Local women had an impact during Battle of Antietam

September 16, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

Mary Bedlinger Mitchell was 12 years old on Sept. 17, 1862, when the Battle of Antietam, the Civil War's bloodiest single day, raged in Sharpsburg, just three miles from her home.

Mitchell lived with her mother, brother and sister on a farm known today as Rosebrake, about one mile south of Shepherdstown, W.Va., on W.Va. 480.

She was born in 1850 in a house called Bedford, which was burned by Union troops later in the war, said James T. Surkamp, a Shepherdstown historian.


Mitchell's father, a former U.S. congressman and ambassador to Denmark, died in 1859. Her younger sister, Danske Dandridge, became a poet.

It is not known which side in the war held the Mitchell family's sympathies, Surkamp said. Mitchell's father called himself a Virginian. Her mother came from Massachusetts.

Mitchell, writing under her married name of Mary Blunt in the 1880s, wrote one of the best civilian accounts of the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam in Shepherdstown, Surkamp said. A version edited by Surkamp appears in the December 1993 edition of the Jefferson County Historical Society magazine.

Homes, barns and other buildings became hospitals for Confederate wounded and just about every woman in town, including 12-year-old Mitchell, helped care for them, according to her account.

From The Herald-Mail files

On the corner of Prospect and Washington streets once sat a large house that was the setting for heroic deeds by a Hagerstown woman during the Civil War.

Frances Howell Kennedy, the widow of a Hagerstown physician, turned the parlor of the Rochester House into a mini-hospital. The most famous patient was Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who served on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1902 to 1932.

"She is one lady the town should really honor for what she did during the war," said Roger Keller, a local historian. "The town really owes her a lot."

Kennedy first encountered Holmes on Sept. 20, 1862. He had been shot in the neck during the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, and was walking from the train station.

"My mother noticed a young officer across the way, evidently wounded, as he had a bandage around his throat and was walking very languidly," states the book "Where the Captain was Found," written by Kennedy's daughter, Anna Howell Kennedy Findlay.

"At this time there was a Union hospital in the town and he was in the wretched quarters, with little care and attention," says the book.

"My mother asked him to come to our home until he was able to travel. He accepted the invitation and introduced himself as Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr."

Findlay writes that "my mother was a good nurse and dressed his wound every day, and it began to heal very quickly."

Several days later, Holmes returned home to Boston to his father, Oliver Wendell Holmes, who had been up and down the East Coast searching for the son he heard had been injured.

March 24, 1996

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