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