Save the dates

Mark your calendar, and plan now to attend the Sharpsburg Heritage Festival, scheduled for September 13 and 14, 2008 (the Battle Anniversary weekend), and the next SHAF Workday on the battlefield, Saturday, November 1st, 2008.

Advance notice for the Heritage Festival (via Herald-Mail):

The Sharpsburg Heritage Festival will take place Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 13 and 14. The venues will include the fire hall/Emergency Services Parking Lot, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Christ Reformed United Church of Christ and a few individually requested backyards.

Plans are being made for extra parking with a shuttle service. Activities will include two days of live music, demonstrations of Civil War-era dances, historic home tours, an agricultural display area, historic craft demonstrations, history displays and lectures by experts in local history.

For further information or to get involved, please call festival chairman Paige Phifer at 301-432-4631 or publicity chairman Delancy Catlett at 301-223-8386.

July President’s Letter

Valued SHAF Members,

One of the most important things we do is keep you informed of what we’re doing with the money you have entrusted to us. It is both a blessing and frustrating that we have not had a land purchase opportunity for some time. The Shepherdstown Ford property owners do not feel any urgency to deal with us, particularly with a slow but steady movement towards including it in the National Park Service. The successful easement purchases of the past two decades have secured preservation of much of the land surrounding the NPS land inside the boundary of the park. That leaves us with few chances to buy land. We do keep a reserve in case something suddenly arises, but we don’t think it is wise to keep holding funds in the bank waiting for a rainy day.

To that end we have met with Park Superintendent John Howard to address critical needs within the battlefield. Government funds are tight and the needs are great, and so from time to time we help out. Supt. Howard has always gratefully acknowledged the SHAF donations for the restoration and interpretation of the battlefield.

The most recent, and one that I want to tell you about, is the Joseph Poffenberger House, which is located just north of the North Woods. This house, perhaps the oldest on the battlefield, came into NPS possession a few years ago. Park staff members have begun stabilizing and restoring some of the outbuildings and barn, but the house needs immediate attention. Supt. Howard offered us a challenge. He needed funds to paint and repair the exterior wood siding of the house. He said he could come up with $10,000 from his budget to do the work this summer, if SHAF could match that figure. We have taken on this challenge.

We need donations to meet this challenge as the house desperately needs repair and paint to protect it from the elements. We know you have helped us in the past, and we hope you can help us again. As always, we are grateful for any and all help that you can provide.

Thank you,

Tom Clemens, President, SHAF

The Joseph Poffenberger Farm

(from the July 2008 SHAF Newsletter)

By Antietam NBP Ranger Mannie Gentile,
photos by the author

Find yourself on the Northern edge of Antietam National Battlefield.Your feet are planted on Mansfield Avenue, the saplings of the newly replanted North Woods are at your back, highway 65 is a long shout off your left shoulder, and directly in front of you is the Joseph Poffenberger Farm. Usually it’ll be just you and the cows with the occasional visitor momentarily stopping nearby while listening to the audio tour before continuing toward the east.

Poffenberger House (M. Gentile)
Poffenberger House

The acreage of the Poffenberger Farm is some of the most charming of the battlefield, very rolling with the usual rock ledges, hills and swales dominated subtly by a commanding ridge just beyond the majestic Pennsylvania bank barn. The house is perched on high ground affording those who, long ago, lounged on its front porch a delightfully detached view of the old Hagerstown pike.

The view from that porch in the wee hours of September 17, 1862 would have been altogether different; both eerie and disconcerting.

In the predawn murkiness of first light an onlooker from that front porch would have had the impression that the ground itself was moving, slowly and lethargicallyat first, accompanied with occasional busts of coughing. And as the gloom just began to barely lighten in the eastern sky the ground would seem to roil as dark spectral shapes, by the thousands, arose and began to stumble into formation as orders rang out in the early hours and the long roll was sounded on countless field drums.

This was the last morning for many of the men of Hooker’s First Corps of McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. The last evening prior to this last morning was spent by these nearly 8,600 men on the grounds of the Poffenberger Farm where they passed the damp darkness in bivouac – camping without shelter or, in this instance, cooking fires. These men would be the spearhead of the Union effort on this historic day. And the silent buildings of the Poffenberger Farm that remain to this day would be witness to the passing of the First Corps.

Later that morning the Farm would again play host to Union soldiers, as terrified and battered survivors of Sedgwick’s Division fresh from the so-called “Disaster in the West Woods” would seek shelter, succor, and solace among the gentle swales of the farmstead.

Some of those men would receive aid from a volunteer nurse from Massachusetts; that nurse would provide the last kind voice heard by many of those young men.

Joseph Hooker was there, Sedgwick was there, Meade was there, and Clara Barton was there; and, this morning, I was there.

The armies have moved on, time has moved forward, but on the grounds of the Poffenberger farm it could all have happened a week ago, or a week from now. Although today, while the buildings still stand and comprise the most intact of the original battlefield farmsteads, much work must be done to preserve them.
Acquired by the park fairly recently, the farm is in its second year of a five-year initiative to restore it to its 1862 appearance.

Already the wagon shed and washhouse have been stabilized and restored with rebuilt foundations, replaced timbers, and a fresh coat of white wash. Original fence lines are again graced with post and rail fences. And now the effort is on to restore that magnificent barn as well as the Poffenberger house.

Poffenberger Barn (M. Gentile)
Poffenberger Barn

This nearly $400,000 effort, undertaken by the Park, is being actively supported by the Save Historic Antietam Foundation. A $10,000 gift from SHAF will go toward the painting of the Poffenberger house. Stabilized and painted, the house will provide a “scene setter” for the restored farmyard and outbuildings presided over by that incredible barn.

The Maintenance and Cultural Resources Divisions of Antietam National Battlefield are moving ahead with both care and enthusiasm on this very challenging undertaking. Craig Cartwright, head of park maintenance, is emphatic when he says that he enjoys “the challenge of restoring such a valuable and historic structure”.

The work continues apace with three highly skilled maintenance personnel detailed to the project, and already the progress on the site is remarkable. And soon, thanks to SHAF the repaired and repainted Poffenberger house will be restored to its 1862 appearance, again a welcoming beacon, though this time not to weary soldiers, but to history loving visitors.

Come see for yourself, I’ll meet you on that porch, just north of Sharpsburg.