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Civil War Diary

John Miller
Emmitsburg Area Historical Society

Part 1 - Emmitsburg as a Civil War Crossroad

Before the first shots of the Civil War at Charleston, South Carolina, were fired into Fort Sumter, several South Carolina recruiting officers made their way through the South recruiting manpower for the upcoming war. In December of 1860, South Carolina had sent a recruiting officer to Baltimore, Maryland, and recruited more than 500 Maryland men. The men who enlisted witnessed or participated in the bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor in April of 1861 and later garrisoned the ring of forts surrounding Charleston. These Maryland men became known as the "Baltimore Rebels." Emmitsburg residents who had southern sympathies but did not make the trip to South Carolina began to head into Virginia to enlist into the service of the Confederacy.

Most of the Emmitsburg men who fought for the Union were recruited and enlisted into Company "C" of the 1st Potomac Home Brigade, Cole's Cavalry. Known as the Keystone Rangers, Company C was mustered into service at Frederick, Maryland, on September 9, 1861.

After General Lee's Confederate Army had marched into Maryland during the Maryland Campaign in September of 1862, detachments of Union cavalry were sent throughout Frederick County scouting for signs of General Lee's army entering Pennsylvania. On September 13th, a detachment of Union cavalry entered Emmitsburg.

On October 11th, 1862, after a successful raid on Chambersburg, General JEB Stuart's Confederate cavalry entered Emmitsburg and the townsmen opened their arms to them. Friendly citizens also greeted members of Stuart's Horse Artillery, as they paused long enough to feed and water their horses. Fearing that General McClellan knew his location, General Stuart and his cavalry left Emmitsburg shortly after sundown.

During the Pennsylvania Campaign of 1863, on the afternoon of June 27th, a part of General George Armstrong Custer's brigade of Michigan cavalry encamped just south of Emmitsburg on the old tollgate and on the grounds of the St. Joseph's House. General Custer had scouted Emmitsburg and hired a local resident named Jim McCullough, to guide Custer around the Emmitsburg area.

By June 29th, the First Corps marched from South Mountain and Frederick to Emmitsburg, Maryland. Following behind was the Eleventh Corps. The Union forces, tired from a day's march from Frederick, set up camp at Saint Joseph's Academy. The town's residents welcomed the men in blue. After seeing the damage done by the fire on June 15th, the Yankees thought that the rebel army had torched the town. They soon found out that it was actually a stable fire that caused three sections of the town's square to burn down and the rebels were cleared of this false accusation.

On June 30th, the First Corps marched through Emmitsburg to Marsh Creek. That evening, General Birney, commanding General Sickles' 1st Division, set up camp at Saint Joseph's, marching from Taneytown around 3:00 pm.

Prior to the battle of Gettysburg, Samuel McNair was a resident of Emmitsburg and a soldier in Cole's Cavalry. He was discharged from service due to injuries he sustained at Leesburg, Virginia, on September 2nd, 1862, and he was the first to capture a Confederate prisoner at Gettysburg. He led a small band of men into Gettysburg and scouted the area and captured a few Confederate prisoners, one carrying valuable dispatches from General Lee to General Ewell. After a mounted chase through the streets of Gettysburg, McNair was almost captured but escaped from the Union cavalry.

During the battle of Gettysburg, Emmitsburg served an important role in communications and observing battle maneuvers in Gettysburg. Indian Lookout was a very important landmark during the battle of Gettysburg for the Union army. The Union Signal Corps could see the positions of the armies on the battlefield.

During the morning hours of July 4th, General Lee's mangled army began its withdrawal from Gettysburg. Sometime during the morning a portion of Confederate General Albert Jenkins' cavalry came into Emmitsburg. During the afternoon Union General Kilpatrick's cavalry division came into Emmitsburg before heading to Monterey Pass.

On the morning of July 5th, General JEB Stuart made his way from the fields of Gettysburg and came into Emmitsburg during the dawn hours. There was a sharp skirmish fought near the town's square at the Emmit House where seventy Union soldiers were taken prisoner. Among the prisoners were three photographers from Mathew Brady's photography firm. General Stuart stopped long enough to study maps and to feed and water the horses.

On July 5th, General Meade issued orders for the Army of the Potomac to begin withdrawing from Gettysburg. For the next several days Union troops marched through Emmitsburg. As Union troops pursued General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, the Sisters of Charity at Saint Joseph's cared for many sick and wounded soldiers. On July 7th, General George Meade rode through Emmitsburg as he traveled toward Middletown.

For a year, Emmitsburg was quiet as the effects of the Pennsylvania Campaign diminished and the families of Emmitsburg resumed a normal life. During the middle of June, General Lee sent General Jubal Early on a campaign to invade Washington. As Early's forces approached South Mountain, Union cavalry was patrolling the Emmitsburg area.

Once the Confederates engaged at Monocacy on July 9th, it was clear to the Union Army that Washington was their target. The citizens of Emmitsburg could now rest easy, believing that the threat of Confederates entering their town was over as 6,000 Union troops under the command of Major General Lew Wallace attempted to stop General Early's invading Confederate divisions along the Monocacy River, outside of Frederick, Maryland.

By late July, General Early ordered his army north. He had ordered General John McCausland to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, to ransom the town for $200,000.

Several Confederate cavalry units operated independently along the Maryland border. The Union Army took action in protecting its communities along the Mason and Dixon Line. As a result of the raid on Chambersburg, a skirmish erupted just west of Emmitsburg on July 30th. After the burning of Chambersburg, Emmitsburg could finally resume a normal life and anxiously wait for its veterans to return home.

Read Part 2: Emmitsburg, a Town Divided

Read more about Emmitsburg in the Civil War