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Emmitsburg Area In the Civil War

Wayde Chrismer

Part 1 of 4


Mention the Civil War and most Americans will think first of the Battle of Gettysburg. Probably not one in a million, however, knows that but for the grace of God and the ifs and accidents of all military campaigns, the most famous battle in American history would have been The Battle of Emmitsburg, and Gettysburg merely an obscure town to the north from which Lee’s Confederates descended upon Emmitsburg-based Yanks in an inexorable step towards Baltimore and Washington, primary objectives in their 1863 invasion of the North. It’s an historical fact, however, to be spelled out in detail later.

The most controversial phase of American history is its Civil War. More words have been written about it than all other eras put together. The most difficult state about which to determine the true picture is Maryland. For twenty years this writer has researched that particular subject without reaching a provable conclusion as to whether the state was pro-North or pro-South. "Facts" are available about nearly every Maryland aspect. But turn another page. read another book, pamphlet, newspaper, contemporary letter, diary or post-war memoir, and you find those ‘‘facts’’ contradicted, or at least disputed, by a source equally as reliable as the first. But where can you find out much that is worthwhile and reliable al)out Emmitsburg? Rarely were the voluminous records on the war broken down even to counties; to towns, never. No newspaper existed in Emmitsburg; nobody seems to have kept anything remotely resembling a diary; not a single letter by a resident Emmitsburgian during the war has been found. A few are recorded in The Story of the Mountain. Helman’s History of Emmitsburg appears to be based largely on hearsay, and occasionally the town is mentioned in the Official Records or some soldier’s unreliable post-war memoirs.

The only newspapers one can use are Frederick ones, of which there were three during the period. The writer is fortunate in possessing a complete file of The Frederick Examiner for the years 1844 into 1863 (a gift of the late Charles Arthur Elder). Of the other two. The Republican Citizen (actually Democrat as to politics) and The Maryland Union (a mixed political breed) only occasional scattered issues apparently exist not enough to be any more than troublesome. Williams in his History of Frederick County describes them well, saying "the papers were filled with editorials of a most intensely partisan character . . . . The subscriber to The Republican Citizen was almost sure to be a Democrat, and the circulation of The Examiner was confined practically to the Whigs" [later it would support the "Americans" (or Know-Nothings) and eventually the "Unconditional Unionists" (or Republicans).] 

Williams went on: "Each subscriber believed what his paper stated, absolutely refusing credence to the paper of opposite politics. If there was a great political meeting, the editor was there in person to report it, that is if it was of his own party. If it was of the opposite party, it would be dismissed with a few contemptuous lines." The papers, for instance, would not even publish the names of candidates of the opposition parties until the results of elections were announced. Add to this the fact that Emmitsburg was the most remote county town from Frederick and was rarely mentioned; the papers had no "reporters" except friends who dropped in to "report" what they knew the editor wanted to hear few of them being from faraway Emmitsburg, and you can appreciate an Emmitsburg historian’s problems.

Slavery in Emmitsburg

The historian must sometimes reluctantly make dubious presumptions from related facts available from nearby areas or from larger communities which embrace the town. We cannot for instance tell you how many slaves or free blacks there were in the Emmitsburg area or how many slave-owners, what the slaves were worth or even for that matter what was the Emmitsburg area. A fire May 8, 1861, made "a mass of ruins in less than an hour" of the Frederick Courthouse. Contemporary published ac­counts say that "all official papers were saved" but Courthouse authorities, while this article was being prepared, said the records "had been destroyed’ ‘either then or later.

The national census for 1860 shows Frederick County’s total population as 46,591—38,391 being whites, 4,957 free colored, and 3,243 slaves. This meant one slave to every 13 whites in Frederick County; in adjacent Carroll County the ratio was one slave to every 28 whites; in Washington County it was one slave to every 20 whites. Why did Frederick County, by comparison with similarly situated and similarly composed neighbors, harbor so many slaves? Statistics for the town are unavailable so, as for Emmitsburg, one can merely speculate that its percentage was the same as that of the county.

How did Emmitsburgians feel about slavery? Again, a presumption must be resorted to, though some certainty can be reached from physical evidence in the writer’s possession. Williams wrote of slaves that "they were treated with mildness and humanity . . . and when old age came were cared for until the end of their days." This last proves nothing, of course, for owners were compelled by law to care for all blacks in their possession until their deaths. Helman says "It was only by the kindest treatment that they could be kept" adding that "Felix Tawney and Dr. James Shorb each had quite a number to run away." A post-war writer in The Story of the Mountain, says that "The College had years before freed its last bondsmen" (without saying whether it was voluntarily or when it was forced upon the institution by the statewide abolition of slavery in 1864). The quotation adds that "even after their emancipation [the slaves] showed the noblest consideration for their unfortunate owners." It goes on to say that "Most of the Negroes around Emmitsburg were and are Catholics, and exemplary children of the Church." Another historian felt that "Frederick Contains considered Negro slavery to be legally and morally just . . . a constitutional right . . . a form of property to be handled as the owner wished.’

