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SHAF Buys Antietam Signal Station Site
By Deborah Fitts


SHARPSBURG, Md. - What is thought to be the site of an intriguing series of photographs from the Civil War is being preserved by Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF). It is purchasing 8 acres for $60,000.

The October 1862 images, taken in the aftermath of the battle of Antietam, show a large log signal tower draped with Union flagmen displaying a telescope and signal flag. The stumps of trees attest to a hasty clearing. Until now the location has been identified as atop Elk Ridge overlooking the battlefield.

But SHAF President Tom Clemens said SHAF co-founder and first president Dennis Frye discovered the actual site of the signal station. Frye was doing National Archives research on war damage claims on his property which was Burnside's headquarters.

Frye's efforts turned up a claim by a family seeking reimbursement for a one-and-a-half-acre stand of trees that had been leveled for a signal station behind their house. Documents also indicated that this was the farm, whose house still stands, where Union Gen. George McClellan made his post-battle headquarters for the Army of the Potomac.

The claim for damage to the trees matches the dates that McClellan stayed at the farm, Clemens noted. SHAF conjectured that Gardner simply walked up the hill to take the signal station photos at the same time. When SHAF went looking for the site, "We found hard evidence," he said.

Before the war the hilltop was apparently cut over several times to supply charcoal to a nearby iron furnace, Clemens said. The old charcoal hearth was adapted by the soldiers as the base of the signal tower. Piles of stones visible today, lying at regular intervals nearby, may represent remnants of huts, or stones piled by soldiers who were preparing to build huts, he said.

SHAF purchased two parcels, totaling 8 acres, including 3.5 acres that comprises the signal station site and the rest fronting a nearby road. A right-of-way through private property joins the two. The lower lot has been purchased, and at presstime SHAF was waiting to close on the hill-top. The small nonprofit group has a $60,000 mortgage to pay off. The site had been subdivided for a building lot.

"We were just so excited by the fact that here was a place we could document," said Clemens. "It was the 'then and now' experience."

Clemens declined to detail the site's location, saying only that it was somewhere "in southern Washington County." Once a parking area is created and an interpretive sign installed, SHAF will be able to escort visitors, by appointment, across the private property to the signal station site.

"We will have it eventually open for interpretation, but it will be a while yet," Clemens said.

He said SHAF would have preferred buying a larger tract, but couldn't afford it. They are hoping for donations and perhaps funding from the state to pay off the mortgage.

Once SHAF clears the trees that have overgrown the hilltop, the view that the flagmen had will be restored: a look "well into Virginia and West Virginia, and up and down the Potomac," whose fords McClellan was responsible for guarding.

Since its establishment in 1986 SHAF has acquired itself, or helped the state protect, more than 4000 acres surrounding Antietam Battlefield.

Donations to SHAF, a nonprofit organization, may be sent to P.O. Box 550,
Sharpsburg, MD 21782, designated for the signal station site.

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