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Emmitsburg Area In the Civil War

Wayde Chrismer

Part 3 of 4

Fighting in the Area

Comparatively little actual fighting occurred around the area at any time and none apparently in the town itself. Emmitsburg was always on the extreme perimeter of the battlefields of first Antietam, then Gettysburg and finally Monocacy (during the invasion of 1864). However, the town often saw cavalrymen from both armies out scouting their opponents or in pursuit of foes they knew had passed through here or were encamped nearby. Stuart's Confederates passed through Emmitsburg on their way back to Virginia from the first Chambersburg raid, following the battle of Antietam. This was on Oct. 11, 1862, when Stuart says in the ORs: "We then crossed to Maryland, by Emmitsburg [coming in by way of Zora] where, as we passed, we were hailed by the inhabitants with the most enthusiastic demonstration of joy. We barely missed 150 of Rush’s Pennsylvania Lancers headed [from Frederick] towards Gettysburg but could not spare the time to turn around and pursue them." One of his officers writes: "About sunset we reached Emmitsburg and such enthusiasm as we witnessed here a half mile from the Pennsylvania line you can form no idea of.’

The Rebels at that time were still placating Marylanders, hoping the state would join the Confederacy. Another of Stuart’s officers writes of the same episode: "As we approached Maryland, Capt. B. S. White became the guide; his residence in that part of Maryland made him thoroughly acquainted with every road in it. It was very pleasant to get amongst friends once more upon crossing the line into Maryland, though we could not take their horses." He probably meant Capt. Elijah V. White, a native of nearby Poolesville, later a Major and commanding the 35th Battaloin. Va. Cavalry. White’s original Co. B (" White’s Rebels") was made up of men from this area and could well have had Emmitsburgians in it. That company "later claimed that, as Marylanders, they owed no allegiance to the Confederacy." They said "they had come over voluntarily, because their sympathies were with the South, but being foreigners they had the right to select for themselves the manner in which they would serve her." Such an attitude was not unusual for Marylanders serving in out-of-state Con­federate organizations. They adopted it when they believed that their in­dependence was challenged or when they were ordered to do something contrary to their political principles. Commanders who gave in to such demands were following a take it easy with Maryland line ordered by the Confederate Congress, which had gone so far as to order its privateer captains to release all Maryland ships they captured rather than antagonize their Maryland owners. This was early in the war, however. When the Confederacy finally had to admit, as it did shortly after Antietam, that all hope for getting Maryland into its ranks was vain, it adopted a sterner attitude.

Emmitsburg’s next major encounter with troops in large numbers occurred before the Battle of Gettysburg and then they saw as many as 25,000 at one time. Originally it had been Lee’s intention that the invasion of Pennsylvania should be partly through Emmitsburg. He wrote both Stuart and General Ewell on June 22, 1863, telling the latter "I think your best course will be toward the Susquehanna, taking the routes by Emmitsburg, Chambersburg and McConnellsburg." Ewell’s official report says not one word about going through Emmitsburg, either to or from Gettysburg.

All Lee’s men crossed the Potomac west of Harper’s Ferry where General French’s Yankees, including Cole’s men and other Emmitsburgians, were stationed. But, "On June 28, 1868, there was scattered fighting at Fountain Dale," about seven miles west of Emmitsburg. Col. John T. Mosby, the famous "Gray Ghost", writes that this encounter was between scouting forces of the Yankee Cavalry General Buford and Mosby’s own men. Mosby writes that Buford had no knowledge of the nearness of the Confederates until "he unexpectedly ran into our picket. He felt the picket, but withdrew, and took the route by Emmitsburg" toward Gettysburg. Buford "decided not to use artillery upon the small force just ahead of him for fear of letting troops nearby think a major engagement had been started and accordingly he rode on to Emmitsburg to report to Gen. Reynolds at that point the results of his scouting expedition.

