On February 22, 2021, I noticed a familiar item – seemingly a ca. 1890’s War Department directional marker – was being advertised for an upcoming estate sale at a local auction in Savage, Maryland. As a National Park Service Volunteer at Antietam National Battlefield, I immediately contacted park rangers and resources staff who confirmed that this marker was stolen. I gave them the contact information of the auction house, where park rangers later recovered it.
From our research, this was marker number 610, a ca. 1890s War Department marker that had been stolen from Antietam National Battlefield in 1985. The last people to possess the property are deceased, so it is difficult to trace. Based on Battery I’s known location, direction, and distance, we were able to locate the original location of the marker on modern day Maryland Route 34 between Rodman Avenue and the Middle Bridge.
Battery I, 5th US Artillery, was heavily engaged during the battles at Antietam and Shepherdstown. Under the command of Captain Stephen H. Weed, the battery expended more than 1,00 rounds of case shot between September 15 – 25. According to Confederate General James Longstreet, Battery I lobbed “the second best shot” he’d ever seen squarely in his direction during the Battle of Antietam.
According to Longstreet,
” General Lee and I were riding along my line and D. H. Hill’s, when we received a report of movements of the enemy and started up the ridge to make a reconnaissance. General Lee and I dismounted, but Hill declined to do so. I said to Hill, “If you insist on riding up there and drawing the fire, give us a little interval so that we may not be in the line of the fire when they open upon you.” General Lee and I stood on the top of the crest with our glasses, looking at the movements of the Federals on the rear left. After a moment I turned my glass to the right — the Federal left. As I did so, I noticed a puff of white smoke from the mouth of a cannon. “There is a shot for you,” I said to General Hill. The gunner was a mile away, and the cannon-shot came whisking through the air for three or four seconds and took off the front legs of the horse that Hill sat on and let the animal down upon his stumps. The horse’s head was so low and his croup so high that Hill was in a most ludicrous position. With one foot in the stirrup he made several efforts to get the other leg over the croup, but failed. Finally we prevailed upon him to try the other end of the horse, and he got down. He had a third horse shot under him before the close of the battle. That shot at Hill was the second best shot I ever saw.”
Ezra Carman corroborates this account, writing…
“This incident occurred about 20 feet north of the Keedysville road and the shot was fired by Captain Stephen H. Weed, commanding Battery I, 5th United States Artillery.”
Captain Stephen H. Weed would later be killed at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 2, 1863) defending Little Round Top.
At this time the park is trying to locate a suitable post for the marker, the original post having been removed during or following the 1985 theft . The marker will eventually be reinstalled in its original location on the battlefield.
Historical artifacts, like this item, that have been traded or sold multiple times, and may now be in hands of people who are innocent of the original act of theft or vandalism. These people may be completely unaware that they are in possession of stolen federal government property. While the original crime of removal has long since passed (the general statute for federal crimes is 5 years unless otherwise stated), every time an artifact changes hands, the new crime of receiving stolen federal property is being committed.
For NPS signs in particular, if a NPS sign is damaged to the point that it needs to be replaced, it is destroyed. Therefore, there are no legitimate circumstances when you would see one that is out of NPS control. If you see a similar item for sale, please contact the National Park Service.
Matthew Chilton works for the Pennsylvania State Police Firearms Division PICS Unit as a legal administrative assistant. In addition, Chilton works for Value My Stuff Ltd as a expert consultant specializing in military antiques, antique and modern firearms, coins and currency, sports collectibles, and historical artifacts. Chilton volunteers at Antietam National Battlefield and the Newcomer House.