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Emmitsburg in the Civil War

Emmitsburg and the Recoil of Gettysburg

John Allen Miller

The recoil of the battle of Gettysburg was seen two weeks before the actual battle had started.  On June 15, 1863 during the night, civilians in Gettysburg were looking southward and saw an orange glow in the sky.  The glow was coming from the direction of  Emmitsburg.  Fearing the worst was coming their way, this was surely a sign of what was to come. Rumors then started in town that the Confederates are coming this way as they just torched Emmitsburg.  The fire was started in the loft of the Beam and Guthrie Stable around eleven o' clock on a Monday night.  However this was not started by the Confederates, but by a careless lantern that fell into the stable. 

During the Gettysburg Campaign of July 1863, soldiers on both sides came through the town of Emmitsburg. Several of the millerís in the area became victims by both forces. The cavalry of each side, after three days of heavy fighting needed fresh horses, supplies, and food. Some homesteads and churches in town were used as hospitals, and hiding places for deserters. All of the families were victims, as troops barged in and demanded the things in which they needed. 

In one such case before the battle of Gettysburg, Union officers halted at a stone house beside of a mill, where a captain said "Feed us, we are hungry." As the occupants of the house said "We donít have any food." The captain replied "Yes you do, you have a smoke house out there and where you have a smoke house you have meat." The occupants of the house complied and hams were brought into the soldiers and the men ate their fill. There was a hired girl at the stone house who helped with the meal, in which the captain took a liking to and said "After the battle I am coming back to marry you." However, the captain was killed during the first day of the battle of Gettysburg. 

In another case Eli Hornor owned and lived on a farm east of Emmitsburg along Tomís Creek where soldiers of the Eleventh Corp encamped. The day before the battle of Gettysburg, the family had baked bread all day long. The soldiers brought their containers of hardtack into the house and dumped them on the table and proceeded to fill them with the fresh baked bread. This was the position for most of the families that lived in the vicinity of Emmitsburg, as soldiers passed through the town and shared their homes.  

A soldier and later historian of the Twelfth Massachusetts Volunteers recorded a story about a young boy from Emmitsburg, Maryland.  Later in life he wrote: 

ďAn instance of the bravery of an 15 year old Emmetsburg lad named J. W. (C.F.) Wheatley,  as Baxterís brigade was marching through Emmetsburg it was followed by the village boys, one of whom continued to the camp at Marsh Creek, where he offered to enlist. His offer, however, was ridiculed, and he was sent away. On the morning of the 1st of July he reappeared, and so earnestly entreated the colonel of the Twelfth Massachusetts to be allowed to join his regiment, that a captain of one of the companies (Company A) was instructed to take him on trial for a day or two. When the regiment halted near the seminary, the boy was hastily dressed in a suit of blue.

Afterwards, during the action, he fought bravely until a bullet striking his musket split it in two pieces, one of which lodged in his left hand and the other in his left thigh. The boy was taken to the brick church in the town to be cared for, but nothing was afterwards seen or heard of him until July 4th.  I saw him for the last time bitterly crying for his mother and sundry of other relatives.  He was never muster into the service, therefore fought as a civilian."

Emmitsburg was being devitalized of its own surplus as both forces came into Emmitsburg in July of 1863. Emmitsburg had lost a great deal of supplies due to the fire that had occurred on June 15th of 1863. When the armies came through town, they were confiscating what little Emmitsburg had left. The roads were being torn apart by wagons, horse drawn artillery, and soldiers who marched through the town during a rain storm. Roads around and in town were flooded with troops pursuing the rebels as they marched home to Virginia. 

Lieutenant Colonel A. Dobke, Commanding the Forty-fifth Regiment New York Volunteers recalls the road conditions and also the troops morel during the pursuit of the Confederate Army.  He wrote:

ďAfter the battle (Gettysburg), the regiment remained on the battlefield on Cemetery Hill until 6 p. m. July 5, when it marched off toward Emmitsburg. At midnight the march was stopped, owing to the complete darkness and the horrible condition of the roads, which were nearly impassable from the heavy rain of the last two days. At 4 p. m. on July 6, the regiment arrived at Emmitsburg.

On July 7, the heaviest march of the campaign was executed, marching 32 miles from Emmitsburg, and arrived at 10 p. m. at Middletown, a distance of 34 miles, through the open fields, taking a narrow pass road over the mountains in a circuit. Toward night the rein descended in torrents, amid which men and beasts sank down, tired to death, most of the soldiers without any shoes, barefooted, or shoes so ragged or torn that they did not deserve the name.Ē

The Confederates that came into Emmitsburg had no way of paying for the personal supplies that they received from the town due to the fact that Confederate money did not hold the value of green backs, and Confederate money was no good in this northern region. This meant that Emmitsburg couldnít make a profit no matter how hard the town had tried. As the Army of Northern Virginia retreated some of its companies came through Emmitsburg and settled in for the night by Tomís Creek near the present day U.S. Post Office.