When Lee’s main force reached Chambersburg, he retained one corps there but sent two others eastward through Gettysburg to York and towards Harrisburg. Later, when he learned of the approach of the Yankees from the south, Lee concentrated upon them from the north, making Gettysburg a geographically topsy-turvy conflict. In this account of the Battle of Gettysburg, the Emmitsburg area is roughly defined as bounded on the north by Greenmount, or Marsh Creek; on the east by Bridgeport; on the west by Zora or Fountaindale, and on the south by Thurmont, or Mechanicstown as it was then called.

General Meade had only been put in command of the Union’s Army of the Potomac as recently as June 28. Lincoln’s Chief of Staff, General Halleck, reports that: "On the 28th of June [the army] was mainly concentrated at Frederick on the 30th, the 1st, 3rd and 11th Corps were at Emmitsburg under Gen. Reynolds."

Emmitsburg might well have been the site of the impending battle. Remember that the Yanks believed Lee’s Pennsylvania invasion was a feint and that his goals were Washington and Baltimore, upon which he must descend from Pennsylvania, passing of course through Emmitsburg.

Reynolds had good reason for his caution. Jesse Bowman Young in The Battle of Gettysburg quotes from The War Between The Union and The Confederacy by Geo W. C. Oates that: "Maj. Gen. Trimble [a Maryland Confederate] told the writer [Oates] after the war that Lee told him on June 28th that his plan of operations was to fall upon the advance of the Union Army, when and wherever he found it, crush and hurl it hack on the main body, press forward and beat that before its commander could have time to concentrate his whole force.’ It was Reynolds, in Emmitsburg, who formed that advance with the rest of Meade’s army scattered far behind him.

Reynolds wrote to Meade on the 30th: "I think if the enemy advances in force from Gettysburg. and we are to fight a defensive battle in this vicinity, that the position to be occupied is just north of the town of Emmitsburg, covering the Plank road to Taneytown. He (Lee) will undoubtedly endeavor to turn our left by wax of Fairfield and the mountain roads leading down into the Frederick and Emmitsburg pike, near Mount Saint Mary’s College . . . . The corps are placed as follows: Two divisions of the First Corps are behind Marsh Run. one on the road leading to Gettysburg, and one on the road leading from Fairfield to . . . Moritz Tavern; the Third Division with the reserve batteries, is on the road to Chambersburg, behind Middle Creek it might be necessary to dispute the advance of the enemy across this creek, in order to take up the position behind Middle Creek. which is the one I alluded to near Emmitsburg, Howard [with his 11th Corps] occupies. in part, the position I did last night, which is to the left of the position in front of Middle Creek, and commands the roads leading from Fairfield down to Emmitsburg and the pike below."

From Taneytown, Meade replied to Reynolds at 11:30 AM. the same day, saying that it "remained to be seen" whether Lee, then at Chambersburg, intended to "advance against us" or to hold the approach to Cashtown against the Yanks. He wrote that, "With Buford at Gettysburg and Mechanicstown and a regiment in front of Emmitsburg, you ought to be advised in time of their approach." He added that, "In case of an advance in force against you or Howard, you must fall back to that place (Emmitsburg) and I will reenforce you from the Corps nearest you, which are Sickles’s [The 3d] at Taneytown, and Slocum’s [The 12th] at Littlestown . . . , If it is your judgement that you would be in better position at Emmitsburg . . . you can fall back [there] without waiting for the enemy or further orders.’

Sickles himself issued orders to "leave one brigade and a battery on the heights beyond Emmitsburg, toward Fairfield, and another to the left and rear of Emmitsburg, commanding the approaches by way of Mechanicstown." Meade’s Chief of Staff, Genl. Butterfield, in Meade’s name, wrote Sickles that "The general does not wish the approaches through Emmitsburg left unguarded ... bold on at Emmitsburg, as it is a point not to be abandoned, excepting in an extremity." Meade also ordered those in command at Gettysburg, when the battle was underway on July 1, ‘to leave a division of the 3d Corps at Emmitsburg, to hold in ch(’ck any force attempting to come through there." Not till 7:30 that night. when it was obvious that too many Yanks (yet not enough) were in Gettysburg, that the major battle would have to be fought there, and that efforts to retreat to the Emmitsburg area would be too risky, did Butterfield direct that Sickles’ remaining men leave Emmitsburg "to join their corps at Gettysburg with the greatest dispatch.’

