About the Pry House
Philip and Samuel Pry were brothers who inherited their father’s farm near Keedysville, Maryland, in 1828. Philip built his house on a rise on the east bank of Antietam Creek in 1844, using bricks fired on the property. Samuel lived just north of Philip and operated a mill.
In September 1862, the Union Army took over Philip’s property to use as a staging area in preparation for the upcoming battle. Philip, his wife Elizabeth, and their six children lives were abruptly disrupted by the war. During the Battle of Antietam on September 17, Philip remained at the house while his wife and children were taken by an army ambulance to nearby Keedysville, where they stayed on Jacob Keedy’s farm.
The Pry house hosted the commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, General George B. McClellan, and his staff during the battle. The officers moved the Pry’s best parlor furniture out onto the front lawn and set up tent stakes as telescope rests from which they watched the action in the central portion of the battlefield as it unfolded.
“I saw near McClellan’s headquarters at Pry’s farm, on a bare hill beyond it, a group of dismounted officers. I climbed the hilltop, and the group resolved itself into Generals McClellan, Fitz-John Porter, and other officers unknown to me. Aides and couriers were coming and going with fidgety hurry, bringing reports and taking orders….Who, that stood upon the hilltop there, could ever forget the soul-racking suspense, the burning anxiety, the heart thumps of those history-making moments, all watching closely the advancing wall of battle and wondering what would be the outcome of the early dash upon the hidden enemy’s stronghold in the gloom of the west wood?” – Frank H. Schell, Special Artist, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.
Before the battle, the entire Second Corps of the Union Army was encamped on and near the Pry property, and the spring served as a welcome source of fresh water for the soldiers. Near the house was the central station for an elaborate Signal Corps observation system, connecting McClellan to the signal stations of other officers and to a station on the summit of Elk Ridge, which had a commanding view of the area.
The Pry property was also headquarters for the Medical Department under Dr. Jonathan Letterman, Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac. Letterman remained at the house throughout the battle, relying on Assistant Surgeon Benjamin Howard for information on the conditions of other field hospitals and the evacuation of the wounded. Prior to the battle, the ambulances had been collected near the Pry House, where they were dispatched to transport the wounded from the battlefield.
Philip Pry’s barn was used as a field hospital for enlisted men, mainly from Richardson’s Division of the Second Corps. The Pry barn, the R. F. Kennedy, and Henry Neikirk farms on the west bank of Antietam Creek were all under the direction of Surgeon John Howard Taylor. At least 1,500 men were treated at these three locations and the overcrowding left many without adequate clothing and bedding. Philip’s brother, Samuel Pry, was also affected. Samuel’s house, barn and mill were used as field hospitals, as were most of the buildings in the Sharpsburg and Keedysville area.
Two Union officers were brought to the Pry house to be treated after being wounded during the battle. An injury to Major General Joseph Hooker’s foot proved to be minor. He was treated by Letterman and other staff surgeons at the house until he was transported to Washington, DC. Major General Israel Richardson’s injury was more severe—the projectile had entered Richardson’s side, injuring his internal organs. He was placed in the large upstairs bedroom of Philip and Elizabeth, and was attended to by Surgeon John Howard Taylor. In early October, President Abraham Lincoln visited Richardson at the Pry house. Later that month, Richardson’s wife and sister came from Michigan to help with his nursing care. They felt that he was improving, but pneumonia set in and he died in the Pry house on November 3, 1862.
After the battle, the Pry family faced considerable losses. Their food stores had been depleted, their livestock slaughtered by the army, their fences burned for fuel, their hay and fodder used up, and their personal possessions damaged or missing. Twenty acres of ripe corn, still in the field, were consumed by the army’s horses. The ability to plant the next year’s crops was negatively impacted by the loss of plants for seed and animals for plowing. Although Philip filed damage claims with the government, he did not receive the compensation he thought he deserved.
“Before the war he was a prosperous man, owning one of the finest farms in the county lying in the vicinity of the battlefield of Antietam. He is now in serious circumstances. I have known him for thirty years, an upright, honest man and good citizen. His loyalty is unquestioned.” – William T. Hamilton, commenting on Philip Pry’s circumstances, February 1874.
In 1874, the family decided to move to Tennessee to start a new life. When Elizabeth died in 1886, her family honored her wish to be buried in Maryland near her family and friends. Philip lived until 1900, and he was buried next to his wife in the Fairview Cemetery in Keedysville.