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Thurmont During the Civil War

Military Operations of Mechanicstown

John Allen Miller
Emmitsburg Historical Society

Rarely known for its Civil War history, the ever-growing town of Thurmont as its neighboring town of Emmitsburg has seen its share of the Civil War. Known as Mechanicstown during the Civil War and in some cases many Union officers referred to it as Mechanicsville during their correspondences in writing their official reports to General Meade. Although Mechanicstown was not on the razors edge during the battle of Gettysburg as was Emmitsburg, it does have a very unique Civil War history that most people are surprised to hear of. No battles were fought in Mechanicstown, but more of a mishap of opportunities.

During the late election, the Secretary of War and Commanding General Williams sent troops for the protection of Union men at the polls in November of 1861. Major Stone who was the provost-marshal for the areas of Woodsborough, Myersville, Wolfsville, Emmitsburg, Mechanicstown, and Wolf's Tavern sent troops of infantry and cavalry out in protection of pro union men voting, however, no armed men went near the polls, and no serious disturbance occurred in this part of the State. During day of November 14th, 1861, General N. P. Banks recalled

"At three or four places preparations had been undoubtedly made by disloyal men for interference with the polls, but they failed to make the attempt in the presence of troops. Some arrests were made, but the men were released and allowed to vote. The people generally express their satisfaction with the conduct of the troops and the result of the election. The men who were furloughed for the exercise of the elective franchise have returned, with few exceptions, where detained by sickness, or arrest, or not having passes. The average majority will reach 30,000 votes for the Union; a more favorable result than was anticipated. Ten thousand would have satisfied the Union men very well. Both branches of the legislature are for the Union, which will enable the State to contribute its quota of men and money for the war."

The Chambersburg Raid

General JEB Stuart with 1800 troopers and General Pelgram's Battery of two to four guns made their way to the Potomac River and on October 9th, 1862 crossed a ford near Clear Springs, Maryland. This raid into Maryland and Pennsylvania was made completely around General McClellan. This is known today as General Stuart's "Second ride around McClellan." General Stuart received orders from General Lee not to harm or seize any property in Maryland. General Stuart's orders were to capture equipment that the Confederates needed, to disrupt communication lines, destroy parts of the C&O Canal and also take out parts of the B&O railroad at and near Chambersburg.

On October 11th, General Stuart made his way into Cashtown and was about seven miles away from Gettysburg. General Stuart and the five-mile long column then turn southeast taking the old Fairfield Road. At Fairfield, the Confederate cavalry traveled into Maryland where they reached Emmitsburg, Maryland at about sunset. Once his cavalry reached the Mason and Dixon Line Stuart ordered the men to close formations and stop collecting livestock.

General Alfred Pleasonton who was tracking for the Confederate Cavalry received false intelligence of General Stuartís whereabouts. He thought that General Stuart was retracing his footsteps back toward the Potomac River in the direction in which he came. General Pleasanton started to pursue the Confederate cavalry at Knoxville, Maryland on October 10-11 in the direction that intelligence report stated. Soon afterwards, he was ordered to proceed toward Emmitsburg and Mechanicstown.

This official report is one of many that show how Mechanicstown was being reinforced by Union Cavalry trying to cut General Stuart off as he made his way toward the Mason Dixon Line.

"Headquarter Army of the Potomac October 11, 1862--1 p. m.

Captain W. P. Sanders, Commanding Sixth Cavalry:

Sir: The commanding general directs that you move with your regiment, immediately on receipt of this, to Mechanicstown, passing through the Shookstown Gap to the turnpike leading from Frederick to Mechanicstown, and along the latter. On your arrival you will report to Brigadier-General Pleasonton, waiting for him if he has not reached there, and following him if he has left there. If you reach Mechanicstown before General Pleasonton, you will at once send out scouts, citizens if you can get them, in the direction of Gettysburg, and collect all the information you can of the enemy.

Yours, respectfully, R. B. Marcy, Chief of Staff."

Outside of Emmitsburg, General Stuart ordered his command to turn east at Rocky Ridge, Maryland and travel toward the Woodsboro Road two miles away. At around 9 P.M., the advance guard reached Rocky Ridge; they met a scouting party of General Pleasontonís Federal Cavalry, which turned immediately toward Mechanicstown. A half past 10 P.M. a company of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry observed the march of General Stuartís column through Woodsboro. This information of General Stuartís location was dispatched to Colonel Rush and to General Pleasonton only few miles away at Mechanicstown. Only though this information only had to go from Rocky Ridge to Mechanicstown, a mere three hours it took to relay. General Pleasonton receive word on General Stuartís location past midnight.

