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Civil War experience of Shepherdstown’s churches discussed at First Tuesday Speaker Series

By Staff | Nov 15, 2019

National Museum of Civil War Medicine historian John Lustrea speaks with Rick Morrison, of Shepherdstown, after the workshop was over at Christ Reformed United Church of Christ on Nov. 5. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — What did the churches of Shepherdstown have to go through, because of the Battle of Antietam and the subsequent military encampment in Shepherdstown?

According to historian John Lustrea, who works at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md., the encampment shocked them and the rest of the town, as it doubled the number of residents in Shepherdstown for many months.

“The town’s population essentially doubles for several months, in caring for the soldiers,” Lustrea said, mentioning most of the Civil War soldiers buried in Shepherdstown’s graveyards are from the South. “The majority of the Union wounded were taken over to Frederick.”

“The experience of Shepherdstown following the Battle of Antietam was certainly unique, but there were other small towns that had been put in similar positions, so it was not abnormal,” Lustrea said of the encampment. “What amazes me, is how the medical professionals arranged to effectively care for these people, with no prior preparation! It’s a logistical nightmare, to make all that happen.”

According to Lustrea, the original designated town for the South to fall back to was Boonsboro, Md., but after the battle went badly, the medical officers changed their plans and started taking the wounded to Shepherdstown, instead.

“A medical officer had to calculate in his mind, ‘How likely are we to win this battle?’ and send the wounded further back from the battle if it’s too close,” Lustrea said. “You don’t want to put wounded soldiers in danger of being in a place where cannonballs are flying through!”

As the town welcomed the wounded soldiers and medical staff, they rapidly prepared to feed and house the soldiers. Knowing that many of the wounded would need to be treated and operated on, the churches got inventive in preserving their buildings.

Lustrea, who was speaking in the First Tuesday Speaker Series on Nov. 5 at Christ Reformed United Church of Christ, said CRUCC did not have a pastor at the time to record what happened to the church from 1861-1864. However, most of the other local churches recorded one particular project they undertook, which Lustrea said was also likely done at CRUCC.

“They built a false floor over the pews, so the pews wouldn’t be ruined,” Lustrea said, mentioning that CRUCC’s pews in its sanctuary were the ones that were there during the Civil War.

To learn more about the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, visit www.civilwarmed.org.