“This Old Patriot Stood His Ground”

In 1864, George Blessing, “Hero of Highland,” bravely battled Confederate raiders on his farm near Wolfsville, Frederick County, Maryland, but the real man and his deeds became almost unrecognizable in popular retellings.

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Still image courtesy of the History Channel.

John Caleb Leatherman (1852-1952), who was a child during the Civil War and a neighbor of the man who would earn the sobriquet “Hero of Highland,” told a Hagerstown Daily Mail reporter in 1950, ​”Boy, that ol’ George Blessing was a spunky one. Those Rebels were trying to get a hold of all the horses they could. When [my] Father heard about it, he took his horses up into Pennsylvania. Not George Blessing—he just stood pat on his own farm there.”

A barnyard shootout at Blessing’s Highland Farm took place on 9 July, 1864, the same day that the Battle of Monocacy was fought only a few miles away on the outskirts of Frederick City. At the end of that month, the Frederick Examiner ran a letter to the editor, suggesting “the raising of a sum, by the contributions of Union men … for the purpose of procuring a medal, with the appropriate device and inscription, to commemorate [Blessing’s] noble feats of that occasion.”

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Frederick Examiner, 27 July, 1864.

In the years that followed, the grandiosity of the tale and the pious nature of the hero was escalated by his niece, the writer Nellie Blessing Eyster, who published grandiose versions in both a noted ladies magazine and in her 1867 novel  Chincapin CharlieIn the latter, she called him “one of Nature’s noblemen,” wrote that he was possessed of a “strange power” from “living so close to Jesus,” and that as he was “thoroughly imbued with the spirit of ’76, loving the government for which his fathers died, next to the God whom he so devoutly worshipped … he defended his home from what he sacredly believed an unrighteous invasion.”

This holy grey warrior in his twilight, George Blessing, the son of George Johann Blessing (1764-1821) and Juliana Easterday (1765-1824), was born on 15 May, 1794, and was christened the next day at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Middletown.

Blessing was the grandson of Jacob Blessing (1736-1813), who emigrated from the Electorate of Saxony in modern Germany and wed Anna Magdalena Traut (1743-1813) of New Holland, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in 1761. On his mother’s side, Juliana was one of 11 children of Christian Easterday (1730-1805), who came to the Colonies from Germany in 1749—first to Philadelphia and later to nascent Frederick County, after marrying in 1750 Juliana Johanna Francisca Spiess of York County, Pennsylvania.

The Easterdays and Blessings were interconnected through multiple marriages. Kate Easterday (1826-1884), great-granddaughter of Christian, wrote in a letter to L.F.M. Easterday toward the end of her life, “There is a beautiful stream of water flowing through the entire length of our valley called the Catoctin Creek. The Easterday family graveyard is on the east side of the creek and the Blessing graveyard on the west of the creek. Both are on a hill, and not a quarter of a mile apart. There is also a graveyard where they buried their colored people.”

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An ambrotype of Nannie Tyler Page of Frederick, Maryland, with her child and her slave Laura Frazier. Both the happiness in Mrs. Page’s eyes and the resentment in Laura’s seem palpable. Courtesy Historical Society of Frederick County.

According to John Leatherman, “That George Blessing was one of the hottest Abolitionists I ever did see. The funny thing, though, was that he had some slaves on his own farm. He had married an Easterday girl from down around Jefferson and she had inherited some slaves. They weren’t treated like any other slaves in that day—they were treated like humans. And ol’ George freed them after the war started, long before the Emancipation Proclamation, and told them they could go their ways. ‘Nary a one left the place. All of those [former slaves] stayed on until the day he died, and the Blessings buried them all eventually in a corner of the St. John’s Lutheran churchyard, on Church Hill, about two miles from Myersville.”

Nellie Eyster wrote in Chincapin Charlie that one former slave was called Joe and another was a woman named Pinky. In the 1910 book, Middletown Valley in Song and Story, Thomas Chalmers Harbaugh noted that when news came of the Confederates’ imminent arrival on the farm, Pinky was ordered by Blessing to “blow the horn for assembly of the family, the Bible was taken from its shelf, and [Blessing] read the 91st Psalm,” which begins, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Blessing had married his first cousin, Susanna Easterday, on 8 December, 1821. She either came to him with a dowery of slaves or, if Leatherman was right, she had inherited them by 1830. On the census of that year, it is enumerated that the Blessings owned three male slaves—one aged 10-23, and two under the age of 10. They also owned two female slaves—one aged 23-34 and one under the age of ten. This probably represents either a single adult mother and her children or possibly a couple—Pinky and Joe?—and their offspring.

Ten years later, in 1840, the Blessings were enumerated with three slaves—one male and one female aged 10-23, and one female aged 23-34. By the day of the 1850 Census, no slaves remained and the only black individual nearby was a laborer named Luther Rollins who was at the property of 63-year-old Catherine Delauder. In 1860, there were no African-Americans anywhere in the Blessings’ vicinity. This calls into question Leatherman’s claim that the slaves stayed with the Blessings for the rest of their lives. Either they all were dead by 1850, which seems unlikely as the slaves on the 1840 Census were all young, they had hired themselves out to other farms at a distance, or perhaps the Blessings’ tenderness did not inspire the loyalty indicated by Leatherman.

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George and Susanna Blessing had ten children: Elizabeth Ellen (1824-1908); Benjamin Lawrence (1826-1886); Catherine J. (1828-1908); Parker George (1829-1866); Susan Rebecca (1831-1913); Lauretta Ann (1835-1914); Caroline P. (1836-1868); Lewis Clay (1839-1865); Tilghman Luther (1841-1845); and Sarah Ann Penelope (1844-1921).

