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Civil War Diary

The 150th Commemoration of the Maryland Campaign

John Miller
Emmitsburg Area Historical Society

Part 4

By September 13th, 1862, a small portion of the Confederate army occupied South Mountain at Turner’s Gap and Fox’s Gap, the Wise family would have to leave their farmstead to avoid getting caught in the crossfire of the two opposing sides. They loaded up a wagon and headed west to a local church to take refuge there. As they left, an artillery shell came bursting through the woods, and General Daniel Harvey Hill, seeing one of the Wise children frightened and crying thought about his own child of the same age. He said a few soothing words to the young Wise girl and went back to work.

Allen Sparrow had taken many of his valuables to Pennsylvania. Upon arriving in Wolfesville, he heard the sounds of cannon firing. These sounds were from the Battle of South Mountain. At Wolfesville, receiving accurate news was hard to come by. He had heard that Middletown was torched by the Confederates but seeing the church steeples in the background in Middletown, he knew it wasn’t true.

The Battles on South Mountain were heard far and distant. Near Emmitsburg, Maryland, Right Reverend Monsignor James T. Dunn of Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary recorded "The battle of South Mountain, which lasted all day Sunday, the 14th of September, 1862, could be plainly heard at the College. As we were going up to Mass to the old church on the hill and as we were returning from Mass, we could hear the firing distinctly. Yet, recreation went on on the terraces and the ordinary routine of college life was followed, as if nothing unusual was happening. After vespers, which were held in the church on the hill, at 3 p. m., a few of us, under the care of Mr. John Crimmens, went down the Frederick pike, along the mountain side, to a place where a stream crossed the road well on towards Mechanicstown, and stood listening with awe to the sharp, ringing volleys of musketry and then the quick, sullen booming of the cannon, as they came along the reverberating sides of the mountain. The falling shades compelled us to tear ourselves away, as the rules required us all to be at home in time for supper. Again and again we stopped, as one report louder than another followed us, as if begging us to stay."

The civilians in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania also heard the gunfire during church services. The sounds of artillery fire echoed up the Cumberland Valley and the citizens of Waynesboro knew that they must prepare to assist in any way they could. The women of the town hurried that evening to get supplies and comforts together for the wounded. During the night one woman screamed upon finding out that her son had been killed at South Mountain. This was only the beginning of what was to come.

The morale of the northern people was at its lowest point and the Maryland Campaign would change that, in that the Battle of South Mountain would be the turning point. As September 14th, dawned the citizens of Maryland had not seen the death and destruction that war brings with it. The battles on South Mountain would be the forefront of what the Maryland population had never experienced before with the sounds of gunfire, the loss of life, and the care for the wounded. The battles of South Mountain would be a political turning point of the American Civil War, although today, Antietam has that distinction. It could be argued that South Mountain was one of the most important battles to be fought, after all if it wasn’t for South Mountain, then Antietam wouldn’t have been fought and the Emancipation Proclamation would have been delayed.

The armies would meet on the farm fields surrounding Sharpsburg during the evening of September 16th. The bloodiest single day of the Civil War would start at daybreak on the 17th. Many civilians prepared for this by hiding personal belongings and even fleeing their homes. One farmer hid eight horses in his cellar by tying feed sacks to their hooves to muffle their sounds. Upon a knock on a door by a soldier, one man hid under his wife’s crinolines to avoid detection.

Right Reverend Monsignor James T. Dunn wrote in reference to the Battle of Antietam: "The battle of Antietam followed immediately after South Mountain. During two days, the 16th and 17th of September, the battle raged, and more men were killed than in any previous battle of the war. The New York papers of the time even asserted that it was as great as the battle of Waterloo. As studies and classes and recreation succeeded one another, during those fearful days, little attention was paid, if even the students were conscious of it, to the battle."

In Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, the town’s people wrote about the earth shaking throughout the day, as the percussion from artillery made it seem as if an earthquake had hit. Windows rattled, floors shook, and objects fell off the walls inside of homes. The carnage revealed the next day would be devastating and would not be experienced again until ten months later when the Confederate army invaded Maryland and Pennsylvania, meeting at Gettysburg.

After the Battle of Antietam, every community in the north and south were affected in someway or another by the amount of bloodshed that occurred at Antietam. Whole regiments were almost wiped away from the earth. Here, in Maryland as well as in portions of Pennsylvania, communities were turned into hospitals, caring for the wounded and dying. Women were turned into nurses, assisting in saving the lives of others. One organization that helped was the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland, as they were called upon by Washington.

Elizabeth Ann Seton, was the founder and first Superior of the Sisters of Charity in the United States. Just after the Battle of Antietam, the Maryland state authorities petitioned the Sisters at Emmitsburg for help. The bodies of the blue and gray were scattered along the ground until many of them were moved into hospitals. For several days the Sisters went from site to site helping with the care of the wounded men. The soldiers were surprised to see the Sisters and bestowed upon them the nickname of the "Black caps."

After the Battle of Antietam, the Confederate army forded the Potomac at Shepherdstown. There again the armies would meet. The civilians of Shepherdstown would be caught in the crossfire of war. Rumors spread throughout the town, but with so much confusion, people there didn’t know if these rumors were true. All communications leading to the town had been cut, due to the war being waged in the Shenandoah Valley before Manassas. The railroads lay in waste. By September 13th, the citizens of Shepherdstown awoke to see that their town was occupied by stragglers of the Confederate army.

By September 15th, thick fog covered the town and the people there had no idea of what was to come. Casualties from the Battle of South Mountain began to pour in. Everyone in town prepared for the massive hoard of Confederate wounded. By the 17th, the sounds of war were close, and the surge of wounded soldiers completely overwhelmed the town. The citizens were so fatigued with the care they provided to the Confederate soldiers. By September 19th, the war had approached them as the Confederate army began entering the town followed by the reserves of the Union army. Artillery fire aimed at the Confederates and their counter fire placed Shepherdstown right in the middle.

As a result of the Maryland Campaign, the war was brought to the civilian population in the North. The sites of the carnage, and the moans of the wounded and dying were now imprinted into the memories of those who experienced it. The sites of war took months and years to erase. Even in 1864, several Confederate soldiers with General Early’s army still saw damages suffered from the Battle of Antietam that took place almost two years earlier.

Although the war moved back into Virginia, the Union army still laid in wait. By October, General JEB Stuart and his Confederate cavalry launched a raid that now took the war north of the Mason & Dixon Line to Chambersburg. From there he would enter back into Maryland at Emmitsburg, where he was hailed and received additional recruitments. These recruits were the men who were previously afraid to leave their homes to enlist, for fear of pro-Unionists punishing them. Now they had protection.

Because of the Maryland Campaign, many things changed, although the fear was still there. Politically, the people of the north saw the war take on a new agenda. This was not only a war to preserve the Union, but it became a war with a political agenda that included the freeing of slaves. The war would enter Maryland several more times and by 1864, Maryland citizens saw a path of destruction and the ransoming of its towns, including a threat to Washington, itself.

Part 5

Read more about Emmitsburg in the Civil War