We continue the story of the Farmsteads of Antietam with the Jacob Avey farm that sits at the southern edge of Sharpsburg. The D.R. Miller cornfield, the Poffenberger woods, and the Piper orchard; when we hear these the names of these places we know where they are on the Antietam battlefield and the action that occurred there. But very few people have heard of the Avey farm, know where it is or even understand what happened there. Like the copse of trees at Gettysburg for the Confederate High Water Mark, the Avey farm is the “High-Water Mark” for the Union at Antietam and is critical to understanding the Battle of Antietam.
In the early 1700’s very few people lived west of Frederick. To entice immigrants into western Maryland, land was being offered at very low prices; and people with disposable wealth began to purchase large tracts of land. In 1736, Joseph Chapline, Sr. moved west and began acquiring hundreds of acres of land along the Potomac River through grants and purchases. In 1747 he patented the 250-acre tract “Hunting the Hare,” located just south of present-day Sharpsburg. Earlier that year, Chapline also purchased an adjacent 150-acre tract originally patented by Francis Abston in 1742 known as “Abston’s Forrest.” When the French and Indian War erupted in 1754, Chapline was called upon to assist his friend and Maryland Governor, Horatio Sharpe. As a Captain, Chapline would help finance and build forts along the frontier.
With the war over, Joseph Chapline sought to take advantage of the influx of new settlers coming into the valley. In 1763 Chapline founded the town of Sharps Burgh (present-day Sharpsburg) in honor of Maryland’s provincial governor Horatio Sharpe. This new town would be located on a 200-acre tract that Chapline had purchased known as “Hickory Tavern”. What made the “Hickory Tavern” tract such an appealing place for a town was the presence of a fresh water spring (Garrison’s Spring) and its location along the wagon road to Philadelphia. This parcel was located close to his plantation and adjacent to two other parcels he owned, “Resurvey on Abston’s Forest” and “Hunting the Hare.” In August 1764 Chapline patented “Joe’s Lot,” which consisted of 2,127 acres on the south and east sides of Sharpsburg. The parcel included over 1,680 acres of vacant land along with the original surveys of Resurvey on Abston’s Forest and Hickory Tavern.
Joseph Chapline died in 1769. In his will he divided his vast holdings among his children. His eldest, Joseph Chapline, Jr., received the majority of his lands, including Sharpsburg and the surrounding land. In 1789, Joseph Chapline, Jr., applied to the land office in Annapolis for a resurvey of his lands into a single tract he wished to be known as Mount Pleasant, and this patent for 2,575 acres was received on July 15, 1791. Over the next several years, the Chapline children and other land owners divided these large land tracts into smaller family sized farms and sold them to the settlers moving into the Sharpsburg area.
One of these families was the Avey or Eavey family. Henry Avey immigrated with his family to America in 1732 from Rotterdam. It is believed that the Avey’s were from the Berne, Switzerland area and were escaping religious persecution. The Avey’s landed in Philadelphia and by 1746, Henry Avey owned 200 acres of land in what is now Washington County, Maryland. Henry had three sons; John, Joseph and Jacob. The three brothers all assisted in the defense of the colonies during the French and Indian War. In 1783, Joseph purchased part of the track known as Spriggs Delight along the Potomac River near where Taylor’s Landing is today. It appears that Joseph’s son, Michael inherited his father property after he died in 1799. According to the 1803-04 Washington County tax record, Michael Avey owned 150 acres of Spriggs Delight. Michael’s oldest son, Jacob was born on May 12, 1791. Jacob was a farmer and in the 1820’s he began to purchase properties around the Sharpsburg area. Jacob would marry Catharine Palmer in January 1815 and together they would have ten children.
Here our story goes back to Joseph Chapline, Jr. He and his wife, Mary Ann had no children, but other family members filled their home at Mount Pleasant. Joseph’s nephew, Dr. John J. Hays was residing at Mount Pleasant and came into his favor. Just a few months before his death in 1821 Joseph Chapline Jr., sold 1,000 acres of Mount Pleasant, including the house, to his nephew and named Hayes the executor of the estate. Dr. Hayes also owned other properties in and around Sharpsburg. To settle the estate of his uncle, Hays held a public sale to sell farming equipment , livestock and household affects. Unfortunately, Dr. Hayes died shortly after Chapline in 1823. The executor of his estate was William Price. Not only did he have to settle John J. Hays’ estate, but now he also had the unfinished business of the Chapline estate. Within a matter of a few years the Hays and the Chapline estate was settled and most, if not all the property including Mount Pleasant and the land south of Sharpsburg was sold.
In October, 1826 Jacob Avey purchased 22 acres from the executors of the John J. Hays estate for $550. This property was just southeast of Sharpsburg near the Joseph Reel mill (this property was sold in 1831). Two years later in September 1828, Jacob purchased another property from the John J. Hays estate for $500. This was an 86 3/4 acre farm known as the Bower Farm adjacent to Sharpsburg between the road to the Antietam Iron Works (the Harpers Ferry Road today) and the Reel Mill road (the Burnside Bridge Road today). Jacob may have owned more land, but those records have not been found. Over the next 30 plus years, Jacob and Catharine Avey raised their family on this farmstead at the edge of Sharpsburg. According to the 1860 census, the Avey farm was valued at $4,800 with $300 in personal property and three of their adult children still resided at home.