At Find-a-Grave, Ancestry, and other sites, two pictures (below) can be found that purport to be George and Susanna Blessing. They originated with genealogist Howard Lanham and appear by his courtesy.

On the left is a black-and-white version of an albumen carte de visite (CDV). The woman portrayed is clearly in her late 20s to early 30s. She is dressed in the fashions of the early 1860s. The picture at right shows a man who cannot be more than 45 years of age, and I would speculate closer to 38 to 40. This is also clearly a CDV and he is also dressed in the fashions the early 1860s.

CDVs, while patented abroad in 1854, were not available in the United States until the summer of 1859, and then only in New York City. By 1861, the photographic medium was flourishing all over the country. Previous to this, studio portraiture was available solely in the form of daguerreotypes and ambrotypes—both photographic processes resulted in single-copy, fragile, cased images. Neither of these CDVs shows signs of having been copied from earlier daguerreotypes or ambrotypes, and the fashions and hairstyles of the sitters further rule this possibility out.

If the subjects are Blessings, then they may be Parker George Blessing and Susan Blessing Crone, whose names and ages comport with the appearance of the sitters, although they may also be other Blessing children.

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Courtesy Howard Lanham.

In Chincapin Charlie, Eyster describes her uncle thusly: “Seventy-two winters had already passed over him, leaving no marks of their frosts upon his head save a few grey hairs sprinkled among the short and heavy locks which curled over it. His sunburned skin and hard hands bore record of the toil and exposure which had marked his life, but his face was one which for firmness, shrewdness, thoughtfulness, courage, and dignity of conscious rectitude, would have graced any of the grand old Roman fathers.” He had a “bold broad forehead” and “Laughing blue eyes sheltered under shaggy eyebrows” with “countless tiny crow’s-feet.”

This description tallies remarkably well with the photo above left, which Lanham believes to be George Blessing. Of the provenance of the three photos, he told me, “I have had these images for many years and they were printed from 35mm negatives. Someone brought the original photos … to one of the Easterday reunions during the 1970s and I asked to copy them.”

The odds are good, therefore, that this is the actual face of George Blessing.

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On 9 July 1864, Confederates were in the vicinity of Wolfsville, Maryland. Shortly before this, Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early had moved his forces along the Shenandoah Valley, crossing into Maryland at Shepherdstown. The majority of those troops were at that moment engaged in battle by the Monocacy River, but Early had sent out bands of marauders to round up horses and other livestock.

It should be noted that Blessing farm was not the only place where a skirmish occurred that day, if the Hagerstown Morning Herald of 1 July, 1955, is to be believed. “On the march from Hagerstown to Frederick through Middletown Valley, Early sent small squads of cavalry to gather supplies … from the farms. Of course, they didn’t bother to buy them. When these soldiers entered the community around Grossnickle’s Church, near Ellerton, they met resistance and trouble.

“They asked a boy [John Mahlon Bussard (1848-1915)], who later became a minister of the Church of the Brethren, where the farmers had hidden the horses. He said he did not know. However, the soldiers found them in a wooded hollow. When Levi Kesselring saw what was happening, he raised his gun to protect the horses. When one of them shot at him, he returned fire and got two of them. The others fled to Middletown on horseback taking the wounded with them. The two men died that night.”

Kesselring ought to have been lauded as a hero, too, but he did not gain the attention of national newspapers, as Blessing did. The story of the “Battle of Highland” appeared in many newspapers—some to which George Blessing himself mailed an account.

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This 1873 map shows the property of “G Blessing” at the top right, as well as denotes it as the site of “High Land Battle Field.”

For Blessing to pepper editors with his missives was not unusual, however. In the book And All Our Yesterdays: A Chronicle of Frederick County, author John M. Ashbury noted that Blessing “frequently demonstrated his sly sense of humor in letters to the editor to various newspapers throughout the county.”

For example, when the area around Middletown tried to break off into its own county in 1856, to be named Johnson after Maryland founding father Thomas Johnson, Blessing wrote to the Examiner that “I would name it Tadpole County, from the fact that comes nearest in shape to that insignificant animal. I would like to know how far $12,000 would reach to meet the current expenses of this new county, to say nothing of the inconvenience to which those citizens residing at the head and tail of Tadpole County would be subjected.”

As the embroidering of the Battle of Highland story commenced, Blessing wrote again to the Examiner, promulgating his version of the event. The newspaper published his letter on 27 July—seven days after originally running the sensationalized story.

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Hagerstown Herald of Freedom and Torchlight. 27 June, 1864.

What follows are the two most unadulterated versions of what happened that summer day at Highland Farm, the first told by Blessing himself in his letter to the Examiner, and the second by Union officer Corporal Christopher Armour Newcomer (1840-1924), who was at the farm late in the afternoon of 9 July.

On the morning of that day, a company of cavalry commanded Major Harmon and Captain Walker came in sight of my farm, where they detailed five to come and steal my horses. As they rode up, I gave my son two guns and I took six and went in the name of the Lord God of Hosts to meet them, and as they rode up in haste we fired upon them in quick time and one was mortally wounded (he died at Middletown), the other not so bad, they rode under the overshoot of the barn where we had cross-fire on them. As they were retreating, I fired, killing one on the spot, and took the other prisoner.

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Is Blessing stating that he killed two Rebels? He wrote that he shot one Rebel in the opening salvo, who later died in Middletown, as well as another killed outright as they were retreating. Frederick Examiner, 27 July, 1864.

