Many Sharpsburg homes have Civil War history

September 13, 2012|By DON AINES |
  • a map of the stone house and churches of Sharpsburg.
By Chad Trovinger/Graphic Artist

SHARPSBURG, Md. — With thousands of dead on the field of battle and thousands more wounded, almost every home and building in Sharpsburg that wasn’t being used as a Confederate defensive position during the Sept. 17, 1862, Battle of Antietam became a makeshift hospital, where many Union and Confederate soldiers drew their last breaths.

Some of those houses have stories — some possibly apochryphal or embellished — and many still bear the physical scars 150 years after the bloodiest day in American history.

Oral history “is a little like that game where you whisper in someone’s ear and it goes around in a circle,” the original story changing as it passes from one person to another, said Rosita Ray, the current owner of the Piper House on East Main Street in Sharpsburg.

Walking through the rooms of the Piper House, Ray pointed out the bullet damage to doors and window frames. The nose of a lead bullet protrudes from a window frame and the end of another can be seen half buried in a door.

The hole made by a cannonball is gone, Ray said. A craftsman was hired to refurbish the stone wall, but she forgot to tell him not to fill in the hole, she said.

Before it was gone, birds would nest in it each year, Ray said.

The Piper House drew Union fire — collateral damage, really — because the troops were aiming at Confederates in the steeple of a long-gone Lutheran church down the street, Ray said.

The Pipers fled town during the fighting. They returned to find two dead Confederate soldiers in the dining room, she said.

Good-Reilly House

“Folks that know the battle know there was no space with a roof that wasn’t impacted by the battle,” said Brien Poffenberger, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Good-Reilly House, which already was a century old when the battle was fought.

“It was just another day in a house with a history,” said Poffenberger, who has a master’s degree in architectural history and restored the house. He found structural members in the roof with burn damage, but cannot say whether that was tied directly to the battle or occurred at some other time.

The Reilly who once owned the house was O.T. Reilly, a boy when the battle was fought who later became a tour guide and dealt in souvenirs, Poffenberger said.

Bayonets, canteens and other artifacts often were plowed up from fields in the decades after the battle, Poffenberger said.

Sharpsburg does not have a designated historic district, so maintaining the character of the houses and commercial buildings is up to the owners, said Vernell Doyle, president of the Sharpsburg Historical Society.

Many of the buildings along the town’s eight streets predate the Civil War, but they are also people’s homes, and owners view them as such.

“Depends on what you mean by historic,” one man said of his home, noting he was unaware of any connection his home had with the Battle of Antietam.

Built in 1854

“The cannonball holes in the wall,” Kathleen Boyer said when asked what connection her Chapline Street home had to the battle. Stepping around to the east side of the house, she pointed to five places where the brick work was damaged.

Boyer has lived in the house all of her 78 years and it has been in her family since ancestor Frank Gloss built it in 1854. His initials and the year are scratched into one of the bricks.

“The only things that aren’t original are the steps and the door,” Boyer said. Even the peony bushes in the back are more than a century old, she said.

Living with history is not unusual if it is all you have known, Boyer said. The town’s fame does not often intrude on her privacy, but there have been times.

“What irks me is people have come in with metal detectors without permission. Until I catch ’em,” she said.

Boyer said she has found souvenir hunters trying to dig up artifacts in her yard.

Restoration project

Next door, Clay and Jacqueline Herzog have been in the process of restoring a cut stone house for several years.

“I started out thinking it was going to occupy me for about two years,” Clay Herzog said.

That was four years ago, he said, and the end is not in sight.

The street frontage of the house looks much as it would have during the war, but the Herzog’s have built an addition to the rear. As much as possible, in materials and architecture, they have tried to keep it in character with other historic buildings, he said.

Clay Herzog’s deed searches have taken the building back to at least 1853, but he suspects it goes back much further, having been among the first lots sold by Sharpsburg’s founder, Capt. Joseph Chapline in 1764.

“It had been abandoned for 25 years” and dilapidated when they bought it, Herzog said.

The story for this house is that when the owners returned after the battle, they found a wounded Confederate soldier wrapped in a quilt on the stoop, Clay Herzog said. The quilt was donated to the Washington County Historical Society, he said.

Barbara Morrow’s family hid in a cave along the Potomac River and returned to find the soldier, according to historical society records cited by Registrar Cathy Landsman.

Kretzer House

During the battle, many Sharpsburg residents fled their homes and the town, but some sought shelter in the Kretzer House.

“We had a spring in the cellar and that’s where the townspeople congregated when the soldiers were fighting,” said Maryanna Munch, who lives in the Kretzer House on East Main Street. “The basement has three rooms, so I imagine it can hide quite a few.”

Munch’s roots in Sharpsburg go back quite a ways, she said.

“My mother was a Kretzer,” she said.

The lady of the house at the time of the battle was Teresa Kretzer. Confederate soldiers coming through town ordered her to take down an American flag that flew at the house, Munch said. When the soldiers returned, she told them “it was in ashes,” Munch said.

In fact, Teresa Kretzer did not burn the flag, but hid it under fireplace ashes, Munch said.

Biggs House

The Biggs House on West Main Street was the home and office of Dr. Augustin A. Biggs during the war years. The gable side of the house, now owned by Sid and Marian Gale, has shell damage, with a cannonball displayed where it struck.

Marian Gale said the original cannonball was removed years ago by a previous owner and she had another put in its place.

The Stone Houses of Sharpsburg Walking Tour pamphlet produced by the Sharpsburg Historical Society notes that another shell went through a window into the dining room and that a Confederate soldier sitting in the doorway was killed by a stray bullet.

The street frontage, with the original carriage stones and hitching post, and the front rooms of the house look much as they would have in the 19th century, down to the furnishings. The bloodstains on the living room walls and floor have been painted over, Gale said.

Their son, Peter Gale, said that occupying the house is a bit like living in a museum. He recalled inviting some college friends over and telling them the family had an antiques shop on the property.

“So where’s the house?” one of them asked upon entering the home, he said.

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