These arguments would undoubtedly have been challenged by Maryland’s two most famous Blacks: Frederick Douglass, whom the short-lived Liberty Party wished to run for the office of American President: and Harriet Tubman, an Eastern Shore Negroes, the best known operator of Maryland’s "Underground Railway" which helped slaves escape to freedom in the northern states. Harriet Beecher Stowe, who found in Josiah Henson the original of her "Uncle Tom" on a Maryland plantation, would also have been in disagreement.

Probably, Emmitsburgians favored the spread of slavery for it meant a larger market for the slaves whom Marylanders were selling off by the thousands when their use in the State became impracticable and unprofitable. But certainly no stigma seems to have been attached here to slave ownership, and most of the better families appeared to have had them as house servants. Wealthier farmers also used them as unskilled laborers, but there was no large-scale use on such plantations as those in Southern Maryland and the lower Eastern Shore. Whether this was still the case as the Civil War approached, cannot be substantiated but was doubtless so. It was certainly the case at the close of the 18th century. A manuscript inventory of the goods and chattels of this writer’s great-great-great grandfather George Hockensmith showed, in 1799, that he died possessed of two slaves Negro Jack appraised at $240.00 and Negro Amoss at $186.66. That such possessions were commonplace then and so treated is suggested by the fact that they were in-discriminatively inventoried between an "Apple Mill, $12.00" and "One Grey Horse, $16.00."

The appraisers of the document, John M. Bayard and John Troxell, probably had slaves of their own and knew slave values. The heirs, Jacob and George Hockensmith, doubtless felt no compunction about accepting them as part of their inheritance, presuming they were not sold to allay the claims of the listed creditors, John Buchanan and Robert L. Annan of Emmitsburg. Who most likely would have been glad to accept them in settlement of my ancestors debts.

Soldiers’ Views of the Emmitsburg Area

One Yankee officer passing through the area during the Gettysburg campaign, saw people like this: "It is not always easy to discern the political sentiments of these Maryland gentry from conversation as a Federal soldier with them. They are ‘all things to all men’ though not in the sense meant by the apostle. Adhesion to the South would involve a charge of disloyalty to the government of the North, if it were known, and consequently they refrain from advocating Southern predilections when the forces of the Union are in their vicinity; yet there have been . . . instances where farmers of this area, professing Union sentiments, have with heart and hand, assisted the Rebels as often as opportunity offered.

Another Yankee officer saw our ancestors like this: Lt. M. Moore of New York, in command of a company of eighty men, found the people in this area a bunch of hypocrites. Writing to his "Esteemed Uncle" in 1863 he said he found "the people in this part very ignorant of the condition of our country. ‘ He added: "I have talked with many of them and they are not able to explain what the South are fighting for . . . The most of them are (quite wealthy and about all they think of is money and slaves." He "often wonders whether it was worthwhile to leave my little family to go fight for such people as these in Maryland who are so greedy for their own possessions yet wont go fight for them themselves ... They ought to be hung for they are traitors and secessionist at heart. Their actions prove it, their conduct speaks it. I appeal to any sensible Union man if those Northern Secessionist are not worse than a Rebel in arms in front of us they are cowards, they are scoundrels, and I hope they will meet their justice in time and that in a hemp collar! The country demands them to be hung (for their hands are stained with the blood of good soldiers,"

Other Yankees were much more sympathetic of Emmitsburg’s plight. A Pennsylvania officer writes: ‘‘Two miles from Emmitsburg we passed Mount Saint Mary’s and taking advantage of a moment’s halt a party of three or four rode up to the main entrance. We were cordially received by the president [Rev. John McCaffrey] and with characteristic hospitality a collation was in preparation for us.’’ But see what The Story of the Mountain says about the school’s reception of Confederates: "The Confederate forces invading Pennsylvania passed along in front of the College, and many a veteran will tell how he stopped there for a bit and how they treated him." It adds that, during a Confederate raid past the Mount, "the Vice-President, Rev. John McCloskey rode for quite a distance along side the commander, General J. E. B. Stuart. As for Dr. McCaffrey himself, it says this: "Dr. McCaffrey used to say that if he met General Lee he could give him valuable information."

Stuart himself wrote in his official report following the 1862 Chambersburg Raid: "We crossed to Emmitsburg, where, as we passed, we were hailed by the inhabitants with the most enthusiastic demonstration of joy.’’ One of Stuart’s officers saw Emmitsburg like this: "the first place we came to (after crossing the Maryland-Pennsylvania line] was the little town of Emmitsburg . . . If we had fallen from the clouds, the people could not have been more astonished . . . and their demonstrations of delight at seeing us were unbounded. The people here seemed to be intensely Southern in their sympathies and omitted no opportunity of showing us attention during the short half hour we passed among them.