The Avey house is a two-story ell shaped dwelling with brick and frame construction. Just to the back of the house is a board and batten out kitchen with stone chimney and to the east of the house near the road leading out of Sharpsburg is a stone springhouse. South of the house was a large Swisser bank barn and a number of other out buildings and dependencies. Today only the ruins of the barn still exist.
On September 15, 1862 Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee were withdrawing back toward the Potomac River after their defeat at South Mountain. Receiving word from General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, that the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry was going to surrender, Lee decided to consolidate his army at Sharpsburg using the high ground east of town to position his defensive line. Throughout the day Confederate soldiers from David R. Jones’ division moved into Sharpsburg and onto the Avey farm. D.R. Jones was responsible for the center and southern end of Lee’s line. Jones stretched his small division from the Boonsboro Pike at Cemetery Hill to the Rohrbach Bridge road with two brigades and five artillery batteries; across the road the brigades of Walker, Drayton, and Kemper covered the raise across the Avey farm. Between the Avey house and their orchard, Captain Hugh R. Garden’s four gun battery was parked. To his front, Jones positioned Robert Tombs’ brigade to cover the Rohrbach Bridge with three batteries of artillery for support and part of Nathen Evan’s brigade was forward on the Joseph Sherrick farm. Later the next day, the division of John Walker arrived to Jones’ left to cover the flank and the Snavely’s Ford on the Antietam.
With an impending battle on their doorstep, the Avey’s most likely packed up some of their belongs and left their home. It is possible that Jacob’s family went to stay with their son Samuel, daughter in law Kate, and their 5 children in Porterstown just east of the Antietam Creek. Their son, Jacob (named after his grandfather) who was 12 yrs old at the time, remembered “sitting on a fence beside the road, watching the soldiers striding down South Mountain” on their way to toward Sharpsburg. When fighting began on the 17th, young Jacob was standing near the smokehouse when “a Rebel shell tore through and wrecked the building but spared his life“.
That Rebel shell most likely came from the artillery D.R. Jones had posted on the heights at the edge of Sharpsburg. According to his battle report, “Daylight of September 17 gave the signal for a terrific cannonade. The battle raged with intensity on the left and center, but the heavy masses in my front–repulsed again and again in their attempts to force the passage of the bridge by the two regiments before named, comprising 403 men, assisted by artillery I had placed in position on the heights–were unable to effect a crossing”. Throughout most of the morning the fighting was raging north of D.R. Jones’ position. Early into the battle Lee directed John Walker’s division to move to the north of Sharpsburg to support General Jackson’s command near the Dunker Church. General Daniel H. Hill was directed to shift his defense to the north as well and Jones was ordered to send G.T. Anderson’s brigade to support General Hood. Around 10am the Union Ninth Corps began attempts to force a crossing over the Antietam at the Rohrbach Bridge and the ford. By 1:00pm the Union forces had taken the bridge and were crossing over Snavely’s Ford as well. General James Longstreet said, “Brigadier-General Toombs held the bridge and defended it most gallantly, driving back repeated attacks, and only yielded it after the forces brought against him became overwhelming and threatened his flank and rear”.
This redeployment of forces to the north and the loss of the bridge and ford forced Jones to realign his small division in order to defend the Confederate right. Garnett’s brigade was left to guard Cemetery Hill. Walker’s brigade and Garden’s battery moved to the left of the Avey farm to watch the draw up into Sharpsburg along the Rohrbach Bridge Road. Captain James S. Brown, in command the four guns of the Wise (VA) Battery redeployed from the Otto farm to the hill at the edge of the stone fence on the Avey farm along with a couple of guns from Capt. James Reilly’s battery. Kemper and Drayton moved their brigades forward to the fence at the hill to await the impending Union advance. John Dooley of the 1st Virginia Infantry recalled, “We are moved to meet this attack almost between the advancing enemy and the town of Sharpsburg. A few of our men are in the orchard afore mentioned, and behind a stone wall, and the majority behind a rail fence on the borders of a cornfield. Two pieces of artillery are all that can be spared to keep the enemy back”. The Confederate artillery on the Avey farm was taking it’s toll on the Union infantry trying to move upon the Rebels along the fence line.
By 3:00pm, Burnside’s Ninth Corps was in position to begin their assault toward Sharpsburg. Colonel Harrison Fairchild, a brigade commander in General Isaac Rodman’s division wrote, “We continued to advance to the opposite hill under a tremendous fire from the enemy’s batteries up steep embankments. Arriving near a stone fence, the enemy – a brigade composed of South Carolina and Georgia regiments – opened on us with musketry. After returning their fire, I immediately ordered a charge, which the whole brigade gallantly responded to, moving with alacrity and steadiness. Arriving at the fence, behind which the enemy were awaiting us, receiving their fire, losing large numbers of our men, we charged over the fence, dislodging them and driving them from their position down the hill toward the village,”.
Next to the New York brigade on their left flank was the lone 8th Connecticut Regiment, advancing toward the Harpers Ferry Road. As the Fairchild’s New Yorkers were reaching the heights, Orlando Willcox’s Union Division advanced astride the Rohrbach Bridge Road. His left brigade under the command of Colonel Thomas Welsh advanced across the Avey fields and pushed into the orchard. Col. Welsh reported, “I moved my whole command over a steep hill, immediately charging the enemy and driving them rapidly in the direction of Sharpsburg, my troops advancing to the edge of the town and capturing the rebel Captain Twiggs and several soldiers”. Welsh was referring to two of his regiments, the 8th Michigan and the 100th Pennsylvania that had driven the Rebels out of the orchard and to the outskirts of Sharpsburg.