On Sunday, July 4th, Confederate cavalry under the command of General Albert Jenkins came into Emmitsburg. General Jenkins was patrolling around the wagon train that was in Fairfield at the time when he came into Emmitsburg. While watering their horses, residents who were curious of the out come of the battle of Gettysburg asked the troopers who won, their reply was that the Confederates had won. The Confederate riders also became paranoid by some of this hamletís residents. 

On one occasion some rebels detected two gentlemen watching every move they had made, when suddenly the rebels raised their pistols. These rebels thought that the gentlemen were Union spies or were part of the signal corp. Once the two gentlemen explained that they were villagers of the town and were curious as to what all the bedlam was about, the rebels placed their guns back into their holsters. 

Farms in the area were also being raided for their horses. On one occasion, Confederate soldiers halted by a local mill and were in the process of taking the mill horses when the miller became aware of what was happening and ran outside and yelled "You canít take my horses, I need them for my work." The soldiers told the miller that they needed them badly to get back home, and if they could use them to get to Hagerstown and across the Potomac the miller could have them back. So the miller went with the troopers and brought the horses back to his mill several days later. Soon the rebel cavalry left Emmitsburg to rejoin General Jones up at Jackís Mountain.

On that same day General Kilpatrickís men came riding into Emmitsburg at a full charge, hoping to find the parts of the Confederate cavalry in town. They were soon disappointed, for there were no rebels to be found. When General Kilpatrick arrived in town the Union cavalry proceeded to rest for a bit and get something to eat. The town had given away all the tobacco and most of the bread. Most of the medical supplies that the town had were being used to treat men who were wounded. Once General Kilpatrick learned of the movement of the Confederate cavalry only five miles away at Monterey Pass, the Union cavalry left Emmitsburg late in the afternoon and began to pursue the Confederate wagon train.

On July 5th, General Stuart came through the town of Emmitsburg during the dawn hours, where he heard that a large Union cavalry under the command of General Kilpatrick had just left the town only hours before his arrival. The Union cavalry was headed toward the rebel wagon train on Jackís Mountain. General Stuart also learned that the route he wanted to take to get back to General Lee was in the same direction that the battle of Monterey Pass had occurred when General Kilpatrick left Emmitsburg. 

After coming into the western side of Emmitsburg, General Stuart engaged in a small skirmish near the Farmerís Inn taking seventy Union soldiers as prisoners. General Stuart also captured large quantities of medical supplies that the rebels needed from the convents in Emmitsburg. Once General Stuart got their required supplies needed, they left traveling down Old Frederick Road toward Mechanicstown. 

Once in Mechanicstown, Stuart learned that General Merritís U.S. cavalry occupied Harmanís Pass. The Confederate cavalry left Franklinville, trying to pass the Catoctin Mountain range. According to a Union Signal Officer, General  Stuart came back into Emmitsburg, skirmishes developed when he tried to get over the present day College Mountain. 

"During the late movements of the army, 3 signal officers and 6 flagmen were captured by the enemy. The only reported injuries were those of 2 flagmen slightly wounded at the battle of Gettysburg. The capture of Captain B. F. Fisher, chief acting signal officer, has been previously mentioned. Captain C. S. Kendall and Lieutenant L. R. Fortescue, acting signal officers, were taken at Emmitsburg, where they had been on station, by Stuart's cavalry upon their retreat from Gettysburg, July 5."

General Stuart did however manage to check his counter parts and force them back into Emmitsburg. The Confederate cavalry had gotten away, thus beginning their journey home to Virginia.  General Stuart wrote in his report of the retreat from Gettysburg as follows:

ďPrevious to these instructions, I had, at the instance of the commanding general, instructed Brigadier-General Robertson, whose two brigades (his own and Jones) were now on the right, near Fairfield, Pa., that it was essentially necessary for him to hold the Jack Mountain passes. These included two prominent roads - the one north and the other south of Jack Mountain, which is a sort of peak in the Blue Ridge chain. In the order of march (retrograde), one corps (Hill's) preceded everything through the mountain; the baggage and prisoners of war escorted by another corps. Longstreet's occupied the center, and the third (Ewell's) brought up the rear. The cavalry was disposed of as follows: Two brigades on the Cashtown road, under General Fitz. Lee, and the remainder (Jenkins' and Chambliss'), under my immediate command, was directed to proceed by way of Emmitsburg, Md., so as to guard the other flank. I dispatched Captain [W. W.] Blackford, Corps of Engineers, to General Robertson, to inform him of my movement, and direct his co-operation, as Emmitsburg was in his immediate front, and was probably occupied by the enemy's cavalry.