Nobody expected that Yankee first day resistance would be as great as it was in the face of overwhelming numbers of the Rebels who came down upon them from all directions. Though compelled to retreat, they found a closer defensive position on Cemetery Ridge, not again entering Emmitsburg until in pursuit of the retreating Lee.

Emmitsburg could look back on its part of the conflict and find in it tremendous excitement, a measure of horror, some humor and even some beauty. The town had seen something of what war might be like two weeks earlier when a nighttime fire destroyed most of its center. Details are well known, but what probably isn’t is that "Some leaders and journalists encouraged the firing of property at the invaders’ advance" and that "a Gettysburg woman reported that 36 families lost their homes in Emmitsburg because a man set the torch to his." Whether this was truth or fantasy isn’t known.

Union headquarters had been set up in the Lutheran Parsonage, St. Joseph s Rectory and the present funeral home. How the youngsters must have whooped and hollered as couriers dashed from place to place in between cannons and wagons clogging the dusty streets, while their mothers and sisters passed out refreshments to "the tired and hungry soldiers who ate and drank whatever was given them by people standing on the sidewalks.’ The soldiers had been paid on the 30th, and taverns did a thriving business. Helman says "passing soldiers purchased all the tobacco in the town and all the whiskey they could get. One dealer sold hundreds of canteens at one dollar each, until the provost stopped it and put a guard there.

A contributor to The Story of the Mountain says "The Army of the Potomac was truly a beautiful sight" and describes as grand but horrible the passing of "the wagons, ambulances, cannons, etc., which were coming in from early dawn till nightfall. He adds: "They camped around Emmitsburg. Their campfires as viewed from the College windows, almost led one to imagine that this section for miles around had received in one shower all the stars of the heavens. We were visited by single soldiers, officers, groups, etc., to the amount of some thousands, some for the purpose of seeing old friends and companions ... But most of the privates and many of the officers came to try the qualities of Miss Leo’s bread, butter, milk, etc., which, I am pleased to sax, were dealt out with a liberal hand.

It is not mentioned in The Story of the Mountain but is known to this writer from several sources that the famous photographer, Alexander Gardner, who was following the army, was one who "stopped off" to see a son a student at the school. This extremely fortuitous visit enabled Gardner to be the first photographer to visit Gettysburg when visitors were permitted there, thereby getting the first and finest pictures of the battlefield that were taken

It is unlikely but not impossible that soldiers from Emmitsburg fought at Gettysburg. The three Union Maryland regiments who were engaged were: the 3d Md. lnf., three companies of which were recruited in the County; and the 1st Md. Eastern Shore lnf., entirely organized at Cambridge. The latter two, who formed part of Lockwood’s Brigade of Marylanders, "found themselves on the second and third days of the fight on Culp’s Hill, confronting the 1st \Id. Conf. Btn. in Johnson’s Division of Ewell’s Corps, made up in part of old friends, former neighbors, and, in some cases, blood kinsmen." These names with definite Emmitsburg "flavor", are found in the Rosters of the 1st P. H. B: In Co. A,’ Howard E. Wachter, John L. Wachtet (most likely also Wachter), Columbus A. Zimmerman and John N. Zimmerman; in Co. B, Augustus Rowe; and Co. I, Elijah H. Wachter. Others listed did not sign up until 1865 and could not have been participants. Still others that "sound Emmitsburg" are reported as deserters" and, out of respect for any Emmitsburg descendants, will not be named here. (by then the 2d) Maryland Inf., the 1st Md. (or Dement’s) Artillery; the 4th Md. (or Chesapeake) Artillery; and the 1st Md. Conf. Cavalry. A reader who thinks he had an ancestor with those units is referred to The Maryland Line, pages 152ff, 229ff, 270ff and 326ff, where their rosters are printed.

