Soldiers Marching Through Carroll County
When historians peel away the layers of the onion that is the study of history, several dynamics stand out. History is written by the victorious and the result is the sanitized, romanticized inaccurate recitation of events that ought not to have happened to begin with.
The day-to-day of the American Civil War was gruesome, horrific and the stuff of unparalleled brutality and crimes against humanity.
Although the numbers of the Civil War are passionately debated, estimates range from 600,000 to 1.4 million civilians died – compared to the 620,000 deaths of soldiers.
As the events which caused the conflict unfolded, rural Carroll County was certainly aware of national and international events, according to Carroll County Maryland, A History 1837-1976, by Nancy M. Warner, a Westminster High School classmate and fellow historian.
However the specter of violence and warfare in Carroll had not been a concern for the area for 100 years – not since the end of the French and Indian War, 1756-1763.
The arrival of the railroad in Westminster on June 15, 1861, changed everything – politically, economically, and especially in the context of the Civil War, from a strategic military point of view.
Then, the “events in the second half of 1862 jolted Carroll County citizens into recognizing the reality, seriousness, and persistence of the war,” according to Ms. Warner.
One of the warning signs that the county would not be able to escape the social, political, and economic and, ultimately, the military consequences of the war of ‘brother against brother,’ occurred on September 17, 1861. That was when Bernard Mills, a Carroll County member of the Maryland State Legislature, was arrested at a special session of that body in Frederick.
Then, on August 28, 1862, the Fourth Maryland Regiment entered Westminster by the newly constructed railroad from Baltimore and arrested 16 prominent Westminster citizens for “being a member of some guerilla band" or "having talked succession talk.” They were taken to Baltimore for trial and subsequently released, according to Ms. Warner’s research.
On September 11, 1862, Col. Thomas L. Rosser led the Fifth Virginia Cavalry in a raid on Westminster. This was a part of the maneuvers of Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and its first invasion of the North, just prior to Lee's engagement with Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan at Antietam September 16-18.
The raid was disturbing and upsetting but did not necessarily cause that much material damage to Westminster. However, The Battle of Antietam, for the community of Westminster, was not a battle in some far-off state in the south casually discussed in the newspaper; but, for the first time in the war, huge armies fought on nearby soil in a major battle with horrific consequences.
Just nine months later, on June 29, 1863, approximately 100 soldiers of the First Delaware Calvary were camped at the Commons on the Hill – now known as McDaniel College. That day, 90 of those soldiers engaged Gen. J. E. B. Stuart’s Confederate calvary totaling over 6,000 men, in Corbit’s Charge, which had a consequential impact on the war. The brief skirmish took place just days before the fateful meeting of Union Gen. George G. Meade and General Lee on the killing fields of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863.
Even more profound was the fact that on June 30, 1863, 24,000 Union troops passed through Westminster – on the town’s Main Street – on their way to Gettysburg, according to local historian and Civil War authority, G. Thomas LeGore, in a phone interview June 28, 2003.
“[A] study of the records indicates that [at Westminster, between July 1-3, 1863, there were] estimates of 5,000 wagons, 30,000 mules and 10,000 men, with at least 20 regiments guarding the trains…” in Westminster, according to Just South of Gettysburg, by Frederick Shriver Klein, ed., with the collaboration of W. Harold Redcay and G. Thomas LeGore.
For some contrast and comparison, keep in mind, there were only 1,900 citizens living in Westminster during the Civil War.
It may also be of interest that Company A of the 6th Michigan Cavalry, commanded by Brig. Gen. George A. Custer, was sent to Westminster June 30 to guard the Wagon Park. They encountered the rear of Stuart’s cavalry on the outskirts of town.
In addition, Just South of Gettysburg also reports that “the 6th Corps of the Union Army, under General Sedgwick, moved from Frederick to New Windsor on June 29th and to Manchester on June 30th, in accordance with Meade’s Pipe Creek plan. When the battle developed at Gettysburg, this unit was ordered from Manchester to Gettysburg, and made one of the longest and fastest marches in Civil War history.”
The Sixth Corps stretched 10 miles long – through a Westminster community that was less than two miles long in June of 1863. At the time, the Sixth Corps “was in itself a larger army than was ever marshaled on American soil prior to 1861,” and it marched through Westminster.
During and after the Battle of Gettysburg, Westminster was a major freight and supply terminus for the Union effort because of the railroad. And, according to Mr. LeGore, immediately after the battle, the infield of Fairground Hill, in Westminster, was turned into a prison camp in which 7,000 Confederate soldiers were held.
The first two occupations of Westminster, in 1862 and1863, were perilous. However, the third occupation of the county seat, July 9 and 10, 1864, by Union and Confederate troops during what are arguably the three important military campaigns during the war, may have been the most harrowing of the war.
That will be the focus of my column tomorrow. Until then…
. . . . .I’m just saying. . . . .