The Confederate line was breaking, Fairchild’s men could see the spires of town. Dooley remembered, “The Yankees, finding no batteries opposing them, approach closer and closer, cowering down as near to the ground as possible, while we keep up a pretty warm fire by file upon them as they advance. Now they are at the last elevation of rising ground and whenever a head is raised we fire. Now they rise up and make a charge for our fence. Hastily emptying our muskets into their lines, we fled back through the cornfield.” Just as the end seemed to be in sight for the Union forces advancing across the Avey farm, Confederate brigades from General A.P. Hill’s division arrived on the left flank of the Ninth Corps. A.P. Hill’s sudden arrival on the Union left forced them to withdraw from the Avey farm back to the Sherrick and Otto farms where they began their advance.
Although there was no major fighting on September 18, sporadic gun fire occurred across the fields on the southern end of the lines as both sides tended to the wounded and began to bury their dead. The Confederates buried about a dozen men on the Avey farm. The Union would have to wait until the 19th, after the Rebels withdrew back across the Potomac for their burial details to begin the dating task of burying the almost 200 dead Union soldiers across the Avey farm.
Like many of their neighbors around Sharpsburg, when the Aveys returned home they found death, destruction and devastation. Across their fields lay the dead from both sides, with guns and equipment scattered about. Most of the split rail fencing was gone, their cornfield was trampled down, and hay was either used for the wounded or fed to the horses. A claim had been filed for the damages and items taken for his farm in the amount of $477.95, but it would take until 1902 for the government to find the the claim was justified. In 1905. the reparations were paid in the amount of $318 to the executors of the estate, Samuel and Elizabeth Avey.
Just over a year after the battle, Jacob Avey died on October 12, 1863 at the age of 72 and Catharine died on July 14, 1870. Although they are both buried in the Methodist Cemetery in Sharpsburg only Catharine’s head stone still remains.
Four years after Jacob died, Catharine and the children sold the 86 3/4 acre farm to John Ecker in 1867. John Ecker’s daughter married a Benjamin Miller and it is believed that they lived on the farm. The reasoning for this is when the Bowie List of the Burial Places of the Remains of Confederate Soldiers was completed in 1868 it indicted Confederates had been buried on the Ben Miller farm referring to locations near the Sherrick farm and the John Highbarger lot at the edge of Sharpsburg. Further evidence of this is that the farm was sold to William Thomas in 1876 and this is indicted on the 1877 map of Sharpsburg.
At some point before the turn of the century the spelling of the Avey name had changed to Eavey. Four of the ten Avey children (Jacob and Catharine) would move west, settling in Illinois and Nebraska, while the rest remained a little closer to home. Their son, Jacob stayed in Sharpsburg and married Elizabeth Marker. They would have a son named John Wesley Eavey who would become a prominent Sharpsburg figure. John Wesley Eavey was the principal of the Sharpsburg school where he taught for over twenty years, he served as president of the Sharpsburg Bank, and was a member of a number of local organizations.
In October 1894, veterans of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment had returned to Sharpsburg to dedicate a monument on the ground where they had fought. Earlier that year, a small plot of ground near the stone wall was purchased from John Otto, who now owned the Avey farm, for the placement of the 8th Connecticut’s monument. The War Department has also placed a mortuary cannon on the ridge to indict where Union Brigadier General Isaac Rodman was mortally wounded during the battle. Three years later on Memorial Day 1897, members of the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment returned to dedicate their monument on a plot next to the 8th Connecticut’s monument. The 9th New York (Hawkins Zouaves) Monument stands at the “High Water Mark” of the Union final attack at Antietam.
After changing ownership a half a dozen times, it appears that in the 1940’s small parcels of the farm were sold off along the Harpers Ferry Road and High Street. The same is true for a handful of lots along the Burnside Bridge Road. Over the years, the northern section of the farm was not being cultivated and trees began to take over and the orchard was cut down. In 1976, Stephen Whilden had acquired the farm and parceled off 20 acres of the property that included the original farmstead and structures near the town of Sharpsburg. This property was purchased by Robert Stransky, the current owner of the Avey farmstead. When the Stransky’s took ownership of the farmstead, only the house, out kitchen and springhouse remained. The Avey farm remains private property, but it is a critical piece to understanding the Battle of Antietam and is an eyewitness to history.
*We are very grateful to Linda Irvin-Craig for taking the time to talk with us about the history of the Avey/Eavey family and sharing the information about her ancestors. We also want to thank Mr. Robert Stransky for allowing us to visit him at the Avey farm (Thanks to Dr. Tom Clemens for arranging the visit).
- Ancestry.com, Jacob Avey Family, Census Data 1840-1940. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com\.
- Avey, Michael Garland, The Cultural Resources of the Avey Family Phase 1, Dept. of Archeology, Pierce College, Fort Steilacoom, WA, 1986. https://archive.org/details/TheCulturalResourcesOfTheAveyFamilyPhase1
- Beeler, Ed and Michael J. Chapline, Searching for Joseph Chapline Maryland Frontiersman and Founder of Sharpsburg, Maryland, 2013
- Irvin-Craig, Linda. Personal interview. May, 2021.
- Maryland. Board of Trustees of the Antietam National Cemetery, and 1869-1873 (Oden Bowie) Maryland. Governor. A Descriptive List of the Burial Places of the Remains of Confederate Soldiers: Who Fell In the Battles of Antietam, South Mountain, Monocacy, And Other Points In Washington And Frederick Counties, In the State of Maryland. Hagerstown, Md.: “Free press” print, 1868.
