A Battle, A Brown Bundle & A Black Farmer

Aggression raged alongside a congregation of pacifists. The War Between the States was in their backyard. The skirmish? The Battle of Antietam in Sharpsburg, Maryland. The small group opposed to war and slavery? The Dunkards (a.k.a. the Brethren Church).  The year? 1862.

As the gun smoke settled from “the bloodiest day,” and the Army of the Potomac tended to the wounded and carried out burial detail, Corporal Nathan Dykeman of the 107th New York Infantry wandered into the battle-scarred Dunker Church and found the Holy Bible open and in tact on the altar. He took the Good Book as a battlefield souvenir. Later Dykeman, with the help of a buddy, transported the large, heavy Book — 9 x 11 x 2 ½ inches – to his home in Millport, New York, while on furlough.

Dykeman returned to the War and saw the Southern States surrender, but he would never muster out of service. He was hit by a train while walking to a railroad station on the outskirts of Washington, DC. (The 107th was positioned there for the Grand Review march down Pennsylvania Avenue.)

Meanwhile, Dykeman’s sister in New York had possession of the Dunkard Bible. In 1903, she sought to have it returned to the congregation at Sharpsburg, Maryland.  She turned to the 107th New York Veterans Association for help. The Veterans were unsure of how to locate the Dunkards in Maryland, but they recalled that John Lewis, a black farmer who lived in nearby Elmira, NY, claimed to be a Dunkard.

Lewis, originally from Carroll County, Maryland, exchanged letters with Elder John E. Otto of the Sharpsburg Brethren, and the leather-bound book was returned home after more than 40 years.

The Bible remained in the Dunker Church until 1914.  It was then wrapped in brown paper and stored for a stint, making its way to the vault at Fahrney-Keedy Home in nearby Mapleville for safe-keeping.  Reportedly the Holy Brown Bundle doubled as a doorstop during a remodeling project. When it was finally unwrapped and its contents fully appreciated, the Bible was sent to the Visitors Center at Antietam for display. Each September, the Bible is taken to the (rebuilt) Dunker Church as part of a special Brethren worship service. [1]

The Dunker Church at Antietam, (Sharpsburg, MD), 2009


[1] Today’s facts were compiled from the following sources:

Clem, Richard. “Civil War Footsteps.” The Cracker Barrel Magazine Dec. 2003/Jan. 2004, pp. 10, 12, 14.
Clem, Richard, “Travels and travails of ‘battlefield Bible’.” The Washington Post online