The balance got back to the Company, which was from 40 to 60 strong, and before I had reloaded my guns they returned, nineteen in number, and had pressed in their service four of my neighbors as guides, and marched them in advance. I gave my son two guns and another young man one, but they both retreated. I then took four guns and went to a group of cherry trees; as their guides came up I halted them under pain of death if they did not stand. One of them broke off and ran. I fired on him without effect. As soon as he reached the Rebels, they opened fire upon me to their hearts’ content; the splinters from the trees and fence flew in my face while some of the [minni]balls fell at my feet. I had three guns which I held back for sure work. After firing some fifty shots they rode off, leaving their dead and wounded in my hands.

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Hawkline Farm, near Ellerton and Wolfsville, Maryland. This aerial photo shows one of several potential sites of the 9 July skirmish. There is no doubt that this farm was once owned by Blessing, but he also owned an adjacent property that may be the Highland Farm where the fighting took place.

They sent me word that they would bring up a battery and shell me. I sent word back that I had their wounded man in the barn, and if they chose to burn him up they could do so.

A little before night, Cole’s Cavalry, under command of Lieut. Colonel [George W. F.] Vernon, came into sight. I thought it was the Rebel battery, and I took the Dead Rebel’s carbine and concealed myself in the bramble bush close to the lane to make that the closing scene of that bloody day. When I saw my happy mistake, I crawled out; they gave me a hearty cheer, rode up to the house, helped bury my dead, and stayed overnight. Thus closed the most tragic scene in the history of my life.

The Rebels who came to Highland Farm were from the 47th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry, whose captain was Elias M. Walker. Major William N. Harman was the commander. The Confederate casualties have been identified as Corp. James Stowers, whose military file states that he died “in a skirmish, 9 July, 1864,” and Corp. William Holt, whose arm was shattered by Blessing’s bullet. Holt survived the war. After recuperating, he was sent to Point Lookout Prison and eventually exchanged.

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Christopher Armour Newcomer

Next is the account of Christopher Newcomer. After the war, he wrote a memoir titled Cole’s Cavalry: Or Three Years in the Saddle in the Shenandoah Valley, in which he recounts his experiences during that day.

In 2008, Robert W. Black wrote in Ghost, Thunderbolt, and Wizard: Mosby, Morgan, and Forrest in the Civil War, “Cole’s Maryland cavalry were experienced troopers, many having served since 1861. They were border-state men. All knew the division of war within their community—some knew it within their family. Christopher Armour Newcomer had the experience of having family in arms against him and wrote, ‘Although connected by ties of birth and blood in the South, I loved my country and my flag better than my state or section.'”

The battle of Monocacy had been fought. Lieutenant Colonel Vernon and his small force of sixty-five men were familiar with the country. The enemy’s cavalry was overrunning Frederick County in small detachments, gathering up horses from the farmers. Our detachment had come upon several small squads of Rebel cavalrymen and either captured or dispersed them. On our arrival in the neighborhood of Middletown, we were informed by the citizens that an old gentleman, a farmer by the name of George Blessing, living several miles distant, had shot one or more Rebels, and Colonel Vernon started at once with his men for Blessing’s farm.

“As our advance was proceeding up the lane leading to the farmer’s house, they were halted by an old gray-haired man, fully sixty-five years of age, who demanded that they should go back, or he would shoot. The old gentleman was partially concealed behind a large tree, with a rifle in his hand. Colonel Vernon called him by name and informed him we were Cole’s men and had come to protect him. Mr. Blessing gave us a hearty welcome and said he had mistaken us for the Confederates whom he had exchanged shots with a number of times during the day, and had driven off the enemy, not an hour before, who threatened to return and hang him and burn his property. 

“To prove his assertion, he led the way up to his barnyard, where lay a dead Rebel and one in the barn, wounded. The old farmer had some half dozen guns of different patterns; when the roving bands of Confederates approached his house he would warn them off, they would fire upon him, and this old patriot stood his ground. He would do the shooting whilst his small grandson would load the pieces. Our command remained at the farmhouse overnight and the ‘Johnnie Rebs’ failed to put in an appearance; they would have received a warm reception If they had returned. Our men buried the dead soldier and left the wounded prisoner in the hands of his captor, who promised to have him properly taken care of. On the following morning, we made an early start in the direction of Frederick, picking up an occasional straggler.

The two stories differ in small details: Blessing said he was hiding in a bramble bush when Cole’s Cavalry arrived; Armour says he was behind a large tree. Blessing said his son and another unnamed young man were with him at first; Armour says it was his young grandson. Both agree that the Union troops spent the night and left the next morning. Blessing’s niece, however, turned that into a finale à la cinematic epic-maker Cecil B. DeMille:

“After a breakfast for which Mrs. Blessing’s larder furnished its choicest food, the sound of prayer and praise arose again from that farmhouse, but this time a hundred full throats joined in the old chorus, ‘Praise God from who all blessings flow,’ and the self-selected chaplain, Mr. Blessing, felt, as he combined their united thanks in one voice, that the God who had dealt him such a signal and wonderful deliverance, would yet answer the prayers of thousands of other loyal hearts throughout the vast Union, and in his own good time work out for this mighty country ‘an exceeding great salvation.'”

It has been reported that Blessing himself remarked of the Hero of Highland legend, “What nonsense if they mean me.” Ω

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The Examiner reported the death of George Blessing on 24 December, 1873. “The highly esteemed gentlemen died at his residence near Wolfsville, Catoctin District, in this county, on Thursday last in the 80th year of his age. Mr. Blessing was our best citizen and will be remembered as ‘Hero of Highland,’ in connection with the barnyard fight with the Rebels in 1864.” The day after his death, Blessing was buried at St. John’s Lutheran Church Cemetery, Ellerton. Photo by Becky.

