George B. Boomer Monument, Worcester, Massachusetts

The monument at the gravesite of George B. Boomer at Rural Cemetery in Worcester, Massachusetts, around 1895. Image from Picturesque Worcester (1895).

The scene in 2021:

These two photos show the gravesite of George B. Boomer, a Civil War officer who was killed in action during the Siege of Vicksburg on May 22, 1863. Born in Sutton, Massachusetts in 1832, Boomer grew up in the Worcester area, but later moved west to St. Louis, where he was involved in bridge building. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, he found himself in a border state that had divided loyalties. Missouri ultimately remained in the Union, as did Boomer, who helped to raise a regiment of Missouri soldiers.

Boomer was commissioned as colonel of the 26th Missouri Infantry Regiment in 1862. He suffered serious wounds at the Battle of Iuka in September 1862, but after his recovery he returned to action, including participating in the Vicksburg campaign. Vicksburg proved to be a major turning point for the Union during the war, and Boomer fought with distinction, including at the Battle of Champion Hill, a major Union victory on May 16, 1862 that directly led to the Siege of Vicksburg. He was also involved in the Battle of Big Black River Bridge on the following day, and in the assault on Vicksburg itself on May 22. However, this assault proved unsuccessful, and the Union sustained many casualties, including Boomer, who was killed instantly by a gunshot wound to the head.

He was initially buried in Louisiana, then in St. Louis, before his remains were eventually returned to Worcester. His funeral was held at the Third Baptist Church on June 28, and he was subsequently buried here in Rural Cemetery. Less than a week later, on July 4, Union forces finally succeeded in taking the city of Vicksburg. This, combined with the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg a day earlier, proved to be a decisive blow that the Confederacy was never able to recover from.

George Boomer would ultimately be memorialized here by the large monument that is shown here in these two photos. It is 27 feet tall, carved of Connecticut sandstone, and it takes the form of an ancient Roman victory column with a large eagle at the top. It was designed by local sculptor and gravestone carver Benjamin H. Kinney, and it was installed here in early 1865, shortly before the end of the Civil War. On the monument, he is referred to by the rank of Brigadier General, as do many other contemporary accounts of his military career. However, it seems unclear as to whether he actually received this promotion, because other sources indicate that the highest rank that he held was that of colonel.

The first photo was taken about 30 years after the monument was installed here, and more than 125 years have passed since then. During this time, very little has changed here except for the landscaping of the cemetery, which now features much larger trees than in the first photo. Otherwise, though, the cemetery looks much the same as it did in the 1890s, and many of the gravestones from the first photo are still easily recognizable in the present-day photos, including the Boomer memorial, which still stands as one of the most distinctive monuments in the cemetery.

Joseph Hooker Birthplace, Hadley, Massachusetts

The birthplace of General Joseph Hooker on West Street in Hadley, Massachusetts, around the 1890s. Image from History of Hadley (1905).

The scene in 2021:

The house in the center of the first photo was likely built at some point during the 1700s, and it stood on the west side of West Street, just north of Cemetery Road. It is best remembered for having been the birthplace of General Joseph Hooker, who was born here on November 13, 1814. Hooker’s father, who was also named Joseph, purchased the house from the Porter family in 1805, shortly before his marriage to Mary Seymour. They had four children who were born here, including Joseph and his three older sisters: Nancy, Mary, and Sarah.

The family would only live here in this house for a few more years, before selling it in 1817 and moving to a house nearby on Middle Street, where Joseph Hooker spent much of his childhood. He attended Hopkins Academy here in Hadley, and he lived with his family in several other houses on West Street before entering West Point in 1833. He graduated in 1837, and that same year his parents left Hadley and relocated to Watertown, New York.

Upon graduating from West Point, Hooker was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the army. He served throughout the Mexican-American War, and after the war he was stationed in California. In 1853, he resigned from the army and took up farming in Sonoma County in California, and from 1859 to 1861 he served as a colonel in the California state militia.

Like many of his fellow West Point peers who had entered civilian life in the 1850s, Hooker returned to the army following the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. He was appointed as brigadier general, and he served in the Peninsula Campaign, where he earned his nickname, “Fighting Joe Hooker.” The nickname originated because of an error in a newspaper dispatch that was intended to have read “Fighting – Joe Hooker Attacks Rebels.” However, perhaps because of his reputation for aggressive fighting on the battlefield, the name stuck with him.

