Falling back into the Maryland Campaign

It’s that time of year. The weather (at least around here) is getting cooler. Oktoberfest beers are hitting the shelves. I just had my first apple cider donuts of the season. The Great Frederick Fair is just around the corner. Fall is my favorite time of year for all of these reasons and more.

It’s also the time of year for Civil War historians to reflect on the pivotal weeks in September, 1862 when Lee and his army invaded Maryland. From the crossing of the Potomac on the 4th to the rearguard actions on the 20th, September 1862 would be remembered as a watershed moment in the War. Lee was stymied in his attempt to take the war to the northern states and was fought to within a hairs breadth of defeat along the banks of the Antietam. Over 22,000 men would become casualties on the war’s bloodiest single day. The campaign had massive political implications as well. Confederate dreams of a mass uprising among the Maryland populace were yet another casualty of the campaign. On the other hand McClellan eked out enough of a victory to provide the political capital for the issuance of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. It’s an endlessly fascinating campaign, and one that has seen a great deal of scholarly focus over the years. I mentioned a while back that I am thoroughly enjoying Ezra Carmen’s history of the campaign – the final volume of which was released not too long ago after some fantastic editing/annotation by Thomas Clemens. I’ve also been thumbing through Hartwig’s To Antietam Creek and I can’t wait to dive fully into that work. For those that want a daily account of the campaign as it happened (155 years later) the Emerging Civil War blog is running a series called “Voices of the Maryland Campaign.” Each day historian and Antietam guide (and friend of this blogger) Kevin Pawlak has been posting first hand accounts of the campaign from a variety of sources – Union, Confederate, and Civilian.

It was one of these “Voices” that inspired today’s post. I’d like to do a day-by-day account of the Home Brigade during those weeks in September. The Maryland Campaign is one of the few moments when the Home Brigade is actually thrust into the center of the war’s more momentous events. Unfortunately I don’t think that will be in the cards, but what I will try to do is give a few posts that sum up the actions of the PHB during each phase of the campaign. Kevin’s post for September 5th provides an excellent jumping off point…

On September 5th 1862 Dr. Lewis Steiner traveled from Washington, DC to his home town of Frederick, MD, leaving a memorable diary of what the city was like on the eve of Confederate occupation. In his post Kevin highlights the following passage:

Towards nightfall, it became pretty certain that a force had crossed somewhere about the mouth of the Monocacy. Telegrams were crowding rapidly on the army officers located here, directing that what stores could not be removed should be burned, and that the sick should as far as possible be sent on to Pennsylvania. Here began a scene of terror seldom witnessed in this region. Lieut. Castle, A.Q.M., burned a large quantity of his stores at the depot. Assist. Surg. Weir fired his store-house on the Hospital grounds and burned the most valuable of his surplus bedding contained in Kemp Hall, in Church street near Market. Many of our prominent citizens, fearing impressment, left their families and started for Pennsylvania in carriages, on horseback, and on foot. All the convalescents at the Hospital that could bear the fatigue, were started also for Pennsylvania, in charge of Hospital Steward Cox. The citizens removed their trucks containing private papers and other valuables from the bank-vaults, under the firm belief that an attack would be made on these buildings for the sake of the specie contained in them.

This passage goes a long way towards describing the chaotic scene in Frederick, which was about to become the first Union city to come under direct occupation by Lee’s Army. With the Army of the Potomac regrouping near Washington there was little standing between the rebels and Frederick except for a handful of men from the Potomac Home Brigade. Recruited a year earlier to defend their home state the Home Brigaders would now meet their first real test of the war.

On the afternoon of September 4th, 1862 the men of the 3rd Alabama Infantry splashed across Cheek’s Ford, opposite the mouth of the Monocacy River. Part of Rhode’s Brigade, they were the vanguard of the Army of Northern Virginia and the first rebel troops to set foot in Maryland. During their crossing they met with the briefest of opposition from the men guarding the northern bank – 37 men under the command of Lt. Jerome Burke of Co. E, 1st PHB Infantry. The 23 year old Burke was a native of Franklin County, Pennsylvania and had been working at Mumma’s Hotel in Hagerstown when the war broke out. Enlisting in August 1861 he was soon commissioned 1st Lieutenant, but hadn’t seen much real action before now. The same was true for many of the men in his command, which included the Clarkson brothers of Loudoun County, who had enlisted barely a month earlier.

Capture.JPG

The Potomac River and Mouth of the Monocacy (site of the Monocacy Aqueduct) (Library of Congress)

Quickly recognizing that his small command was outnumbered Burke wisely chose to fall back from the river crossing, leaving their tents and baggage behind them (1). News spread quickly that the Confederates had crossed the Potomac, spurred on by Burke and his men. Soon the alarm was raised upriver at Point of Rocks, where the 87th Ohio soon followed Burke’s example and fell back. The road to Frederick was completely open.