 

Is the Past More Than Prologue?

In a cornfield by the old Pry House in Keedysville, Maryland, the walls between September 1862 and today can sometimes grow thin.

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Sean Byrne at Pry House Field Hospital Museum, Keedysville, Maryland, June 2018.

On Tuesday, 16 September, 1862, farmer Phillip Pry, Jr., and his wife Elizabeth, née Cost, found that the Civil War was standing on their doorstep. Since the summer of 1844, the couple had dwelt happily in their imposing home, high on a hill, which Phillip and his brother Samuel had built on their father’s land. The road between Boonsboro and Sharpsburg ran along the foot of the hill, and as Philip and Elizabeth could see from their front porch, it had become an artery for the Confederate war machine. Soldiers in grey, wagons, armaments, ambulances, horses—for a day and night they moved past the Prys’ house in a kaleidoscope of pending misadventure.

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Philip and Elizabeth Cost Pry, circa 1868. Courtesy Pry House Field Hospital Museum.

The next day, the road was crammed with soldiers in blue trundling along with the Union Army’s horses, vehicles, and ordnance. They were headed to attack the Confederacy at Sharpsburg—a bloodbath now known as the Battle of Antietam. Shortly, the Prys’ home would be commandeered as a headquarters and a field hospital by no less than the flamboyant George Armstrong Custer. From that moment, the Prys’ bucolic life on the hill was over.

For safety, Elizabeth Pry and her five children—all under the age of 15—were sent by army ambulance to Keedysville. When at last allowed to return, they found their farm devastated. Despite repeated attempts, the family was never compensated by the government for property damage and looted crops, domesticated animals, and stored supplies that totaled more than $60,000 in today’s money. Financially ruined, the Prys chose to start over again in Johnson County, Tennessee, but they never regained their antebellum prosperity. Before Elizabeth died in 1884, she begged her husband to take her body back to Keedysville to be buried where life was once sweet. He did as she requested. In 1900, he was laid to rest beside her.

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The Pry farm in September 1862. This photo was taken after the battle by Andrew Gardiner. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Surely no one would blame Philip or Elizabeth Pry for haunting the happy home stolen from them. Indeed, reputedly, there was a female ghost seen as she descended the staircase and also one who peered sullenly from an upstairs window when the house caught fire in the 1970s. One or either of these ghosts may be Elizabeth Pry. Lacking access to witnesses or recorded evidence, I must place these stories in the realm of lore. Not so, however, the following. The witness, actor Sean Byrne, was interviewed by me in June 2018 at the Pry farm—now a field hospital museum run by the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

In 2005, when Byrne was 12, his Boy Scout troop engaged in a service project assisting the then-executive director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine George Wunderlich to restore Pry House. On a warm September day, Wunderlich, the troop’s leader, was in the Prys’ kitchen washing salt pork for the boys’ Civil War-inspired dinner. Byrne says that the Scouts—about ten in number—had time for mischief. “We wanted to go to the cornfield and start chucking corn at each other,” he recalls.

The stalks and corn in the husks were dry, waiting to be harvested for feed. “The corn easily came over our heads. I’m six-foot now, so I was probably like four-foot-something then, maybe,” he says. “I was in the middle of this field—it was probably right about there. I remember grabbing an ear of corn and turning around and there was a gentleman standing there.”

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Byrne points to the site of his encounter in the cornfield, now planted with wheat.

Byrne insists that the man, who stood just a few feet away and whom he could see at full-length, was a Confederate soldier. “He was wearing a grey uniform, buttoned-up jacket; he had a hat with a turned up brim, yellow gloves tucked under his belt.” There was a lantern hooked to his belt, too. The soldier also had a blonde goatee and hair long enough to be seen beneath the brim of his hat.

The expression on the man’s face was matter-of-fact—”stoic,” Byrne describes it. “I saw him, then he put up his hand. He said, ‘Stop. Wait. Be careful,’ then turned and walked away,” states Byrne, “but he kept a very straight line; he didn’t zigzag.”

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A Confederate gray wool frock coat with black facings and gold colored buttons, sky blue trousers, black leather belt with brass “CS” belt plate; leather cartridge box; bayonet scabbard; buff slouch hat. Byrne’s soldier wore grey pants but otherwise may have been garbed quite similarly. Courtesy Smithsonian Museum of American History.

It was then, Byrne remembers, that he consciously grasped the unapparent: “He was only about 50 percent there. I could see the corn through his body. He got no more than four feet before I lost him. He just kind of went into the corn. If [a living person] was walking through the cornfield, you could see them for say eight or ten feet—see portions of his body. But you couldn’t see him that far. He just disappeared.”

Stunned, Byrne let go of the corn. “I got a good gash in my finger, because dried corn is actually very sharp, and I ran back to the house where Mr. Wunderlich was. I told him I needed first aid, but also that there was this man there. And Mr. Wunderlich told me, ‘Wait, wait, let me guess. You saw a man with a lantern?’ I said, ‘Yes! How did you know?'”

Wunderlich knew because it was not the first time he had heard a such a story. Now with the U.S. Army Medical Department Museum at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Wunderlich still remembers Byrne’s encounter in the cornfield. He was willing to speak about it and other similar instances of which he was aware.