Hooker would subsequently serve in the Second Battle of Bull Run, and at Antietam, where he was wounded early in the fighting. Then, in January 1863, President Lincoln appointed Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac, replacing General Ambrose Burnside. After the failures of both Burnside and his predecessor, George B. McClellan, Lincoln hoped that a more aggressive commander like Hooker would have greater success against Robert E. Lee. As it turned out, though, Hooker’s one major battle as commander was Chancellorsville, where he suffered a severe concussion and was ultimately defeated in one of Lee’s most decisive victories of the war.

Despite the loss, Hooker retained command of the Army of the Potomac, but he ultimately resigned in late June 1863, after a falling out between him and Lincoln. However, he remained in the army, and served with distinction in the western theater, including at the Battle of Lookout Mountain and during the Atlanta Campaign. Again, though, he had disagreements with his superiors, including General William T. Sherman, and in 1864 he was transferred to Cincinnati, where he commanded the Northern Department. He held this position until the end of the war, and he would continue to serve in the army until 1868, when he retired with the rank of major general.

Aside from his actions on the battlefield, Hooker would become the subject of an oft-repeated myth that his name was the origin of the term “hooker” for a prostitute. As the story goes, Hooker was a hard-drinking, hard-partying womanizer during the war, to the point where his prostitutes were referred to as “Hooker’s Brigade,” which became the origin of the term. In reality, while Hooker was a bachelor for most of his life including during the war, it seems unclear as to exactly what kinds of drunken debaucheries, if any, he was involved in. And, in any case, the word was being used in reference to prostitutes for at least a few decades prior to the war, although it is certainly plausible that his reputation—whether deserved or not—may have helped popularize the already-existing term.

In the meantime, Hooker’s birthplace here in Hadley changed hands several times over the course of the 19th century. His father had sold the house to John Hopkins in 1817, and it was later owned by Hiram Thayer. He died in 1854, and the house was subsequently owned by two of his sons, Ezra Thayer (1827-1895) and Chesmin Miller Thayer (1829-1882). The brothers evidently lived here together, and the 1860 census showing Ezra here with his wife Rebecca (1831-1916) and their 2-year-old son Charles (1858-1932), along with Chesmin and his wife Julia (1831-1912).

Hooker’s 1863 appointment as commander of the Army of the Potomac drew attention to the house. A February 8, 1863 article in the New York Times, which had originally appeared in the Northampton Free Press, described the house as “an old-fashioned, two-story house, with the gambrel-roof so peculiar to olden times, and altogither [sic] is a fit place for the early home of genius, whether it be an embryo Poet, President, or Major-General.”

The Thayer family would continue to live here for many years. Charles seems to have been the only child of Ezra and Rebecca, and Chesmin and Julia evidently did not have any children of their own, so the size of the family remained the same in the 1870 and 1880 censuses. Hooker apparently visited his birthplace at least once after the war, but otherwise he does not seem to have had much of a connection with his old hometown in his later years. He died on Long Island in 1879, at the age of 64, and he was buried alongside his wife in Cincinnati.

Here in Hadley, Hooker’s birthplace would find itself in the spotlight in 1895, when it became the focal point for a large reunion of soldiers from the III Corps in honor of their general. The festivities were held on May 7, 1895, starting early in the morning with a parade in Northampton. The veterans, guests, and spectators then boarded a train for Hadley, and about 3,500 people gathered here on the town common, in a tent in front of Hooker’s birthplace.

Among the many distinguished speakers at the event was General Daniel Sickles, who presented the town with a portrait of Hooker. He had served with Hooker in the III Corps and two men had been friends, but Sickles was a controversial figure whose debaucheries exceeded even Hooker’s supposed reputation. Prior to the war, Sickles had become the first person in the country to successfully use the temporary insanity defense for murder, after he killed his wife’s lover, Philip Barton Key II, the son of the Star Spangled Banner author. During the war, probably his most controversial action came at the Battle of Gettysburg, when he defied orders and moved his unit into a highly exposed position, losing his right leg in the process. Despite this, his wartime service was enough to earn him the post of U.S. Minister to Spain, which he held from 1869 to 1874. There, in addition to his diplomatic work, he also had an affair with the recently-deposed Queen Isabella II, and he then married one of her attendants, Carmina Creagh.

