Tour Stop 1 - Dunker Church

The Dunker Church at Antietam on a fall afternoon

Built in 1852, this mod­est House of worship for pacifist German Baptist Brethren became a focal point for Union attacks the morning of the battle.


"May it stand as it did in war – as a beacon to guide men searching their way through the darkness. May it stand throughout all ages as a symbol of mercy, peace, and understanding."

Maryland Governor Millard Tawes, Church Rededication Service, September 2, 1962

The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest one-day battle in American History. Yet ironically one of the most noted landmarks on this field of combat is a house of worship associated with peace and love. This historic church was built by local German Baptist Brethren in 1852 on land donated by local farmer Samuel Mumma. The name "Dunker" comes from their practice of full immersion baptism. During its early history the congregation consisted of about a half-dozen farm families from the local area. Although heavily damaged during the battle by rifle and artillery fire, the church survived, only to be blown down by a windstorm in 1921. Rebuilt for the Civil War Centennial, it stands today as not only a step back in time, but also as a solemn reminder of the impact the battle had on the local families.

Learn more about the Dunkers.


Open Transcript 


Hi, my name is Jenna Lynch. I'm a park Ranger here at Antietam National Battlefield, and today we're at tour Stop #1 the Dunker Church. On September 17th, 1862. This small House of worship would silently witness the bloodiest day in American history.

A century before civil unrest swept the nation, German Baptist Brethren began settling along Antietam Creek. As they established their small community, the Brethren plan to build a one room meeting house 1/2-acre plot of land was donated by Samuel and Elizabeth Luma for the construction of the church. Several families from the area worked together to build and fund the structure. In 1852, the members of the congregation became known as the Dunkers, for their practice of full immersion baptism. Many of the members were baptized in Antietam Creek.

The Dunkers were pacifists, meaning they didn't believe in war or violence. Unbeknownst to them, their meeting house would soon be the center of a heated battle between brothers. On September 14, 1862, the Battle of South Mountain raged just a few short miles from Sharpsburg. The Dunkers, like many residents, heard the fighting and would make the difficult decision to leave their homes and seek shelter in neighboring communities. Over the next few days, Confederate and Union forces would flood into Sharpsburg and the peaceful town would be changed forever.

At dawn on September 17th, the small, whitewashed church was one of the few landmarks visible on the field. The area around the church was used by Confederate General Thomas Stonewall Jackson's men to launch their attack and to send in reinforcements as General Joseph Hookers First Corps made their way through Miller's cornfield with the objective of securing the Dunker Church, Plateau Confederate reinforcements were sorely needed.

John Bell Hood's men were in reserve near the Dunker Church and were preparing their first hot meal in days. Ezra Carmen, an officer of the 13th New Jersey and later a historian for Antietam National Battlefield, gathered accounts from Hood's men. He writes around 7:00 in the morning, a call to arms was instantly sounded and quite a number of hoods men. We're obliged to go to the front, leaving their uncooked rations behind. Some carried the half cooked dough on their ramrods and ate it as they went forward.

Hoods men rushed onto the field and launched A ferocious attack, pushing the men of the first corps back to the cornfield. Achieving their goal of halting the Union advance came at a high price. Hood's division suffered casualty rates of over 50% when asked where his men were, Hood answered dead on the field. After 12 grueling hours of fighting, 23,000 men were killed, wounded or missing. A white flag was placed atop the Dunker Church, signifying an informal truce. The battle had come to a close, but the work was just beginning for the Army's medical department and burial crews.

The days after the battle are 1000 times worse than the day of the battle, and the physical pain is not the greatest pain suffered. William Child, Major and surgeon with the 5th Regiment, New Hampshire volunteers, “Union and Confederate forces retrieved their wounded and brought them to field hospitals to be treated. The church, like many of the structures in Sharpsburg, was used to treat wounded soldiers.”

The building was then used as an embalming station, in which fallen soldiers whose families could afford it were prepared for train travel back to their families. A photographer named Alexander Gardner arrived at the battlefield on September 19th. Gardner captured the death and destruction of battle in 70 images. The Dunker Church is featured in one of Gardner's photos. The damage sustained during the battle from incessant rifle and cannon fire can be seen in his photo. By 1864 it had been mended and services continued until the structure fell into disrepair in the early 1900s.

A powerful windstorm tore through the town of Sharpsburg in 1921, levelling the Dunker Church. All that remained of the structure was its foundation. A Sharpsburg resident named Elmer G Boyer collected the remnants of the church and stored them in his barn.

Over the next 30 years, the property would change hands several times. It was eventually purchased by the Maryland Historical Society and donated to the National Park Service. The historic church was rebuilt using much of the original salvage material and was rededicated during the Centennial anniversary in 1962.

The Dunker Church is an iconic part of the cultural and historic landscape here at Antietam National Battlefield, visitors can go inside the Dunker Church and reflect on the experiences of the families who built the structure and the sacrifices made on this hallowed ground. To learn more about the initial action here at the Battle of Antietam, proceed to tour stop #2 the North Woods.

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
5 minutes, 4 seconds

Tour Stop 1, Dunker Church


Go to the next tour stop - the North Woods
Return to Tour Map



Last updated: September 20, 2021

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 158
Sharpsburg, MD 21782


301 432-5124

Contact Us