For a number of years, he says, an academic conference on banjos was held in the barn on the Pry property to “discuss the importance of banjo music during the Civil War and things of that nature, and we had guys camping there. Doug Harding, a National Park Service employee from St. Louis, told me he got up to use the portajohn, looked out [across the property], and there was a lantern moving by itself through the cornfield.” Together, they went to the spot and determined that the light had followed the path of the old road once traveled by both the Confederacy and Union. “They moved the road away from the house many years later when they built the bypass around Keedysville,” Wunderlich states. Today, Pry House sits at the end of a long drive, perhaps a quarter mile from the modern road.

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The approach to Pry House in May 2018. The cornfield is at left, the barn to the right.

According to Wunderlich, the second encounter concerned “a Boy Scout from another troop who mentioned the same thing—a lantern walking through the corn. I pointed out to him where it had occurred and he asked, ‘How did you know?’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘it’s happened before.'”

Several years later, at another iteration of the banjo conference, two men saw the lantern traveling the same route. They told Wunderlich that a human form was visible, but only where the lantern cast its light.

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Amongst paranormal researchers, there are several schools of thought concerning ghosts and hauntings: First, ghosts can be discarnate persons who are completely or partially aware they are dead. They may have chosen to remain in a place or with loved ones they are loath to leave, stay behind because of unfinished business, or possess other motivations we cannot comprehend. The second possibility is that events are captured by wholly natural but unknown mechanisms and—when conditions are right—they replay themselves. In this latter scenario, whether or not there are human observers is irrelevant, and any persons within the replay have no more consciousness than digital images projected on a screen.

If not for the other sightings of the lantern in the cornfield, Byrne’s encounter could have been the intervention of a concerned spirit still tied to the place where he died, as it is all but certain that the Union field hospital at Pry House treated Confederate wounded. By themselves, the sightings of the lantern moving down the old road could be the replications of the past. However, in tandem with Byrne’s encounter, a lifeless replay makes no sense.

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After Byrne encountered the phantom soldier, he ran up the hill from the cornfield (right) to the white door at left. There he found his Scout leader inside the Pry House kitchen. Courtesy Library of Congress.

The Confederate soldier appeared to see Byrne within his presumably 16 September, 1862 surroundings, playing in a roadway that was actively funneling elements of Lee’s army to Sharpsburg. The soldier also recognized it as daytime, for the lantern the others saw ablaze was not lit and was hooked to his belt. Concerned for the boy’s safety, he told Byrne to stop, wait, and be careful, presumably so that the Byrne would not be injured by whatever the soldier saw happening in the 1862 road.

That day, Byrne, who is now in his mid-20s, wore a Boy Scout Class B uniform—green pants and a red troop tee-shirt. Despite what would have a seemed strange attire, the soldier did not look surprised at Byrne’s appearance; he issued his warning, turned, and was gone. Perhaps there was so much activity within the soldier’s view that he did not critically register the weird garb worn by the boy in harm’s way.

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An ambrotype of an unknown Confederate soldier dressed and coiffed similarly to the man seen in the cornfield. Collection unknown.

So, is there another explanation—one that better fits the facts of the case? Could, for example, the time-space membrane between September 1862 and September 2005 have thinned enough to rupture?

In a bowl of hypotheticals, nothing can be proven, but we may speculate that a recipe for a time rupture was fully concocted on 16 September, 1862. First added, on 14 September, was the frantic and terrifying energy produced by the nearby Battle of South Mountain, in which the two armies fought for control of multiple Blue Ridge mountain gaps. Next added was the psychic trauma of 5,000 dead, wounded, and missing, including Alabamian Drayton Pitts, of whom I wrote earlier this year. Third, stirred in on the 16th was the mounting fear of the men of both armies and the region’s citizens, who knew a larger fight than South Mountain was imminent.

The Confederate soldier may have been stationed along the old road to help facilitate movement or to supply intel after barely surviving the Battle of South Mountain two days before. His consternation, determination, exhaustion, suppressed grief over lost comrades—all of these may have been the final ingredients that ruptured time.

The Scouts had been working on the property for two days and had both stirred up and become in simpatico with the energies of the estate, Byrne posits. His brief meeting with the Confederate soldier was “very simple. It wasn’t scary. I wasn’t waiting for something. I wasn’t invoking something. It was nothing blood-curdling—just a man doing his job.”  Today’s visitors to the Pry House may yet see the soldier following his orders during the 24 hours before Antietam. Ω

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This photo taken by Alexander Gardner during the Battle of Antietam shows a Union lookout stationed near the Pry House and undeployed Union reserve artillery in the field beyond. Courtesy Library of Congress.

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Harriet, Jeff, Aunty, and Anna

“I was not surprised when we received the notice of Aunty’s death. From what you had written to me I was expecting it.”

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A mourning stationery envelope addressed to Anna M. Ramsey. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

To: Miss Anna M. Ramsey
Richborough P.D.
Bucks County
Pennsylvania
C/O Mr. Ed Ramsey
Please forward

High Point
April 27th ‘84

Dear Cousin Anna,

Yours of April 4 received. Was so glad to hear from you. I had looked for a letter for some time from Aunty. But have treasured up my last one from her. Anna, I sympathize deeply with your in your affliction. Your loss is her gain. But it is so hard to part with those we love so dearly but Aunty has only passed from this wicked world to a brighter and better one beyond. But oh the loneliness and sadness in the home without a mother or father. My heart aches for you, well I do remember the bitter pangs of suffering I passed through when I had to give up my dear mother. It seemed as though all the sunshine had gone out of the world. To this day I grieve for her. But time changes all things and we must be reconciled.

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Page one of the black-edged letter written on mourning stationery to Anna Ramsey.

