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Could Gettysburg Address have roots in Sharpsburg?

February 15, 2009|By JOHN SCHILDT

On Wednesday, Oct. 1, 1862, a train departed Washington, D.C. It headed northeastward to Relay, Md, thence westward to Monocacy Junction and Point of Rocks. On board was John W. Garrett, the President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Ward Hill Lamon, some politicians from Illinois and none other than President Abraham Lincoln.

He was headed for Harpers Ferry and Sharpsburg. His purpose was to visit the troops and to plot strategy with commander of the Army of the Potomac, George B. McClellan.

The train didn't reach Harpers Ferry until noon. The railroad bridge had been destroyed. Thus, Mr. Lincoln crossed the Potomac on a pontoon bridge. The rest of the day and part of the next was spent conferring with his generals and visiting troops.

On Thursday afternoon, the president traveled via the Harpers Ferry Road on the Maryland side of the Potomac to Mills Road. Enroute, he stopped at Maryland Heights and spoke with Gen. A. S. Williams from Detroit. The general and the president sat and talked on a pile of logs. General Williams noted that he was a most sincere man and looked so haggard.

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Lincoln traveled in a horse-drawn vehicle. We are uncertain as to whether it was carriage or an army ambulance. The president was met at the junction of the Harpers Ferry and Mills Roads by Gen. Ambrose Burnside, commander of the Union Ninth Corps. Burnside escorted the President to headquarters Army of the Potomac.

For years, no one was sure of that location. However, about 10 years ago, Dennis Frye, an eminent historian, was doing research on his nearby home and found a war damage claim submitted by Otho Showman for losses incurred while the farm served as McClellan's headquarters and during the visit of President Lincoln. A tent had been set up to provide lodging for the presidential party. Troops had been drawn up near the current Sharpsburg Elementary School for a presidential review.

However, after "hurrying up and waiting," the review was postponed until the next day. McClellan and Lincoln shared the evening meal and conferred. Then as night fell, army bands serenaded the chief executive. The scene was very picturesque. The fields on both sides of the Mills Road contained the camps of the Union Ninth Corps. There were campfires and the aroma of coffee.

Friday, Oct.3, would be the only full day Lincoln spent in the Sharpsburg area. It was a day filled with travel and sadness. Earlier in the morning as the autumn fog was rising, and the troops were wakening, Lincoln and his friend Ozias Hatch walked among the tents of the soldiers. They stretched as far as the eye could see. The brooding Lincoln inquired, "Hatch, what do you see?" To this Hatch replied, "Why the Army of the Potomac, Mr. President." Lincoln, who desired McClellan to move after Robert E. Lee said, "No, Hatch, no. This is McClellan's bodyguard."

Shortly before 9 a.m., Lincoln, McClellan, and about 20 generals mounted up. They headed west along Mills Road to the nearby home of Raleigh Showman where Burnside had his headquarters. The cannon thundered a 21-gun salute, and there in the fields to the rear of the Showman house, Lincoln reviewed the troops of the Union Ninth Corps. They were drawn up with bayonets gleaming in the morning sun, and battle-scarred flags fluttering in the October breeze. It was a grand and glorious sight. McClellan looked like "the Little Napoleon." Lincoln was a different story. He wore a vest and a rumpled shirt. With one hand he held his hat. His coattails fluttered in the breeze. His horse was small and the stirrups forced his knees to be high in the air.

After the review, Lincoln visited some of the camps of the Union Fifth Corps. They were stretched from Antietam Furnace to Ferry Hill to guard against the Confederates crossing the Potomac. Lincoln stopped and chatted with an officer of a new unit, the 20th Maine. The officer was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain; later he would be one of the heroes at Gettysburg. On this October day, Lincoln stopped and admired Chamberlain's beautiful white horse.

Next it was on to Mount Airy and the Grove farm west of Sharpsburg. Stephen P. Grove would live his entire 67 years on this farm, but on this October day he hosted the President of the United States. Chairs were brought from his kitchen and appear in the famous Lincoln at Antietam photograph, taken on the east side of Mount Airy. He stood in the doorway and patted 7-year-old Louisa Grove on the head and said he was sorry for what the battle had done to her home and family. Louisa lived until 1934, but we can be sure she never forgot that moment.

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