“I believe that every man did his duty” – The 1st Potomac Home Brigade Infantry and the Gettysburg Campaign – Part 1

Returning to the Gettysburg Campaign today we’ll look at the 1st PHB Infantry, which would be the most heavily engaged of all of the Home Brigade organizations during the campaign. Over the course of the battle they would see their hottest action on the slopes of Culp’s Hill, and the 3rd of July 1863 would go down in regimental history as their finest hour. Their actions at Gettysburg also hold a special place for me, since it was at Culp’s Hill that I first discovered the PHB many years ago. Seeing their monument there set me on the path that eventually led to this blog.

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The 1st PHB Infantry monument, near Spangler’s Spring

When the Army of Northern Virginia set off on their second invasion of the north the 1st PHB Infantry was busy doing what they had been raised to do – guarding the Potomac River frontier. Unlike the last invasion, however, they weren’t guarding their native upper Potomac. Since the spring of 1863 they were stationed far to the south and east along the lower Potomac in the counties of Southern Maryland.

Despite being in their home state Southern Maryland must have felt like a foreign country to the men of the 1st PHB Infantry. This region was southern not only in its geography, but in its culture, demographics, and sentiments as well. The counties of St. Mary’s, Calvert, and Charles were where tobacco agriculture and African slavery first took hold in Maryland in the 17th century, and by the 1860s both remained entrenched at the heart of economic and social life there. The region was almost entirely agricultural, but unlike western Maryland large plantations dominated the sparsely populated landscape. In 1860 the three counties listed above had a combined population of just over 42,000 – of which half were enslaved. This was less than the population of Frederick County alone (of which only 7% were enslaved)(1). Unlike the west there were few towns and next to no industry. Even to this day the area much more closely resembles the Virginia tidewater to the south than it does the rest of the state. No wonder, then, that the tobacco counties became a bastion of Confederate sympathy in 1861.

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Southern Maryland in the 1860s. It remains largely agricultural and rural, with a scattering of small market towns. (Library of Congress)

 

Throughout the war Southern Maryland would be a conduit for supplies, intelligence, and even military recruits headed south. Stopping this flow was a never ending struggle for US authorities, given the labyrinth of waterways that carve through the region. In March 1863 a soldier of the 1st PHB Infantry wrote home to the Frederick Examiner and described the regiment’s activities:

Our Regiment, composed of Company G, Capt. John Yellot, and Company D, Captain Charles M. Baugher, commanding, embarked on the Government transport, General Meigs, from the Naval School Wharf, Annapolis, Md. on the evening of Wednesday last, under orders for this point. We arrived here safely on the afternoon of next day, and landed in the heart of Rebeldom in Maryland.

Our duties here are laborious and responsible, requiring the utmost vigilance on the part of both officers and men. This Detachment occupies the Maryland shore of the Potomac from Piney Point to Leonardstown, a distance of twenty miles, being ten miles to each company, and I warrant you nothing leaves for “Dixie” from that part of the shore, neither does anything land there without falling into our hands.

Yesterday two privates of Company D, in a canoe, captured near the mouth of this Bay, a large mail from Rebledom, containing two hundred and sixty letters…(2)

The 1st PHB Infantry remained in southern Maryland for months intercepting contraband goods, far away from the front lines of the war. This changed rapidly in June, as Lee’s army moved north through the Shenandoah Valley and into their home state. At this point in the war much of Maryland fell under the command of the Middle Department (VIII Corps), commanded by Maj. General Robert Schenck. His department was made up of dozens of isolated garrisons scattered across the mid-Atlantic, and it was now his job to pull them together and do his best to defend Baltimore and Washington.

On June 17th orders came to Colonel Maulsby to gather up the 1st PHB Infantry and head to Baltimore as quickly as possible. With nearly 700 men present they would be needed if Lee and his army turned east to take the city (3). By the 21st the regiment was concentrated at Point Lookout at the southern tip of St. Mary’s County, where they boarded the steamer John A. Warner for the trip up the Chesapeake Bay.

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The John A. Warner ferried passengers along the Delaware River before being pressed into service as a troop transport.

The Warner made good time and the Marylanders arrived in Baltimore by noon. After disembarking they made their way to Druid Hill Park, where they remained for the next few days while the various Union commanders wrestled with what to do next.

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Located in the northwest suburbs of Baltimore, Druid Hill Park was a common location for military camps throughout the Civil War (Library of Congress)

By the 24th of June it was clear that the Army of Northern Virginia was not directly threatening Baltimore. Special Orders No. 170 were issued from VIII Corps headquarters, creating a provisional brigade made up of troops then in Baltimore that would be detached from the Baltimore garrison and sent Monocacy Junction to join with the Army of the Potomac. The brigade, comprised of the 1st PHB Infantry, 150th NY Infantry, and a company of the Purnell Legion cavalry, would be commanded by Brigadier General Henry Lockwood (4).

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Brig. General Lockwood

At 48 years old the Delaware native graduated 22nd in the West Point class of 1836, alongside future Union commanders Montgomery Meigs and George Thomas. After a short stint in the Army the bookish Lockwood began a career teaching mathematics for the US Navy, culminating with a post at the newly established Naval Academy. When the Civil War began he volunteered his services as Colonel of the 1st Delaware Infantry and led an operation to occupy the eastern shore of Virginia.

For Lockwood the command of this provisional brigade would be his first real combat test – and the same would be true for most of his men as well. Both the Purnell Legion Cavalry and the 150th NY Infantry were green, having served on the Eastern Shore and in the defenses of Baltimore, respectively. The 1st PHB had been involved in numerous skirmishes and in some fighting on Maryland Heights the previous fall, prompting Daniel Butterfield to quip that Maulsby’s regiment was “all that is reported good for anything at all” out of the VIII Corps troops (4).

In the coming days General Lockwood and his brigade would find themselves tested like never before, and when the smoke settled they would see if the men of the 1st PHB Infantry were “good for anything at all” or not.

To be continued….

 

  1. https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/decennial/1860/population/1860a-18.pdf
  2. “For the Examiner” Frederick Examiner 18 March 1863
  3. Scharf pg. 274
  4. OR Vol 27, Part 3. pg 301

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