I was not surprised when we received the notice of Aunty’s death. From what you had written to me I was expecting it. But felt very sad indeed. I wanted to come east last fall to see you all once more but Jeff was sick so long and so bad that we could not leave him. I think from what you tell me about Aunty she must have been (in her sickness) very much like cos Kate Hume (McNair). She did not suffer pain but had that distress feeling and sick at her stomach. She had a cancerous tumor.

Dear Anna, we are so lonely. We miss Jeff so much. He was so good and kind to all. I had often read of happy deaths but never witnessed such a one in my life. He was sick only five days. In the afternoon of the day he died, Rosie was sitting on his bed crying. He said to her “I would so much rather you would go to the piano and play and sing for me ‘Nearer my God to Thee’ then to sit here and cry.” She went to the piano and played and tried to sing with the help of some friends. Poor child. It seemed as if it would kill her almost.

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Letter to Anna Ramsey, pages 2 and 3.

He bid all goodbye and talked to each one separately and was perfectly willing to go. Said he did not dread death and was ready to die, only his worldly affairs were not just as he would have them. He thought he lingered longer toward the last then he ought to, so asked a friend to read and sing with the friends that time might pass faster. There was about 50 persons in to bid him farewell. He shook hands and had some good word for all. It hurt him very much to talk but when he found he could not live he talked the most of the time until about half an hour before his death.

He had a great many friends. There was between 1,000 and 1,500 persons at his funeral. He requested to have one of our old preachers to preach at his funeral. The sermon was very good. He was buried with Masonic honors. We sent a notice to Aunty. Did you get it? Anna, I would like you to write to me soon and tell me about Aunty’s death. All join one with much love to all friends. Accept a very large share for yourself.

From your cousin,

Harriet S. Hart

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Letter to Anna Ramsey, page 4.

The poignant letter above was written by Harriet Shepard Vanartsdalen Hart (22 February, 1830, Philadelphia, PA–11 December, 1900, High Point, MO), wife of Thomas Jefferson Hart (9 February, 1826, Bucks Co., PA–29 February, 1884, High Point, MO). According to his obituary, Hart struggled for years with “an enfeebling lung disease,” his “exhausted nature at last yielded to an attack of acute pneumonia after five days’ illness,” leaving a Harriet a widow with eight surviving children of the 16 she had born.

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Jeff and Harriet’s son Louis Folwell Hart (4 Jan., 1862-4 Dec., 1929). He is buried in Tacoma, Pierce County, Washington. Hart served as governor of that state from 13 February, 1919, to 12 January, 1925. Neither of his parents lived to see his election.

Many years later, Jeff Hart’s then-middle-aged son Louis, a lawyer and later governor of the State of Washington, filed an application to join the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR). The document contains substantial genealogical evidence about the Hart family, naming Jeff Hart’s father as Lewis Folwell Hart (17 March, 1792, Bucks County, PA–1841, Belleview, Illinois). Jeff’s mother was Sidney Gill (1796–1854). He was the grandson of Joseph Folwell Hart (b. 7 December, 1758) and Ann Folwell (1758, Warminster, PA–11 March, 1843, Southampton, PA), who was the daughter of Colonel William Thomas Folwell (1737 – 1813). That Joseph was the son of Warminster, Pennsylvania, native Joseph Hart (1 September, 1715–25 February 1788) and his wife Elizabeth Collet (14 May, 1744, Philadelphia, PA-19 February, 1788, Warminster, PA).

Joseph, Sr., took part in the American Revolution as a “colonel, Second Battalion,” the SAR application notes. He commanded a regiment of Bucks County militia, serving in Amboy, New Jersey, during the latter part of the summer of 1776. Joseph, Sr., was a great-grandson of Christopher and Mary Hart of Oxfordshire, England, who came to America with William Penn and settled in Warminster Township, Bucks County, where the family lived until 1855, when Jeff Hart moved his branch of the family to Missouri.

Harriet was the daughter of John Vanartsdalen (b. abt. 1800–aft. 1870) and his wife Maria S. Davis (1807, PA–7 November, 1854, Philadelphia, PA). Harriet’s family was descended from early Dutch settlers Simon Jansz Van Arsdalen and his wife Jannetje Romeyn.

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The grave of Harriet Vanartsdalen Hart in High Point Cemetery, High Point, Missouri.

Jeff Hart married Harriet Vanartsdalen on 16 March, 1848. On the 1850 Census of Philadelphia, the young couple and their second-born son John Byron (b. 1849, PA–1886) (the first, also named John Byron, died either at birth or in early infancy), were living with—or possibly visiting—Harriet’s mother Maria, the woman of whom her daughter would later write, “Well I do remember the pangs of suffering I passed through when I had to give up my own dear mother. It seemed as though all the sunshine had gone out of the world.” Also in the household was Harriet’s younger brother, John (b. 1835). Jeff Hart’s occupation at that time was carpenter.

Harriet lost her beloved mother in November 1854. Maria was laid to rest in Philadelphia’s Odd Fellows Burial Ground, an historic cemetery at 24th and Diamond Streets established in 1849. The cemetery property was acquired by the Philadelphia Housing Authority in 1950 for construction of a housing project. The bodies that had been interred there, including Maria’s, were relocated to Philadelphia’s Mount Peace Cemetery and Lawnview Memorial Park in Rockledge, Pennsylvania.

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When the U.S. Civil War erupted, the Jeff Hart family had been in Missouri for about six years. They dwelt in “Township 43, Range 15” of Moniteau County. Today, that place is called High Point. It is less a town than a crossroads placed amidst a deeply agrarian landscape. At High Point, the 1860 Census reveals Jeff Hart had made a leap from carpenter to merchant, and Harriet managed four children who ranged in age from 11 to six months: Byron; Frank H. (1858 – 1905), Laura Louisa (b. 1859); and Lillie Josephine (1856 – 1863).

