The George Spangler Farm: 11th Army Corps Hospital
By: Wayne E. Motts, Executive Director Adams County Historical Society and Licensed Battlefield Guide
Situated just south of the Borough of Gettysburg between the Taneytown Road and the Baltimore Pike is the George Spangler homestead. This Adams County farm is one of the best persevered and most historically significant farmstead related to the Battle of Gettysburg still standing from the great battle of 1863.
The Spangler Farm was part of the Manor of the Maske, a 43,500 acre tract the Penns had surveyed for themselves in 1766. It included almost all of Cumberland Township and what is now the Borough of Gettysburg. Because the revolutionary government of Pennsylvania permitted the Penns to retain their manors, some eight in number, the only clear title for a Manor of the Maske tract had to be purchased and granted by the Penn heirs.
There is evidence of a very early settler on the Spangler Farm but unfortunately the name of this person has been lost to history. The first known resident of the George Spangler Farm was John Dodds who appears in the 1798 Federal Direct Tax list. Dodds resided in what is described as a one story home constructed of “old logs.” He also owned a log stable and rented a barn nearby from William Guinn. Dodds owned the property at least through 1807 but for a twenty year period thereafter it is not known who owned or lived on the property. In 1827 a local weaver named Henry Bishop, Sr. (1825-1864) is taxed for the farm. After two decades under his ownership, Bishop sold the property in 1848 to George Spangler. At the time of the sale the farm consisted of some 80 acres. Spangler lived on the property for fifty-six years and died in his 88th year in the home in 1904.
George Spangler was born on December 19, 1815 in Adams County. He was the son of Abraham Spangler and his wife Mary Knopp Spangler. At the time of the Battle of Gettysburg the Spangler family was one of the most well-known in the area. George’s father Abraham lived on the Chambersburg Pike in a home which was right next to Willoughby’s Run in the heart of the first day’s battlefield. George’s brother Henry owned a farm on their Emmitsburg Road in the fields of what became Pickett’s Charge. Henry and his wife Sarah Plank Spangler rented there Emmitsburg Road property and actually resided near Culp’s Hill in the farm his father had bought back in 1827. This old log house known as the Abraham Spangler House still stands on the Taneytown Road just north of the current entrance to the National Park Museum. The land owned by Abraham in 1863 is on the park tour route with his spring a highlight of the Culp’s Hill battle area.
George Spangler married Elizabeth Brinkerhoff in 1841 and the couple had four children. Harriet Jane (1842-1904), Sabina Catherine (1844-1924), Daniel E. (1845-1932), and Beniah (1848-1932). This last son was born on the property. It is not known if George built the current stone house situated on his land sometime after he acquired the property in 1848, or if this house was constructed sometime between 1807 and 1848. The house, barn, summer kitchen, and current smoke house on the property most certainly date to the Civil War. By 1860, George Spangler had a small but nicely producing farm on the eve of the Civil War. The agricultural censes for this year shows the Spangler Farm consisted of 85 improved acres and 15 unimproved acres. The cash value of the property was $5,000 and there were 34 animals there including pigs, sheep, horses, and cows. Crops grown by Spangler included 180 bushels of wheat, 600 bushels of Indian Corn and 202 bushels of oats.
Unfortunately for Spangler and his family, three years later the war came to Adams County. In 1863, George Spangler’s home was six rooms and he had a total of 166 acres of land with his home, barn, and other outbuildings situated on the largest tract of his property. After the heavy fighting west and north of town, and the subsequent retreat of the Union forces through Gettysburg to positions south of the town, Spangler’s home and property were appropriated for use by the 11th Union Army Corps as a field hospital. First the farm was home to the hospital for the 2nd Division of this corps and later, after the division hospitals were consolidated, the Spangler Farm became the field hospital for the entire 11th Corps. Spangler himself stated the property was occupied for five weeks and two days when all the patients were either already shipped away, or the remaining wounded soldiers were sent to the Letterman General Hospital located along the York Pike east of Gettysburg.