General Pleasonton wrote in his official report:

"On Saturday morning October 11 About 1.30 P.M, I received orders to move to Mechanicstown, via Cavetown and Harman's Gap, sending patrols to Emmitsburg and Gettysburg to obtain information of the enemy. I executed these orders, and arrived at Mechanicstown about 8.30 p. m., from which point I sent out scouts in the direction of Emmitsburg, Taneytown, Middleburg, and Graceham, and picketing all the roads in that vicinity.

At 12.30 a. m. my scouts in the direction of Middleburg (Rocky Ridge) reported that the rebel cavalry, under Stuart had passed through a small town, some 5 miles to the east of Mechanicstown, one hour before that time, taking a private road to Woodsborough, to which place said they were going, and from thence to Liberty, on the road to the Monocacy."

The Gettysburg Campaign

During the latter part of June 1863, one of most bloodiest Civil War Campaigns was unfolding. This was known as the Gettysburg Campaign. General Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia had crossed the Potomac River and were in Maryland approaching Pennsylvania. Most of the Federal Army was in Frederick, Maryland and once the newly appointed General Meade received word of the Confederate advancement, he ordered his Army of the Potomac North and Northeastward while sending his cavalry scouting the Confederate movements to the Westward. The First and Eleventh Corps came through Mechanicstown during the day of June 29.

On June 29th, as the first portions of the Army of the Potomac traveled toward Emmitsburg, a local farmer and his family who lived near Mechanicstown gave bread to the troops in blue. The column continued its march toward the Mason and Dixon Line. Also on that day, General Merrit and his regulators were ordered near Mechanicstown, Maryland. These soldiers were the Army of the Potomac's U.S. Cavalry. After being ordered to guard the mountain passes at Catoctin Mountains near present day Camp David. The U.S. Cavalry was to guard and to protect the roadways and communication lines in the vicinity of Mechanicstown. Its duty was also to guard the Army of the Potomacís supply wagons consisting of an aggregating ten thousand four hundred. After given an order to advance on to Emmitsburg from Bridgeport, General Sickles on July 1st, issued orders to "leave one brigade and a battery on the heights beyond Emmitsburg, commanding the approaches by way of Mechanicstown." This would be Mechanicstown only protection along with the reserve of cavalry under General Merritt who controlled the mountain passes and the town itself.

A dispatch came to General Merrit on July 2nd to move forward with the wagon train to Emmitsburg, Maryland. General Merrit then received orders to meet with General Kilpatrick on the battlefield of Gettysburg that night. July 3rd saw three main cavalry battles, one under General Greg who held his ground at East Cavalry Field, a second battle at South Cavalry Field under Generals Meritt and Farnsworth attacking the Confederate Right Flank. While a third battle took place at Fairfield under Major Samuel Starr who was attacking the Confederates guarding their supply wagons and the mountain passes of Monterey, Fairfield, and also Emmitsburg.

During the battle of Fairfield on July 3rd, Lieutenant Nolan fearing he was being cut off found the only exit through the Confederate lines. He and some of his comrades made their escape through the streets of Fairfield. After being chased, Lieutenant Nolan headed toward the Maryland Border to Emmitsburg as fast as they could. Once there, Lieutenant Nolan led his small detachment to their old camp near Mechanicstown, where they ran into Major Starrís remnants that fled the scene from Fairfield.

Lieutenant Nicholas Nolan states:

"After the regiment was repulsed from Fairfield, I immediately commenced Ďretreating,í disputing every inch of ground with the enemy. Finding the enemy in force, I gradually fell back in the direction of Mechanicstown, where I found the regiment, and also ascertained that the commanding officer was wounded and in the hands of the enemy."

On the morning of July 5th, General JEB Stuart made his way from the fields of Gettysburg to Emmitsburg. There was a sharp skirmish fought at the Farmers Inn as seventy Union men and their Captain were taken prisoners. General Stuart stopped long enough to study maps and feed and water the horses. Supplies were also taken for the wounded Confederates who fought at Gettysburg. At this time JEB Stuart learned that the action of Monterey Gap happened only a few hours prior to him entering Emmitsburg. The route he wanted to take had been closed since General Kilpatrick's men rode out of Emmitsburg to attack the retreating wagon train. Another detour was needed.

