Letter to the Editor - April 17

April 17, 2012

Barn was a witness to Antietam history

To the editor:

Washington County has lost a significant witness to its Civil War history.

On Easter Monday night, the historic Otho Showman barn on Mills Road about one mile south of Burnside Bridge was destroyed by fire. Not only did we lose a stately structure, but we also lost an eyewitness to Antietam.

The Showman farm did not host the bloody battle or offer care to its thousands of wounded. It’s distinguished, instead, for a visit by Abraham Lincoln.

The president spent two nights and three days near the shadow of the barn, meeting with Union Gen. George McClellan at his post-Antietam headquarters during the first few days of October, 1862. With roots as a Kentucky farm boy, Mr. Lincoln undoubtedly admired the hand-hewn timber-frame structure, securely placed upon its massive limestone foundation.

The president posed for numerous photographs adjacent to the barn, taken by Alexander Gardner, the same photographer noted for images of the dead at Antietam.

The old barn probably heard Lincoln and McClellan discussing military strategy and the next moves of the army, and it certainly saw the signal flag waving from the log-crib signal station on nearby Showman Knoll, also photographed by Gardner.

Curiously, Gardner excluded the barn from his photographs, focusing not upon landscapes, but instead upon portraits. As a result, the barn never became famous, but instead, lost in history.

No one knew the location of McClellan’s headquarters and Lincoln’s host farm until about 25 years ago when I accidentally discovered this information in the National Archives. No longer a mystery, the barn once again could tell its story, proud of its role in our local and national history.

As we are approaching the 150th anniversary of Antietam, I looked forward to spending some time around the old barn, reminiscing with it about its moment in history. But alas, the old barn surrendered itself on Surrender Day, 147 years after Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9 1865.

Now it’s gone forever, and I’m very sad.            

Dennis Frye

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