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  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.
 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.