Spangler Farm: Gettysburg Foundation Buys Historic Property, Erin James, Evening Sun, June 1, 2008
The Gettysburg Foundation recently purchased Spangler Farm with the goal of one day opening the buildings and property for public tours after research and renovation is complete. The barn shown is one of three buildings used as the Union 11th Corps Hospital after the Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863.
Like brothers who share an incomprehensible secret, three buildings huddle together today as they have since the summer of 1863. The farmhouse, barn and summer kitchen are still surrounded by acres of meadow grass, where tents full of dying men would have dominated the land almost 145 years ago. There is no question one of Gettysburg's most famous generals died somewhere on this property - though the exact location where Confederate brigadier Lewis A. Armistead took his last breath remains a matter of dispute.
Some believe Armistead died in a small outbuilding known as the summer kitchen. A plaque on the rundown building states that theory as fact. But historian John Heiser said the exact site of Armistead's death is just one of many unknowns when it comes to the George Spangler Farm - the Union 11th Corps Hospital where about 1,400 Union soldiers and some Confederates were treated during and after the Battle of Gettysburg. "In a nutshell, we don't really know a whole heck of a lot about the farm itself," Heiser said. There are many reasons for the lack of information about one of Gettysburg's most significant field hospitals, not the least of which is the fact that it has remained under private ownership since the battle 145 years ago.
But with the recent sale of the 80-acre farm to the nonprofit Gettysburg Foundation, things are bound to change. Like hundreds of privately owned acres on the battlefield, the Spangler Farm has always been recognized as a significant part of the Gettysburg story, Heiser said. For now, the farm remains largely undiscovered but almost entirely intact. Foundation officials say the property's purchase for about $1.9 million protects it from development. The ultimate goal is to make the historic farm available to the public for education purposes.
But that's at least a year down the road, said spokeswoman Dru Neil. In the meantime, researchers will be in the information-gathering stage and working to evaluate the property's historical significance and potential safety issues when it opens to the public. When that research gets under way, historians will finally have a chance to answer questions that have been looming for almost 145 years. "We can tell the story of Gettysburg beyond the battle," Heiser said. Little more than four walls remain of the summer kitchen where some believe Gen. Armistead died. The outbuilding's interior is dirty. Rusty nails poke out from the ceiling above. Broken floorboards surround a hole in one corner of the floor. "That looks historic at first glance," Neil says as she points to what was probably once a fireplace. "But you can't tell for sure."
From the inside, sunlight peeks through the spaces where wooden panels are rotting away from more than 150 years of wear. Stacks of hay still occupy parts of the barn, though there's no telling how long they've been there. That goes for most of the three structures and the parts that construct them, Neil said. "Those are old," she says as she taps her foot on the barn's floorboards. "Are they pre-battle? We don't know."
The story of the Spangler Farm field hospital and the details of what happened there are largely unknown, though the property's significance has never been doubted. In addition to serving as a field hospital, the Spangler farm was located at the logistical center of the Union battle line and was used as an artillery and ammunition support facility. It is bounded by Granite School House Road and Blacksmith Shop Road, two roadways used by troops to transport supplies during the battle. The interior lines marked by the farm's location were instrumental in helping the Union Army hold the high ground on July 2 and achieve victory July 3.
It was used as a Union field hospital on the days during and after the battle. It also saw service as the "overflow" site, where many wounded Confederate soldiers were taken for treatment - including Armistead, who died July 5 after being wounded during Pickett's Charge, Heiser said. One soldier wrote of the Spangler Farm hospital that, "All the hospital tents have been put up and are filled, the barn is also crowded and hundreds of shelter tents (are) occupied yet the wounded are so numerous that some have yet to lie out in the open air ... ." The farm is located practically in the backyard of the Gettysburg National Military Park's new visitor center, but historians such as Heiser have had limited access to the property over the years.
"Because it was in private hands ... very little research actually went into specifics about the farm itself," he said. "There's very, very little documentation or evidence related to the buildings as they were." That's why the jury is still out on parts of the story as significant as where Armistead died, Heiser said. Just because a plaque identifies the summer kitchen as the place where the general died doesn't make it true, he said. "My question is, what is that based on?" Heiser said.
Still, Heiser said historians realize the opportunity they now have to study one of the battle's busiest field hospitals. The Spangler Farm is one of the few field hospitals left intact as it was during the summer of 1863. Modern development has encroached on many of the other hospital sites, Heiser said. The National Park Service designated the Spangler Farm as a high-priority land-acquisition need in the 1990s. That's the main reason the Gettysburg Foundation - which partners with the park on such projects - pursued the sale, Neil said.
"Without the park, the priority wouldn't have existed," she said. Despite the Spangler farm's deteriorating condition, it has maintained an appearance and integrity nearly identical to the days it was used as a field hospital, he said.
"This is a chance to preserve a field hospital basically in its entirety," Heiser said.
On a whim after lunch, a handful of Gettysburg Foundation officials stopped at the Spangler Farm for the first time to see the organization's most recently purchased historical property. "We all kind of just stood here for a second," Neil said last week while she stood in the summer kitchen. It was her second visit to the property and the first time she was showing the farm to members of the media. For now, the Spangler Farm remains closed to the public - except for on an occasional by-request basis. But that's a temporary status.
"The ultimate goal is to get people here," Neil said. The earliest Neil could foresee the Spangler Farm being ready for public tours would be a year from now, but she added it will likely be longer. Until then, the plan is to work with historians and to assess the property's architectural stability. "We need to look at what's existing from the time of the battle," Neil said. "We want to protect what's here first and foremost." Archaeological surveys could be an important part of that study, Heiser said.
Because so little research has been conducted at the property, there's no telling what could be found there, he said. "It's amazing what can be told out of the profile of soil, just a few inches down," Heiser said. "I think the majority of it is literally untouched." Heiser called the farm an "archaeologist's dream" but cautioned that there's no way to know whether private owners had ever hired people to excavate the property before. "We don't know the recent history of the farm," he said.
Heiser said historians will use documents like tax records and newspaper articles to piece together as much of the story as possible. Neil said Foundation officials are not even sure whether the property was being used by its previous owners as recently as this year. "I think they lived in it until quite recently," she said. But the Foundation is committed to answering so many lingering questions about the farm and restoring the property, she said. They've already scheduled a volunteer clean-up day with another organization, Tourism Cares, in April of 2009. As word gets out that the Spangler Farm has come into new ownership, Heiser said he expects Gettysburg enthusiasts to be lining up for a chance to walk on the historical property. "They'll be here to see it," he said.
Text Source: http://www.eveningsun.com/ci_9447429
Photo: Top---Evening Sun Photo by Meghan Gauriloff
Middle (Kitchen) and Bottom (House) --- pw2.netcom.com/~buck1755/spangler.htm