- Maryland State Archives. Maryland Land Records On-Line, Washington County, April 25, 2021. https://mdlandrec.net/main/dsp_search.cfm?cid=WA.
- Maryland Historical Trust, Avey-Stransky House, WA-II-151, Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form, 1977.
- Nelson, John N. “As Grain Fall Before the Reaper”, The Federal Hospital Sites and Identified Federal Casualties at Antietam. Hagerstown, MD. 2004.
- Recker, Stephen J. Rare Images of Antietam: And the Photographers Who Took Them. Another Software Miracle; Sharpsburg, Maryland 2012.
- Recker, Stephen J. Virtual Antietam; Final Attack Trail. Retrieved from http://www.virtualantietam.com/sites/default/files/field/image/1897_9thNYmonDed.jpg.
- Schildt, John W. Monuments at Antietam. E Graphics, Brunswick, MD 2019.
- Taggert, Thomas, Map of Washington County. L. McKee and C.G. Roberton, Hagerstown, Maryland 1859.
- The Morning Herald (Hagerstown, Maryland) Jacob Eavey Obituary, 16 Aug 1948. Retrieved from https://www.newspapers.com/
- The Touch Light and Public Advertiser (Hagerstown, Maryland) Estate of John J. Hays deceased, 28 August 1823. Retrieved from https://www.newspapers.com/
- Tracey, Dr. Arthur G. “Land Patents of Washington County, MD. Showing their location on the land-their adjoining tracts- the relationship one to another-plus other related information“. MDLANDREC. Maryland Historic Trust. Retrieved from http://mdhistory.msa.maryland.gov/tracey_fr_wa_cr/html/index.html
- Washington Historical Trust, Architectural & Historic Treasures: 43 – Stone Hill circa 1800-1825, North of Sharpsburg, MD. Hagerstown, Maryland February 7, 1993. Retrieved from http://washingtoncountyhistoricaltrust.org/3-stone-hill-circa-1800-1825-north-of-sharpsburg-md/.
- Washington Historical Trust, Architectural & Historic Treasures: 113 – Mount Pleasant, circa 1790, Sharpsburg, MD. Hagerstown, Maryland September 7, 1997. Retrieved from http://washingtoncountyhistoricaltrust.org/136-mount-pleasant-circa-1790-sharpsburg-md/.
- Western Maryland’s Historical Library. Washington County, Maryland, Taxes 1803 Lower Anteatum Hundred, Washington County, Maryland, 1803 https://digital.whilbr.org/digital/collection/p16715coll46/id/82/rec/11.
- U.S. War Department, Atlas of the battlefield of Antietam, prepared under the direction of the Antietam Battlefield Board, lieut. col. Geo. W. Davis, U.S.A., president, gen. E.A. Carman, U.S.V., gen. H Heth, C.S.A. Surveyed by lieut. col. E.B. Cope, engineer, H.W. Mattern, assistant engineer, of the Gettysburg National Park. Drawn by Charles H. Ourand, 1899. Position of troops by gen. E. A. Carman. Published by authority of the Secretary of War, under the direction of the Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army, 1908.” Washington, Government Printing Office, 1908. Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3842am.gcw0248000/?sp=5.
- United States Congressional Serial Set. Court of Claims for Jacob Avey, 1902.. United States: U.S. Government Printing Office, (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.google.com/books/edition/United_States_Congressional_Serial_Set/iA1HAQAAIAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&kptab=editions
Some of the earliest land patents of the future Washington County are dated between 1730 and 1740, and they were granted to men who never intended on live on the land. One of these men was Dr. George Stuart of Annapolis who was granted 4,450 acres of land in western Maryland on March 7, 1732. In 1739, Stuart transferred 208 acres to a planter from Prince George’s County named James Smith. It’s believed that Smith lived in the area, as he was surveying lands in the future Frederick and Washington counties and was an attorney for the Frederick courts. This 208 acres was patented “Smiths Hills” and was the future location of what we know today as the Newcomer Farm.
According to the patent, “Smiths Hills” began at “a bounded white oak standing on the side of a hill with a quarter of a mile of the Waggon Road that crosses Anteatom and running thence south“. Over the next fifteen years, Smith continued to add land to his holdings and by 1756 the “Resurvey of Smiths Hills” contained 510 acres. By the 1750’s, colonial interest and the French and Indian War lead to more permanent inroads into the backcountry. Smith petitioned Frederick County for the building of both a ford across the Antietam Creek and a new road, because he intended to build a mill along the creek on his land. Smith also knew that an improved roadway through his property would not only increase the value of his land but that of the surrounding area. Although Smith did not build a mill, “he had set the groundwork for the future development of the milling industry on the property” and a new road would eventually be built from Red Hill to Swearingen’s Ferry on the Potomac at Shepherdstown.
As the French and Indian War was ending, Christian Orndorff, a millwright who was from Lancaster County, arrived in the area in 1762. Now that the region was safe and open for settlement, Orndorff was looking for a suitable site to build a grist mill and he found it along the Antietam Creek. Christian Orndorff purchased 503 acres of Resurvey on Smiths Hills and 11 acres of Porto Santo, another nearby patent, from James Smith. “The deed conveys property with orchards, gardens, feeding woods, and underwoods in addition to the rights and profits associated with its location along Antietam Creek“.