By the time he arrived here in Hadley for the ceremony in 1895, he was 75 years old and had been estranged from his second wife for many years. Citing his poor health, his speech was moved to an earlier spot in the program of events so that he could leave early. Notwithstanding these health issues, he spoke at length about Hooker, highlighting his military accomplishments while also defending him against accusations of drunkenness. In his address he also explained how meaningful it was to visit Hooker’s birthplace, comparing it to a visit to Napoleon’s tomb. He went on to explain:

I have never been assigned to a more pleasant duty than the one which calls me here to-day. The birthplace of the most brilliant soldier given to the late war by Massachusetts has an interest for all her citizens. To the survivors of the 3d army corps this spot has peculiar attractions. Our loyalty to the memory of Hooker is a sentiment in which affection and admiration are blended. His comrades loved him because he gave them confidence in themselves; because he hade them soldiers. They loved him because he was proud of them, and jealous of their honor and fame. We admired him as the intrepid brigade and division commander whose plume was always in the front of the battle. We admired his fearless bearing, his picturesque figure in the saddle, at the head of a column or in line of battle—the type of the soldier who shared every peril to which his command was exposed. We admired his thorough knowledge of his profession—from the duty of a soldier to the responsibility of a commander.

Aside from Sickles’s address, other speakers included state auditor and Civil war veteran John W. Kimball, Medal of Honor recipient General Henry E. Tremaine, and Worcester poet John Howard Jewett, who recited a poem for the event. Lunch came after the speeches, followed by other festivities here in Hadley, such as a concert, a cadet drill exercise, and a baseball game. Aging veterans relaxed in the shade and shared stories about General Hooker, and many people in the crowd visited his birthplace, which was decorated for the occasion.

At the time of the event, the house was still owned by the Thayer family, but neither of the brothers lived long enough to see it. Chesmin died in 1882 and Ezra in January 1895, only a few months before the Hooker celebration here. Their widows would continue to live here for a few more years, but the house was ultimately destroyed by a fire on April 6, 1898. The fire started around 3:00 p.m. in a barn on a neighboring property, and it soon spread to the Hooker birthplace. High winds, combined with a lack of sufficient firefighting equipment in Hadley, helped contribute to the spread of the fire, and several other barns and outbuildings were also destroyed.

Although the Hooker birthplace is gone, its location is commemorated by a large boulder that is visible in the center of the second photo. It was installed here in 1908, and it has an inscription that reads “Birth-place of / Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker / Born Nov. 13, 1814 / Erected by the D.A.R. / 1908.” Just to the left of the boulder is a much more modern house that now stands on the lot. Although built in the late 20th century, it has an exterior that—whether intentional or not—echoes the appearance of its predecessor here.

Burnside Bridge, Sharpsburg, Maryland (2)

The view of the north side of the Burnside Bridge, from the west bank of Antietam Creek, in September 1862. Photographed by Alexander Gardner. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints collection.

The scene in 2021:

As explained in more detail in the previous post, the Burnside Bridge—or lower bridge, as it had previously been known—was the focal point of the later phase of the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. Ahead of the battle, the Confederates under Robert E. Lee had taken a defensive position near the town of Sharpsburg, with a line of soldiers that extended north to south. The southern end of his line was anchored on the heights just to the west of this bridge, and this led to intense fighting for control over the bridge.

Opposing the Confederates in the vicinity of the bridge was General Ambrose Burnside, whose IX Corps was positioned to the east of here, in the distance on the left side of this scene. However, because of poor coordination on the part of the Union commander, General George B. McClellan, Burnside received no orders until around 10:00 a.m., long after the fighting had begun on the northern part of the battlefield.

