Sharpsburg’s War Damage

Life changed in an instant for the citizens of Sharpsburg, Maryland, in September 1862. The crossroads village three miles from the Potomac River was a prosperous community for the 1,300 people who called it home. Yet to the wider world, this town nestled “at the bottom of the hills” was unknown, yet “in one day awoke to find itself famous, and the hills around it historic,” wrote Confederate soldier Alexander Hunter.

Though the Battle of Antietam was mostly fought outside the town, Sharpsburg’s buildings were not immune to suffering from artillery and musketry fire. Maj. Bushrod Frobel, a Confederate artillery officer in town, wrote that Sharpsburg was “almost entirely deserted” after many of the inhabitants fled. Good thing, for in town “Hundreds of projectiles came crashing each moment through the houses, while the rattle of minnie balls on the walls and roofs was almost incessant.” One Vermont soldier who looked at the place after the battle said, “Through the pretty little church near the heights of the battlefield some thirty or more shot and shell were thrown on their errands of death. Some dwellings, nearest the field were riddled by shot, and scarcely a house in the village but that had one to a dozen holes in its walls, while even the liberty pole of the village was cut and splintered, though standing yet.”

Sharpsburg’s Lutheran Church sustained such extensive damage that its parishioners tore it down after the battle. (Library of Congress)

Much of Sharpsburg’s battle damage has been patched up by subsequent homeowners and wiped away by the passage of 160 years. Yet if one knows where to look, some of the battle scars can still be found.

Beginning atop Cemetery Hill across MD 34 from Antietam National Cemetery, two stones in the postwar Mountain View Cemetery bear battle damage (they were moved to this cemetery after 1862). Mary Knode’s headstone was splintered by a passing Federal artillery shot and was never patched. James McGrath’s nearby grave received some patch work on the upper right corner of the stone, likely to fix shell damage.

Mary Knode’s shell-damaged headstone.
James McGrath’s patched-up headstone.

In town, two buildings prominently show the battle’s effect on them. Dr. Augustin A. Biggs’ stone home has one shell hole located near the roof line. The brick Gloss house on Chapline St. still has a few shell holes on display with perhaps many more that had been repaired in the past 16 decades. Incredibly, this house has interior damage too, most notably to the handrail along the stairs. This house has been preserved today by the Save Historic Antietam Foundation.

Damage to Dr. Biggs’ home can be seen just below the two upper windows.
Both interior and exterior battle damage exists today at the Gloss home on Chapline St.

Next time you are strolling through Sharpsburg, see if you can find any more visible damage from the Battle of Antietam.

3 Responses to Sharpsburg’s War Damage

  1. Posts like this remind us just how close the war still is if we only look close enough. Thanks for sharing these pictures!

  2. The area is so steeped in history. I went to both the battlefield and Sharpsburg. I hope to go back this summer and maybe look at some of that war damage. Thank you for posting.

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