Monday, July 18, 2011

Fences--Part 2 of 3

Illustration 1. Dismantled Virginia Worm fencing,
Sunken Road.
Illustration 2. Before the Dunkard Church. Post and rail fencing. 
The first post of this short series described the section of Virginia worm fence that ran north along the east side of the Hagerstown Pike from the Dunkard Church/Smoketown Road for approximately 200 yards.

Anyone who has walked the fields of Antietam (and for that matter any CW battlefield) can attest to the sturdy construction of post and rail fencing.

Worm fencing, on the other hand, is built without posts sunk into the ground--it is a "surface" fence--and is easily built and just as easily disassembled.

Gardner's photos of the Sunken Road shows the bordering worm fence dismantled and used to reinforce that position (see Illustration 1).

At the same time, other Gardner photographs show intact or slightly damaged post and rail fences even in areas that saw heavy fighting (see Illustration 2). Troops encountering post and rail fences were forced to go over or around these structures; troops encountering worm fencing were most likely able to dismantle them thereby removing the obstacle to movement.
Illustration 3. 6:45 hrs.
Click on any map to zoom in.

Here is a hypothetical: Let's assume that the section of the worm fence just north of the Smoketown Road was taken down sometime on the 16th to allow units to more easily move back and forth across the Hagerstown Pike in order to support the Confederate left situated in the field just south of the Cornfield and to the east of the Pike.

The Cope-Carman 1908 map series showing the routes of Confederate movements out of the West Woods and into the fields east of the Pike seems to support this.

The 6:45 a.m. map (Illustration 3) shows the 1st, 4th, and 5th Texas streaming out of the Woods, crossing the Pike, and swinging northward toward the Cornfield. The 2nd and 11th Mississippi and the 6th North Carolina, just ahead of them, appear to have taken the same route.

Both formations crossed the Pike in the area where the worm fence appears on the Cope-Carman map. The map details Lawton's retreat along the same route, skirting the post and rail fence in favor of the passageway where the worm fence, which under this hypothesis, has been knocked down.
Illustration 4. 7:30 hrs.

The 7:30 a.m. map shows the movement of Law and Wofford along the same route (Illustration 4).

The 8:30 map shows Ripley, Colquitt, and Moody also heading southward before crossing the Pike in the same location as the units above (Illustration 5).

Could the routes these units took across the Pike indicate that the worm fencing in place on the 15th was down sometime on the 16th or early on the 17th? If so, it would explain the why numerous units traveled this route from the West Woods into the fields beyond.

Illustration 5. 8:30 hrs.

Notes: All maps from the Atlas of the battlefield of Antietam, prepared under the direction of the Antietam Battlefield Board, lieut. col. Geo. W. Davis, U.S.A., president, gen. E.A. Carman, U.S.V., gen. H Heth, C.S.A. Surveyed by lieut. col. E.B. Cope, engineer, H.W. Mattern, assistant engineer, of the Gettysburg National Park. Drawn by Charles H. Ourand, 1899. Position of troops by gen. E. A. Carman. Published by authority of the Secretary of War, under the direction of the Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army, 1908. 

All photos, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Selected Civil War Photographs Collection.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fences--Part 1 of 3

Illustration 1. The George Poffenberger farmstead, ca. 1896. The
Hagerstown Pike is on the right.
Part 1 of a three part entry on fences bordering the West Woods.

There are numerous important resources available to the Antietam student--diaries, correspondence, ORs (well, mostly). Two resources that are key are the papers of Ezra Carman[1] and the series of maps produced in 1904 and 1908 [2] that depict movements throughout the day--some in 30 minute segments.

Recently, ANB Ranger Keith Snyder forwarded to me a photo of the West Woods taken from the Dunkard Church looking north up the Hagerstown Pike.

Illustration 2. Detail from Poffenberger farm photo above.
Note the Virginia worm fence on the right side of the
Hagerstown Pike and in the distance the post and rail
fence. Compare this image with the Cope-Carman
map detail below. Click on photo to enlarge.
The photo (illustration 1) shows the farmstead of George Poffenberger and in the distance the Philadelphia Brigade Monument and the William Starke mortuary cannon. Since the Philadelphia monument was dedicated in September 1896, the photo must have been taken about that time.

The photo is interesting in and of itself as it helps us understand the various changes this historic property has gone through over the past 149 years.

It also gives us some additional information on the value of the Cope-Carman maps. Note the detail on the extreme left of the image (illustration 2)--the fence line on the east side of the Hagerstown Pike. As you view the image, notice that the fence in the foreground is what is termed variably as a Virginia worm fence, zigzag rail fence, or snake fence. Further up the Pike, you'll notice that the fence changes to a pole fence (or post and rail fence) with the familiar horizontal rails. Now compare this fence sequence with the Cope-Carman map of 1908 (illustration 3)--it is the same sequence.

Illustration 3
Detail from the Cope-Carman
Map, 8:00 series, 1908
edition, Library of Congress.
The zig zag lines on east
side of the Pike represent
the Virginia worm fence
while the dot-dash lines
represent the post hole
fence further north.
Does this photograph show the fencing that defined the field in September 1862? Maybe. Fencing made of chestnut, locust, or oak would certainly last that long, especially the kind of worm fence construction with minimal ground contact (i.e., post and hole). Nevertheless, the fencing apparently was maintained over the years and the configuration, as evidenced by the map and photo, prove the original fence line and style remained the same.

