A week ago, I had a chance to visit to Sharpsburg and the Antietam Battlefield. For the first time, I sought out General Lee’s Headquarters. It is a beautiful spot, in a grove of old trees, with a monument and plaque, and it is located on Main Street or Shepherdstown Pike. However, looking at several different maps may lead one to conclude that Lee’s headquarters seem to be elsewhere.
Lee arrived in Sharpsburg early on the morning of September 15. He first surveyed the ground from the Pry farm, crossed Antietam Creek, and moved to a hill near the Lutheran Church Cemetery, where he was joined by Longstreet, and then Stuart. Later that day, Lee set up his headquarters, but the location is not certain. William Owens, a member of the Washington Artillery, wrote that Lee spent the night in a house on the edge of town, with Longstreet using the same structure. (Owen, In Camp and Battle with the Washington Artillery, 139) Ezra Carman, writing after the war, tells us that Lee, Longstreet, and Jackson held a war council at the home of Jacob A. Grove “at the southwest corner of the Sharpsburg town square.” (Clemens, The Maryland Campaign, 2:30). Scott Hartwig writes that Lee spent the night of September 15 “camped in a small woodlot about three questers of a mile west of the center of Sharpsburg.” (To Antietam Creek, 596)
Lee was mobile on September 16, riding over the field, meeting with generals, positioning troops. It seems that his daylight headquarters were on Cemetery Hill, now the site of the National Cemetery. Later that day, Lee moved back to the wooded lot on the western edge of town. This spot was Lee’s headquarters for the remainder of the battle. However, just where was this spot? Was it the location traditionally known as Lee’s Headquarters on Main Street?
Maps from the time period show many different sites. The recently-found Elliott map (1864, New York Public Library), places Lee’s Headquarters well south of the Shepherdstown Pike.
The Robert K. Sneden map (Library of Congress), also war-time, places headquarters at the S.D. Piper farm. The Piper farm was located off what is today Snyder’s Landing Road.
Another Sneden map (Library of Congress), shows the headquarters just outside of town.
The Atlas of the Battle of Antietam (1904, Library of Congress), places Lee’s headquarters about where the marker is today.
Finding and documenting the location of any Confederate commander’s headquarters site is a challenge. While generals and staff officers frequently tell us that they met a commanding general, they frequently do not tell us where.