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.
One of the forgotten farms on the Gettysburg battlefield is in a way right under people’s noses. Nearly every visitor to the battlefield drives right by it but because it is hidden from view visitors do not know it is there. The farm along the Emmitsburg Road belonging to Henry Spangler served as the jumping off point for perhaps the most famous attack of the Civil War and was one of the most damaged properties on the battlefield when the tide of battle receded.
The farm itself was 230 acres in size running from the Emmitsburg Road to a woodlot that is known today as the Spangler Woods. George Plank had originally farmed the land and built many of the structures on the property like a two story log house built sometime around 1820, a brick smokehouse, a stable and carriage shed and a large bank barn. The predominant feature of the farm was a large apple orchard. Henry Spangler purchased the farm in 1862 and rented it out to Jacob Eckenrode, age 24, and his wife Nancy, age 19. The young couple had one child at the time, a daughter, and Nancy was pregnant with the couple’s second child. The family fled as the armies took position around them.
Fighting began around the farm on July 2. Skirmishers from Cadmus Wilcox’s Brigade of Alabamians linked up with Floridians from David Lang’s Brigade on the farm. Many of these men took shelter in the barn to escape the hot July afternoon. They remained in the barn until the Union brought artillery to bear on it forcing them to seek shelter elsewhere before the assault on Cemetery Ridge. Many of the wounded from this assault sought refuge in the barn which caught fire that afternoon and burned to the ground.
While the assault on Cemetery Ridge would be repulsed on July 2, Confederate General Robert E. Lee believed that the Union position there was vulnerable and if he attacked with more power he could break the enemy line. James Kemper’s Brigade of Virginians from George Pickett’s Division took position on the Spangler Farm to wait out the Confederate pre-attack bombardment.Some of the men passed the time throwing green apples from the orchard at each other. Some of the others took shelter from the sun in the orchard underneath the trees. At around 2:30 the assault went forward. In what became known as Pickett’s Charge the most famous assault of the war was repulsed with heavy casualties. The Confederate army reached its high tide and would never come this far again or have victory within its grasp.
If the Union army would have made a counterattack it would most certainly have come on Spangler’s land and the Confederates held the ground until the night of July 4 when they began to retreat back to the Potomac River. They left behind an incomprehensible scene. Like many other families the Eckenrodes returned to find their property devastated. Dead bodies covered the ground both on the farm and in the woodlot. No apples remained in the orchard and the home was ransacked. They tried to resume a normal life but it was difficult. Jacob would enlist in the Union army in 1865 with the 101st Pennsylvania and served through the remainder of the war in North Carolina. Following the war he submitted a damage claim but like so many other families he received no compensation from the government. The barn was rebuilt immediately following the battle on the remains of the foundation. That barn was struck by lightning in 1932 and again burned down. A third barn was built and still stands to this day. The home was altered after the war around 1880 to its present appearance.
That was not the end of the family’s involvement in the battle. Nancy’s brother Samuel Keckler had enlisted in the Union army in the 1st Pennsylvania Reserves (30th Pennsylvania) and had fought at Gettysburg, almost within sight of his sister’s home in George Rose’s Wheatfield. He was captured the following summer outside of Richmond and died in a prison camp. His name is on the Pennsylvania Monument, the GAR Monument in town and the monument to his company in the center of town. Those men were truly fighting for their homes and families.
The family would have eight children before Nancy died in 1879. Jacob remarried and lived until 1929. His daughter during the battle would live until 1946. Henry Spangler is more famous for his land about a mile away that included his soon-to-be-famous spring. His home still remains but his barn has been lost to time though it is marked as a field hospital used during the battle. The farm was eventually incorporated into the Gettysburg National Military Park. To access his farm along the Emmitsburg Road one has to walk to it. The Horse Trail goes right through the farm and is accessible from Tour Stop 5 (the Virginia Memorial) or from Tour Stop 11 (Plum Run and the Trostle Farm). Of course you could also take a tour of the battlefield on horseback as well!