Orndorff built a large house of logs and sheathed it with weatherboard siding. This large three-story home had two chimneys and six fireplaces. Just in front of the house he constructed a large barn, a grist mill, a saw mill and a workshop along the Antietam Creek. The mills were powered by water diverted from the creek through a mill race that Orndorff built. He also farmed crops of wheat and corn. Christian Orndoff named his property “Mount Pleasant”.
“With the new road providing access for farmers to bring their grains to the mill, as well as a route for Orndorff to get the milled grain to market, Orndorff’s business prospered.” Christian expanded his land holding toward Sharpsburg and helped with the construction of other mills along the Antietam. Besides the grist mill and sawmill, Christian established a plaster mill, a cooper shop and other tooling shops which turned his crossing point on the Antietam into a substantial industrial complex.
By the 1770’s resentment of the British government was growing in the colonies, and in the Antietam region Christian was very active in the cause. He helped organize, equip and train men, including the first company west of the Blue Ridge Mountains which was led by Captain Cresap. Christian would become a Major in the Washington County militia and all three of his sons would serve in the army during the American Revolution. His oldest son Christopher was a Captain helping supply the Continental Army with flour and grain. His second son, Christian III was a 2nd Lieutenant in Capt. Reynold’s “Flying Camp” serving in New York. He was taken prisoner on Manhattan Island in November 1776 and was held in New York until exchanged in November 1780. He then joined the 6th Maryland Regiment for the remainder of the war. Henry Orndorff, the third son of Christian II also served as a captain. In 1781, Christian II would return home at the request of General George Washington to operate his flour mill and furnish supplies to the Continental Army.
In the 1780’s Christian II hired a miller to assist with the operations and constructed a house on the east side of the Antietam Creek for the miller and his family. With the war over, Christopher followed in his father’s footsteps and took over the milling operation. Christopher would expand and remodel the mill in 1786. He also built a new dwelling house next to his father’s. It is this house that known today by its 1862 owner – Jacob Newcomer. With Christopher now running the mill, Christian II built a new house just to the northwest of the mill on a piece of his property, which is known today as the Samuel Mumma farm.
In 1796, Jacob Mumma purchased 324 1/4 acres from Christopher Orndorff for £5500. The Mummas arrived in Philadelphia in 1732 and settled in Lancaster County. Like other Germans settling in the area, the Mumma family traveled down the Wagon Road to Sharpsburg. They were accompanied by Joseph Sherrick, Sr. and his family. Sherrick would also purchase property along the Antietam from the Orndorff’s.
Jacob Mumma and his sons lived in the houses and continued to run the mill and farming operations. According to census data the Mummas had a number of farm hands as well as ten slaves. Over the next few years Mumma would acquire “two-thirds of the large land tract amassed by the Orndorff family decades earlier”. Jacob’s son, John began farming on his own at the current site of the Samuel Mumma farm. Tragically, his wife passed away and John moved back to the mill site where he took on the milling operation. “By 1820 the ‘John Mumma’ mill processed 20,000 bushels combined of wheat, rye, and corn as well as sixty tons of plaster”. In 1821, Jacob Mumma and his wife Elizabeth transferred ownership of the mill property to their son John. Around this time, a house and barn was constructed just north of the mill along the creek for John’s son – Jacob, known today as the Parks farm.
After the turn of the century major improvements in transportation in Washington County began to affect the farming community and the local economy. With the plan to build a National Road from Baltimore to Wheeling, “turnpike fever” spread into Washington County with a number of macadamized toll roads being constructed including “a turnpike leading from Boonsboro through Sharpsburg to the Potomac River” that was completed by 1833. With the chartering of the turnpikes came the need for better bridges across the Antietam Creek. In 1824, Silas Harry built a three-arched stone bridge over the Antietam, replacing the wooden bridge just upstream from the mill. With the construction of the turnpikes and bridges in the county along came the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the ability to transport products from Western Maryland farms to market east.
Business at the Mumma mill was booming but John Mumma suddenly died in 1835 and without a will. His father, Jacob purchased the property back from John’s estate but resold the mill and farm to his younger son, Samuel in 1837. Samuel and his wife Barbara had moved to the farm that John had vacated after his wife died in 1822 (the Mumma Farm). Samuel continued the operations of the mill and farm from there until 1841 when he sold 152 acres to Jacob and John Emmert. The Emmert partnership was short lived and by 1846 the property was purchased by Jacob Miller for $3,000 in a Sheriff’s sale. Miller conveyed the property to Lewis Watson in 1848.
It is believed that Lewis Watson and Joshua Newcomer were partners in the milling operation. The 1850 U.S. Census of Manufactures called the property the “Watson and Newcomer Mill”. Not much is known about the Newcomer family. Joshua married Mary Ann Ankeney in 1837 and together they had seven children. In 1850, Joshua had an young man named David Barkman, a miller, living with them at the farm. That year the mill had processed 31,000 bushels of grain. “Joshua became the owner and proprietor of the complex in 1853 when he purchased it for $19,180” from Lewis Watson. “Between 1850 and 1860 grain production increased in Washington County, especially corn and rye, but also in wheat”.
By 1860, Joshua’s five sons were all working at the mill or on the farm. 22 year-old William, was a miller and his younger brother Clinton, was a clerk. Like his neighbors, Joshua grew corn and wheat, had an orchard, and produced butter, hay, clover, and honey valued at $200. Even though his property was worth over $10,000, with the clouds of war on the horizon, the economic prosperity of both the region and the Newcomer family would fall on hard times.