General JEB Stuart mounted up and rode toward Old Frederick Road. This led him and his men to the town of Cooperstown, (Creagarstown as its known today). The Confederate Cavalry divided the column and some wound up in Graceham. Mr. Cramer a resident of Graceham did not have time to hide his horses and the black powder that he kept in his store. Outside of his store troopers and their mounts were thirsty. A girl, Belva Anne Elizabeth Cramer, pumped the water for the horses and men. Tears started to roll down her face as she pumped. A trooper told her ""Don't cry little girl. We're dirty and ragged, but we are all gentlemen and we will not hurt you."" The trooper did not know that Belva had a bad tooth, and pumping the water from the well made the pain worse.

At Mechanicstown, General Stuart learned of the impasse at Harman's Pass. This created a problem for as he had to get across the Catoctin Mountain and rejoin General Lee. It would seem almost impossible for General Stuart to do this while parts of General Wesley Merritt's troops were at Harman's Pass. This was a good route for the Confederate Cavalry to take (The road, known today as Route 77) because it went from Thurmont to Smithsburg. He then traveled Old Emmitsburg Road passing through Franklinville located just east of Mechanicstown.

There at Franklinville, General Stuart and his cavalry rested in the fields near the mill and creek to feed and water their horses. According to an article written by Anne Cissels' she mentions:

"According to the "Baltimore Sun" correspondent they spent five hours at Franklin Mills before moving off toward Deerfield. Eyewitnesses later recounted that the oats, wheat and rye taken from the mill was strewn out along the roadbed to make a giant feeding trough for the horses and mules. Although patrols galloped over the nearby roads scouting for Yankee troops, little damage was done, except for the loss of 6 mules and two horses appropriated from Mr. Landers."

Accounts from the Ladies of Mt. Carmel and George Wireman indicate, that sometime on July 5th, General JEB Stuart made his way from Cooperstown to Mechanicstown. A priest was giving a sermon while the Confederate Cavalry was making its way through the town. As the priest boarded his buggy, General JEB Stuart came along and escorted the priest to Mount Saint Mary's. General JEB Stuart demanded supplies or else he would burn the school down. The priest and JEB Stuart became such good friends that Mount Saint Mary's was spared from the torch. General Stuart even escorted the priest to his sanction.

Many historians will argue the route that General Stuart took during his movements protecting General Leeís Left Flank. Some speculate General Stuart took Hampton Valley Road into Deerfield by way of Eyler's Valley Road. Seeing parts of Kilpatrickís command, General Stuart diverted toward Harbaugh Valley Road to Mount Zion Church, which is outside of Sabilliasville. From there General Stuart made his way toward Leithersburg.

During the day of July 5th General Meade issued orders to the Army of the Potomac for their removal from the battlefield at Gettysburg. The First, Sixth, and Third Corps will march to Emmitsburg, taking the direct road to Mechanicstown, Lewistown, Hamburg, reaching Middletown. The Fifth and Eleventh Corps will march on Taneytown road, through Emmitsburg, Creagerstown, Utica, Highknob Pass, to Middletown. The Twelfth, Second Corps, and the Artillery Reserve will march toward Taneytown to Middleburg, and Woodsborough, through Frederick to Middletown. The trains will move with their corps, those at Westminster crossing to Middletown, toward Frederick. Headquarters will be at Creagerstown during the night. The army will assemble at Middletown during the afternoon of July 7th.

On July 7th, after the battle of Gettysburg, General Meade rode through Emmitsburg and briefly stopped to visit the town. The residents hailed him, thanking him for all that he had done to protect the town from the main Confederate Army. General Meade rode out of town traveling down Old Frederick Road. The commander crossed Loyds Station-Covered Bridge and made his headquarters in the small community of Cooperstown (Creagerstown) just a few miles east of Mechanicstown. From there he pursued the retreating Confederate Army to Hagerstown.

Colonel F. Hecker of the Eighty-second Illinois Volunteers recalls the pursuit of General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

"On 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."

Major General D. B. Birney who was commanding the Army of the Potomac's Third Corps had his headquarters located in Mechanicstown on the night of July 7th. His report to Major General Sedgwick is as follows:

"Headquarters Third Corps, Mechanicstown, July 7, 1863-6. 20 p.m.

