The George Spangler Farm

 

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The Spangler Farm today (Tom Huntington photo).

Until yesterday, I had never visited the George Spangler Farm at Gettysburg. Located just off the Baltimore Pike south of Powers Hill, the farm is now administered by the Gettysburg Foundation, which purchased the property in 2008 and restored the barn. It opened to the public in 2013. To visit, you have to take a shuttle bus from the visitor center.

 

I went on July 7, 2018. It was a beautiful day to visit a place with such a grim background. Back in July 1863, the Spangler’s farm was pressed into service as a field hospital for the Union XI Corps. Surgeons worked around the clock amputating limbs and treating grievous injuries. Wounded men filled the barn and the house. (The six members of the Spangler family were allowed the use of a single room.) One of the dying soldiers was Confederate Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead, who led a brigade in Pickett’s division and was mortally wounded after he had led his remaining men over the wall at the “Bloody Angle” on Cemetery Ridge. He was taken to the Spangler farm and supposedly placed in the summer kitchen, where he died on July 5.

summer kitchen

A living historian sets the secene inside the summer kitchen, where Lewis Armistead probably died on July 5, 1863 (Tom Huntington photo).

Of course, many less prominent people reached the Spangler farm in July 1863. On the shuttle bus, today’s visitors receive a pack of five cards with the images of people with connections to the farm. One of my cards had a picture of Capt. Frederick Stowe. He was the son of Calvin and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Mrs. Stowe had started writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin, while her husband was a professor at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. The card shows a very serious and somewhat haunted-looking young man, one hand on the hilt of his officer’s sword. He had enlisted in 1861 at the age of 21 and had been on the staff of Gen. Adolph von Steinwehr of the XI Corps at Gettysburg. Stowe was struck on the head by a shell fragment on July 3 and treated at the farm. “Although he survived the wound and the war, his fight with alcoholism was a continuing struggle,” reads the text on the back of the card. “Frederick Stowe moved westward in 1870 and was never heard from again.”

Rowland Howard, the brother of XI Corps commander Oliver Otis Howard, had reached Gettysburg with his brother on July 1. As I wrote in Maine Roads to Gettysburg, the younger Howard was a volunteer for the United States Christian Commission and he helped the wounded at the Spangler farm, where he quickly learned about “the real and essential character of war.” It was far removed from the “pomp and circumstance” that had excited him when he first saw an army on the march, or the patriotic thrill he had felt when he heard the sound of the guns. In the hospital, war showed its true face. It was blood and gore, death and destruction, suffering and horror, and it soon became overwhelming. Rowland was struck by the contrast between the peaceful moon and stars in the night sky and the “ghastly faces of our dead.” He was moved by the agonized moans and cries of the dying soldiers who surrounded him. “I said to myself, ‘O God, the moon and the stars Thou has made, but not this miserable murder and mangling of men.’ It is not like nature: it is anti-natural; it is of the pit.”

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Carl Schurz (Library of Congress).

Carl Schurz commanded a division in the XI at Gettysburg (and briefly commanded the corps itself, when Oliver Howard was serving as senior officer on the field). On July 4 he visited the hospital at the Spangler farm and wrote about the visit in his memoirs. He said:

At Gettysburg the wounded—many thousands of them—were carried to the farmsteads behind our lines. The houses, the barns, the sheds, and the open barnyards were crowded with moaning and wailing human beings, and still an unceasing procession of stretchers and ambulances was coming in from all sides to augment the number of the sufferers. A heavy rain set in during the day—the usual rain after a battle—and large numbers had to remain unprotected in the open, there being no room left under roof. I saw long rows of men lying under the eaves of the buildings, the water pouring down upon their bodies in streams. Most of the operating tables were placed in the open where the light was best, some of them partially protected against the rain by tarpaulins or blankets stretched upon poles. There stood the surgeons, their sleeves rolled up to the elbows, their bare arms as well as their linen aprons smeared with blood, their knives not seldom held between their teeth, while they were helping a patient on or off the table, or had their hands otherwise occupied; around them pools of blood and amputated arms or legs in heaps, sometimes more than man-high. Antiseptic methods were still unknown at that time. As a wounded man was lifted on the table, often shrieking with pain as the attendants handled him, the surgeon quickly examined the wound and resolved upon cutting off the injured limb. Some ether was administered and the body put in position in a moment. The surgeon snatched his knife from between his teeth, where it had been while his hands were busy, wiped it rapidly once or twice across his blood-stained apron, and the cutting began. The operation accomplished, the surgeon would look around with a deep sigh, and then—”Next!”

