Misery Lasts Long after Antietam Battle; Residents of Two Villages Sacrifice into Winter to Aid Hungry, Very Sick Soldiers

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 22, 2007 | Go to article overview

Misery Lasts Long after Antietam Battle; Residents of Two Villages Sacrifice into Winter to Aid Hungry, Very Sick Soldiers


Byline: Richard E. Clem, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The horrible slaughter at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, would be remembered as "the bloodiest single day in United States military history."

Casualties, Union and Confederate, totaled more than 23,000 . In a matter of hours, every barn and shed within miles of the battleground was filled with pitiful dead and dying. The southern end of Washington County was converted into what a local newspaper called, "one vast hospital."

Four miles north of where the struggle took place, two little-known country villages provided shelter, food and water for countless wounded soldiers left behind. Those humanitarian acts are all but forgotten. Hopefully, in a small way, the following story will bring some recognition to the deeds performed at Smoketown and Bakersville.

Lincoln's visit

After the battle, President Lincoln accused his commanding officer, Gen. George B. McClellan, of having a "bad case of the slows" for not pursuing the enemy into Virginia. To give "Little Mac" a push in the right direction, the president decided to pay a visit to Army headquarters somewhere near Sharpsburg.

During the first four days of October, Lincoln, with a few personal friends, reviewed Federal corps encamped at Harpers Ferry and various locations in the valley of the Antietam. On Oct. 3, the commander in chief and McClellan reviewed the 6th Corps camped at Bakersville.

In 1862, this small town surrounded by forest and farmland consisted of five or six homes, a church and a one-room school. The roar of cannon announced the coming of the president. Sixth Corps commander Gen. William B. Franklin had his veterans form on a level plain, but because of an unseasonable heat, the understanding Lincoln did not require the columns to march in review. A local journal reported that "Father Abraham" entered several tents and knelt by the side of soldiers too sick to stand.

His exact route to Bakersville was never recorded, but it is likely that Lincoln traveled the Hagerstown-Sharpsburg Turnpike. Going north three miles from the recent battlefield at Sharpsburg, he rode in a wagon or buggy to Eakles Cross Roads, turning left and going one mile to Bakersville. A New York columnist reported the excitement of the day:

"The President in company with General McClellan reviewed today the several corps of the Army of the Potomac, beginning with that of General [Ambrose] Burnside near the mouth of the Antietam, and concluding with that of General Franklin at Bakersville. ... At the review of each corps the people collected in large numbers and manifested the greatest enthusiasm in meeting the President and 'Little Mac' "

Bakersville would never forget the presidential visit or the seemingly endless white Army tents where war was taking its toll on the 6th Corps. A roster of the 49th New York Volunteers lists several examples:

* Gilbert C. Chapin - died of convulsions, Bakersville, Md. - Oct. 8, 1862.

* Charles Sturdevant - died of congestion of lungs, Bakersville, Md. - Sept. 30, 1862.

* William Jackson - discharged for disability, Bakersville, Md. - Oct. 1, 1862

These are just a few cases from just one regiment.

Hospital of horrors

If "Old Abe" had turned right at Eakles Cross Roads onto Keedysville Road and had gone one mile east, his carriage would have reached Smoketown, where the Union's largest field hospital was established. However, there is no evidence he journeyed to the remote hamlet.

At the time, Bakersville consisted of fewer than a half-dozen limestone and log homes and a one-room brick schoolhouse; more than a century later, the village remains about the same size. About 70 percent of deaths at Smoketown Hospital resulted from wounds received at Antietam, including shock from amputation. Many of these crude, ugly operations were performed by Chief of Surgery Bernard A. …

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