- The Washington Times - Friday, September 23, 2005

The Confederate army marched through Funkstown on the Old National Pike during its invasion of Maryland in the second year of the war.

Angela Kirkham Davis lived in that small country village in 1862 and later recorded in her “War Reminiscences” what she witnessed that eventful day (September 11) as ragged, gray-clad forces passed by on their trek to Hagerstown.

Later, the Funkstown resident traveled south to the still-smoking battlefield at Antietam and wrote down what she experienced on that bloody field of death and despair.

A partnership

Angela Kirkham was born in Batavia, N.Y., on May 20, 1827. There she met her future husband, Joseph Francis Davis.

Joe Davis was born Feb. 27, 1826, in Boonsboro, Md. Being a businessman and seeing great potential in New York, he settled in Batavia around 1850 and went into a boot- and shoe-manufacturing business with Charles H. Kirkham. When Kirkham introduced Joe to his sister Angela, another partnership developed, but this was to be a lifelong commitment.

Shortly after the wedding in 1857 at the “old homestead” in Batavia, the Davises traveled south to Maryland, taking up housekeeping in Funkstown, Mr. Davis’ hometown, just north of Boonsboro.

There in the small town on the bank of Antietam Creek, the newlyweds hoped to find a better and more peaceful way of life. Little could they know that in less than two years, abolitionist John Brown would raid the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, just south of their new home, bringing fear and the devastation of civil war to their front doorstep.

A bustling town

Founded in 1767, Funkstown presented an opportunity for a thriving business. The National Pike ran through its center, and grist and paper mills lined its western boundary along Antietam Creek. This was the same body of water that, 10 miles downstream, turned red at what the South called the Battle of Sharpsburg.

Angela Davis remembered well those early days in Funkstown and noted in later years: “Mr. Davis had a large country store of general merchandise, consisting of dry goods, drugs, groceries and Queensware. We lived in a comfortable brick house about a block away.”

The Davises’ two-story home stands today in good condition three doors east of Funkstown’s fire station on Baltimore Street.

Swords in the sun

Maryland was a strong slaveholding state and thus inhospitable to abolitionists. Increasing strife, however, did not intimidate Joseph Davis, who opposed slavery and supported the Union.

Then the lid blew off the kettle — civil war became a reality.

The conflict brought much excitement to Funkstown as Northern soldiers on their way to battle camped and drilled in nearby fields.

“We frequently visited the different encampments in our vicinity,” Mrs. Davis recalled. “Once we drove to Hagerstown, where we met a Rhode Island regiment, splendidly equipped with their new uniforms, which made a very imposing appearance.”

On a return trip home. she continued, “Two regiments from Connecticut passed us and pitched their tents halfway between Funkstown and Hagerstown. We stopped at Camp Hager to see two or three Wisconsin Regiments drill, which was one of the finest sights I ever beheld.

“Looking in different directions, we saw hundreds of men going through their military evolutions, at the command of their officers, with perfect precision, each one keeping exact step with the music, their bayonets and swords glistening in the sun like burnished silver. Although it was a splendid sight, yet it seemed terrible, when I realized that this was no child’s play.”

A cup of water

The year 1861 brought much chaos as thousands of “boys from up North” passed through the small village on their way to a war that always seemed to be fought on Southern soil. Fall 1862 was another story, however, as the enemy crossed the Potomac River. Civil war had come to Maryland.

Hearing the terrifying news, Joseph Davis, a well-known slavery foe and Union supporter, left Funkstown to avoid capture. He escaped into Pennsylvania, leaving his wife to “guard the fort.”

Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s “Foot Cavalry” had left the National Pike just north of Boonsboro and was well on its way to Harpers Ferry. The Rebels marched by Mrs. Davis’ front door, a sight she never forgot.

“Then about 40,000 soldiers went through our town on their way to Hagerstown [two miles away] with the heavy tramp, tramp, tramp of the infantry, the rattling of the cavalry, and the rumble of artillery and baggage wagons all day and all night.