Emmitsburg saw both armies again during Lee’s retreat. Some say Kilpatrick’s Yank cavalry pursued Stuart through Emmitsburg; his official report contradicts that. Jeb Stuart wrote some weeks later that he "sent two brigades on the Cashtown Road, keeping the remainder under Colonels Jenkins and Chamblin under my immediate command . . . and directed them to proceed by way of Emmitsburg, Md., so as to guard the other flank. Just at dawn [apparently on July 5] we entered Emmitsburg. We there learned that a large body of the enemy’s cavalry (the citizens said 15,000 which I knew of course was exaggerated) had passed through that point the afternoon previous, going toward Monterey. I halted for a short time to procure some rations , . . In and around Emmitsburg we captured 60 or 70 prisoners of war and some valuable hospital stores. The march was resumed on the road to Frederick, through Harbaugh’s Valley."

Of Stuart’s men who had been sent off on the Cashtown Road the Colonel of the 7th Virginia Cavalry writes that he "moved up July 4 and encamped in the vicinity of Fairfield, our sharpshooters skirmishing with the enemy on the road leading to Emmitsburg [at Zora.]" He adds: "Our regiment was sent on scout and picket in the direction of Emmitsburg, to join Gen. Stuart if practicable. We sent a scout nearly to Emmitsburg, which was fired upon by the enemy’s pickets; one man wounded." The 11th Va. Cay. commander reported that near Fairfield on the night of July 4, he "found a regiment of enemy cavalry advancing, which I drove back nearly to the intersection of the road with the Emmitsburg Pike. [Also at Zora.] The following day his "regiment was ordered to take post on the road leading to the Emmitsburg pike" with one company "ordered to move on the pike to the top of Jack’s Mountain, to ascertain the movements of a cavalry column of the enemy. Another company was ordered to Emmitsburg to open communications with Maj. Gen. Stuart, supposed to be at that point . . . Capt. Ball found the enemy picketing about three miles from Emmitsburg and drove the pickets in. On reaching Emmitsburg, he found the enemy in possession of the town in some force, and was forced to retire, with the loss of one man severely wounded.’

Helman writes: "Jenkins’ Confederate cavalry entered the town by daybreak on their retreat; when asked how the battle terminated, they claimed the victory; soon after they were off towards Mechanicstown About ten o’clock Kilpatrick’s cavalry came dashing into town full charge, expecting to find the Johnnie’s here [but] they had fled. They reported the full retreat of Lee’s army. Kilpatrick was in pursuit of the Rebs that passed through here. Oh, the commotion of that day; the church bells rang but who heeded them, it was war times." Helman has confused Kilpatrick’s men with a unit of Gregg’s which, "On July 5 started in the direction of Emmitsburg in pursuit of the enemy, and that evening went into bivouac near the town. It was learned that Stuart and his men had passed through the place the same morning.

For the next week or more, Yanks by tens of thousands were in and out of Emmitsburg pursuing Lee. General Meade himself went through July 1. receive(l with much enthusiasm by the people." Lee should long before have been across the Potomac but had been delayed by high waters an(I the destruction of his unprotected pontoon bridges. He did not get into Virginia until July 13. Cole’s Cavalry, with Emmitsburg’s Company C undoubtedly participating, had "burnt Lee’s pontoon bridge.

Emmitsburg saw no more soldiers in combat until after the burning of Chambersburg in l864—a side-effect of Early’s invasion. There had previously been considerable fighting at Monocacy as the Confederates sought to get into Washington, but Emmitsburg felt no fall-out from that. Early had detached cavalry and infantry under Generals McCausland and the former Frederick lawyer Bradley T. Johnson, "to burn the town unless $500,000 in currency or $100,000 in gold be paid." It was not paid and the town was burnt. During that raid, Capt. R. M. Evans, commanding Pennsylvania cavalry, wrote: ‘‘My pickets were driven in at Emmitsburg this afternoon July 30] about one mile from the town by about 200 rebels. I was in danger of being cut off with my command, as there are a great many by-roads running down from the mountains.

By then, few Confederates had any sympathy for Marylanders other than those in Confederate uniforms. Gen. Johnson himself is quoted as saying of that raid that ‘‘Every crime in the catalogue of infamy has been committed except murder and rape," admitting that "pillage and sack of private dwellings took place hourly" and that even a Catholic priest was robbed of his watch. Whether or not anything like this occurred in the Emmitsburg area is not known.

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