 

And so it went on, hour after hour, while the number of expectant patients seemed hardly to diminish. Now and then one of the wounded men would call attention to the fact that his neighbor lying on the ground had given up the ghost while waiting for his turn, and the dead body was then quietly removed. Or a surgeon, having been long at work, would put down his knife, exclaiming that his hand had grown unsteady, and that this was too much for human endurance—not seldom hysterical tears streaming down his face. Many of the wounded men suffered with silent fortitude, fierce determination in the knitting of their brows and the steady gaze of their bloodshot eyes. Some would even force themselves to a grim jest about their situation or about the “skedaddling of the rebels.” But there were, too, heart-rending groans and shrill cries of pain piercing the air, and despairing exclamations, “Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!” or “Let me die!” or softer murmurings in which the words “mother” or “father” or “home” were often heard. I saw many of my command among the sufferers, whose faces I well remembered, and who greeted me with a look or even a painful smile of recognition, and usually with the question what I thought of their chances of life, or whether I could do anything for them, sometimes, also, whether I thought the enemy were well beaten. I was sadly conscious that many of the words of cheer and encouragement I gave them were mere hollow sound, but they might be at least some solace for the moment.

There are people who speak lightly of war as a mere heroic sport. They would hardly find it in their hearts to do so, had they ever witnessed scenes like these, and thought of the untold miseries connected with them that were spread all over the land. He must be an inhuman brute or a slave of wild, unscrupulous ambition, who, having seen the horrors of war, will not admit that war brought on without the most absolute necessity, is the greatest and most unpardonable of crimes.

Soldiers

Living historians on the march at the Spangler farm (Tom Huntington photo).

I often muse about the emotional disconnect of my visits to Gettysburg. I am always happy to be there, and experience great pleasure—joy, even—exploring the battlefield and the town. Yet the reason it’s a destination for me is because the place was a scene of such misery and horror back in 1863. Real war is not fun. I felt the same disconnect at the Spangler farm. It was a glorious day—bright sun, clear blue skies, low humidity, the green of the trees and red of the barn eye-popping in their brilliance. I was happy that I got a chance to see the place. Yet I was visiting a site that had witnessed terrible things. The medical encampment beneath the tents in front of the farmhouse today could only hint at what had happened here 155 years ago. The living historians had red smears on their white aprons, but it was not real blood. The severed leg on their table was plastic, not flesh and bone. I was glad to be here, unlike all the poor wounded and dying who had never planned on a visit to the George Spangler farm back in 1863.

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On This Date (June 30, 1863)

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Lt. Charles Mattocks of the 17th Maine (Maine State Archvies).

The 17th Maine passed June 30 in the Maryland town of Taneytown, and were even mustered in to receive their pay. That afternoon they marched to Emmitsburg, a town that apparently did not share the pro-Union sympathies that men had experienced earlier. “It has never fallen to my lot to see such a malignant set of countenances,” said Pvt. John Haley.

“I should not be surprised if we begin the month of July with a fight,” Lt. Charles Mattocks wrote in his journal. “We are now close upon the enemy, and I somewhat think there will be a few guns fired July 1st.”

On the night of June 30, XI Corps commander Oliver Otis Howard was about to go to bed at his headquarters at a Jesuit college in Emmitsburg when he received a summons from Maj. Gen. John Reynolds, who commanded one wing of the army, consisting of the I, III, and I Corps. He wanted Howard to meet him at Moritz Tavern, where Reynolds had stopped for the night. It was about six miles away, near Marsh Creek. Howard and his brother Charles found Reynolds in a small farmhouse that was nearly empty of furniture. “General Reynolds was a tall, vigorous man of quick motion and nervous temperament,” Charles Howard recalled. “That night he was somewhat paler than usual and seemed to feel anxious or at least to keenly alive to the responsibility resting upon him.”

There was one table in the room where they talked, and it was piled with maps and messages. The two generals went through the dispatches from headquarters and discussed the possibilities of battle. Howard left around eleven. He recalled thinking that Reynolds seemed depressed, almost as though he had received a foreshadowing of what was going to happen the next day. Back at his headquarters, Howard got only about an hour’s sleep before an orderly woke him with orders, directed to Reynolds, about the army’s movements. The I and XI Corps were told to move north to Gettysburg.

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Adapted from Maine Roads to Gettysburg, which is available for purchase now. You can find it on Amazon.comBarnesandNoble.com, or at any fine bookseller near you.