Despite the bridge being defended by only 500 Confederate soldiers, it took Burnside’s 4,000-man corps several hours to take the bridge, suffering about 500 casualties in the process. The Union forces finally took the bridge around 1:00 p.m., but Burnside delayed in moving his men, and they did not all cross until around 3:00 p.m. This gave the Confederates time to gather reinforcements, and rather than striking a decisive blow at the Confederate line, Burnside’s soldiers were faced with fresh Confederate soldiers commanded by A. P. Hill. The final portion of the battle occurred on the heights to the west of the bridge, to the right of where these photos were taken, and it was largely inconclusive, with Burnside’s soldiers managing to hold the bridge but unable to gain much ground.

The bridge came to be known as Burnside Bridge in his honor, although his actions here did face criticism. Some criticized his delays in moving his corps over the bridge, while others questioned whether the Union could have simply waded across the shallow creek, rather than making a costly and time-consuming effort to seize the bridge. Nonetheless, he was subsequently promoted to command of the Army of the Potomac in November, but he was ultimately dismissed after the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg, which likewise involved a time-consuming crossing of a waterway.

The first photo was taken only days after the battle, by prominent Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner. Today, not much has changed here in this scene. The bridge is still standing, as is one of the trees from the first photo. Barely noticeable on the far left side of the first photo is a small sycamore tree, which now towers over the bridge in the present-day scene. It is the most famous “witness tree” at Antietam, and both the tree and the bridge itself are major landmarks here at the Antietam National Battlefield.

Burnside Bridge, Sharpsburg, Maryland

The view looking west toward the Burnside Bridge over Antietam Creek in Sharpsburg, Maryland, in September 1862. Photographed by Alexander Gardner. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints collection.

The scene in 2021:

The previous posts have featured some of the most distinctive landmarks on the Antietam battlefield, including the Dunker Church and the Bloody Lane. However, probably the single most iconic landmark at Antietam is this stone arch bridge, which came to be known as Burnside Bridge after the battle. In addition to photographs such as the first one here, the bridge has also featured prominently in numerous paintings of the battle, and even on the reverse of a commemorative coin issues by the U.S. Mint in 1937.

This bridge had been built in 1836 to connect Sharpsburg and the nearby town of Rohrersville. Prior to the battle it was generally known as the Lower Bridge, and it crossed Antietam Creek about a mile to the southeast of the center of Sharpsburg. It was constructed of local limestone, with three arches that spanned the creek.

This previously obscure rural bridge became famous for the events of September 17, 1862, when the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee clashed with the Union Army of the Potomac under George B. McClellan. It was part of Lee’s first large-scale offensive campaign, when he invaded western Maryland as part of an effort to weaken northern morale. Upon reaching Sharpsburg, he set up a defensive position line near the town, and his right flank was positioned here in the vicinity of the Lower Bridge, on the high ground on the opposite side of the bridge in these photos.

Despite having a significantly larger army than Lee, McClellan believed that the opposite was true, and he exercised extreme caution in his attack. He did little to coordinate the movements of his different corps commanders, so it resulted in a piecemeal assault that negated the Union’s significant strength in numbers. The fighting began early in the morning, with an attack on the Confederate left flank near the Dunker Church. After this stalled, the battle shifted to a sunken road that became known as the Bloody Lane. There, after hours of fighting, the Union finally dislodged the Confederates from their makeshift trench, but the heavy losses had made the perpetually risk-averse McClellan unwilling to take the initiative and make an aggressive pursuit.

In the meantime, the southernmost part of the Union line was the IX Corps, under the command of General Ambrose Burnside. He was positioned a little to the east of the Lower Bridge, across the river from the right flank of the Confederates. This portion of the Confederate army was potentially vulnerable, with so many men fighting further north against the attacks on the left flank. However, Burnside did not receive orders from McClellan until around 10:00 a.m. Burnside then used a portion of his corps to find a river crossing downstream to outflank the Confederates, while also making several ineffective charges at the bridge itself.

Despite having a significant numerical advantage, with over 4,000 Union soldiers compared to just 500 Confederate defenders, the Confederates held off Burnside’s corps throughout the morning and into the early afternoon. In the process, the Confederates suffered about 120 casualties, while also inflicting about 500 Union casualties before Burnside finally took the bridge around 1:00 p.m. But, it would take another two hours for Burnside to move his men across the bridge and prepare for a final attack on the Confederate line.