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Confederate General Sterling Price. Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Jeff Hart served in the U.S. Civil War in Company B of the 48th Missouri Infantry as a captain. His registration record of the summer of 1863 enumerates him as a 37-year-old merchant with three months of previous experience serving in a militia. According to its regimental history, his unit saw service at Rolla, Missouri, “until December 9, 1864. Defense of Rolla against Price.” This is likely the only military action that Hart participated in.

“In 1864, the Missouri legislature was gearing up for a new election. Confederate leaders believed that if they could take the capital, Jefferson City, return the exiled Confederate politicians there, and hold elections, that the state would elect a Southerner, putting the state legally in the hands of the South for the next four years. General Sterling Price was chosen to lead this raid because of his popularity in the state,” explains The Civil War in Missouri.

After this, Hart moved with the unit to Nashville, Tennessee, from December 9 to 19. Then, his unit was “assigned to post duty at Columbia, Tenn., and garrison blockhouses on Tennessee & Alabama Railroad from Franklin to Talioka until February, 1865. Moved to Chicago, Ill., February 18-22. Guard duty at Camp Douglas and escort Confederate prisoners to City Point, Va., for exchange until June 16. Ordered to Benton Barracks, Mo., June 16. Mustered out June 22, 1865. Regiment lost during service by disease 120.”

victorian+ornaments+image+graphicsfairy2After the war, on 29 March, 1867, Jeff Hart was appointed postmaster for High Point—it was a position that made practical sense, as he operated out of an adjoining storefront. Hart held the government-paid postmaster position until his death. The 1871 Register of Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval in the Service of the United States states that his pay that year was $110, but in 1873, it had fallen to $81. A slight lessening likely did not discomfit the family. In 1881, the Osage Valley Banner reported in its social column that Hart, who was “largely engaged in [railroad] tie contracts and general merchadise,” had been in town—the paper naming him “the Rothchild [sic] of High Point.”

The 1870 Census of Moniteau County lists the couple’s children living at home as Byron;  Frank; Laura; Louis; Emma Rosealie (b. 1866)—the “Rosie” mentioned in the letter weeping for her dying father; and Alberta S. (b. 1869). All the children, with the exception of the first, were born in Missouri. Also living with the family was a nonrelated servant, dry goods clerk, and laborer, as well as a man, aged 70, who is simply called “Van Archdalen,”—a farmer born in Pennsylvania. This was almost certainly Harriet’s father, John. (Other Hart children who died young were the first John Byron (1849-1849); Annie Louisa (1850-1852); two babies named Howell Dorman—the first lived from 1852 to 1853, the second from 1853-1854; Maria Louisa (1854–1854); U. S. Grant (1863–1864); and Lillie Bell (1865-1865.)

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High Point Post Office with Jeff Hart’s mercantile establishment beside it and the Odd Fellows Hall above. Photo by courthouselover.

A short memoir by a family member gives us a more personal glimpse into the Hart family at that time. “[Jeff] was for a number of years a prominent merchant…. His area of trade extended south to near the Osage River…. To this union was born 16 children. [Harriet] did not nurse them, so all were cared for by ‘hired girls.’ [Eight] of these children died in infancy and 8 lived (5 boys and 3 girls). She did almost all of the buying for the store in St. Louis, Mo., sometimes leaving her babies when they were less than 2 weeks old. In that way, she was a great help to her husband as he was badly needed to stay and take care of the business at their store. Their eldest son was named Byron. He married their hired girl….” (She was Mary Elizabeth Foraker, born in 1848. The couple had three children before her early death in 1885. The following year, on 12 May, 1886, Byron Hart was killed by a train in Arthur, Missouri.)

Jeff’s son Louis would become a lawyer, and there is some evidence that Jeff himself also practiced law. He was described by the Jefferson City State Journal on 17 September, 1875, as “T. J. Hart, Esq.” in an article about his pursuit, with the local sheriff, of a Hart employee, Charles Thomas, who had stolen $165. The pair traced the employee “across the country and river to Columbia, where they found he had 40 minutes before left for Centralia. The sheriff…telegraphed the description of Thomas to his deputy, and the latter arrested Thomas as he was purchasing a ticket to St. Louis. He had purchased two sets of clothes, a revolver, &c., and had left $58. The pursuers arrived in a hack, and Sheriff Yarnell and Hart returning with their prisoner, he was indicted by a special grand jury, tried, convicted, and sentenced…ten days from the time of commission of the crime.”

Just a few months later, on 26 November, the same newspaper reported: “T. J. Hart’s store came very near to being destroyed by fire on Friday last night. The Odd Fellows Hall is situated over the store. It is supposed that when they retired, some of the party lit their pipes and probably threw a match into the spittoon. When Mr. Hart’s son went to the store and discovered fire on the show case, he lost no time in getting in the hall, which was almost suffocating him with smoke. The wooden spittoon was nearly consumed, a stand was minus one leg, and a hole in the floor nearly two feet square and a 2 x 8 joist nearly burned off. [There was a ] burning hole in the ceiling of the store, ready to warm things in general.”

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An obituary of Thomas Hart, included with the letter, that supplies many of the details of his life, character, and religion.

The 1880 Census of High Point shows Jeff Hart then had no occupation, as he was presumably struggling with his chronic lung disease, which could have been Tuberculosis, lung cancer, severe asthma, or any number of other issues affecting the airways that could lead to fatal pneumonia. The children living at home at that time were Laura; Louis; Rosie; Alberta; Elmer E. (1870 – 1930); and Carlos Brumhawk (b. 1875). The eldest son, Louis, was the only member of the family with work—he was listed a clerk in a store, almost assuredly his father’s.