On This Date (June 29, 1863)

We are only days away from the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. It’s interesting to take a look at what Maine soldiers were doing on this date 155 years ago. The Army of the Potomac had been making some brutal marches as it made its way north in pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia. Many soldiers realized that a major battle was imminent.

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Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard (Library of Congress).

On June 29, 1863, Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard and his XI Corps reached the Maryland town of Emmitsburg, just south of the Pennsylvania border, after a “wearisome” march of some 20 miles on a rainy day over muddy roads.

When the 16th Maine, part of the I Corps, finally staggered into Emmitsburg on June 29, it had traveled 40 miles over the previous 26 hours. Fortunately for the exhausted men, their march of June 30 was just a short one, and they established a camp just north of Emmitsburg.

The 17th Maine, which belonged to the III Corps, established its camp on June 29 outside the Maryland village of Taneytown, where the locals treated the soldiers like a combination of conquering heroes and sideshow attractions. “Ladies and young girls distributed beautiful bouquets of flowers to the officers and soldiers; groups of fair damsels, bewitchingly posted in conspicuous places, sang patriotic airs, as the ‘boys in blue’ marched by, and the passage of troops being a novelty, the citizens turned out en masse,” recalled Edwin Houghton.Long after tattoo, groups of ladies and gentlemen were promenading through our camps, actuated by a curiosity to see how soldiers really lived in the ‘tented field.’”

Chamberlain

Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Library of Congress).

Like so many regiments in the Army of the Potomac, the 20th Maine of the V Corps made a series of exhausting marches as it followed Robert E. Lee toward Pennsylvania. On the morning of June 29 its still-untested colonel, Joshua Chamberlain, began leading his men north from Frederick. Sgt. Charles Proctor of Company H was carrying the regimental flag, but he had managed to acquire enough liquor to get belligerently drunk. He began spouting abuse at some of the officers, who took the flag away from him. Members of the rear guard had to hold Proctor up to keep him on his feet. They finally gave up and left him behind.

Andrew Tozier took Proctor’s place as color bearer. Tozier, then only 24, had already led a difficult life. Born into poverty in Monmouth, he had fled to a life at sea to escape an alcoholic and abusive father, and then he joined the 2nd Maine. He was badly wounded and taken prisoner at Gaines’ Mill, but returned to the regiment after his parole. Tozier was one of the mutinous men that Chamberlain had to discipline when they were transferred to his regiment. But he was now the senior sergeant, so the honor of carrying the regimental flag fell to him.

The 19th Maine belonged to the II Corps, and the regiment made its longest march of the campaign, 32 miles, on June 29, but was able to spend the next day relaxing and basking in the patriotic sentiment it found in the aptly named Uniontown, Maryland.

On June 29 Capt. George D. Smith of the 19th Maine told Edwin Burpee, “I think we are on the eve of a terrible battle and I feel that I shall be killed or wounded.” He was wounded on July 2 and died in the predawn hours the next day. Smith was eventually buried at Gettysburg’s National Cemetery.

MRGCover

Adapted from Maine Roads to Gettysburg, which is available for purchase now. You can find it on Amazon.comBarnesandNoble.com, or at any fine bookseller near you.

The Pictures and the Story

Gburg CoverA co-worker of my wife’s gave us this vintage Gettysburg souvenir booklet. Originally published in 1913, this is the fourteenth edition. It has tons of great photos of the battlefield taken by local photographer William Tipton in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

ME MonsMy favorite page is this one, which features the Maine monuments on the battlefield.

Cburg PikeThis image shows monuments along the Chambersburg Pike (Rt. 30). That’s John Buford to the left and John Reynolds to the right. It’s a little startling to view this scene without seeing the large tree that stands behind Reynolds today. The monument at the far right is to James Hall’s 2nd Maine Battery, which saw hard fighting here on July 1.

1893 ReunionThis is the image that closes the booklet. It shows a gathering of generals, Union and Confederate, on East Cemetery Hill on April 29, 1893. The bearded man with his foot on the cannon is Oliver Otis Howard, who vigorously claimed credit for choosing Cemetery Hill as the place to post a reserve on July 1, thus establishing the core of the Union’s “fishhook” line. Notice his empty sleeve. Howard lost his right arm at the Battle of Fair Oaks in 1862. The man with the mutton chop whiskers at the center is former Confederate general James Longstreet. Seated to Longstreet’s left is Daniel Sickles, who commanded the III Corps at Gettysburg. He, of course, lost his leg during the battle. “The dismounted gun, upon the breech of which Gen. O.O. Howard has placed his foot, is typical, let us hope, of a soil that will never again be deluged with the blood of fratricidal strife, and that not only the North and South will ever keep closed the gulf that divided them in the past, but also that the present gulf of race prejudice that separates the white man from the still morally enslaved man of color will also be bridged so that the calamities of a race war will be unknown,” read the photo caption. Howard, who headed the Freedmen’s Bureau after the war, would certainly have agreed with that sentiment.