The many delays throughout the battle, combined with McClellan’s ineffective coordination of his generals’ movements, prevented what could have otherwise been a decisive blow against Lee’s army. There were also many who questioned Burnside’s decision to waste time trying to take the bridge, rather than simply having his men wade across the relatively shallow creek. Ultimately, these delays meant that Burnside’s attack on the Confederate flank was countered by the arrival of A. P. Hill at 3:30 with fresh Confederate reinforcements. The final portion of the battle was fought between Hill and Burnside on the hill beyond the bridge, eventually drawing to an inconclusive end around 5:30 p.m.

That evening, Lee withdrew his army and made his way back to Virginia. In abandoning his invasion, it made the Battle of Antietam a strategic victory for the Union, although McClellan had missed the opportunity to make it one of the greatest Union triumphs of the war. He also failed to pursue Lee’s fleeing army, and this decision, combined with his ineffectiveness at Antietam, ultimately led President Lincoln to dismiss him as commander of the Army of the Potomac in early November. And, despite the questionable decisions that Ambrose Burnside had made here at this bridge, Lincoln picked him to replace McClellan. Burnside’s time as commander would prove to be short lived, though, because he was in turn dismissed after his own debacle at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December.

The first photo here in this post was taken only days after the battle. The photographer, Alexander Gardner, arrived at the battlefield on September 19, and he spent the next few days documenting the carnage here. He took a number of photographs of the bridge, which had survived the battle relatively unscathed despite being at the epicenter of intense fighting for several hours. In fact, at first glance the photo does not seem to give the immediate impression that a major battle had just been fought there.

However, on closer inspection, the photo offers clues about what happened here. On the bridge itself, many of the wooden boards are missing from the tops of the walls on either side of the walkway. While some of these may have been damaged in the battle, many of them were removed after the battle and repurposed as makeshift grave markers. In the foreground of the first photo, running along the stone wall to the right of the bridge, is a row of temporary graves, each of which is marked by a board from the bridge. These graves had likely been freshly dug shortly before the photo was taken, and many of the graves are topped by large mounds of dirt.

Following the battle, the bridge reverted to its original use, and this continued well into the 20th century and into the age of automobiles. It finally closed to vehicular traffic in 1966, when a bypass was constructed. More recently, the bridge underwent a major restoration after a portion of one of the walls collapsed into the creek. This project involved resetting the stones and repointing the masonry, and the work was completed in the spring of 2017.

Today, the bridge is part of the Antietam National Battlefield, which is run by the National Park Service. It is one of the best-preserved Civil War battlefields, and the quiet riverbanks here at the Burnside Bridge are a must-see for any visitors. The graves from the first photo have since been relocated, but otherwise this scene looks largely the same as in the first photo, aside from additions such as monuments to the regiments who fought here. Among these is a small monument in the foreground to the 51st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, which was one of the units responsible for taking the bridge. However, perhaps the most remarkable feature in the present-day scene is the large sycamore tree that towers over the bridge in the center of the photo. This is the same tree that was growing next to the bridge during the battle, as shown in the first photo, and it stands as the most famous “witness tree” here on the Antietam battlefield.

Bloody Lane, Sharpsburg, Maryland

Dead Confederate soldiers in the Bloody Lane at the Antietam battlefield in Sharpsburg, in September 1862. Photographed by Alexander Gardner; image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War collection.

The scene in 2021:

The Battle of Antietam was fought on September 17, 1862, and it remains the bloodiest single day in the history of the U.S. military, with over 3,500 killed and over 17,000 wounded during the battle. Many of these casualties occurred here on this road, which became the main focal point of the battle during the midday period of the fighting.

At the start of the battle, the Confederates had arranged themselves in a defensive position around the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland. This was a part of General Robert E. Lee’s first major offensive campaign into northern territory, and he hoped that a successful invasion would weaken the Union’s resolve to fight. Opposing Lee was the Army of the Potomac under Union General George B. McClellan, and he began his attack on the Confederate forces in the early morning hours of September 17.

The Union attack initially concentrated on the Confederate left flank, in the vicinity of the Dunker Church. However, this advance ultimately stalled. Later in the morning, Union efforts shifted to the middle of the Confederate line. Here, Confederate soldiers under General Daniel H. Hill were positioned in the Sunken Road, a road that had been worn down by many years of traffic and weathering. This made it ideal as a trench, and Confederates also stacked up fence rails along the road as a further barricade.