While I suppose I should not be surprised that the mapmakers got things right, the photographic evidence that they did so makes these maps all that more trustworthy and therefore valuable to historians, visitors, and trampers.


[1] The Maryland Campaign of September 1862: Ezra A. Carman's Definitive Study of the Union and Confederate Armies at Antietam, edited by Joseph Pierro (New York: Routledge, 2008). Historian Thomas Clemens is also producing a two volume edition of the Carman papers. The first volume, now published, is devoted to the South Mountain battles and contains many annotations and an excellent map series.  Volume 2, on Antietam, will be going to press shortly.  The Maryland Campaign of 1862. Volume 1, South Mountain, edited by Thomas Clemens (New York: Savas Beatie, 2010).
[2] The full citation of the Cope-Carman maps is: Atlas of the battlefield of Antietam, prepared under the direction of the Antietam Battlefield Board, lieut. col. Geo. W. Davis, U.S.A., president, gen. E.A. Carman, U.S.V., gen. H Heth, C.S.A. Surveyed by lieut. col. E.B. Cope, engineer, H.W. Mattern, assistant engineer, of the Gettysburg National Park. Drawn by Charles H. Ourand, 1899. Position of troops by gen. E. A. Carman. Published by authority of the Secretary of War, under the direction of the Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army, 1908.  You can retrieve the entire series at the Library of Congress' American Memory Project at

Friday, July 1, 2011

"Dead, Yet He Liveth:" The Peculiar Case of William H. Lewis

"William H. Lewis"
This entry was suggested back in May by contributor Michael O'Brien who posted a note on Private William H. Lewis of Company F of the 34th New York which stood in the West Woods near the Dunkard Church. Michael's entry was in response to a post on William A. Salisbury, also of the 34th whose headstone, but not his remains, is at the National Cemetery. In Salisbury's case, soon after the battle a relative gathered his remains and returned them to Herkimer County, New York. In Lewis' case, he was severely wounded but survived the battle and went on to a long life. In both instances, headstones with their names on them are at the cemetery but neither man was ever interred there. Michael points us to an article that describes the peculiar case of William H. Lewis published in the Amsterdam Evening News, May 17, 1904 [1] which is excerpted below.

"Herkimer Citizen: William H. Lewis [2] of this village, a veteran of the war of the Rebellion, had a peculiar experience and for upwards of five years was to all interests and purposes a dead man. His grave and the marker which indicate where he was buried can still be seen in the national cemetery at Sharpsburg, Maryland. ..."

"Lewis went through the campaign without a scratch until the bloody battle at Antietam, when he was shot five times, twice in the legs and once in the face. He was left on the field for dead and for two days and nights laid out in the open, suffering untold agonies, worms and magots invading the wound in his face, and should Lewis live to be 100 years old, he will never forget the hours spent on that battle field."

"He was among the dead reported Sept. 17, 1862, and his body was supposed to have been removed from the battle field and placed In grave number 844 In the national cemetery at Sharpsburg, Md., the headstone bearing that inscription. Instead, however. Lewis was removed to a shed, where he remained a prisoner for seven days, when he was exchanged and transferred to Washington, being honorably discharged for surgical disability March 22. 1863."

"The wound in the face was a peculiar one and never since he was shot has he been able to open his mouth wide. In 1868, when he made application for a pension, Mr. Lewis was promptly Informed by the pension department at Washington that he was killed at the battle of Antietam and that there was no such man as William H. Lewis, a member of Co. F,  34th regiment. He had no trouble in securing affidavits from his captain, Charles Riley, and his colonel. James A. Suiter, establishing his identity, and his pension was soon forthcoming. Lewis enlisted at 23 years of age and tomorrow [May 18, 1904] he celebrates his 66th birthday."

After the war, William Lewis became a nurse, married, had children and was active in Post 604 of the Grand Army of the Republic (Herkimer County Post). Four years prior to the publication of this article, Lewis boarded in the household of Jonathan and Mary Saltsman. He listed his occupation as "nurse." Six years after this article, on October 12, 1910, Lewis applied to the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (Bath, New York branch). In his application he reported that he was widowed, stood 5 foot 7, dark complexioned, blue eyes and gray hair. He listed his occupation as a nurse and his religion as Protestant. He identified his nearest relative as Miss [V]. H. Morrison, 409 Mohawk Street, Herkimer, New York.

William H. Lewis died on January 16, 1916. [3]

[1] "Dead, Yet He Liveth: William H. Lewis, A Herkimer Veteran, Was Officially Dead for Six Years." Amsterdam Evening Recorder, May 17, 1904, page 6. Retrieved at this location.

[2] William H. Lewis mustered in as a private with Company F of the 34th New York Volunteer Infantry on May 1, 1861.  He was discharged on March 17, 1863 "at Albany, N.Y. for wounds received at Antietam, Md." New York State Archives, Cultural Education Center, Albany, New York; New York Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, 1861-1900; Archive Collection #:13775-83; Box #:116; Roll #:973-974 and retrieved from New York, Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, 1861-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.

[3] Abstract of General Orders and Proceedings of the Fifty-first Encampment, Department of New York, G.A.R., Held at Saratoga Springs, June 26, 27, and 28, 1917, Albany: J. B. Lyon Company, Printers 1917. Retrieved at this location; 1900 Federal Census, New York; U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007. Original data: Historical Register of National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1749, 282 rolls); Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.