Soldiers Marching Through Carroll County – Part 2
On July 10, 1864, a large contingent of Confederate cavalry were in the process of moving out of Westminster after having arrived at dusk the previous day with a mission to hold the town for ransom – or burn it to the ground.
What unfolded then is considered by some historians to have been the most perilous experience Carroll County had during the war.
More Americans died in the Civil War than in all U.S. wars combined and July 1864 was the beginning ‘of the worse of the worse.’ It was the beginning of a period of time in which President Abraham Lincoln was expected to lose his re-election bid in November – in part because of the broadening anti-war movement in the north.
Riots against the draft continued in the northern states. The Union was essentially bankrupt and the global economy was a disaster as a result of the economic turmoil, in part precipitated by our Civil War.
At this point, the conflict had grown very ugly as a result of the North’s decision to target civilians and burn and destroy the south into submission.
As a result, Union generals were determined to carry the fight to civilians and non-military targets such as homes, farms and entire cities, which were burned and destroyed, especially in Virginia, Missouri, Kentucky, Georgia and South Carolina.
Arguably July 1864 is one of the darkest hours in American history. For two days that summer, Westminster was ground zero for retaliation by the South – and yet it escaped destruction as the result of one individual: a friend and neighbor it did not even know it had at the time.
The events that played-out on that typical Maryland hot and humid Sunday marked the end of the third occupation of the Carroll County seat by Union and Confederate troops during three important military campaigns in 1862, 1863 and 1864.
So, as one may imagine, by the time the events of July 9-10, 1864, unfolded, Westminster – and Carroll County – was fairly well traumatized. “Just South of Gettysburg,” by Frederick Shriver Klein, ed., with the collaboration of W. Harold Redcay and G. Thomas LeGore, dryly reports, “considerable alarm was felt in the area.”
Civil War historian Walt Albro wrote a lengthy account about the daring 1864 military campaign in what has become known to historians, in the bigger picture, by several names, such as the Confederate Retaliation of 1864, the McCausland, Gilmor and Johnson’s Raid of 1864, and Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington 1864, or Gilmor’s Raid Around Baltimore.
Much has been written about the July 1864 military campaign, in which Westminster found itself haplessly in the middle. It involved attacks on Frederick, Hagerstown, Baltimore, and Washington by southern forces, and witnessed Frederick County’s Battle of Monocacy – the engagement that saved Washington – and Chambersburg, PA, burned to the ground.
Gen. Robert E. Lee sent Brigadier Gen. Bradley T. Johnson north to cut the rail lines and the telegraph lines in Westminster as a part of General Lee’s third invasion of the north, in an attempt to force a diversion to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s siege of Petersburg (VA).
This event was unique in that the purpose of General Johnson's raid was to do significant damage to the community. This “was the most dangerous Confederate visit of the war,” according to Mr. Albro. It was only by a fortunate series of events that the town was spared, says Mr. LeGore.
“The war had grown ugly since Gettysburg,” Mr. Albro observes. “For the last year, Union forces in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley had been engaged in a ‘scorched earth’ policy… enraged by these acts, the Confederates planned to take revenge – to fight fire with fire – when they reached Maryland soil.”
In the days surrounding July 9, Frederick and Hagerstown had paid huge ransoms in order to avoid being burned to the ground. “General Johnson ordered a squad of 20 men… to gallop ahead (through Libertytown and New Windsor) and cut the telegraph line in Westminster.
“The commander of this unit was 26-year-old Maj. Harry Gilmor, the offspring of a socially prominent Baltimore family,” according to Albro. Major Gilmor was in fact born January 24, 1838, at “Glen Ellen,” the family estate in Baltimore County, near Lutherville-Timonium, and just north of Towson.
Before the war, Major Gilmor had “socialized with other prominent and wealthy families – including those in Carroll County.”
“Three hours after Gilmor arrived in Westminster, he received a message by courier from his commanding officer ordering him to “demand” a ransom. “It was clear that the threat was similar to those made in Frederick and Hagerstown … in the event the demand was not met … the town would be destroyed.”
The demand was given to Westminster’s mayor and Common Council, who failed to respond by the time General Johnson arrived in town.
It was at that moment that “Gilmor intervened with his superior officer to spare the town,” according to Mr. Albro. Major Gilmor is said to have spoken with General Johnson about the ransom and later wrote in his memoirs: “I then persuaded him to say nothing more about it.”
For contrast, it is believed that Major Gilmor participated in the burning of Maryland Gov. Augustus Bradford’s home the next day and burned Chambersburg to the ground about a month later.
In one of the many ironies of the war, after it was over “Gilmor married the daughter of a Union colonel and lived his final years in aristocratic splendor.”
Maybe his karma was being rewarded for saving Westminster in those fitful and fateful hours on July 9 and 10, 1864, when Westminster was spared.
. . . . .I’m just saying. . . . .