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.
Just because the fighting ended did not mean that the suffering also ended. Each side would work to collect their own wounded believing that the other side would simply let them suffer and die if they fell into their enemy’s hands. The Western Hemisphere had never seen anything like the Battle of Gettysburg before. 11,000 were dead or would die within a few days and approximately 27,000 soldiers were wounded. To say that the medical staff of both armies were overwhelmed is an understatement. Any structure that had walls and a roof was used to shelter the wounded and barns were no different.
Brothers Jacob and Henry Montfort had settled in the Gettysburg area on the Hunterstown Road and began building a farm in 1848. The next year they completed their barn, a the typical Pennsylvania Dutch bank barn that is common in Adams County. Henry was 53 and his wife Catherine was with him and they had one child at the time of the battle.
The Confederate division under Edward Johnson had tried unsuccessfully to assault Culp’s Hill (pictured in the slideshow) on July 2 and July 3 and had suffered heavy losses. Needing space to house their nearly 1,300 wounded soldiers the Montfort Farm was ideally located making it one of the largest Confederate field hospitals. Following the Confederate retreat on July 5 about 450 soldiers were left behind with a Dr. Whitehead in charge of this hospital. Many of the wounded left behind were near death or were too seriously injured to be moved. When an army retreated it was common practice for some of the medical staff to volunteer to remain behind and would be treated as prisoners of war. Many of the wounded would stay where they were until a general hospital called Camp Letterman was opened in mid-July to house the remaining wounded soldiers. At least five dead Confederates were buried on the Montfort farm.
Being in a Civil War hospital was not a pleasant place to be. Surgeons of the era had a reputation of being nothing more than butchers but they were trying their best with the knowledge of the time. Many died because of infections from unsterilized surgical equipment* or from the shock of amputation. Ether was used to render patients unconscious so at the very least being in Union hands was much more preferable as the Confederates had a limited supply of ether and used it only for high ranking officers. The lower ranking soldiers got a shot of whiskey or had to bite a stick! For those fortunate to survive it was an experience that would affect them for the rest of their life. For the surgeons, dealing with a seemingly endless line of wounded meant that they could work for days without sleep. Some collapsed from exhaustion. Civilian doctors came to offer their services but many turned around and left once they saw the scope of their work.
Despite not a shot being fired around the Montfort farm there was much damage to the farm and barn. Most of their belongings were taken or used for bandages, their livestock was stolen and their crops were trampled. They filed a damage claim with the government but were denied as the damage was not done by Federal soldiers. The family would try to rebuild but would eventually sell the farm and move to California in 1870. As the years went on the farm began to fall into disrepair and became neglected. There were rumors that it would be sold and turned into a subdivision in the 1980s which did not come to pass and eventually a new use was found for the barn. In 1996 the Gettysbrew Pub and Brewery opened in the Montfort Barn. The brewery failed a few years later but in 2013 another entrepreneur though that they could do better and opened the Battlefield Brew Works with a restaurant and a distillery being added since. So if you are in the Gettysburg area and want to spend some time in a historic building then head over and try a Lincoln Lager.
*The connection to bacteria, sterilization and disease by Joseph Lister was not made until 1867, four years after the battle.