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Maine Roads to Gettysburg is available for purchase now! You can find it on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, or at any fine bookseller near you.

Ames at Gettysburg

Adelbert Ames was the original commander of the 20th Maine, and he made a mark on the regiment with his strict discipline. The regiment made a name for itself on Little Round Top under Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain during the fighting at Gettysburg on July 2. Ames, however, did not have a particularly glorious experience at Gettysburg. He entered the fight on July 1 as the commander of the second brigade in Francis C. Barlow’s first division of the XI Corps, and ended it as division commander following Barlow’s wounding. The division was driven back from its advanced position on the rise known today as Barlow Knoll and suffered a casualty rate of nearly 60 percent. When he reported to Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard on Cemetery Hill, Ames said, “I have no division; it is all cut to pieces.”

Like Barlow, Ames did not have much respect for the many Germans in his command. Ames’s official report of the day’s fight is relatively terse. He devoted fewer than 200 words to the events of July 1. Among them: “My brigade was ordered to a number of different positions, and finally it formed in rear of some woods, near a small stream some half a mile from town. From this position we were driven, the men of the First Brigade of this division running through lines of the regiments of my brigade (the Second), and thereby creating considerable confusion.”

At the end of that trying day, Ames found space in the cemetery gatehouse and went to sleep. He shared the room with Charles Wainwright, who handled the artillery for the I Corps. Wainwright took time to observe the young Maine general over the next few days. “I found him the best kind of man to be associated with, cool and clear in his own judgment, gentlemanly, and without the smallest desire to interfere,” said Wainwright. “We consulted together, but during the whole time we were here he never once attempted to presume on his superior rank. Ames is a gentleman; and a strange thing in the army, I did not hear him utter an oath of any kind during the three days!”

Ames suffered more disappointment in the waning daylight hours of July 2, when his division was in the thick of a fight for East Cemetery Hill and did not perform well. Fortunately, Winfield Scott Hancock sent a II Corps brigade under Samuel Carroll to East Cemetery Hill and the reinforcements arrived in time to repulse the attacking Rebels. Ames was terse about the evening’s fight when he wrote his report. It is not difficult to detect some tight-lipped fury between the three short sentences he contributed. “On the evening of the 2d, an attempt was made to carry the position we held, but the enemy was repulsed with loss,” Ames wrote. “Colonel Carroll, with a brigade from the Second Corps, rendered timely assistance. The batteries behaved admirably.” He pointedly did not mention how his own infantry had behaved. Ames did single out three officers for praise—his assistant adjutant general, Capt. John Marshall Brown; Harris of the 75th Ohio; and Young of the 107th Ohio. It’s probably no coincidence that none of them had a German surname.

On July 3, 1863, Ames dashed off a note to Chamberlain after hearing about the 20th Maine’s fight on Little Round Top. “I am very proud of the 20th Regt. and its present Colonel,” he wrote. “I did want to be with you and see your splendid conduct in the field.” Perhaps Ames was thinking about his own disappointments at Gettysburg when he added, “The pleasure I felt at the intelligence of your conduct yesterday is some recompense for all that I have suffered.”

In a letter written home that August, Ames recounted how he was reunited with his old regiment. He was riding with Gouverneur Warren when the men they were passing began shouting and waving their hats. Ames thought they were cheering Warren, but the engineer corrected him. They were cheering Ames. “I soon found it was the 20th,” he wrote. “They gave me three times three. They will do anything for me.” He also mentioned that the regiment’s officers had chipped in to buy him a sword, sash, and belt. “The sword is very elegant. It has some fine carbuncles on the hilt—It was made to order, and all cost some two hundred dollars.” All that strict discipline had paid off.

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Adapted from Maine Roads to Gettysburg. The book is available for purchase now! You can find it on Amazon.com, or any fine bookseller near you.

Maine at Bull Run

Howard

Oliver O. Howard commanded the 3rd Maine at Bull Run.