“Poor forlorn looking set of men, who certainly had seen hard service. They were tired, dirty, ragged and had no uniforms whatever. Their coats were made out of almost anything that you could imagine, butternut color predominating … many were barefooted; some of their toes sticking out of their shoes and others in their stocking feet; their blankets were of every description, consisting of drugget, rugs, bedclothes, in fact anything they could get, put it in a long roll and tied at the ends, with their cooking utensils, were slung over their shoulders.

“Poor, brave, uncomplaining men!! I felt sorry for them! I had buckets of water at the front door with two or three new tin cups out of which they drank constantly.”

When one thirsty Confederate asked Mrs. Davis why a “Yankee” lady would offer a Rebel soldier a drink, she gave the warm reply: “Because our Heavenly Father taught us to give a cup of cold water, even to the enemy.”

Lee’s ambulance

Mrs. Davis was greatly impressed with Gen. Robert E. Lee, as were most people who had the honor of being in his presence.

“It seemed as if men came up out of the ground like locusts, and that their terrible line would never cease. General Lee, who was an elegant looking gentleman, passed through town in a very common ambulance, the palmetto flag floating over it and guarded by six soldiers armed to the teeth. His arm was in a sling.”

The “ambulance” was a small horse-drawn wagon, and the “palmetto flag” would have been a State Seal Flag of South Carolina. As to the “sling” on Lee’s arm, several days before, the general had been standing beside his horse, Traveller, when a gust of wind had blown a map he had been studying into the animal’s face. The frightened horse had bolted, throwing Lee to the ground as he tried to grab the bridle. A bone had been broken in one hand and the other hand had been badly sprained.

Thus, the injured general entered Maryland in an ambulance — both hands splinted and bandaged.

Sound of artillery

All plans are subject to failure — Lee’s being no exception. A copy of his plan of invasion (Order No. 191) accidentally fell into the hands of the pursuing Army of the Potomac’s commander, Gen. George B. McClellan. The “Gray Fox,” learning of the enemy’s golden discovery, turned his thoughts toward Virginia.

Immediately, word was sent from Hagerstown for Jackson to speed up operations at Harpers Ferry. Troops under Gen. D.H. Hill also were sent quickly to block the gaps in South Mountain to slow the advancing Federals while the Southern army gathered at Sharpsburg.

On Sept. 16, under cover of darkness, Joseph Davis returned to his home in Funkstown. Early the following morning, folks of Funkstown and Hagerstown awoke to the sound of artillery booming 10 to 12 miles to the south. The Battle of Antietam would prove to be the greatest tragedy ever to hit Washington County and the bloodiest single day in American military history.

Feeding the hungry

Joseph Davis visited the northernmost end of the battlefield that morning after the fighting had shifted farther south. Seeing both sides’ desperate need for food, Mr. Davis returned to Funkstown and asked the people for any provisions they could spare for the hungry soldiers and said he would see it was taken to the battlefield.

Mrs. Davis’ memory drifted back to those days of suspense.

“So we sat up most of the night killing and cooking chickens, etc. The next morning our dining room, kitchen and wash house were filled with jars or crocks of mashed potatoes, fried ham, chicken and beef sandwiches and, in fact, everything that was available in a small country town. These we packed in a large wagon used for hauling paper from the manufactory to the railroad station, taking five or six women to help distribute the food, and started for the battlefield.”

Mrs. Davis long remembered the gruesome aftermath of Antietam. The first stop of the “mission of mercy” was at the George Line Farm on the northern end of the battlefield. There, in a matter of minutes, like a drop in a bucket, the large wagon of food was given to deprived, dying humanity — Union and Confederate. “A horrible and sickening scene to behold such as I never wish to see again.”

A wounded soldier

Still on the Line Farm that dreadful morning, an acquaintance of Mrs. Davis’, knowing Mrs. Davis was from New York, escorted her to the front yard, where a wounded member of the 107th New York Regiment lay in a pool of blood. The fallen soldier, Capt. Chalmers Clark, had been shot in the left lung and could barely speak. Fearing his wound was mortal, Angela knelt by the young man’s side and asked if she could be of any service.

