September 23, 2012

After Antietam

Location: Sharpsburg, MD 21782, USA
Confederate Dead near the Dunker Church on the Antietam Battlefield.  Multiple civilians from Lancaster visited this site in the days after the battle.  (Library of Congress)
The Battle of Antietam had hardly ended before the first team of civilians from Lancaster came to help care for the wounded.  Five of Lancaster's prominent physicians and three assistants left Lancaster on September 18, 1862, a day after the battle in response to a call put out by Pennsylvania Surgeon General Henry H. Smith.  They arrived in Hagerstown and proceeded to the battlefield where they spent three days amputating limbs and dressing wounds.

Accompanying the physicians were staff members of the Lancaster Inquirer newspaper, possibly including editor Stuart A. Wylie, who toured the Antietam battlefield while still covered by the dead.  The entourage passed through the North Woods and the Cornfield and eventually reached the Dunker Church:
Afar off on a declivity of a small hill, just in the edge of a large woods, and by the woodside, we observed the white corner of a building peep up, and on making inquiry, were informed that it was the Dunkard Church, where the rebel sharp-shooters suffered so severely.  Making our way carefully on, over the heaps of dead rebels, we at last arrived there.  The building was a small brick one story, perfectly riddled with balls.  The rebels secreted themselves here for the purpose of picking off our artillery men, whom they annoyed for some time very much.  At last the guns were turned on them, and in a few minutes the building was rendered untenable by the bursting shells.  Inside we found a wounded Confederate soldier lying with a ball right through his forehead, and the brain oozing slowly out.  He was still alive and sensible.
The letter continued to describe the military state of affairs in the days after the battle, which they labeled "decisive, but very incomplete."  It concluded with a visit to the Pennsylvania Reserves and the comment, "We returned home on Sunday, well satisfied with our view of the battle scenes, and convinced that the rebels will never more attempt to invade Pennsylvania."  Read the entire letter, which appeared in the September 22, 1862, Lancaster Daily Inquirer at this link. 

Pastor F. W. Conrad
(Trinity Lutheran Church)
After the immediate response by the team of physicians, the Lancaster community responded more broadly by donating hospital stores to the Patriot Daughters of Lancaster.  A team of four Lancasterians, including a pastor (pictured on left), a pharmacist, a farmer, and the city's music genius superintended the distribution of six wagon loads of goods to the Pennsylvania Reserves and hospitals, leaving Lancaster on September 30.  I've already featured this trip in a previous post, as there were two very interesting letters by the Patriot Daughters' agents about their trip.  Those letters are available here.

On a more personal level, other citizens of Lancaster tended to the effort of retrieving bodies of soldiers killed at South Mountain and Antietam for reburial in Lancaster, hoping that a final resting place in a family cemetery would be meaningful to families who sacrificed sons to the effort to preserve the Union.

In particular, we have accounts related to soldiers from some of the Columbia companies.  Thomas Bennett, of Company K, 5th Pennsylvania Reserves, died from wounds received at South Mountain in a hospital in Frederick, but the attempt to retrieve the body was unsuccessful due to confusion in the hospital's burial records (or lack thereof).  Another officer, Capt. George A. Brooks of the 46th Pennsylvania and formerly of Columbia, was learned to have been killed in action when Columbians in the Pennsylvania militia were transferring coffins at a railroad depot. [Columbia Spy 10/4/1862]

Amos Hougendobler
Co. K, 5th Penna. Reserves
Brother of John, KIA South Mountain
Thanks to PRVC Hist. Soc.
In another case, a week after the battle three men left Columbia to retrieve the remains of John A. Hougendobler (Hogentogler), whose death at South Mountain with Co. K, 5th Pennsylvania Reserves, was reported in a letter I cited last week.  The party first went to the Antietam battlefield and found the Pennsylvania Reserves.  In a letter by "P. F." published in the October 4, 1862, Columbia Spy, he recounted:
Leaving [the Dunker Church], we soon found the immortal Penna. Reserves...Our gallant townsman, Col. Fisher of the 5th, welcomed us in his genial and gentlemanly way.  Dinner being ready we partook of his hospitality and did full justice to the meal.  All the Columbians seemed to be glad to see us as we were to see them.  We mingled freely with them and heard many tales of hair-breadth escapes and mighty deeds.
The next day, they set out east towards Boonesboro to complete their mission.  The letter continued:
Passing on three miles further [past Boonesboro], by way of the Hagerstown and Frederick turnpike, we turned into a road to the left, running northward, and skirting the base of the celebrated South Mountain.  After advancing a mile we again struck a road to the left, running to the westward up a hollow in the mountain side.  We advanced up this road to where it terminates in a ravine in which there is a small log house occupied by an old man and his family.  A young man belonging to the 5th of the name of Rees, detailed by Col. Fisher to act as guide, here pointed out the track of the 5th regiment as they charged up the side of the mountain, driving the rebels before them...Our guide took us to the grave, which we found in an enclosure near the little log house in the ravine.  He had been buried as carefully as the circumstances would permit; the only implements used were bayonets.  We uncovered a part of the body and found the corpse carefully wrapped in a gum blanket, and his cap placed over his face.  Lifting the cap we found the body too much decomposed to remove.  Gathering a few locks of hair we again replaced his cap, and after building a a little wall of stones about his body, covered it with heavy slabs, on one of which we inscribed his name.  Covering the whole with earth we left him to rest till winter, when he will be brought home to his mourning friends.
The party started home later that night.  Although I still have to confirm it, Hougendobler's remains were supposedly removed eventually to what is now the cemetery of the Ironville United Methodist Church, which stands on the Hougendoubler family farm in West Hempfield Township (according to Bridgens' 1864 atlas).
Whether to mourn, aid, or simply tour, these anecdotes point to a very strong connection between the battlefield and the home front in the days after the Battle of Antietam.  Through these stories, we can see how civilians tried to cope with mass death and injury and the challenges that they faced in doing so.  We can also start to see hints about how the war's proponents positioned the deaths as a call to loyalty to the nation and a heightened commitment to the war.

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