Getting to know an officer: Lt. Col. Charles E. Trail

Unlike Colonel Maulsby, Lt. Colonel Charles Trail’s association with the Potomac Home Brigade was relatively short lived. He was, however, to play an instrumental role in the unionist politics of Frederick County during the Civil War, so we’ll spend some time looking at his life and career.

Charles Edward Trail was born in Frederick on January 28, 1825 (1). Like William Maulsby he studied law as a young man, and he was also involved in finance and real estate. In 1851 he married Anna McElfresh and the following year the young couple moved into a towering Italianate mansion on Church Street.



The Trail Mansion, 106 East Church St. Frederick, MD. Built for Charles Trail in 1852, the building is now a funeral home. (Photo courtesy of the Frederick News Post)

In 1852 Charles Trail also acquired a large farm south of the city, near the Monocacy River and the B&O Railroad junction. This farm was rented out to numerous tenants, but would become famous during the war as the “Best Farm,” where much of the Battle of Monocacy raged in July, 1864. By 1860 Trail was one of Frederick’s most prominent citizens, with the census listing $115,000 in real estate and $110,000 in personal estate (2). The 1860 census also shows that Trail owned three enslaved people – one man aged 30 years and two women aged 32 and 35 (3).

Charles Trail received his appointment to the Lieutenant Colonelcy of the 1st PHB Infantry in late August, 1861 but he immediately declined the position – the position would instead be filled by Eastern Shore native George Dennis (4). Although he declined military service Charles was active politically, acting as the president of the local Union League. In August of 1862 Governor Bradford appointed Trail to serve as a special aide in charge of recruitment in Maryland, with the rank of Colonel (5).

Trail was elected to the state House of Delegates as a Republican in 1863 and as a state senator in 1864. Following the war he continued his work in the Frederick community, leading the drive to construct the Maryland School for the Deaf (6).


Charles Trail, ca. 1898 (Photo courtesy of the Maryland State Archives).

Trail would almost lose his life in a terrible railroad accident that occurred near Point of Rocks, Md on June 12, 1877. Over 600 passengers were on their way to Washington and Mount Vernon when their train collided with another engine, causing several passenger cars to “telescope.” In the ensuing chaos five people were crushed to death and many other were severely injured (7). Trail survived his injuries and continued practicing business as the President of the Farmers and Mechanics National Bank and Director of the Mutual Insurance Company of Frederick County. He died in May 1909 and is buried in Mt Olivet Cemetery (a cemetery he had helped to incorporate in 1852).

Next time we’ll look at the third officer named to the 1st PHB Infantry in August, 1861 – Major Lewis Firey



1 Williams, T.J.C. History of Frederick County, Maryland. Regional Publishing. Baltimore. 1979. p 720-722

2 Year: 1860; Census Place: Frederick, Frederick, Maryland; Roll: M653_475; Page: 661; Image: 110; Family History Library Film: 803475

3 1860 U.S. Federal Census – Slave Schedules [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2010.

4 “Charles E. Trail, Esq.” The Valley Register 30 August 1861

5 ” “Charles E. Trail, Esq.” The Valley Register 15 August 1862; “$100 Bounty” The Valley Register 15 August 1862

6 Williams 1979. p 721

7 Scharf, J. Thomas. A History of Western Maryland. Clearfield Company and Willow Bend Books. 1995. p 455

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