The ensuing fight was some of the fiercest of the battle, and in some ways it was a preview of the trench warfare that would later appear in World War I. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Hill’s soldiers fended off repeated waves of Union assaults. Finally, in the early afternoon, Union forces managed to break through the defenses here at the Sunken Road, forcing the Confederates to fall back. However, the Union had sustained such heavy losses in the fighting that McClellan was unwilling to seize on this opportunity to strike a decisive blow at the Confederate army.

Much of this hesitancy was due to McClellan’s tendency to be overly cautious. As was often the case, he vastly overestimated the size of Lee’s army, believing that Confederate forces vastly outnumbered Union forces when in reality the opposite was true. He also failed to develop a coordinated plan of attack, instead opting for a piecemeal approach with only a small portion of his army engaged at any given time, making it easy for the outnumbered Confederates to defend against them. And, when the Union had finally gained the Sunken Road after hours of hard-fought combat, McClellan became unwilling to commit his reserve troops to an aggressive assault that he feared could lead to defeat.

In reality, the Confederates were in an extremely vulnerable state following the Sunken Road portion of the battle, and a more aggressive approach could have turned Antietam into one of the greatest Union triumphs of the war. Instead, it was nearly a draw, with the Union only able to claim victory because, at the end of the day’s fighting, Lee abandoned his position and returned south. But even then, McClellan faced criticism for failing to pursue Lee’s army and trap them in northern territory. It marked the end of his career as a general, with Lincoln dismissing him less than two months later.

In the aftermath of the battle, photographer Alexander Gardner arrived here at the scene several days later, and began capturing images of the carnage. The Civil War was the first major war to be extensively documented with photographs, which allowed the general public to see the true realities of the war. This photograph at the top of this post is one of the most iconic images of the battle, and it shows a number of dead Confederate soldiers lying alongside each other in their makeshift trench. In total, about 5,500 soldiers on both sides were killed or wounded here at the Sunken Road, which came to be known after the battle as the Bloody Lane.

Aside from Gardner’s photograph, one of the most famous descriptions of the scene here was provided by war correspondent Charles Carleton Coffin, who wrote:

The hillside was dotted with prostrate forms of men in blue, but in the sunken road, what a ghastly spectacle! The Confederates had gone down as the grass falls before the scythe. They were lying in rows, like the ties of a railroad; in heaps, like cord-wood, mingled with the splintered and scattered fence rails. The terrible volley had flamed in their faces, more deadly than the simoon of the desert. Words are inadequate to portray the scene. There were prostrate forms, that had been vigorous with resolute life, and the next moment were motionless forever, resolution and energy still lingering in the pallid cheeks, in the set teeth, the gripping hand. I recall a soldier with the cartridge between his thumb and finger, the end of the cartridge bitten off, and the paper between his teeth when the bullet pierced his heart, and the machinery of life—all the muscles and nerves—came to a standstill. A young lieutenant had fallen while to trying to rally his men; fixed determination was visible in every line of his face. His hand was still firmly grasping his sword. I counted fourteen bodies lying together, literally in a heap, amid the corn rows on the hillside. The broad green leaves were sprinkled and stained with blood.

In the years that followed, many major battlefields became sites of monuments to the soldiers who fought here. Most were dedicated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in order to honor the aging veterans and their fallen comrades. Here at Antietam, nearly all of the monuments are for Union states or regiments, including the one that stands in the distance on the left side of the scene. It memorializes the 132nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which had 30 men killed, 114 wounded, and 8 missing here at Antietam, and it was dedicated here in 1904.

Today, aside from the presence of the monument, there is no visual evidence in this scene of the horrors that Alexander Gardner had captured in the first photograph. The Bloody Lane has been maintained in its wartime appearance, and the only other sign of modernity here is the observation tower, which is partially visible in the distance behind the monument. The Bloody Lane, along with the surrounding battlefield, is now owned by the National Park Service, and it is one of the major landmarks here at the Antietam National Battlefield.

Miller Farmhouse, Sharpsburg, Maryland

The Miller farmhouse in Sharpsburg, in the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam in 1862. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints collection.

