Set high above the rolling country side, the L-shaped house with a hip roof is trimmed in white with black shutters, a welcoming front portico and a big second story porch.
It’s beautiful, peaceful now but in 1861, this was a center of war as the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate forces of Robert E. Lee met for the bloodiest one day battle in American military history. It only lasted a day but what a day it was.
The home of Philip and Elizabeth Pry and their six small children was surrounded by 140 acres of crop and pasture lands. But with the Confederate gathering on the other side of Antietam Creek, General George McClellan took over this house for his headquarters.
It’s probably best to see the house in warm weather. For one thing, visitors can go inside. (The grounds only are opened in the wintertime.)
But I was in Sharpsburg doing research for a book so I wanted to see the farm that served the general before the battle and wounded officers and enlisted men as a field hospital after the battle.
I had the place all to myself as I walked the grounds, circled the house, looked over the barn where enlisted men were treated for grievous wounds.
I stood at the highest point, where a deck has been built, a place overlooking the battlefields below. Perhaps McClellan stood here as his soldiers advanced and fell back during the long day of battle. Perhaps President Abraham Lincoln stood here when he visited in October to meet with McClellan and visited the wounded General Israel Richardson, who died in the house the following month.
I thought about the soldiers who made camp on the broad flat lawn beside the house, the doctors trying to save the lives of the wounded and the Pry family wondering what their fate would be in this awful time.
Today, it’s a pretty place as I’m sure it was for Philip and Elizabeth who must have been proud of all their hard work. The wounds have healed. The soldiers are gone. But the history made here survives.
ⓒ Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman