- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 8, 2003

Like most major battles of the Civil War, Antietam had its good Samaritans ordinary people who gave comfort and brought hope to wounded Blue and Gray alike.
Residents of the nearby village of Sharpsburg and local farmers turned their homes and outbuildings into makeshift hospitals to provide healing to those suffering far from family and friends. One man deserves special recognition for risking his life during the heat of battle to bring relief to this vast sea of misery.
Early on the misty morning of Sept. 17, 1862, the bloodiest day in American military history began at the Battle of Antietam. Union Gen. George B. McClellan's first thrust attempted to drive back the Confederates' left flank at the Dunkard Church in West Woods. After repeated Federal attacks, the Rebel invaders held their ground under the brilliant generalship of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.
The open fields in front of West Woods changed hands countless times as the deadly struggle swayed back and forth. A witness to the aftermath of the morning encounter recorded, "One could cross the entire length of Miller's 40-acre cornfield without touching the ground by walking on the dead."
Smoke settled on the Union right as the contest switched to the center of the Confederates' thin defensive line. Here, a determined force of Southern soldiers under the command of Col. John B. Gordon found good cover in an old sunken wagon road. Again, repeated Federal attacks failed to dislodge the stubborn Rebels from their protective position, soon to be called Bloody Lane.
Following the battle, Capt. William H. Graham, Battery K, 1st U.S. Artillery, noted in his report (Official Records XIX Series I) an extraordinary incident that had happened during the heavy engagement at Sunken Road:
"In closing this report I feel called to mention the conduct of a citizen, a Mr. ______ who resides near the battlefield. This gentleman drove his carriage to my battery while under severe artillery fire and carried off my wounded who were suffering very much for the want of surgical attendance, and distributed ham and biscuits among the men of the battery. He also returned a second time to the battery. One of his horses was wounded while performing this service."
Many years passed, but the identity of the good Samaritan remained a mystery. When veterans of Antietam spread the heroic story, the War Department tried to locate the brave man to give him a medal for his actions. Its efforts, which included placing ads in local newspapers, failed. No one knew who he was or where he came from, and if he knew of the department's efforts to find him, he did not come forward.
In January 1961, Bruce Catton, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War writer, touched on the heroism of this unknown civilian in an article published in Life magazine. Mr. Catton described the brave act: "A Federal battery stationed pretty far forward had taken heavy losses. The battery commander pulled his men and his guns back into a little hollow, still within range of dropping shells. Then from nowhere in the middle of this field of death and destruction, appeared a civilian in a buggy drawn by a two-horse team. After giving out ham and biscuits and hauling wounded to the rear, the fearless man attended to one of his horses that was wounded by a piece of shell fragment." Mr. Catton finished the story, "leaving no name, but silent testimony that not all of the brave men that day were in uniform."
Twenty years later and 118 years after Antietam, an article titled "County Man Antietam's Unknown Hero" appeared in the May 10, 1980, Daily Mail, a newspaper published in Hagerstown, Md., 12 miles north of Sharpsburg. A descendant of the Eakle family surfaced with substantial evidence that the hero was Martin Eakle of Eakles Mill.
Shortly after the battle, a member of the Eakle family had had the brave exploits printed in a four-page pamphlet, "Martin Eakle at Antietam." The small publication, which mentioned an eyewitness account, was given to family members. They never doubted the identity of Antietam's hero. In 1984, "The Bloodiest Day," which appeared in the Time-Life Books series, referred to the Samaritan as "a nearby resident by the name of Martin Eakle."
Eakles Mill, originally called Buena Vista, is one of the oldest settlements in Washington County. The little community rests at the base of Red Hill (called Elk Ridge at the time of the Civil War), just south of Keedysville and east of Sharpsburg. Like other villages in the county, Eakles Mill was started around the construction of a limestone gristmill. To supply power to these mills, an abundant source of flowing water was necessary. At Eakles Mill, this power was provided by Little Antietam Creek, a tributary of the famed Antietam Creek at Sharpsburg.
Martin Eakle purchased the gristmill around 1850, thus giving the remote town its present-day name. After marriage to Catherine Amelia Snively and the birth of five children, Eakle decided to expand the milling business. Records show that the successful miller delivered "flour, grain, feed, etc., by horse and wagon" as far away as Burkittsville. Later, the old mill was converted to steam power and took on the additional operation of sawing and planing lumber.
As day dawned on the Battle of Antietam, Eakles Mill awoke to the thunder of cannon fire that shook the ground. Martin Eakle went straight to his stable and hitched a team to his four-wheeled carriage, which he loaded with ham, biscuits, pies and some cakes donated by his neighbors. He headed toward the sound of battle.
On that bloody September morning, 11-year-old Aaron Snyder climbed the heights of Red Hill to observe the fighting. He knew Martin Eakle very well, as he lived on Marble Quarry Road, just below the mill where the Snyder family purchased flour and other supplies. For many years, the boy remembered how he watched "Mr. Eakle's buggy disappearing in the clouds of smoke hanging over the battlefield."
Evidently, Eakle's route took him over the northern end of Red Hill to Porterstown Road. Then he headed west on the road leading to Sharpsburg (Route 34 today), crossing Antietam Creek at the Middle Bridge. Approaching the battle zone, he turned his horses to the right onto the Roulette farm, coming in contact with Graham's battery near the Sunken Road in the vicinity where the observation tower stands today.
Aaron Snyder became a schoolteacher in the area. One of his students was Clarence "Pat" Eakle, a grandson born two years after Martin Eakle died. Pat remembered his schoolteacher telling him how his grandfather "came through the artillery barrage untouched, but one of his horses was badly wounded." Snyder also related to his students that "good rye whisky" from the buggy was given to battle-weary troops.
Although a Confederate sympathizer, Martin Eakle showed mercy as well to fallen members of a Union battery. The following year, he might have reconsidered his allegiance to the Southern cause.
On June 21, 1863, while on the way to Gettysburg, Confederate Maj. Gen. Edward Johnson, commanding Stonewall Jackson's old division (Jackson had been killed in May), stopped at the mill and ordered Martin Eakle to "proceed to grind flour for the Confederate states or your mill will be impressed for that purpose." Those handwritten orders remained in possession of Pat Eakle until his death but have vanished to the elements and time along with the old buggy and whiskey container.
Land records from 1866 indicate that Martin and Catherine Eakle sold their property to Washington County Railroad Co. as the B&O; Railroad was put through, cutting off the millrace and water power to the mill. Today, no sign of the steel tracks or old limestone mill exists.
Martin Eakle died on May 7, 1878, two months before his 62nd birthday. Catherine was placed by her husband's side in 1899 in Fairview Cemetery at Keedysville.
Richard E. Clem is a cabinetmaker in Hagerstown, Md., and a frequent contributor to this page.

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