In 1861, a hailstorm destroyed the fields, including Joshua’s wheat crops. “Newcomer had taken out a loan from [Jacob] Miller’s mother and when it was called in he transferred it to someone else”. With the Newcomer property situated along one the main thoroughfares in the area, and at the crossing of the Antietam Creek, soldiers naturally gravitated to the barns, mills, houses, and other buildings at the farmstead for protection and food. This would be the case during the Maryland Campaign as Confederate soldiers were moving along the turnpike toward Sharpsburg on the morning of September 15, 1862. Later that day Union soldiers advanced up to the east side of the bridge and the Antietam Creek.
The next morning three companies of Federal troops crossed the bridge and deployed across the Newcomer property, securing the bridge as a future crossing point for the next day’s battle. Throughout the day the Newcomer property was in the center of a cannonade between the Union artillery on the high bluffs on the east side of the Antietam and the Confederate guns along the ridge east of Sharpsburg. It is not known where the Newcomer’s went during the battle, but most certainly they departed, like their neighbors, to the safety of relatives in the area.
The next morning, September 17, as the battle raged to the north of Sharpsburg, Union Horse Artillery was pushed across the Antietam and deployed on the hills of the Newcomer farm. According to Captain John Tidball, of Battery A, 2nd U.S. Artillery, “About 10 a.m., I was ordered to cross the turnpike bridge over the Antietam, where I took a position on the right side of the road. In front, the enemy’s sharpshooters were posted, and there being no infantry at hand to drive them back, I opened fire upon them with canister and gradually worked my guns by hand up a steep ploughed field to the crest of the hill, where I placed them in a commanding position, not only for the enemy directly in front, but for an enfilading fire in front of Sumner’s Corps on the right and that of Burnside on the left of me”.
By mid-day Union infantry had pushed the Confederate skirmishers back up the hill across the Newcomer fields toward Sharpsburg and more artillery occupied the heights to support Gen. Burnside’s advance to the south. By nightfall the Union forces held the high ground along the Antietam Creek and across the Newcomer farm.
Although the Newcomer farmstead did not witness the heavy fighting like some of their neighbors, they did suffer significant property losses and what was not damaged or destroyed during the battle would be gone in the days and weeks after. Joshua Newcomer testified that his pasture fields had been “pretty much used up” by the troops and they, “fed to their horses all my corn and pasture that had not been previously ruined by the soldiers during the skirmishing and progress of the battle on Wednesday (Sept 17). The troops on the adjoining farms fed to their animals his corn and fodder… a great deal of his fences were used for fuel by McClellan’s Army before and after the battle of Antietam. His farm was divided into eleven fields and after the troops left, he had barely enough rails left to fence three fields“. Newcomer estimated that the damages totaled more than $3097.15. Despite having testimony from a number of individuals backing his claim, Joshua Newcomer only received $145.oo from the government because he “had not made clear distinctions between damage caused by Confederate and Union troops”.
By the end of the war the Newcomer family, farm and livelihood was devastated. Now deep in debt, and not wanting to burden his sons with the necessary and significant repairs required, Joshua vacated the farm and the Newcomer family moved to Haldane, Illinois, possibly to live with family or friends from Washington County. By 1880 the Newcomers returned to Washington County, but lived near Clear Spring. In August 1887, Mary Ann passed away, followed by Joshua just four months later in December. They are buried in Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church Cemetery in Clear Spring, Maryland.
After the Newcomers departed, the property fell to a County Circuit Court Trustee and the property was put up for public sale in March, 1866. On August 1, 1867, David Myers purchased the property for $19,050. Within two years he sold it to Jacob Myers and Frederick Miller. Myers and Miller continued farming and operating the mill. By the 1880’s the water-powered flour milling industry was declining and in 1889 the dam was washed away during the “Johnstown Flood”.
The piers of the stone bridge weakened and began to settle in the high water. The bridge was torn down and replace with an iron bridge. By this point Jacob Myers was the sole owner of the property buying Miller’s share of the estate. Jacob Myers continued to reside on the farm until he died in 1901.
Over the next century the property would change hands ten times. During this time the dilapidated old mill was demolished and “the farm’s focus eventually shifted to milk production”. The original Orndorff dwelling was also gone by the mid 1950’s. In 1956 part of the property was transferred to the State Roads Commission as a right-of-way for the improvement of the ‘old turnpike’ into MD Route #34. With the widened road some of the out buildings were removed as the road cut through the property. With the new road came the need to develop acres of the once rich farmland into housing developments. In 1965, Brightwood Acres Inc. purchased the property and planned to “create another suburban community”. Fortunately the Newcomer farm escaped this fate and the property was sold the next year.
By 1999, a new owner had plans for the farmstead. William F. Chaney purchased the property for $290,000.00 with the intent of turning the farmhouse in a museum and giftshop. The following year Chaney began to restore the farmhouse to Secretary of the Interior standards and in October he sold 56.83 acres to the National Park Service. This parcel included the barn and the land south of the turnpike. Chaney, who traced his roots to Gen. Robert E. Lee, also wanted to erect sculptures of Lee, Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart around the house which was now the War Between the States Museum. In 2003 a statute to Lee was erected just west of the house, but within two years Chaney sold the surrounding 42.6 acres to the Park Service, including Lee’s statue. Chaney retained ownership of about 2.2 acres, including the Newcomer House. Finally in 2007 he sold this last piece to the National Park Service.
