, a certain percentage deserted. "During the war deserters could either remain at large or return to fight again, either willingly or under duress. Roughly a quarter of 'returned' deserters surrendered voluntarily, including those under presidential amnesty proclamation. The rest had been arrested and sent back to the service."[1]

Some deserters returned to their villages and city neighborhoods. If the the community was anti-war, they might be able to settle back into civilian life; if, however, the community was pro-war, they often faced ostracism. This community pressure eventually prompted many deserters to leave the community--often for less populated areas. "After 1863, deserters fled their home communities... [and] were likely to be found in Canada, the Territory of Wyoming, and the mountainous, wooded, and sparsely settled regions of Pennsylvania." [2].

Others who went missing were captured. Early in the war, most who were captured were paroled or exchanged. Lists of captured soldiers were created by both sides and those on the list were revised from "missing" to "captured."

The likely fate of most of the missing is that they are among the ranks of the unknown who lie buried at the National Cemetery, or in Shepherdstown, Frederick, or Hagerstown.

In honor of Memorial Day, I wanted to see what I could learn more about some of those who went missing in the West Woods.

The 72nd Pennsylvania was an outfit recruited in Philadelphia in the summer of 1861. Also called Baxter's Fire Zouaves, the 72nd was a veteran regiment. On September 17, they stood on the far left of Sedgwick's Division, in Howard's Philadelphia Brigade and as such bore the brunt of the flanking assault by Confederate brigades coming from the south. Casualties in the regiment were high and of those, five soldiers from the 72nd were reported missing. [3]

They were:

William H. Butler, sergeant, Company B.
Charles C. Cooper, private, Company E
John Cornwall, private, Company D
Joseph Henry, private, Company F
John J. McCanna, private, Company D
Theodore Pike, private, Company A

William H. Butler enlisted on October 8, 1861 in Philadelphia. At the time of his enlistment he lived with his family in Philadelphia's center city 13th Ward which was bounded by Poplar Street on the north, Vine on the south, 10th on the west, and 6th on the east. Most of the 72nd were recruited from adjacent wards. The 1860 census lists William's age as 18 and shows that his father was a city alderman and that he was the oldest of eight brothers and one sister. No mother is listed.

The family shows up in the 1870 census (as "Butter"). This time William is not listed but five of his siblings are. William's brother, Lyell, joined the 119th Pennsylvania on August 28, 1862 at age 18 and died in Washington, D.C. on November 18, 1862. [4] William's other brother, Zachary Taylor Butler is neither listed in the household nor enumerated in the 1870 census.

The 1880 census still has the family living in Philadelphia (his father is now the Secretary of Building Inspectors). Five of William's siblings are still living together but William, Zachary and, of course, Lyell are again not listed.

In the 1900 Pennsylvania census, Zachary Taylor Butler shows up. He is now married, living in Philadelphia and has one son, Lyell, named after his deceased brother.

There is more that needs to be done to find William H. Butler. For now, all that can be said is that he went missing in the West Woods on September 17, 1862.

Next post: Finding Charles C. Cooper.

[1] Dora L. Costa, Matthew E. Kahn, Heroes & Cowards: The Social Face of War (Princeton University Press, 2008), p. 171.
[2] Ibid, pp. 170-73.
[3] Civil War Research Database, retrieved May 1, 2009.
[4] The Pennsylvania Civil War Project / Pennsylvanians in the Civil War (Penn State University), by Steve Maczuga, Population Research Institute. Retrieved May 21, 2009 at http://cairo.pop.psu.edu/cw/.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Alfred Waud and the West Woods

Alfred Waud (1828-1891) is considered one of the greatest Civil War artists. "During his lifetime he was so acclaimed as a reliable and accurate illustrator of wartime that even long after the war he was still sought out by biographers and historians for his realistic portrayals of the landscape of war." (Dictionary of Literary Biography).

Waud worked for Harper's Weekly and witnessed Bull Run and the major battles in the Virginia theatre.

In early September, 1862, "bearing a pass signed by a Confederate captain from Georgia...Waud went behind enemy lines and captured, if only with pencil and brush, members of the First Virginia Cavalry. In a brief description accompanying the published drawing Waud wrote: 'They seemed to be of considerable social standing, that is, most of them--FFV's [First Families of Virginia] so to speak, and not irreverently: for they were not only as a body handsome, athletic men, but generally polite and agreeable in manner...their carbines, they said, were mostly captured from our own cavalry, for whom they expressed utter contempt--a feeling unfortunately shared by our own army.'" (Vincent Virga and Curators of the Library of Congress with Alan Brinkley, Eyes of the Nation: A Visual History of the United States, Bunker Hill Publishing, 2004).

