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The Civil War Along Tom's Creek and Waynesboro Pike

Zora: The Pivotal Crossroad of the Civil War

John A. Miller

Part 1 of 5

Located between Emmitsburg, Maryland and Monterey Springs, Pennsylvania, the community of Zora saw troops from both Union and Confederate Armies during the Civil War. Although Zora was not a town until the late 1800ís, early 1900ís, troops passed through and left an impact on the community that took years to rebuild. Zoraís Civil War history is not well known and unlike any of its kind.

Zora was only a crossroad at the time of the Civil War. It was where the Emmitsburg-Waynesboro Road and the Fairfield Road came together. Waynesboro Pike during the Civil War was a major artery that traveled from Emmitsburg to Waynesboro. Zora played a major role in the battle of Monterey and the Confederate retreat from the fields of Gettysburg and proved to be a key route for the armies during the Civil War.

Due to communication reasons both armies felt the need to obtain and protect their positions at these crossroads and mountain gaps. Because of this troops encamped at Zora. Instances such as these happened quite often, especially when battles were waged nearby. Scouts and pickets used the crossroads to see the troop movements that came from the direction of Emmitsburg and Fairfield. Zora, just as Emmitsburg was always on the extreme perimeter of major campaigns such as, Antietam, Gettysburg and Early's Raid on Washington.

On October 11th of 1862, General Stuartís Cavalry entered Zora. At this crossroad, Stuartís Cavalry then proceeded to Emmitsburg, Maryland. Once at Emmitsburg, General Stuart ordered his men to dismount, and sent out pickets blocking the intersection at Zora. It was reported scouts of Colonel Rushís command were in the nearby area.

During the Gettysburg Campaign in June and July of 1863, Zora was a key route for Federal and Confederate troops on their way to Gettysburg. By June 29, 1863, General John Buford stood at the opening of Monterey Pass which overlooked the Cumberland Valley and saw the Confederate Army in Greencastle. It was at this time that he suspected a battle would soon erupt in south-central Pennsylvania. There he stood at the opening of Monterey Pass through South Mountain, and overlooking the Cumberland Valley. There at Monterey, he saw the Confederate troops in Greencastle. That evening General Buford counter-marched back toward Fountain Dale, and on the highest point he looked down the valley toward Fairfield, and saw the campfires of those troops belonging to General Henry Heth's Division.

Henry F. Long of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry wrote had this to say in regards to the movement around Zora:

" June 29, we marched from Middletown, through Boonsborough to Cavetown, to Monterey Springs, PA to near Fairfield where Confederate troops were encountered; withdrew a short distance toward Emmitsburg, MD; June 30, moved from near Fairfield, through Emmitsburg, Maryland, and then toward Gettysburg; July 1, on picket duty somewhere near Gettysburg in Adams County, PA."

Major General Alfred Pleasonton wrote this in his official report of the Gettysburg Campaign: 

"Orders having been issued for the advance of the army toward Pennsylvania, on June 29, Buford's division moved as follows, to cover and protect the left flank of the line of march: The Reserve Brigade was detached under Brig. General Merritt, and moved to Mechanicstown and afterward to Emmitsburg. The First and Second Brigades passed through Boonsborough, Cavetown, and Monterey Springs, and encamped near Fairfield, within a short distance of a considerable force of the enemy's infantry.

There has been much excitement here all week, owing to the presence of the Confederates in the neighboring counties. The following we give as the latest intelligence, and it can be relied upon: On Friday there was a large force of the enemy at Hagerstown, probably 20,000 infantry, 2,000 cavalry, and artillery numbering twenty or more guns.

On Saturday night Jenkins' Cavalry, numbering 2,000 were encamped a short distance beyond Waynesboro, and yesterday moved up the South Mountain. Their skirmishers scoured the woods on foot, in advance on each side of the turnpike. When our informants left they had reached Monterey Springs, or the top of the mountain, firing at several bodies of persons on horseback on the route. Near dusk a body of their cavalry entered Fairfield, in this county, and but eight miles from Gettysburg. Their number is estimated at from fifty to one hundred."