In 2010 the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area opened an Exhibit and Visitor Center at the Newcomer House, working in partnership with the Antietam National Battlefield and the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The Newcomer House is very unique because it is one of two period farmhouses that visitors can go into on the battlefield, the Pry House Field Hospital Museum being the other. The Newcomer barn has recently been restored and the house is due for future external restoration.
From the early settlements along the Antietam Creek, to the milling industry and agricultural operations the Newcomer Farm has witnessed the the expansion of America. This expansion improved the transportation in the region with the building of the bridges and turnpikes through the property. It has seen the scars of war, from the French and Indian War through the American Revolution to the turbulent times of Civil War. The property escaped the urban development of the day to become one of the preserved landmarks on the battlefield at Antietam. The Newcomer Farmstead is a unique eyewitness to the history of the Antietam Valley for over 250 years.
Ancestry.com, Joshua Newcomer Family, Census Data 1850-1880. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com\
Ernst, Kathleen A., Too Afraid to Cry: Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign, Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1999.
Hayes, Helen Ashe, The Antietam and Its Bridges, The annals of an historic stream. G.P. Putnam’s Sons New York 1910. Retrieved from: https://archive.org/stream/antietamitsbridg00haysuoft#page/n121/mode/2up/search/Orndroff
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division; Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey, The Middle Bridge, Sharpsburg, Washington County, MD. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/resource/hhh.md1099.photos/?sp=1
Lundegard, Marjorie, Mills and Mill Sites of Western Maryland, September 20, 2000 Retrieved from: http://www.spoommidatlantic.org
Maryland Historical Trust, Mount Pleasant or Orndorff’s Mill – Mumma’s Mill, WA-II-106, Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form, 1975.
Newspapers.com, Newcomer Farm clippings retrieved from: https://www.newspapers.com.
Reardon, Carol and Tom Vossler, A Field Guide to Antietam: experiencing the battlefield through history, places and people, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2016.
Schildt, John W., Drums Along the Antietam. ParsonMcClain Printing Company, 2004.
U.S. National Park Service, Antietam National Battlefield, National Register of Historic Place, WA-II-106, Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1990.
U.S. National Park Service, Newcomer Barn, Antietam National Battlefield, Historic Structures Report Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2004.
U.S. National Park Service, Parks Farmstead Cultural Landscape Inventory, Antietam National Battlefield, Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2011.
Walker, Kevin M and K. C. Kirkman, Antietam Farmsteads: A Guide to the Battlefield Landscape. Sharpsburg: Western Maryland Interpretive Association, 2010.
U.S. War Department, Atlas of the battlefield of Antietam, prepared under the direction of the Antietam Battlefield Board, lieut. col. Geo. W. Davis, U.S.A., president, gen. E.A. Carman, U.S.V., gen. H Heth, C.S.A. Surveyed by lieut. col. E.B. Cope, engineer, H.W. Mattern, assistant engineer, of the Gettysburg National Park. Drawn by Charles H. Ourand, 1899. Position of troops by gen. E. A. Carman. Published by authority of the Secretary of War, under the direction of the Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army, 1908.” Washington, Government Printing Office, 1908. Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3842am.gcw0248000/?sp=5.
As you drive through the Antietam National Battlefield you will see the monuments across the low rolling hills, in woodlots, along cornfields and old farm roads. They are dedicated to the men who fought here over 150 years ago. You may wonder, how are we connected to the past through these monuments in our backyard? Here is the story of one connection.
September 17 marks the anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest one-day battle in American history. An estimated 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after twelve hours of some of the most savage fighting of the Civil War. The Battle of Antietam ended General Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the North and led to the issuance of President Abraham Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
For many Union soldiers, Antietam would be their first sting of battle or ‘baptism of fire’. For one young man named Henry Vincent it would be his first such action. Henry was born on Christmas Day, 1844, in England. In 1852, his father Job immigrated with his family to America where they settled in Montour County near Danville, Pennsylvania. Henry worked in the local roller mills from the age of ten until he answered President Lincoln’s call for 300,000 more volunteers in July 1862.
Henry enlisted in the Danville Fencibles, which was comprised of men mostly from the Danville Iron Works. By mid August, they joined other recruited companies from Wyoming, Bradford, Carbon, Luzerne and Columbia counties at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg where they were mustered into service as a ‘nine-month regiment’ and organized as Company A, 132nd Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers. Richard A. Oakford of Luzerne County was appointed colonel of the regiment and within days the regiment was moved to the front on the outskirts of Washington. For the next two weeks the regiment encamped near Fort Corcoran, just across the Potomac, where they drilled intensely amidst the sound of the guns from the plains of Manassas.
On September 7, 1862, Henry and the men of the 132nd marched twenty-two miles in seven hours to Rockville, Maryland, which was an amazing feat for any regiment, especially a green one. Here the 132nd was assigned to Brig. Gen. Nathan Kimball’s First Brigade alongside of three veteran regiments, the 8th Ohio, 7th West Virginia and the 14th Indiana. The First Brigade was part of the Maj. Gen. William H. French’s Third Division of Maj. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner’s Second Corps in the reorganized Army of the Potomac under the command of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan.
Once they joined the ranks of the Army of the Potomac there was no rest for the regiment. Just days before, Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia had crossed the Potomac to invade Maryland and now McClellan was moving to intercept Lee. By September 13, Henry’s regiment had marched to an open field near Frederick, MD to bivouac for the night. The same field had been occupied by Confederate soldiers a few nights before as the rebel army was on the move to South Mountain and McClellan was on their tail. The next day the regiment was on the march again. By the time they reached Fox’s Gap on the evening of the 14th, the battle for South Mountain was over, with the exception of some artillery batteries firing back and forth at each other. It was here that Henry and his fellow comrades would witness the sight of their first dead soldiers, an image that would stay with them the rest of their lives.