In mid-November of that year, there was yet another brush with fire. The Hart’s uninsured farm at High Point burned to the ground. According to the Kirkville Weekly Graphic of 27 November, “Thirty-eight hogs, two calves, two buggies and one carriage, besides a great deal of provender, were consumed.” But the tragedy could have been much worse. “Mrs. Hart, [Jeff’s daughter-in-law], led one mule and two horses from the burning building, and was in the act of rescuing a calf when her clothing caught fire. With a presence of mind remarkable under the circumstances, she tore her clothing off thereby preventing what would have been a frightful death.”

On 13 March, 1884, within a fortnight of her husband’s death and about five weeks before writing her letter to Anna Ramsey, Harriet became the post mistress for High Point and appears to have retained the role until October 1891, when a replacement was named. That man, Robert Reynolds, may have taken over the Harts’ mercantile business at the same time.

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Sedalia Democrat, 23 December, 1900.

At some point after selling off the store, Harriet went to live in the home of her daughter Laura, who married Simon Patrick Cronin of California, Missouri. Harriet did not die until 11 December, 1900, and ought to appear for a final time on the census of that year, but I cannot find her. She was buried in High Point, presumably beside Jeff, whose grave appears to be unmarked.

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The recipient of the letter Harriet wrote in April 1884 was Anna Mary Ramsey (b. 21 October, 1847, Richboro, Bucks Co., PA), the daughter of farmer Robert Ramsey (b. 1814, PA) and his wife Elizabeth Vanartsdalen (b. 1817, PA)—the “Aunty” of whom this letter speaks. Elizabeth was, it appears, the great-aunt of Harriet Vanartsdalen Hart—her paternal grandfather’s sister.

The Ramsey family was large, with eight children who all reached adulthood. The 1850 Census saw the family living in Northampton, Bucks County, where Robert Ramsey was a farmer. The children listed on the 1850 census were Jeanette V. (b. 1842); Amelia G. (b. 1844); Henry K. (1845-1910); Anna; and John V. (12 January, 1850–5 May, 1890). The 1860 census includes all of these children, as well as William Augustus (b. 1852) and Edward (b. 1855), the latter of whom this letter was sent in the care of.

Anna’s brother Henry may have fought during the final year of the Civil War. A Henry Ramsey enlisted as private on 17 February, 1865, in Company I, 61st Pennsylvania Infantry and was mustered out on 28 June, 1865, in Washington, D.C. However, there are multiple Pennsylvania Henry Ramseys who enlisted during the war. Some can be ruled out as Anna’s brother, but none who remain supply the recorded evidence to make certain identification.

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An old farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, somewhere near where the Ramsey’s lived.

Ten years later, in 1870, Robert and Elizabeth appear alone on the 1870 census of Northampton—all of their offspring had flown. Sons Henry and Edward were enumerated in Abingdon, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, working as laborers on the farm of maternal kin Amos and Lottie Vanartsdalen. The rest of the children were nearby, still in Northampton. Son John worked as a laborer on the farm of Jesse and Hannah Twining. Eldest daughter Jeanette lived with another Vanartsdalen relation, 64-year-old Jane. Jeanette may have been with Jane Vanartsdalen as early as May 1864, when both their names were entered as members of the Dutch Reformed Church of North and Southampton.

Amelia lived on the farm of Marshall and Sarah Cummings, working as a seamstress. Anna was with farmer Charles Torbert and his 21-year-old daughter Emma, keeping house.

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The Old Dutch Reformed Church, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where William Ramsey married in 1882.

Anna’s father, Robert, died 5 May, 1878, and was buried in Union Cemetery, Richboro, Bucks County, “aged 64 years, 6 months, and 8 days,” according to his tombstone. Anna and William then returned to live with 62-year-old widow Elizabeth and were thusly enumerated on the 1880 Census. Anna’s brother John was nearby, enumerated in the 1880 Census as a laborer. He had married a woman named Emma and had two children: Mary (b. 1875) and Robert (b. 1877).

On 18 January, 1882, at the Dutch Reformed Church, William Ramsey married Adelaide B. Addis (1859–1896) and became the father of Anna Maud (1886–1906), Harry A. (1887–1954), and Charles H. (1888–1964.) Anna Ramsey never married, and died in Morristown, Pennsylvania, 7 December, 1933, aged 86, of chronic valvular heart disease and bronchial pneumonia. She was buried on 12 December in Union Cemetery between her mother, “Aunty” Elizabeth and her bachelor brother Henry, 50 years after receiving the grief-stricken missive I now own. Ω

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The graves of the Ramsey family, Union Cemetery, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Take Them Out to the Ball Game

“Boetticher’s drawing, released in 1864, was hardly the perception of prison camps at the time. In it, the players look healthy, even happy. The spectators are just as engaged. Lively conversations are taking place around the makeshift diamond. There are no guards, no guns, no torture, no death.”

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“In 1861, when the Civil War broke out, Otto Boetticher left his job as a commercial artist to join the 68th New York Volunteers. Shortly after enlisting, Boetticher, who was born in Germany and came to the U.S around 1850, was captured and sent to a prison camp in Salisbury, North Carolina. He wasn’t there very long. Thanks to a prisoner swap and after only a few months in captivity, he was set free.

“Before leaving, however, Boetticher, did a drawing of a prisoner game of baseball.”

Continue reading at Ken Zurski’s constantly amazing blog, Unremembered. Ω

His Drawing of Prison Camp Baseball Endures