- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2004

Farmhouses, barns, churches and every other building near Sharpsburg, Md., were turned into shelters for about 18,000 Union and Confederate soldiers wounded at the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862.

A local newspaper described the Sharpsburg area as “one vast hospital.”

One of these makeshift hospitals was Green Hill Farm, on the northern edge of Sharpsburg. Adam Michael, who had married Nancy Reel of Sharpsburg, operated this 81-acre homestead and was also a wagon maker.

The Michaels were parents of three daughters and three sons. But only four of their children remained at home at the time of the battle. Ann Sophia had died at age 16. David married Ellen Carney and, like other adventurous folks at that time, got caught up in the great Western movement and settled in Indiana. At home were Samuel, Elizabeth, Catherine (Kate) and Caleb.

Beginning four days after black-powder smoke settled from the “bloodiest day of the war” and lasting until late November, the Michael farm was used as a Union hospital, and it was during these days of mass confusion and troubled times that two members of the Michael family gave their lives while desperately trying to bring comfort and healing to the Yankee wounded.

On Nov. 27, after the last wounded soldier was removed from Green Hill Farm, Samuel Michael wrote a letter to the brother in Indianapolis. Sam attempted to explain the death and devastation his family had experienced since the battle.

“I am sorry that I did not answer your note earlier. It was on account of the family being ill. Elizabeth took sick and died from typhoid fever the Doctor says. She had been sick and was doing well on Sunday, previous to her death. She walked out into the garden and looked at her flowers. I was certain that she was going to recover. On Monday they forced a hospital in our house. Kate and Mother fought them hard. And she heard it up stairs and it frightened her and she just gave way and was taken with severe hemorrhage at the nose and bowels and died on the 24th of October.”

Sam continued to share his grief with brother David: “The hospital was in our parlor for several weeks. I do not know how many died in it. They have left now. It looks like a hog pen. Your house that you lived in was also a hospital by the Yankees. They had as high as 90 in there. They burned all of the fence around it. It is smart riddled from the Yankee shells. Such thundering and roaring you never heard since you were born. You would have thought the day of judgement had finally come if you would have been there.”

The house that David lived in before going west was at the edge of Sharpsburg, just below Green Hill Farm. During the battle, Confederate artillery was stationed on Green Hill Ridge, shelling the Henry Piper Farm after the Union broke through at Bloody Lane. This Southern battery drew fire from long-range Federal artillery there — one reason that “Yankee shells” struck David Michael’s house and others. Another account refers to Michael’s farmhouse, where “a cannon ball plowed its way through the roof and broke a rafter and was permitted to remain in its broken condition as a relic of war times.”

Sam tried to describe the battle to David:

“The fight was a dreadful one. The Rebels held this side of Antietam. The line of battle extended from Middlekauffs down to Joseph Sherrick’s bridge. At this side of Antietam Jackson held Samuel Mumma’s farm and that end. Longstreet in the center and General Tombs Sherrick’s bridge. The graves are as common as cornstalks are on a 40-acre field. We have about 26 buried in one of our fields.”

Before the war, Burnside Bridge was known to most local residents as “Rohrback’s Bridge,” after the family who worked the land nearby. For some reason, however, in his letter, Sam calls it “Sherrick’s Bridge,” referring to Joseph Sherrick, whose farm was located along the road leading to the picturesque limestone structure.

In 1869, at the request of the governor of Maryland, a list was made of the Confederate dead around Sharpsburg, who were to be removed later to a proper cemetery. One entry on that list is, “18 unknown, buried in Adam Michael’s field, east and south of his pond field.” Thus, amazingly accurate is Sam’s “26 buried in one of our fields.”

The letter to Indiana also gives a picture of the carnage at Green Hill and the other Sharpsburg farms, which were left with the challenge of surviving the remainder of a harsh winter: “The Yankees took all of our corn about seven hundred bushels, about three hundred bus. of potatoes, 27 loads of hay destroyed, several hundred bushel of wheat in the ricks, it was hauled away. They stole all the horses. Killed nearly all of our hogs and sheep. Stole all our beef and took all of the apples — hardly left the trees stand. Our loss is upwards of two thousand dollars. They have refused to pay us anything yet.”

Sam ends his correspondence with mixed emotions and still more heartbreaking news.

“I have got enough of the Negro War and think a great deal of the North. This you can interpret to suit yourself. Worst of all the disease of the hospital has affected three of our family. Mother died with the disease on the 25th day of November. She was buried today. Mother complained but a short time was taken with three severe hemorrhage — took place about 12 o’clock at night. She died the next day 10 minutes before two. … I never experienced such a night as that was. I had to do what I never expected I would have to do. I must close. I heard you had a young son. No more at present. Answer immediately without fail.

“From Your brother, Samuel Michael

“P.S. David Reel and Samuel Reel lost their barns — both burned down by the Yankees.”

The Reel brothers were neighbors of the Michaels, each owning property just north of Sharpsburg. In the early hours of the battle, Sam Reel’s farm became a base for Confederate attacks — his land extending to the rear of West Woods, where Gen. Stonewall Jackson commanded the Confederates’ left flank.

David Reel’s barn was used as a Confederate hospital and, in all probability, was hit by the same Union long-range guns that struck Michael’s buildings. The large barn was filled with hay and ignited instantly, burning it to the stone foundation. Inside, an unknown number of wounded Confederates perished.

The last records of Samuel Michael show he married Mary Hickman of Loudoun County, Va., and moved to Jefferson County, W.Va., where he died. His sister Kate never completely recovered from typhoid and died Aug. 12, 1864, less than two years after Antietam. The Indiana brother, David, did not return to Maryland, but in 1989, his descendants returned Sam’s original letter to Green Hill Farm. Portions of that letter were used in this article, and the author is grateful to the present owner of Green Hill Farm, Nick Frobouck.

Brother Caleb Michael married Catherine Selsam in 1872. The father, Adam Michael, or “the Old Man,” as Sam called him, died May 18, 1873, leaving Green Hill Farm to Caleb and his new bride. Accustomed to hard work and hard times, and a respected citizen of the Sharpsburg area, Caleb tilled the soil until his death on May 22, 1907. He was buried next to his wife, who had died in 1904, in the family plot at Mountain View Cemetery on the east side of Sharpsburg, within view of the battlefield of Antietam and his Green Hill homeplace.

Richard E. Clem is a cabinetmaker in Hagerstown, Md., and a frequent contributor to this page.

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