The scene in 2021:

These two photos show the farmhouse of David R. Miller, which stands as a major landmark on the Antietam battlefield. This house was near the epicenter of some of the most intense fighting during the deadliest single-day battle in American history, yet it survived remarkably unscathed, as shown in the first photo shortly after the end of the battle.

The house was apparently built around 1800, and it was purchased by John Miller in 1844. His son David subsequently lived here, with the 1860 census showing him here with his wife Margaret and seven children. From oldest to youngest, they were: William, age 13; Harriett, age 12; Mary, age 11; Eleanor, age 10; James, age 8; Nettie, age 3; and Clarence, age 3 months. According to the slave schedules of the 1860 census, the Miller family also lived here with a 20-year-old enslaved woman.

Miller’s occupation on the census was listed as a farmer, and he owned a considerable amount of property, amounting to $13,500 in real estate and $1,200 in his personal estate. Aside from the house itself, there were a number of outbuildings here on the property, including a barn, a blacksmith shop, and a separate kitchen. In total, his property consisted of about 200 acres of farmland and woodlands, extending along both sides of the Hagerstown Pike as far south as the Dunker Church.

At the time of the census, Miller was just another rural farmer in western Maryland, but within a few years his property would achieve national attention for the bloody fighting that occurred here during the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. In the process, the descriptive names of locations on his property, like the West Woods and the Cornfield would become etched into the annals of the Civil War.

The Battle of Antietam occurred as a result of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s first attempt to invade northern territory. Following victories in Virginia in the summer of 1862, he moved his army across the Potomac and into Maryland, where he hoped to weaken northern morale and their will to fight. He fought several smaller battles, and then took up a defensive position here in the vicinity of Sharpsburg, just a little to the south of Miller’s farm.

The fighting began in the early morning hours of September 17. By this point, the Miller family had abandoned their home to seek refuge in Sharpsburg, and Union soldiers marched through the property in an attempt to attack the left flank of the Confederate line. In the process, though, they met resistance in the Miller cornfield, located just to the south of the house. Over the next few hours, the two sides would go back and forth in the cornfield, alternately gaining and losing ground, without any side making much progress.

With the cornfield becoming a stalemate, Union General Edwin Sumner attempted to flank the Confederates by moving into the West Woods. This was also part of Miller’s property, and it was located to the west of the cornfield on the other side of the Hagerstown Pike. However, as was the case in the cornfield, they faced heavy resistance in the West Woods and suffered massive casualties. Out of a force of about 5,300 men, around 2,200 were killed or wounded in just 20 minutes of fighting there. This, combined with around 8,000 killed or wounded in the cornfield, meant that Miller’s property accounted for a significant portion of the loss of life that occurred during the battle.

Over the course of the day, the fighting eventually shifted further to the south, away from Miller’s property. What remained was a scene of devastation that was perhaps best described by Union General Joseph Hooker, who later wrote:

Every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the slain lay in rows precisely as they stood in their ranks a few moments before. It was never my fortune to witness a more bloody, dismal battle-field.

Oddly enough, however, despite being immediately to the north of this cornfield, the Miller house managed to survive the battle with minimal damage. Unlike most other photos that were taken in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Antietam, the first photo here shows hardly any signs of the fighting that had occurred around the house. Without any other context, it would appear to be a typical 19th century photograph of a farmhouse, complete with the family posing on the front porch. Although not identified in the caption of the photograph, the five people on the porch are likely the Miller children. There is also a sixth person in the photo, seated on a stump on the far left, but this figure is too blurry to identify.

The Miller family would continue to live here for many years after the battle, before ultimately selling the property to Euromus Hoffman in the mid-1880s. The federal government established the Antietam National Battlefield Site in 1890, but it did not initially include the Miller property, which remained in private hands for the next century. Finally, in 1989 it was purchased by the Conservation Fund, and a year later it was donated to the National Park Service.

The house underwent a major restoration starting in 2008, and it has since been returned to its 1862 appearance, as shown in the present-day photo. The grounds look very different from the first photo, with very little vegetation, but overall the house looks very much the same as it did in the aftermath of the battle, and it stands as an important landmark here on the Antietam battlefield.