It was dark before I had passed the extreme right of our line, and, having to pass through very dense woods, taking by-roads, it soon became so dark that it was impossible to proceed. We were in danger of losing the command as well as the road. It was raining, also. We halted for several hours, when, having received a good guide, and it becoming daylight, the march was resumed, and just at dawn we entered Emmitsburg. We there learned that a large body of the enemy's cavalry (the citizens of Emmitsburg said 15,000, which I knew, of course, was exaggerated) had passed through that point the afternoon previous, going toward Monterey, one of the passes designated in my instructions to Brigadier-General Robertson. I halted for a short time to procure some rations, and, examining my map, I saw that this force could either attempt to force one of those gaps, or, foiled in that (as I supposed they would be), it would either turn to the right and bear off toward Fairfield, where it would meet with like repulse from Hill's or Longstreet's corps, or, turning to the left before reaching Monterey, would strike across by Eyler's Gap, toward Hagerstown, and thus seriously threaten that portion of our trains which, under Imboden, would be passing down the Greencastle pike the next day, and interpose itself between the main body and its baggage.Ē

Colonel Hecker whose regiment of cavalry was stationed in Emmitsburg before and after the battle of Gettysburg.  He tells of his movements and the actions of Fairfield and the retreat of General Lee's Army in which his regiment was in pursuit of.  His report also tells a little about the road condition near Emmitsburg.  He writes in his official report of the Gettysburg Campaign:

 "Headquarters Eighty Second Regiment Illinois Volunteers, August 21, 1863.

SIR: In compliance with the circular from headquarters First Brigade, August 20, 1863, requiring regimental reports of the battle of Gettysburg, inclusive of the operations from Jun 28 until the arrival of the Army of the Potomac at camp near Warrenton Junction

At 6 a. m. on June 29, the regiment marched from Frederick to Emmitsburg, a distance of 22 miles, arriving at a field about 1 mile south of the latter place at 6. 30 p. m., where we encamped during the night. At 10 a. m. on June 30, the regiment was removed to within a few hundred yards of Emmitsburg. At 12 m. the same day, the regiment received an order to detail 100 men to proceed immediately to Fairfield, Pa., a distance of 7 miles, for the purpose of ascertaining whether the enemy had occupied the above-named place. The above detail, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Edward S. Salomon, reached Fairfield about 3 p. m. The citizens informed the colonel that, an hour previous to our reaching there, the enemy had occupied the above-named place, and evacuated the town, with a force of 2, 000 infantry. After resting a half hour, the detail returned to Emmitsburg, joining the regiment at 8 p. m., where we encamped during the night. 

My report of the battle of Gettysburg, which was sent to headquarters in due time, forms the continuation of the course of events, and the following states all events from the day of the battle down to the arrival of the regiment near Warrenton Junction. 

July 4. - We remained at Cemetery Hill, near Gettysburg. July 5. - At 5. 30 o'clock, we left the place of action to march to Emmitsburg, but on account of the horrible roads and darkness that prevailed, we encamped near a creek (name unknown) at the hour of 11. 30 p. m. July 6. - We started at 3. 30 a. m., and reached Emmitsburg p. m. July 7. - We started at 3. 30 a. m. to Middletown, via Creagerstown and Utica Post-Office, a distance of 30 miles, and arrived there in a rainstorm at about 10 p. m.

Very respectfully, your most obedient servant,  F. Hecker, Colonel, Commanding Eighty-second Illinois Volunteers"

Another forgotten story of the battle of Gettysburg associates with Emmitsburg.  Three photographers named, Alexander Gardner, Timothy O'Sullivan, and James Gibson were the first to the carnage of what was the aftermath of Gettysburg.  Gardner himself stayed at the Farmers Inn and Motel at Emmitsburg before his voyage to Gettysburg on July 4-5th.  As General Stuart came into Emmitsburg on the dawn hours of July 5th, a cameraman was captured and detained at the Farmers Inn. Which one of the three is not known however, they were released.

Evidence may suggest it could have been Gardner himself detained by the Confederate Cavalry. Gardner's fifth teen year old son Lawrence was attending a boarding school just outside of Emmitsburg.  His father may have been assuring his sons safety while was held in captivity.  After the Confederates left, the photographer was released and the three men headed to Gettysburg.  

On July 7th, Gardner and his crew came back into Emmitsburg on their way to Washington.  While in Emmitsburg, the photography crew produced seven negatives of different scenes in Emmitsburg. One is a picture of the Farmers Inn taken sometime in the afternoon on July 7th. There works on the Gettysburg battlefield and also those taken in Emmitsburg, would become some of the most famous photographs that future generations would marvel upon. 

Emmitsburg was able to reassemble the homes and businesses that were destroyed by the Great Fire of 1863, however the shortages of livestock and produce made it even harder for the town folks to get through the winter. The military left Emmitsburg to account for itself from the severity of the Gettysburg Campaign. By spring the pastures were being cultivated with produce and the imprints that were left by the armies were utilized and leveled. As for the towns people their lives would manage to get back to normal by harvest time. Those recollections left of the carnage of battle, would still hold its terror in the hearts of those who experienced the reality of the struggle of Emmitsburg during the Gettysburg Campaign.     


Read other articles by John Miller