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.
When Robert E. Lee launched his first invasion of the North in 1862 he believed his Army of Northern Virginia would be welcomed as liberators in pro-slavery Maryland but what he found in Washington County was not what he expected. The area was staunchly Unionist and few recruits flocked to his banner. He also found a quickly approaching Union Army of the Potomac under the recently restored-to-command George McClellan (more on that in a later segment). Rather than returning to Virginia with his outnumbered army Lee chose to stay and attempt to fight it out outside of the small village of Sharpsburg. What resulted on September 17, 1862 was the bloodiest day in American history.
Union forces began moving into position to assault Lee the night before the battle and crossed over the farm of Joseph and Mary Poffenberger. Confederate pickets opened fire on them and a small firefight erupted that continued into the early night. As the farm’s fences would restrict the army’s movements they were taken down, aided under fire by Poffenberger himself before he fled with his family and livestock. The farm would be used as a staging area for for assaults into the North Woods and the Miller Cornfield and many soldiers spent their last hours on Earth here. The Union commander in the sector, Joseph Hooker, even slept in the barn the night before. The farm was also used for counter-battery fire to silence Confederate artillery that briefly took up position on Nicodemus Heights a short distance away.
Wounded soldiers on that day were numerous and many were brought back to the safety of area farms. Helping to treat the endless flood that day was a volunteer nurse named Clara Barton. Barton brought medical supplies with her and helped to bandage wounded soldiers and keep the hospitals clean. Her efforts would later earn her the nickname “The Angel of the Battlefield” and after three sleepless days and stricken with typhoid fever she collapsed from exhaustion. Her experiences during the war lead her to found the American branch of the Red Cross in 1881. A monument to Barton was erected nearby.*
The farm itself has been preserved and is on the tour route though most just stop to view the monuments located on the farm’s southern boundary. The farm dates to the 1770s when it was established by James Chapline who rented it out to tenant farmers and one of those farmers built the barn in the early 1800s. The two level barn is typical of many other barns in the area that were introduced by Swiss and German immigrants. James Poffenberger purchased the property in 1851 to settle down to what he thought would be a life of peace and harmony with the land. He returned after the battle to find anything but harmony. His home was empty and ransacked and his family was forced to live off of army crackers that were left on the battlefield for a week before outside aid arrived. Many wounded soldiers remained in the area following the battle, some for nearly a year and the residents had to get used to a new sense of normalcy. The barn was destroyed by a fire after the war and it was rebuilt on the original foundation. Poffenberger sold the farm to his nephew Otho after the fire. The farm was acquired by the Department of the Interior in 2000 but remains an active farmstead.
*There is some controversy over which Poffenberger Farm she was at and some believe (and probably rightly so) that she was actually at the Samuel Poffenberger (Jacob’s son) farm to the south-east. Joseph’s barn is on the tour route and the monument is placed here so we profiled it here.