The American Civil War was the most violent conflict this continent has ever witnessed. Central to many of the great and small battles were family farms and their barns. While many of these barns have been lost to time some of them still exist today. Though they will never be used for reclaimed wood, we at Aged Woods will profile some of them. These barns witnessed American history, if only they could talk.
There is a certain irony in that the High Tide of the Confederacy took place partially on land owned by a free African-American man, Abraham Brian (sometimes spelled as Bryan also). Brian had purchased the farm outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1857 and grew wheat, barley and hay with small apple and peach orchards. His home was also located on the property. He co-owned a blacksmith shop with another free African-American man living in the area, James Warfield, whose home was located about one mile to the south. Living with him at the time was Brian’s wife Elizabeth and their five children.
On the approach of the Confederate army into Pennsylvania Brian and his family fled (for hopefully obvious reasons). During the battle the house was used as headquarters for Union division commander Alexander Hays and was situated on the front lines. It was probably from there that Hays gave the orders to burn the Bliss Farm on July 2. Numerous artillery projectiles were fired both from around the farm and towards the farm and limited infantry fighting took place around it on July 2. On July 3 however the farm was witness to heavy infantry fighting during the famous Pickett’s Charge. Thomas Smyth’s Union brigade held the position behind the stonewall and helped to repulse Johnston Pettigrew’s Confederates weathering what became known as the “High Tide of the Confederacy.” The soldiers had collected abandoned muskets on the field following the Confederates repulse on July 2 and each man had several loaded muskets ready to fire. Pettigrew’s men never stood a chance and some sought refuge around the Brian Barn before surrendering.
Brian returned to find his home ransacked and his farm unworkable owing to the large number of corpses buried on his land. His crops were trampled. It was common practice to just bury the dead where they fell at the time and it would be several months until the Union bodies were exhumed and taken to the new Soldier’s National Cemetery. The Confederate dead though remained where they lay until after the war. After no small amount of hard work Brian got his farm workable again and resumed farming. He submitted a damage claim to the government for just over $1,000 but was only compensated $15, though considering how many other landowners received nothing he was “fortunate.” Brian died in 1875 and is buried in the Lincoln Cemetery in Gettysburg. Both the barn and his home survive today, though they have been reconstructed to return them to their 1863 appearance.