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Civil War Diary

The 150th Commemoration of the Maryland Campaign

The 1862 Maryland Campaign on the Home Front

John Miller
Emmitsburg Area Historical Society

While the people of the South rejoiced over the Confederate victory at Second Manassas in late August of 1862, the people in the North saw their morale sink even further as fear sat in. The Confederate army followed up on their victory with an attempt to cut off General John Pope’s Army of Virginia at Chantilly, Virginia, and prevent his retreat to the fortifications of Washington. By September 2nd, the Confederate cavalry attacked Union cavalry at Leesburg, opening a clear route to the Potomac River. By September 3rd, the main body of the Confederate army was encamped near Leesburg. With permission from the Confederate government, Lee was now ready to march his army across the Potomac River into Maryland.

Up until now, the Army of Northern Virginia fought their battles in Virginia, taking a toll of the civilian population in the South. No major battles or campaigns had been waged north of the Potomac River and because of that, the northern people had no idea of the devastation caused by the armies. By taking the war northward into Maryland it would provide Virginia farmers time to harvest their crops, and at the same time disrupt the daily lives of the northern population. If victory could be obtained, the Confederate government could get European recognition and additional manpower from Marylanders enlisting in the Confederate army. A victory on northern soil could turn the northern population against its leaders in Washington, demanding peace by putting an end to the war.

By September 4th, the Confederate army began fording the Potomac River. It was important for the Confederate army to be seen as liberators, and orders were issued to the Confederate soldiers respecting the people of Maryland. While the Confederate army was marching into Maryland, the alarm was sent out all along the countryside. Even in Pennsylvania, the civilian population began to panic. Many boat keepers along the C&O Canal fled with their animals to Frederick upon seeing the Confederate army fording the Potomac River.

As the fleeing civilians entered Frederick city, they told the people about the men of Lee’s army coming. Rumors spread all the way to Baltimore and Philadelphia about an invasion. In Philadelphia, a state of emergency was issued preparing people for the worst. Rumors have been rapidly here since June of 1862. But when farmers of the countryside ran into Frederick saying that a Confederate force would occupy the city in twenty-four hours, the rumors turned into a state of emergency. The people of Frederick that were Union loyalists began packing their belongings and fleeing the city, traveling north to Emmitsburg and Gettysburg. Several newspaper accounts stated that hundreds of fugitives were seen all along the Mason & Dixon Line. Other accounts stated that some ran in fear to Baltimore. Rumors of a Confederate invasion were old news to the people of Maryland.

By September 6th, Frederick city was occupied by Confederate cavalry, followed by infantry, and some artillery. Colonel Bradley Johnson was made Provost since he was a Frederick city resident before the war broke out. As the Confederate soldiers entered Fredrick, many pro-southern citizens watched in disbelief that this ragtag army of men were the same soldiers who achieved the recent victories in Virginia. Many descriptions were written about how dirty these Confederate soldiers were. But none of accounts reflected the other regiments that were wearing good uniforms who did not see heavy combat since their arrival in Virginia during the mid summer. While the pro-southern civilians stood in disbelief, the pro-Union civilians who could not escape were upset by the fact that there was no Union army to rid Frederick from the threat of the Confederate invaders.

Speeches were made to the civilians, many of which listened, but turned their backs on the Confederate plea. The soldiers were told to purchase items needed and not steal, but Confederate money was worthless in Maryland. As the Confederate soldiers ran door to door begging for food, many people kept their doors locked, including many of the pro-Southern people who upon seeing the dirty men, could not bear the smell and vermin that came with them.

The recruitment of men to serve in the Confederate army was less than one hundred and at that point. To Lee, it looked as though Frederick and Frederick County had already made its choice in favor of the Union. It wasn’t that Marylanders didn’t believe in the Confederate cause, the problem was that Maryland had already given up thousands of its sons and fathers, brothers and uncles to the Confederate cause. One example was the 500 men who left Maryland to fight in Charleston in December of 1860. Many Marylanders served in other areas of the Confederacy as well.

By September 9th, Lee issued Special Orders No. 191, moving his army into Washington County and sending more than half of his army to begin its part in besieging Harper’s Ferry. This was done to keep communication and supply routes open with no fear of Union soldiers attacking the rear of the Confederate army while it was in Washington County. The Confederate cavalry was busy. Many of them took to the mountain passes on the Catoctin Mountain, overlooking the country side toward Emmitsburg, Mechanicstown and Lewistown. Several Confederate cavalrymen were spotted as far east as Carroll County.

By the 12th of September, the rear of the Confederate army was moving through the streets of Frederick when the advance units of the Army of the Potomac were marching into the city. Clashes in the streets occurred. The next day, McClellan was hailed by the Frederick residents and was seen as the liberator. General George McClellan received a copy of General Robert E. Lee’s orders. But McClellan had to find out how accurate they were. McClellan ordered General Alfred Pleasanton to send out cavalry patrols. Many of those Union cavalry companies were spread across the country side. Upon their arrival in Emmitsburg, many civilians thought that these Union men were Confederate soldiers.

As the Confederate army marched into Washington County, many pro-Union civilians were afraid they would be turned into the Provost by their pro-southern neighbors because of their political views. Fear of being sent to a Confederate prison or being conscripted into the Confederate army as laborers, drove many of the pro-Union men to leave their families and flee to Pennsylvania taking valuables, livestock, and horses with them.

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