A definite pro-Yankee attitude was shown a Massachusetts’ musician who visited here. He writes that "An old man brought cakes and bread into Camp to give them to the soldiers. He would take no pay." He also says: Burditt and I went over to a house and got supper for which they would not let us pay." Further, he adds: "We got well acquainted with Maryland bread, huge loaves baked in ovens outside the house, and tasting to us like manna in the wilderness." This was on the way to Gettysburg. Of events following the battle, he says: "Started after the Rebels at last. Passed through Emmitsburg and near there got a splendid dinner is of green peas, etc. At the College of St. Mary’s, dinners and good dinners, too were furnished at 10 cents each." Concerning events a year or less earlier, in 1862, a Confederate writes of d Emmitsburg: "We passed through Emmitsburg just at night. I have never in all my life witnessed such enthusiasm as greeted us at this place. It were a vain task to attempt a description of the outpourings of the Southern heart on that memorable night. The richest bounties of the town things that delight the soldier’s heart or that could in any wise minister to our personal comforts were lavishly bestowed upon us all, while our ears heard naught but blessing upon blessing for the South, for Jeff Davis and our cause, from those bound down people, who now beheld for the first time in their lives flags and officers and men representing the cause which lax nearest their hearts.’’

It must be remembered that in 1862, the Confederates were invading Maryland for the first time and under the misguided impression that the State would rise to join its forces. Lee and President Davis had formed this opinion largely on information given them by two Frederick Counties then resident in Richmond. They were Ex-Gov. Enoch Louis Lowe and Col. (later General) Bradley Tyler Johnson. Lowe had promised to join Lee in Maryland and add his political influence in raising as many as ten thousand recruits for the Rebel army but he never showed up. Johnson was made Recruiting Officer by Lee, but from the best published accounts, was able to raise fewer than 100 men, six of whom, at least, are reputed to have come from The Mount. The disillusioned Confederate soldiers by the scores wrote then and later that they would never again believe one word of the song, "Maryland My Maryland" with its boasts of hatred for Yankee oppression and its love for the South. Back in Richmond, a lady was writing in derision in her diary: "When a bill passed [the Confederate] Congress including straggling Marylanders [who had sought the safety of Richmond] in the conscription, the beautiful and patriotic words of ‘My Maryland’ were amusingly travestied as follows:

‘Conscribers’ heels are at thy do or, Maryland! My Maryland!
So off to Baltimore we’ll go, Maryland! My Maryland!
We can’t stay here to meet the foe;
We might get shot and killed, you know, But when we’re safe we’ll bras and blow,
Maryland! My Maryland!’.

Other Yankees were to find enthusiasm in Emmitsburg besides those quoted above (which have been deliberately mixed up amongst the Confederates to show the confused opinions about the community.) Another Pennsylvanian recorded: "Our reception was extremely enthusiastic. Ladies and young girls distributed beautiful bouquets to the officers and soldiers; groups of fair damsels bewitchingly posted in conspicuous places sang patriotic airs as the ‘boys in blue’ passed by and . . . the citizens turned out en masse. Long after tattoo, groups of ladies and gentlemen promenaded through our camps, actuated by a curiosity to see how soldiers really lived in the tented field" This was while the Yankees were on their way to Gettysburg in 1863.

Much other evidence exists as to the divided opinions of the people of Emmitsburg and will be given later. Even families were divided. We know definitely of one only: the Annans. Dr. Andrew Annan, a 56-year-old physician when war broke out, was an Anti-Slavery (i.e.: Unionist) delegate to the State Constitutional Congress which abolished slavery in 1864. His half-brother, Dr. Samuel Annan, aged 64 in 1861, "was a surgeon in the Confederate Army, 1861-64." Another relative, Robert Lewis Annan, aged 30 when the conflict began, who had practiced in Emmitsburg, must have been caught on the horns of this domestic dilemma, but we have no information as to his military affiliations or political sentiments.

There was, apparently, no outright guerrilla warfare between the people here as occurred in divided Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri only vicious tattling. Only one Emmitsburgian and one Mountaineer are reported to have incurred the legal and military wrath of the Federalists for alleged pro-Southern sentiments. One was a man identified only as "Elder" who was reported upon during the Gettysburg campaign by "some of his malicious neighbors, in consequence of which his place was almost destroyed." According to a Mount student in an 1862 letter to his sister: "Bart Shorb [is] just out of Fort McHenry [where political prisoners were incarcerated] on parole." But "even the little children had imbibed the spirit of their parents; and . . . it was no uncommon thing to hear a tot, perched on the top of a fence, shout as if he would split a ‘Hurrah for Jeff’ or a ‘Hurrah for Abe’."

Scores of grand jury indictments were brought against Frederick Counties for efforts to aid the enemy, but whether they were Emmitsburgians or not cannot be told from original manuscript indictments in this author’s possession. Robert Annan of Emmitsburg was foreman of the October Term 1862 Grand Jury, but the actual indictments in his own hand and signed by him merely declare, for instance, that So-and-So, "late of said county", on such-and-such day and such-and-such month did "conspire or combine with others to levy war against this State giving aid and comfort to the enemies thereof." Whether these men (and in some cases, women! ) were from Emmitsburg or Middletown or Frederick or wherever, is never stated.

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