Waud went on to record many remarkable scenes at Antietam and these depictions of the battle have been widely published. One image, however, is not widely circulated. In it Waud records the firefight in the West Woods between unidentified Confederate and Union regiments. In the lower margin of the drawing, he wrote: "The rebels covered by a ledge of rock repulsing the troops on the Right--in the woods beyond the Dunker Ch[urch]. Antietam." On the right margin, he scrawled: "Genl. Sumners Attack."

To the right of the firing line appears to be the kind of limestone ledge commonly found in the West Woods. In the distance is an opposing line. The woods, as most histories recall, are open and filled with widely spaced, mature trees.

The sketch raises at least two questions: (1) can the ledge be located still? and (2) was Waud behind the Confederate unit?

The first question--"Can the ledge be located?" remains to be seen.

What about the second question? From what perspective and location did Waud sketch this action? It appears from his notation and from the broad brimmed hats worn by the soldiers in the foreground that he was drawing from behind a Confederate unit firing at Sedgwick's Division (Sumner) in the smoky distance.

If this is the case (and it may very well not be the case) it is the only depiction showing action from the Confederate side in the series of sketches he made at Antietam.

What can we make of this? Is it at all plausible that he ranged about the field, using the Georgia captain's pass to move between the lines as he had done a couple of weeks earlier? Highly unlikely in the middle of battle. Still, the depiction is compelling and one that such a "reliable and accurate illustrator" as Waud might capture or at least imagine. The answer could come through his correspondence and papers--but he appears not to have left anything behind. If any reader knows otherwise, please post.

At any rate, Waud left us with the only rendering--eyewitness or not--of what the West Woods "beyond the Dunker Ch[urch]" probably looked like sometime between 9 and 10 a.m. on September 17--and to me, that is remarkable.

Photo by Timothy H. O'Sullivan (for Gardner Studios), Gettysburg, July 1863. Library of Congress; Sketch of First Virginia Cavalry by Alfred Waud, Library of Congress; Sketch of Action in the West Woods by Alfred Waud, Library of Congress.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Mary Grove Locher Cabin, Poffenberger Farmstead: Part II

In an earlier entry (Poffenberger Farmstead--Rock Ledges, April 5) , I posted pictures of the rock ledges that provided cover for Semmes' and Grigsby's brigades as they advanced into action against Gorman's brigade in the West Woods. The ledges, which are present everywhere on the battlefield, are limestone outcroppings that are part of the geologic Antietam Formation.

Sometime this year at the International Conference on Military Geology and Geography in Vienna, Robert C. Whisonant will present a paper titled "No Place to Run, No Place to Hide" which will assess geology's effect on casualties. For a preview of his argument, look at a short note posted in the Civil War Librarian (see below), where Whisonant and Judy Ehlen, both geologists at Radford University, find a correlation between high casualties and the battlefield's geological formations.

"'Military people have known for thousands of years that you want to have the high ground," says Whisonant. "But there's a reason for the terrain, and that's geology.' At Antietam, for instance, the battle in Miller's Cornfield produced about half of the day's casualties in several battles, because it creates flat, open fields that proved deadly for the lines of riflemen that dominated 19th-century warfare. By contrast, a nearby struggle with a similar number of soldiers at Antietam saw fewer than half as many casualties, in part due to the dolomite rock that produced more rugged terrain." (quote from, Geology and the Civil War, Reeves Wideman , in Chronicle of Higher Education, November 21, 2008 and posted to Civil War Librarian, November 19, 2008.)

Left is a current map of the south section of the Poffenberger Farmstead showing the barn and the old road trace running through the property (click on it for a larger image).

The orientation of this map is such that the right side of the image is facing north. Gorman's brigade, and specifically the 15th Massachusetts, would be about 100 yards from the east end of the barn.

What this map shows that others do not are the the geological features that distinguish this site from the surrounding fields to the south and west. These are the rock outcroppings that gave cover to Semmes' and Grigsby's troops.

The second map shows the northern part of the property and the Mary Grove Locher cabin. Again, the stone outcroppings run through the farmstead. This is what the 15th Massachusetts faced on September 17.

The left map shows the Cultural Landscape Plan for the Poffenberger Farmstead showing the Mary Grove Locher Cabin (click to enlarge). This is what the National Park Service hopes the farmstead could be someday--restored to its September 1862 state--split rail fencing borders a restored road trace; to the east, the West Woods is reforested; and, the highway bypass is straightened to follow the farm road that connected the Poffenberger and Nicodemus farmsteads--and which for a short period of time divided the opposing brigades.