Near Fairfield, Union cavalry commander John Buford spotted a detachment of Confederates and sounded the charge for attack. Upon seeing the Confederates deploy a cannon, General Buford sounded the order for recall in fear that he would not be able to distinguish where the main body of the Confederate Army was located. Once General Buford collected his men, they headed in the direction of Zora. At the intersection in Zora, General Buford mistakenly took a wrong road, which led them directly into the town of Emmitsburg.

As General Lee maneuvered his forces, Zora found itself right in the middle of the two armies. When Leeís main force reached Chambersburg, he retained one corps there, and sent two others eastward through Gettysburg toward York and then onto Harrisburg. Later, when he learned of the approach of the Union Army from the south, General Lee concentrated them from the north, making Gettysburg a geographical contest. In this description of the Battle of Gettysburg, the Emmitsburg vicinity is roughly clarified as the boundary north by Greenmount, or Marsh Creek; on the east by Bridgeport; on the west by Zora or Fountain Dale, and on the south by Mechanicstown.

On June 30, the left wing of the Federal Army was encamped near Emmitsburg. As the Gettysburg Campaign started to commence, it looked as if the battle was developing in the Emmitsburg District. The main Confederate force was located at Cashtown traveling in the direction of Gettysburg or Fairfield. It was on this same day that General Ewell was coming from Harrisburg heading southwest toward Carlisle.

After the western wing of the Federal army saw Confederate troops at Fairfield, General Reynolds positioned the First Corps at Marsh Creek on the evening of June 30. By July 1, General Buford engaged the Confederate forces at Gettysburg. As news of the engagement came to General Meade, he ordered the Federal troops to push forward from the Pipe Creek Line and head for Gettysburg, thus avoiding a major battle in the small towns of Emmitsburg and Zora.

Captain Ulric Dahlgren of the Union Army was sent on a mission which led him straight to Zora. One of the men in Captain Ulric Dahlgrenís unit, Captain Milton Cline of Indiana had ridden out of Salem with Stuartís cavalry on June 25, and was an especially resourceful operative. After passing into Maryland, Cline had deserted his "comrades" and had ridden long and hard to rejoin the Army of the Potomac in Frederick. In that city he relayed to Captain Dahlgren a conversation that he had overheard at Stuartís headquarters about a packet of dispatches en route from Richmond to General Lee.

The dispatches, signed by Jefferson Davis, were to be conveyed across the Potomac by a courier, protected by a cavalry escort, at a specified hour on July 2. From there were to be forwarded to the Army of Northern Virginia headquarters via the Greencastle Turnpike. After hearing his story, General Pleasonton,  provided Dahlgren with ten troopers to ride with him to Greencastle and intercept the Rebel mail. Early on June 30, Dahlgren set out, crossing South Mountain at Monterey Pass, Pennsylvania. With Cline and the others he veered northwest through Waynesboro, careful to avoid enemy patrols.

Late in the morning of July 2, Captain Dahlgrenís company entered Greencastle, some twelve miles west of the site where Lee and Meade were locked in battle. Almost exactly on schedule, the Rebel mailman and his company size escort came up the trail. Captain Clineís intelligence had come through magnificently. As Dahlgren prepared to signal his men into action, a Rebel supply train, trundled into Greencastle from the opposite direction, bound for Virginia with a harvest of spoils. Its arrival threw Dahlgren into a dilemma, for its infantry guard, if teamed with the courierís escort, might overpower his little band.

Dahlgren, could not let this opportunity pass and gave the signal to attack. As the wagons and the messenger converged on the middle of town, his men broke from cover and charged them, shouting and shooting. Cutting through the supply train, they stampeded the lead teams, causing some vehicles to overturn. The center of Greencastle was in chaos under cover of which Dahlgrenís men dispersed the courierís escort with pistol and carbine fire. As the Rebel company dispersed, Captain Cline wrested the dispatch case from its bearer and dashed with it to safety.

The wild abandon of Dahlgrenís fight persuaded the Confederates that they were outnumbered. The train escorts fled town, leaving behind three officers and fourteen men. The prisoners were turned over to the local authorities as the captain had no time to deal with these men. Captain Dahlgren, then remounted and galloped south, with his company behind him. Below Waynesboro, fearing pursuit, the troops split up. Riding alone with the mail, Captain Dahlgren re-crossed the mountains at Monterey Pass by way of Zora and entered Emmitsburg. He finally reached General Meade at Gettysburg at approximately midnight.

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