George Rollins was a 19-year-old student from the town of Vassalboro when he enlisted in Co. G. the 3rd Maine Volunteers in 1861. No doubt he thought going to war would be a grand adventure. It would also be a chance, as he wrote, to give the rebels “a stern rebuke.” At first the experience was a lot of fun. Rollins marveled at the crowds that showed up to greet the regiment when it marched through Boston. He enjoyed the steamboat trip to New York and boasted to his parents that he didn’t even get seasick. He thought Washington, D.C. was “a splendid place” and he had a “grand time” exploring the Navy Yard. He enjoyed army life.

On July 16, 1861, the regiment, under the command of Colonel Oliver Otis Howard, and the rest of Irvin McDowell’s Army of Northeastern Virginia marched away from Washington to do battle with the Confederates behind the Bull Run around Manassas. After the battle, young Rollins wrote a long letter home to his parents describing his experiences. (The original is in the collections at the Army Heritage Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.)

You have heard ere this that I have had a chance to smell powder and also of the disasterous retreat afterward. You probably were very much surprised at the defeat of our troops, but not more so than we were. Troops never marched to battle more confident of victory than we but disappointment and defeat was our lot for that day. Our brigade, consisting of the 3rd, 4th, 5th Me. And 2nd Ver. Regs under Gnl Howard, belonged to McDowell’s command and were encamped near Centreville. Sat. afternoon rations for three days were given us with orders to march at two o’clock Sun. A.M. At that time we were off with light hearts, although knowing that many of us would lie on the battlefield before night. We had been drilling and working for some time for the sole purpose of giving the Rebels a stern rebuke for their behavior, and now that we were likely to attain our object, it did not behoove us to be down hearted. It was a beautiful cold morning and every thing seemed to favor our start. The road for miles was filled with soldiers. Artillery, Cavalry, Infantry, all marching with the determination of conquering at all odds, not doubting their capability. After going about four miles beyond Centreville our brigade halted for the purpose of cutting off the retreat if any should be made. About this time cannonding could be heard at some distance to the right and news of advantage being gained by our troops kept coming to us and we were getting anxious to help them when an order came for us to proceed and off we started at double quick. The blankets began to fall, and everything impeding the progress of the men was cast aside as worthless. Men soon began to fall out from exhaustion, our [?] marching being to much for them. It was seven miles to the battleground and one of the Captns said that we marched it in one hour and one quarter. We kept hearing that our men were gaining the day and we would be there just in time to give the Rebels a farewell shot but as we neared the field different words were being brought us and as we came upon the field we met our men in retreat. All this didn’t stop us, but on we went. Shells began to burst about us and cannonballs served to make us dodge a little but not to stop our progress for we hadn’t had a shot at the enemy yet. While forming in line of battle a new [?] battery opened upon us cutting us up rather badly. After forming we went up a rise of ground and came upon the enemy lodged in the woods and to our right in a battery. We made a stand and fought the best we could with that battery raking us on the right and musketry playing upon us in front. Our men fought well and stood fire like heroes but it was of no use. All the other troops had left, and the Rebels were coming upon us in overpowering numbers so the order to retreat was given and we turned our back to the enemy. I don’t wish to say anything of what I saw on the field. God grant that I may never see the same again. Our retreat was all confusion and turmoil. There was no commander but all started for Centreville in a mass. When I got within about three miles of that place I thought I must stop not being able to go further. So with one of the students (Saml. Hamblin) I went into the woods. After going some distance we came to water which so refreshed us that we concluded to push on so as not to fall into the hands of the enemy. We got into cap at Cn’ville about ten P.M. just ready to drop with fatigue. We laid down but our limbs ached so bad that sleep was not thought of we had laid a short time and got a little rested when it was said that we were pursued by the enemy and the Regs. were all retreating to Washington and Alexandria. It was hard for us but had to be endured or we must be taken prisoners. I can’t tell what I suffered that night but it nearly [?] me I got into Alexandria at nine oclock the next morning without shoes, and with feet blistered and limbs sore. The first thing I did was to write a line to you that you might not be worried about me. For two days I could hardly move without groaning. We are now at our old encampment about four miles from Alexandria.

I am as well we ever now and have regained my courage considerably. I don’t hope to get home now til the three years are up. I have yet to see many more battles and endure many hardships before this war is brought to a close.

There are many conflicting accounts of the battle. General McDowell is blamed I think, and is thought to be a trater by some. There was evidently an unnecessary effusion of blood. You will have a better chance to learn the particulars than I shall.

Tell mother not to be deeply concerned about me. God has preserved me so far and will in time to come. We are now fitting up for a new start write soon.

Give my love to all at home. God only knows how I would like to see them.

George