On June 4, 2022, about 60 descendants of George and Elizabeth Spangler and their family members gathered at the Spanglers’ former farm in Cumberland Township near Gettysburg to get to know one another and honor the role of their ancestors and their farm in the Battle of Gettysburg.
Descendants traveled from California, Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky, South Carolina, Maryland, New York, Vermont and all over Pennsylvania–including many from Adams County–for the first-time gathering. Descendants visiting the historic site ranged in age from 7 months to 90 years and from 2X to 5X great grandchildren of the Spanglers. Descendants came from the Spanglers’ three oldest children Harriet, Sabina and Daniel. Youngest child Beniah has no living descendants today.
The event was sponsored by the Gettysburg Foundation and organized by Ron Kirkwood of York, active volunteer with the Foundation and author of the 2019 book Too Much for Human Endurance: The George Spangler Farm Hospitals and the Battle of Gettysburg. Kirkwood began researching the Spanglers’ genealogy in January 2021 and informed most of the descendants as he discovered them of their ties to the historic property.
“The best part of the day for me was watching relatives who had previously never met eagerly hug, link arms for photos, laugh and vow to stay in touch,” Kirkwood said. “The farm and their ancestors have a lot of meaning for them now that they know about this place, and they literally traveled from all over the country just for this one-day event and to meet their family members. The pride in their ancestors and the farm was obvious, and it meant a lot to see it,” added Kirkwood.
George and Elizabeth Spangler and their four children ages 14-21 owned and operated a successful 166-acre farm directly behind the Army of the Potomac line when it was suddenly transformed into a field hospital during the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1-3, 1863. The Spanglers huddled in one upstairs bedroom of their home for five weeks and two days while their house, other buildings and fields were occupied by the Union XI Corps hospital and 1,900 wounded and dying Union and Confederate soldiers. The family could leave their bedroom, but in doing so they had to work their way around the wounded and dying Union officers in their house, including Brig. Gen. Francis C. Barlow, who lived, and Cols. Eliakim Sherrill and Francis Mahler, who both died. Confederate Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead died in the Spanglers’ summer kitchen.
Union Maj. Gen. George Meade also stationed his Artillery Reserve and infantry reserves, ammunition train and a signal station on the farm, covering the property with thousands of soldiers, horses and mules and hundreds of wagons and cannons. A smaller hospital of about 800 men of the First Division Second Corps who fought at the Wheatfield occupied land around the Granite Schoolhouse in the middle of the Spanglers’ farm.
Kirkwood led an opening program in the top floor of the barn where the Spanglers once worked and wounded men lay. Descendants received information about the farm and the Spanglers. They interacted with living historians from the Blue & Gray Hospital Association, talked with historic barn preservation experts from Historic Gettysburg Adams County and Gettysburg Foundation volunteers and docents. Guests explored the property in addition to meeting one another.
George and Elizabeth’s 3X great granddaughter Elizabeth Thomas Bartom of Illinois through Sabina called it “a fabulous event.” Their 2X great grandson Calvin Spangler of Kansas through Daniel suggested making this a yearly gathering. Gettysburg Area School District teacher Scott Snyder and 3X descendant through Sabina said, “Fantastic day. Very surreal to stand at a place where so much occurred during the battle. So neat to meet and talk to descendants of all the Spangler children.”
The Gettysburg Foundation purchased the now 80-acre property in 2008, restored the barn, summer kitchen and smokehouse to 1863 detail, and rehabilitated the farmhouse. The renovated farmhouse, which includes a state-of-the-art classroom and visitor amenities, now serves as the headquarters of the Gettysburg Foundation’s Professional Leadership Development programs and the Kinsley Leadership Center.
The historic site is open on summer weekends for visitors to explore the property, interact with living historians and enjoy programming. The 2022 summer season has begun, and visitors can access the historic site via timed shuttles (tickets required) departing from the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center. Special events and evening programs are offered throughout the year.
To learn more, inquire about Professional Leadership Development programs and purchase timed shuttle tickets to visit the site on summer weekends, Friday to Sunday through Aug. 14, 2022, visit GettysburgFoundation.org.