Colonial Sharpsburg still bears scars of Civil War's bloodiest day

July 19, 2004|by HEATHER C. SMATHERS

Editor's note: This is the seventh in a series of stories examining the history of towns in Washington County.

SHARPSBURG - While Sharpsburg is most often associated with the Civil War battle of Antietam, some local historians try not to forget the town's colonial beginnings.

Two Sharpsburg Historical Society members, Jan Wetterer and Brad Toole, who serve on the history committee for the society, want to preserve the foundations of the town's history.

Like many towns in Washington County, Sharpsburg can trace its roots to the 1760s. But unlike other towns, Sharpsburg has the distinction of being the first established town in the county, according to Toole.


Joseph Chapline Sr. was a prominent colonial settler who acquired land in Western Maryland, Toole said. He established a town on one of his tobacco fields near the spring that ran through the property, Wetterer said.

Chapline laid out his town in 1763 and dedicated it on July 9, 1763, naming it Sharpes Burgh, after his friend, colonial governor Horatio Sharpe, Toole said.

The first lots were sold in 1764, making it the first town in Washington County, said Toole. Hagerstown, often considered the first town in the county, did not record its first sale until 1768, he added.

Sharpes Burgh was laid out in 183 lots, measuring 103 feet by 206 feet, Wetterer said. The original town had eight streets, the same ones that exist today, Wetterer said.

"The names have changed, but they are in their original locations," she said.

In addition to laying out a town, Chapline divided up more of his property into "out lots," larger parcels used for farming, Toole said. Many families lived in town but farmed their out lots for a source of income, he said.

When Joseph Chapline Sr. died in 1769, he willed the town to his son, Joseph Chapline Jr., Toole said.

Sharpsburg enjoyed strong economic times in the early 1800s, Toole said. The construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in the 1830s brought many jobs for townspeople.

An influx of people working on the canal spent money in the local taverns, inns and restaurants, he said.

One business that still is in operation derives its name from the canal days, Toole said. Cap'n Benders Tavern on Main Street is named for a canal boat operator.

"There really was a Captain Bender," he said.

Though Wetterer and Toole concentrate on Sharpsburg's colonial history, they do not deny the monumental impact of the Battle of Antietam.

On Sept. 15, 1863, the forces of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and those of Union Gen. George B. McClellan assembled near Sharpsburg in preparation for a battle. The troops of Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson consolidated with Lee's troops for a total of 40,000 Confederate soldiers, a brochure from the Antietam National Historical Park shows.

The battle began at daybreak on Sept. 17. Heavy fighting ensued, and at the end of the one-day battle, 23,110 men from both sides were killed or wounded. The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest day of the Civil War.

The battle was devastating for the townspeople as well, Toole said. Most townspeople were hiding in their basements and in a cave near the Potomac River during the fighting. Although there were no known civilian casualties, the Confederate troops decimated the crops around town, leaving townspeople hungry and dependent on charity, he said.

After the Battle of Antietam, the townspeople recovered and rebuilt the town. Many homes survived the battle and have the scars to prove it.

"Many homes in town have bullet and cannonball holes still in them," Toole said.

The Sharpsburg Historical Society is only a few years old, but the organization is full of ambition, Toole said. In addition to actively recruiting new members, it is hoping to make the town residents appreciate the history in their back yards.

"We are trying to interest people in preserving the town and keeping its historic appearance," he said.

Next week: A look at Smithsburg.

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