His only desire was to get to Hagerstown in order to take the train to New York. Knowing Clark was near the point of death, Mrs. Davis replied: “Even if you could be sent there, it would be impossible to get a room in any of the hotels, as they are filled to overflowing with persons from the North. But I added, if you could be taken to Funkstown, we would be glad to make you as comfortable as possible in our home.”

The next morning, Chalmers Clark was carefully transported to the Davis home in a borrowed wagon. Immediately the town physician was called to tend to the soldier. Later, when the soldier’s mother arrived from Utica, N.Y., Mrs. Davis drove her buggy to the Hagerstown train station and brought the woman to Funkstown.

Horrible sights

While Capt. Clark recovered, Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Davis returned to the ravaged battlefield. Once again, the “War Reminiscences” describe those scenes of death and destruction.

“There were still a great many soldiers at the hospitals suffering for the necessaries of life. Those lying on the ground with nothing but a little shelter tent over them complained of the cold at night, and the want of something that they could eat. Food had been sent from the towns in the neighborhood but not in sufficient quantities to keep them from being hungry. Poor fellows!! How our hearts ached for them.”

With remarkable detail the account continues: “On the battlefield we saw any number of new-made graves, the Union soldiers as a general thing, having little pieces of board with their names written with a pencil, put at the head. In one of the fields there were a great many Rebel soldiers buried, but their graves could not be marked as their names were not known. In this field there was also an unknown Union soldier buried alone with these words penciled on a board at the head of his grave: ‘A Union Soldier. He freely spilt his blood for the Stars and Stripes. His memory will be cherished as a lover of his country by succeeding generations.’ ”

Time could never remove the horrible sights witnessed by the two women on that September afternoon: “There were sixty or seventy dead horses lying in the fields which made the atmosphere anything but agreeable. Near the battlefield is a Dunkard Church which was completely riddled. There were any quantity of unexploded shells lying on the ground, but thinking them dangerous playthings, we concluded to let them remain there. A large barn and a very nice brick house had been destroyed by fire which was caused by Union forces throwing shells into the house to dislodge some of the Rebels who had taken refuge there.”

The Mumma Farm referred to here was set ablaze deliberately by Confederate forces to keep it from being used by Federal sharpshooters.

A damaged town

Pen and paper reveal the horrendous loss for the people of Sharpsburg.

“We saw murders lane [Bloody Lane today] where the bodies of the boys in Blue lay in ranks, like swaths of grass cut by the scythe. In Sharpsburg there were scarcely a house but what had marks of the battle made by balls and shells. During the battle, the occupants had to leave their homes and when they returned they found everything eatable and moveable taken out of their houses, not even a dish or spoon left. While I sympathized with the citizens of Sharpsburg, at the same time, I was very thankful that the battle did not happen in our midst.”

By the end of September, Capt. Clark was well enough to travel. While Mrs. Clark prepared for the long trip back to New York, she insisted on paying for her son’s medical expenses, room and board.

“There is no bill to pay, we were glad to have both of you as our guest,” Mrs. Davis replied. Thus another cup of cold water was freely given. On the morning of Sept. 29, tears of farewell dried as the Clarks’ train pulled out of Hagerstown Station.

Later years

Joseph Davis became a member of the State Constitutional Convention that ended slavery in Maryland. Land records of Washington County show Davis’ Funkstown properties were sold in April 1863, as the Davis family evidently sought to escape the front lines of war.

It was a good thing they left, for on July 10 of that year, 479 Americans, Northerners and Southerners, were slaughtered at Funkstown during the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg.

Angela and Joe Davis settled in Philadelphia, where Mr. Davis died in 1879. His body was taken to Boonsboro for burial. In all probability, it was at the time of her husband’s death that Mrs. Davis returned to her home in Batavia.

Angela Davis spent her last years demonstrating the same Christian charity as during those tragic days of the Civil War. A member of the Methodist Church of Batavia, she was “one of its most ardent workers and supporters.” She also served on the advisory committee of Syracuse University, gave lectures at Deaconess Training School in Washington and taught at Folts Missionary Institute.

On March 25, 1919, in Batavia, Angela Kirkham Davis’ spirit left this Earth at age 91. Her remains were taken to Boonsboro for burial next to her husband. The cup was empty.

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

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