All totaled some 1,800 Union soldiers and about 100 Southern troops were treated at the hospital. Conditions were nearly indescribable. All the structures on the property were filled to capacity with wounded men. Many of the troops were bivouacked outside in tents. During the battle, the surgeons assigned to the Spangler’s Farm worked around the clock to treat wounded. Dr. Daniel Brinton later recalled:
The wounded soon began to pour in, giving us such sufficient occupation that from the 1st of July until the afternoon of the fifth, I was not absent from the hospital more than once and then but for an hour or two. Very hard work it was, too, & little sleep fell to our share. Four operating tables were going night and day. On the 4th of July, which in its surroundings gloomy enough, was enlivened by our belief that we had gained a victory, the number in the hospital was about 1000. A heavy rain came over in the afternoon and as we had laid many in spots without shelter some indeed in the barnyard where the foul water oozed up into their undressed wounds, the sight was harassing in the extreme. We worked with little intermission, & with a minimum amount of sleep. One day I arose at 2 AM & worked incessantly till midnight. I doubt if I ever worked harder at a more disagreeable occupation. On the afternoon of the 3rd we are exposed to a sharp fire of shells. Several horses and one man were killed close to the hospital. Shells fell within 20 feet of the room where we were, and we were much in fear that the barn would blaze, which would have been an unspeakable frightful casualty.
Jacob T. Zehrung, a solider in the 73rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, who stayed at the farm to assist in the care of wounded, noted in his diary it rained for eight of twenty-eight days he was at the hospital. On some days the rain fell in torrents and the combination of the heat and water left the hospital a muddy and bloody mess. All six Spangler family members remained at the farm and occupied a single room of the stone house during their farm’s military occupation. At least one neighbor is also known to have fled his home and joined the Spangler family in their dwelling.
Not only was the property completely full of wounded men, but the field south of the house was used as the burial ground for those who died at hospital. The Elliott Burial Map illustrates dozens of burials at the site including at least twenty Confederate graves. Among those who died at the property was Brigadier General Lewis A. Armistead of Pickett’s Division mortally wounded in Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863 and Private George Nixon a soldier in the 73rd Ohio
Volunteer Infantry Regiment mortally wounded skirmishing on the edge of Gettysburg. Nixon was the great-grandfather of President Richard M. Nixon. Most of the Union soldiers who died at the hospital were later reinterred at the Gettysburg National Cemetery. General Armistead’s remains, the highest ranking officer at Gettysburg to die at the Spangler Farm, were paid for and retrieved by his cousin in Baltimore, Maryland in October 1863. Today Lewis Armistead rests in Old St. Paul’s Cemetery in Baltimore. It is not known when all the other Confederate soldiers who died on George Spangler’s farm were reinterred. While some were not doubt removed after the battle, most would have been removed with the rest of the Southern troops in 1872.
After the hospital on his property was closed, George Spangler began to rebuild his life and the lives of his family. On October 12, 1875, Spangler filed a damage claim with the quartermaster general of the United States in an attempt to recoup some of his losses during the battle. He requested $2,843.40 for a variety of damages including but not limited to, burned rails and shingles, damage to his barn and other buildings, as well as trampled or destroyed wheat, corn, hay, straw, and meadow land. A year later he submitted an additional claim for $90.00 worth of hay. In 1877 he again submitted a claim this time for a total of $3,044.00. This was for the same items listed in the original 1875 request. To assist him in his efforts Spangler hired a Washington, DC attorney who specialized in land matters. The wheels of bureaucracy turned slowly and on March 1, 1881 the treasury department closed the case with a recommendation and issuance of settlement for the damages sustained by Spangler during and after the Battle of Gettysburg for just $60.00. The amount was made payable to Spangler’s attorney Mr. William Fitch. It is not known if Spangler actually received this trivial amount of cash.
Despite the fact that Spangler received no help from the government at any level, he set about the task of cleaning up the mess left by the battle and aftermath and again putting his family and property on stable footing. With failure not an option, he was successful in his work for seven years after the battle in the agricultural census of 1870 listed the value of his farm at $9,000 which was $4,000 more than a decade earlier. The value of his farm equipment and machinery went from $300.00 in 1860 to $500.00 in 1870. In addition, the value of his livestock went from $530.00 in 1860 to $1,390 in 1870. Crop production at the farm was also up from the decade earlier. While not a wealthy man Spangler and his family lived comfortably.
After Spangler died in 1904 the farmstead passed to his wife and children. The family kept at least some portion of the property until 1911 when all the tracts of the original Spangler Farm had passed out of the family’s hands. After a series of owners, the property was acquired by the Andrew family of Adams County and remained in their possession from 1953 until 2008 when it was purchased by the Gettysburg Foundation. Despite the fact that the farm was in serious need of rehabilitation, little had changed on the property since the Civil War. Fortunately this historically significant farm, and hospital site will be preserved for future generations.
The research for the Spangler Farm is ongoing! If you have any further information about the Spangler Farm, please contact the Adams County Historical Society at firstname.lastname@example.org.