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. While 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.
The first day of the Battle of Gettysburg centered very early on around a barn on the property of Edward McPherson and in the woodlot next to it that is erroneously given his name as well. McPherson’s father had built the farm along the Chambersburg Pike but his son Edward showed little interest in farming instead choosing to study law at nearby Pennsylvania College (today’s Gettysburg College) and eventually entered politics. McPherson had been the local U.S. Congressman until March of 1863 when he was gerrymandered out of his seat. President Lincoln made him deputy commissioner of the IRS following his defeat and he personally resided in Washington. He was eventually appointed the Clerk of the House of Representatives in late 1863. McPherson rented the farm out to John Slentz who was present at the time of the battle with his family and raised wheat, oat, corn,hay, hogs and chickens with his wife Eliza and five children. The barn itself is the standard two-story stone Pennsylvania bank barn that is common in Adams County and the surrounding areas. Slentz vowed to stay but decided that discretion was the better part of valor and fled when Confederate artillery opened fire.
The early phases of the battle centered around the McPherson Barn as Henry Heth’s Confederate Division pushed John Buford’s Union cavalrymen back towards the town. Heth was counterattacked by James Wadsworth’s Union infantry division and was driven back about one mile to Herr Ridge. During the majority of the day Roy Stone’s and parts of Lysander Cutler’s Union brigades held the position near the barn, which was used as a hospital and place of refuge for many soldiers both North and South, including Stone who was wounded on July 1 and fell into Confederate hands along with the barn’s other occupants when they overran the position later that afternoon.
It continued to serve as a hospital throughout the remainder of the battle and today bears a special plaque denoting its use as a field hospital, the only barn on the battlefield that bears such a notation. The dead were left where they lay and began to turn black in the hot July sun. The Confederates put some dirt over their own dead but left the Union corpses to rot. The smell was unbearable by the time Union troops returned to the position on July 5.
Slentz returned to find his home ransacked and his livestock gone. His family resided in town until the home was made livable and he returned to farming the land. The farm was a popular stop for early tourists visiting the battlefield and the barn was one of the most photographed parts of the battlefield, including by the famous photographer Matthew Brady who visited the battle shortly after it was fought. McPherson was active in early efforts to preserve and commemorate the battlefield moving back to Gettysburg following the battle. He sought compensation from the government for damages but was denied and sold the farm in 1868. The rest of the property burned down in 1895 and the land along with the barn was sold to the government in 1904 and incorporated into Gettysburg National Military Park. The barn was restored and modified in the 1970s and is leased to a local farmer today though the grounds are accessible to the public. It is located near Tour Stop number 1.