Major-General Sedgwick, Commanding Right Wing, Army of the Potomac:

General: I have the honor to state that this corps moved from its position at Gettysburg this morning at 3 o'clock, and reached Saint Joseph's College at 10 a. m., and found the Sixth Corps halted. It was detained there until 1 p. m. by the Sixth Corps and its train, and has followed the train to this place.

The head of my column has just reached here, and I have determined to halt and bivouac, starting at an early hour in the morning, as my artillery horses are reported very jaded for want of rest and forage.

The citizens report a force of 2, 000 cavalry (Jenkins) on the Mountain road to Cavetown, Md. He was here Sunday, and took off much plunder.

I am, your obedient servant, D. B. Birney, Major General, commanding Third Corps."

The legend of Roddy Bridge and the Old Toll House

With it's natural beauty and the old fashion like surroundings, Roddy Bridge is one of Thurmont's biggest tourist attractions. Built between 1850 and 1860 it is one three covered bridges in Frederick County, Maryland. This King Post Truss Bridge is 45 feet long and is 13.8 feet wide.

Local stories handed down from generation to generation have a different outtake on the roads that General Stuartís cavalry traveled after leaving Emmitsburg in 1862 following the Chambersburg Raid. The Confederate cavalry headed down Old Emmitsburg Road toward Rocky Ridge, and most reports state General Stuart directly marched to Woodsboro via Rocky Ridge.

Although in recent research parts of General Stuartís cavalry according to many local accounts some of General Stuartís men traveled through Roddy Covered Bridge on night of October 11th near Mechanicstown. This is an old tale that was told to my wife and I from Captain Powell who was my commander during our Civil War living history at Roddy Bridge in October of 1997. This was my first Civil War living history that I had done and the first time that I heard this legend.

"The Confederate cavalry headed down Old Emmitsburg Road toward Mechanicstown, (which is known as the town of Thurmont today). The troopers were tired and rested along Owens Creek or Roddy Covered Bridge as we would call it today. From what locals have told me about the Old Toll House, the Confederate cavalry spent the night at Roddy Bridge and also raided farms exchanging exhausted horses for fresh ones.

The next night General Stuart moved out from Thurmont and headed towards Rocky Ridge and eventually moving on to Wooodsboro, Libertytown, and Mount Airy. By the time General Stuart reached Hyattstown on October 12th, Cole's cavalry caught up with the Confederate cavalry a skirmish developed and seven Confederate troopers were captured."

Ghost stories about Civil War soldiers at Roddy Bridge have also surfaced. Some stories even claim that the Confederate cavalry harassed local farmers stealing horses and engaging in a skirmish with locals. The ghost are of those who died at the covered bridge. Even though there is not much evidence to support this story, many artifacts have been found on the property such as minie balls probably left over from a Union encampment during the Gettysburg Campaign. Even so, these little stories can add a little charm to create a fascinating tale. I personally think that Rocky Ridge was anciently pronounced wrong when one was telling the story of the passing of the Confederate cavalry and said Roddy Bridge.

According to Lieutenant Colonel W.W. Blackfordís map of General Stuartís Military Operations in Pennsylvania and Maryland in 1862, it clearly shows once the Confederate Cavalry left Emmitsburg, the line of march in the direction of south was not traveled very long. When the Confederate cavalry turned Southeast it appears that they took a road similar to modern day Route 76, in which Mechanicstown is not listed on the map nor does it appear that the Confederate Cavalry even traveled that far South to come into Mechanicstown. Especially if General Stuart learned that his cavalry was being pursued from the North, West, and even south, he would not want to engage far from General Leeís Army of Northern Virginia.

But it is ascertain, that Roddy Covered Bridge did see troops passing through during the Gettysburg Campaign in June-July of 1863. As Union troops left Frederick, Maryland roads were flooded with several thousand troops, Cannon, and carriages from the First and Eveleth Corps marching onward to Emmitsburg. The old Mechanicstown Road was one of the major roads that followed directly from Mechanicstown to Emmitsburg.

It is unascertained, but possible, General Stuart and his cavalry passed through Roddy Bridge during the afternoon of July 5th, as he made his way toward Franklin Mills. However, there is no accounts of Roddy Bridge nor any official reports of skirmishing occurring at or near Roddy Covered Bridge during the Civil War. Again stories such as these can add a petite appeal to create a fascinating tale for such a magnificent place.

Read other articles by John Miller on the civil war