On the morning of September 15, the Army of the Potomac began their “chase” of the rebel army through the gaps of South Mountain as they marched toward the small village of Sharpsburg. The next day the regiment made its way to Keedysville, along the Antietam Creek, where it bivouacked for the night in preparation for the next day’s battle. That evening the camp was still–no singing or fires, except to make some coffee. As one man from the regiment wrote, ‘Letters were written home–many of them last words–and quiet talks were had, and promises made between comrades.’ Colonel Oakford had asked his adjutant to ensure the regimental rosters were complete for ‘We shall not all be here to-morrow night.’ That night a light rain fell as they lay on the ground under their gum blankets.
The next morning on September 17, the men quickly awoke to the simple call from their sergeant or corporal. They were on the march about 6:00am, wading across the waist deep Antietam Creek. Soon the cannonading and the shrieking of shells could be heard. One veteran wrote they knew they were approaching the ‘debatable ground’ when they heard the rattle of musketry which sounded ‘like the rapid pouring of shot upon a tinpan, or the tearing of heavy canvas, with slight pauses interspersed with single shots.’ The Second Corps had been ordered into battle in an effort to turn the Confederate left flank and assist the Twelfth Corps near the West Woods. Maj. Gen. Sumner had escorted his lead division, under Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, on the attack as French’s division was directed to support on the left flank. When Sedgwick’s division came into contact in the West Woods, Gen. Summer had sent French orders to press the attack toward the Sunken Road. French had moved to the south of Sedgwick’s attack and ran into Confederate skirmishers near the swales around William Roulette’s farm. Seeing an opportunity for a fight he ordered his men forward.
As the men of the 132nd were ordered into line of battle behind the other two brigades of French’s division, they were marching past the Roulette farm when a shot from a Confederate battery slammed into the Roulette’s yard. The men quickly moved through the yard trampling over the family garden and smashing into some white crates in the yard which were the Roulette’s bee hives. The annoyed bees engulfed the regiment. Some men dropped their muskets and ran into nearby fields, while others slapped their clothes and batted at the angry honey bees. In the meantime, more Confederate artillery shells and bullets were finding their marks among the Union troops. One soldier wrote, “Soldiers were rolling in the grass, running, jumping, and ducking.” Concerned that the hysteria that gripped the 132nd could rapidly spread to wholesale panic among the rest of the brigade, Brig. Gen. Kimball barked out a “double quick” order allowing the Pennsylvanians to advance past the Roulette farm and eventually outdistance the bees.
Kimball’s staff and regimental officers hurried to rally the regiment back into battle lines with the rest of the brigade. The regiment advanced across open fields toward the Sunken Road just to the east, the lane that led to the Roulette farm. They were slightly to the rear between the two smaller veteran regiments of the 8th Ohio and the 7th West Virginia. As they crested the hill the Confederates opened with a terrific volley of musketry that brought down many of the Union line. Colonel Oakford died in the first volley from a minie ball that struck an artery in his left shoulder. Henry’s own First Sergeant, 1st Sgt J. M. Hassenplug was killed. With no cover from the fire, the 132nd was ordered to lie down and crawl toward the Rebel lines below the crest of the ridge where they reloaded and fired individually. One soldier that was next to the adjutant, “inadvertently stood up, a minie ball struck his rifle in the forestock and prostrated him. Regaining his senses, the fellow discovered he was only bruised. He picked up another gun and returned to the line.”
The regiment held their ground as the men of Maj. Gen. Israel B. Richardson’s division came up to support their attack. The famed Irish Brigade continued the assault past the 132nd toward the Rebels. To their left flank another Union brigade was able to hit the flank of the Confederate line seizing a knoll overlooking the Sunken Road forcing the Rebels to withdraw.
Seeing them run, the men of the 132nd rose up and pursued the Rebels into the lane. Richardson’s brigades pursued the retreating Confederates toward Sharpsburg until Confederate Generals James Longstreet and D.H Hill personally led a counterattack with artillery and 200 men. Richardson was forced to withdraw back to the lane.
The fighting around the Sunken Road had ended around one o’clock. The men of the 132nd continued to hold the line the rest of the day and into the next. According to the official report after the battle, they had taken over 750 men into battle; thirty men were killed, one-hundred and fourteen wounded and eight were missing from the ranks. At least thirty of the wounded would die from their wounds within days after the battle. More than 5,600 casualties were inflicted on both sides around the Sunken Road. The carnage was so horrifying that the Sunken Road would be forever known as the ‘Bloody Lane’.
As for Henry Vincent, he made it through his ‘baptism of fire’ unscathed. According to the county history, “his coat sleeve was completely shot off at Antietam.” Henry would continue to serve with the 132nd and participate at the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. He was promoted to Corporal in March 1863 and was mustered out with Company A on May 24, 1863. Henry returned home to Danville, to become a successful businessman, lawyer and a father to eight children. He was an active member in both the 132nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Regimental Association and the Goodrich Post No. 22, of the Grand Army of the Republic until he passed away in 1916.
For many of us, the monuments in our backyard connect us to the past. The 132nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment monument at the Sunken Road and Henry Vincent, will forever be my connection to the Battle of Antietam, as Henry was my great-great-grandfather.