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John Miller shares his knowledge of Emmitsburg in the Civil War

Jeremy Hauck

John Miller, a Civil War historian and Webmaster for the Toms Creek Battlefield Foundation Web site, is trying to raise Emmitsburg’s profile as a Civil War heritage area. Above, he stands outside the Emmit House in Emmitsburg. The site, on the National Register of Historic Places, has historical significance dating back to the Civil War.

History has always been a favorite subject for John Miller. His history teacher at Walkersville High School called him ‘‘Johnny Reb" because of his interest in the Civil War, and Miller still wears the distinctive facial hair – a mustache and a strip of beard on his chin — of a Confederate officer. It’s not just for show. Miller, 30, acts the part when he performs the duties of the second-in-command of the 3rd Regiment of the Provisional Army of the Confederate States, a Virginia-based group that participates in regional Civil War reenactments.

Miller helps keep the Civil War alive in this history-dense area by participating in re-enactments throughout the year. His next re-enactment, he said Tuesday, will be in Old Bedford Village, Pa. in April. He’ll likely be siding with the south.

‘‘Most of my family were Union, but you have more fun with the Confederates," Miller said. It’s ‘‘like a huge cookout outside, basically."

His most prized possession, he said, is an authentic Confederate States of America belt buckle from Virginia. He leaves the buckle at home when he heads to the battlefield.

Miller remembers the book that got him hooked on the Civil War: ‘‘The Civil War History of West Virginia," wherein he read about his ‘‘hillbilly ancestors."

Miller lives in Waynesboro, Pa., but grew up in Ladiesburg, and was active in the FFA at Walkersville High. During high school, Miller jammed on heavy metal, punk and country songs on his electric guitar with his friends in a garage band.

It was through FFA that he met his future wife, Alicia Higgins, a member of Catoctin High School’s FFA. They married and moved to Emmitsburg when John was 18. They lived there for six years, and John took a job as a machine operator for Ryan Homes in Thurmont. The Millers have two boys: Marshall, 10, and Dalton, 4.

Since the housing market crashed last year, John Miller has been looking for a job, and he hopes to be assigned to Gettysburg National Military Park as a guide.

Miller has written dozens of articles on Civil War history, as it pertains to the Emmitsburg area, for, a sprawling Web site managed by Mike Hillman, president of the Emmitsburg Area Historical Society.

According to Hillman, Miller ‘‘single-handedly" put Emmitsburg ‘‘back on the map" of Civil War history.

Hillman met Miller soon after Miller corrected him on the accuracy of some of Hillman’s history work on the Web site, he said.

Miller remembers the episode. About 10 years ago, ‘‘I sent an email to Mike saying that he had his Civil War history wrong," Miller said. ‘‘It’s kind of funny, actually. He basically told me if I know where it’s wrong, then I could go ahead and write the Civil War history for Emmitsburg."

Since then, Hillman has given Miller complete access to the Web site, and intends to transfer it to Miller when Hillman moves from Emmitsburg, in the next few years, Hillman said this week.

‘‘I trust him implicitly," Hillman said, adding that Miller led a popular Civil War history walk through Emmitsburg last fall, and has another one slated for Memorial Day.

Miller is trying to get a publisher for two of his history books – one focusing on Emmitsburg, where he says two minor skirmishes occurred, and one on Monterey Pass, near Blue Ridge Summit. So far he’s had no takers.

Miller has been giving tours and lectures for four years, he said, starting with a lecture at Carroll Community College in Westminster on how Francis Scott Key’s progeny sided with the Confederacy.

Emmitsburg, he said, has an interesting history, as far as the Civil War goes. Most men in the town who fought, fought for the North, but the South had its attractions for a minority.

‘‘The town was very split. You had men leaving Emmitsburg as early as 1860 [to go] down to Charleston [S.C.]," he said. ‘‘I think they were just looking for a good time."

Grievances from the war were left behind when the soldiers returned to Emmitsburg, according to Miller, and he’s hopeful he can continue to impart such lessons on residents in the area.

‘‘I think they need to know it more than just ‘The Battle of Gettysburg happened,’" he said.