Select Page

Antietam is a critical turning point for Amanda Felch in the Civil War.  She had participated in the failed Penninsula Campaign working as a hospital matron for the Vermont third, working directly with the surgeons and stewards to assist the wounded and ill.  After spending some time in the Harrison Landing area (James River) she returned to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont via Fort Monroe and Alexandria  for a short time in the summer of 1862.  There she was able to see her father Ira, his second wife Mary, her two sisters Eliza and Nancy, her five half sisters Elizabeth, Lovila, Mahala, Eva, and Lydia.  Most of all she came to see her first born son Albert who was born to Amanda and her first husband Hyram Farnham whom she separated from before the war broke out. She may have also found out that Hyram had enlisted as a private on 16 August 1862 in Company G, 50th Infantry Regiment Massachusetts.

It was getting late in the summer of 1862 and the war was in all of its “glory” when Amanda felt well enough to return.  She got on the train in St. Johnsbury where she and her brother Henry originally mustered into service over a year ago.   She most likely was able to take the train all the way to Washington D.C. where she have found pretty much a city in chaos on September 14, 1862.  Word was rapidly spreading that the south was planning an invasion, call it the Maryland campaign and our troops were on the march to repel that assault.  She could not find nor understood that her own Vermont troops were engaged in the Battle of South Mountain, a significant battle campaign leading up to Antietam. Specifically the Vermont troops were engaged in a particular part of the battle called Crampton’s Gap.

War Memorial at Cramptons Gap

War Memorial at Cramptons Gap

Amanda was war tested, tough, and ready at this point and she found some soldiers and explained that she was a hospital matron and she needed a medical wagon, horses, and supplies and she was not going to take no for an answer.  Her troops needed her.  She followed the leads and eventually found her way into the office of the Secretary of War, Stanton.  Stanton was Lincoln’s right hand man and after he listened to her story, he issued an order for her to receive the equipment she requested.

Secretary of War - Stanton

Secretary of War – Stanton

Amanda took these orders and found her way to the supply center where medical wagons were kept. She presented her orders and within a few hours or so she has her wagon fully fitted and ready to travel.  This may have also been the moment when she would have also been issued her own civil war revolver, something that would come in to play just before Chancellorville.  She asked where to go and the word was to head northwest about 70 miles most likely toward Frederick Maryland and continuing past that point.

Most likely she would have come across troops along the way and she would have been able to find her way.   Amanda arrived the day of the battle and she would have been able to hear the canons and guns from a long ways away.   Lincoln came to Antietam also after the battle.

Lincoln at Antitiem

Antietam, Md. Allan Pinkerton, President Lincoln, and Maj. Gen. John A. McClelland;

Amanda tells the story of Antietam in her own words:  

“I rejoined he army on the 17th day of September 1862 at Antietam, Maryland while the battle was in progress, and not readily finding the Vermont Brigade – “I went to the field hospital of French’s Division – [and helped] them through the day and most of the following night.”

Here Amanda performed “her first and only surgical operation. A soldier had been struck in the right breast by a partly spent ball, but with such force enough to follow around the body under the skin, stopping just below the shoulder-blade.  Taking the only instrument she had, a pair of sharp button-hole scissors, and pinching the ball up with the thumb and finger, she made a slight incision and pressed the ball out.”

Over time, JoAnn and I have learned a little bit more about what this surgery may have been like.  First off, women did not perform surgeries so the surgeons must have had great faith in Amanda and secondly those bullets in the civil war were large, very large and this surgery was a little tougher than it sounds at first.   Based on a review of the battle and Amanda’s mention of French’s division it is likely that this surgery and her work at Antitiem would have been near a location called Roulette’s Farm.

Old Vermont Brigade Monument at Antietam

Old Vermont Brigade Monument at Antietam

We’ve talked about Amanda.  Marshall was there too although in the heat of the battle they probably never knew that both of them were there.  Based on the location of the monument above, it is likely that Marshall would have been behind the main lines probably less than a half mile from Roulette’s Farm.    By the way, one of  the most famous American women associated with the Civil War was Clara Barton who took on a role at Antietam similar to Amanda’s.  I’m probably predjudiced but I believe Amanda’s Civil War history was much more interesting than Clara’s!