As the Confederates consolidated their crossing and prepared to march north the safety of Frederick itself was in the hands of 36 year old Captain William T. Faithful, commander of Company C, 1st PHB Infantry and Provost Marshal for the city. Since May 5th he and his company were charged with maintaining order in Frederick, a task becoming more difficult by the hour. Like Lt. Burke, this would be his first real test of the war.

As panic spread through the largely pro-Union population Captain Faithful took charge of the situation from his guardhouse at the United Fire Company hall on South Market (2). The Provost Guard did their best to calm public fears, going so far as arresting citizens for circulating “sensational” rumors with the intent to cause public alarm. Late on the 5th Faithful received orders from Col. Dixon Miles, commanding at Harpers Ferry. Certain that the rebel army was heading towards Frederick, Miles ordered Faithful to destroy all of the military stores in Frederick and join the garrison at the Ferry.

Rather than follow the letter of Miles’s order, Captain Faithful decided to go above and beyond. He decided to save as much government property as possible, commandeering trains, wagons, and anything else that could move:

I immediately had all the horses sent off to a place of safety in Pennsylvania. I immediately gathered up all the cars in Frederick and loaded them with quartermaster and commissary stores and shipped them to Baltimore. I then proceeded to gather all Government wagons, with others that I pressed into service, and loaded them with the most costly of hospital stores, and all books and papers of the quartermaster’s and commissary departments, and placed them under the command of Lieutenant G. T. Castle, acting assistant quartermaster, and sent them on toward Pennsylvania…(3)

Not only was Frederick a major supply depot, but the city was also home to a number of military hospitals. Not wanting to allow any of the sick or wounded to fall into enemy hands Faithful “sent some 275 convalescents from the hospital to Gettysburg, to intercept the Northern Central Railroad, that they might be shipped to Baltimore or Philadelphia, and not fall into the hands of the enemy” (4). Satisfied that he had done his best to save as much as he could he had the men of Company C set about destroying the remainder of the government stores. This was the scene that Dr. Steiner came upon when he arrived in town. Diarist Jacob Englebrecht echoed Steiner’s account:

Accordingly about 10 o’ clock they commenced burning beds and cots that were stored at “Kemp Hall” corner of Market and Church and burnt them in Church Street from the parsonage to the first seminary where they burnt to the amount of ___. At the same Barracks they burnt some stores also at the depot they burnt tents, cots, beds, guns…(5)

Capture

Church Street, where the burning took place – between the Parsonage and Seminary. (Library of Congress)

Capture

The streetscape as it appears today. Hard to imagine piles of burning cots and mattresses. The brick building on the right is Kemp Hall, where the supplies were stored (and where the legislature met in 1861) (Google Maps)

 

Having saved the most valuable stores and documents and nearly 300 of his comrades from capture, Captain Faithful gathered up his command and marched out of town along the Harpers Ferry Road.

After having seen everything safely off, I then ordered the telegraph operator to detach his instruments and leave for Baltimore or Washington, to report to the general superintendent. This having been accomplished, I started with my company and all men belonging to the regiment for Knoxville (6).

Not finding any friendly troops there he continued on to Sandy Hook, where he arrived on the afternoon of September 6th. The rest of the 1st PHB Infantry (including Burke’s company) was gathering there to assist in the defense of the town, and the 1st PHB Infantry would be charged with holding the eastern approaches along the Maryland bank of the Potomac. Captain Faithful had lived up to his name, doing his best to salvage what he could before making an orderly retreat. Unfortunately for Captain Faithful and the rest of the 1st PHB Infantry they had unknowingly fled right into a trap.

A quick aside on Dr. Steiner before we move on. One of the men that Captain Faithful would have met with when he arrived at Col. Maulsby’s headquarters would likely have been Dr. Steiner’s cousin, Lt. Colonel John Steiner. While Lewis went into medicine his cousin John went into business and politics. In the years before the war he was involved in the leathermaking, masonry, and lumber businesses and was elected to the city council. When the 1st PHB was formed he was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel, a command he held through much of the war.

Steiner, John A

Lt. Colonel John A. Steiner, 1st Potomac Home Brigade Infantry (USAHEC)

In the coming days Lt. Colonel Steiner would play an important role in fight at Harper’s Ferry, but that story will have to wait for another day. In the meantime head over to Emerging Civil War and enjoy the Voices of the Maryland Campaign series.

 

Notes

  1. Hartwig, D. Scott. To Antietam Creek. Johns Hopkins University Press. 2012. p 94-95
  2. Englebrecht, Jacob. Diary of Jacob Englebrecht. p 947.
  3. OR Vol 51 Pt 1. pp 136-137
  4. Ibid p 137
  5. Englebrecht. p 947
  6. OR Vol 51 Pt 1. p 37

 

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