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.