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.
One of the forgotten barns of the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania is the barn that belonged to Moses McLean. Located at the foot of Oak Hill along the Mummasburg Road it was the scene of a brief violent clash that literally pitted brother against brother.
Moses McLean rented the farm out during the battle to David Beams. Beams though had been drafted into the army and was stationed on the Peninsula in Virginia with his regiment but his wife Harriet and their three year old child were present during the battle. They fled when the Confederates arrived and returned after the battle to find their home ransacked and their belongings stolen.
In the late morning of July 1 the open-faced eminence of Oak Hill became more and more important as a terrain feature and artillery platform and both sides raced to seize it. Confederate forces arriving on the field from the north under Robert Rodes won the race and occupied it around noon. Soon after, moving onto the plain beneath them from the south came Federal reinforcements. These initial troops, under the command of Colonel George von Amsberg, were tasked with seizing and holding Oak Hill, an impossibility now with their few numbers and Rodes occupying it with infantry and artillery. They were able to seize the McLean Barn at its base and captured about 50 Confederate soldiers from Edward O’Neal’s Alabama brigade. Captain Francis Irsch of the 45th New York would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in leading the assault on the barn. The barn could not be held as Confederate tide rolled up the Federal lines in the afternoon, forcing all of the Union soldiers to retreat south of town and take up a new position on Cemetery Hill.
As mentioned, originally occupying the barn were soldiers from Alabama. Attacking them were men from New York. Each side had a man named Schwarz. Both had emigrated from Prussia in the 1850s and they were brothers. Rudolf had settled in New York, his brother (whose name it seems has been lost to history) had settled in Alabama. They met for the first time since emigrating to the United States in the McLean’s barn, both as brothers and enemy combatants. After a brief reunion, the Alabama brother was marched off to captivity. Rudolf was killed in action later in the day. So the next time someone says that our civil war was brother fighting brother you can think of this barn and know that it was indeed true.