Interpreting the Past: A Civil War Living Historian’s View on Educating the Public

With Memorial Day approaching, it is important for us to take a moment to look back and give honor to the men and women who fought and died for this country protecting our very freedoms. Memorial Day was first established for honoring the Union soldier who perished during the Civil War. For the last several editions of the “Civil War Dairy,” I have shared first hand accounts from soldiers of Cole’s Cavalry as well as other units who fought in the Civil War. While it’s important to look at the events of the past, this month I want to focus on the importance of educating and interpreting Civil War history to the public and to give you, the reader an idea of what a living historian does. Many people are unaware that the so called “Reenactment hobby” has different categories and are oblivious to the significance of each.

The first and perhaps most widely known category is what most people refer to as a reenactment with battle re-enactors. At a typical reenactment you will see hundreds of dressed reenactors who participate in mock battles. These reenactments typically only portray how a particular battle unfolded. As spectators at a reenactment, you can visit the camps where the soldiers spend their weekend, but keep in mind this is not an accurate portrayal of how military camps were organized. Nonetheless, attending a reenactment from a spectator point of view can be fun for the entire family, but often very expensive.

The second and lesser known category is living history encampments with living historian interpreters. This is what you see when you visit Antietam National Battlefield, South Mountain Maryland State Park or Gettysburg National Military Park. The main objective of a living historian is to educate the public through various interpreter programs, providing them with an authentic portrayal of the common soldier or civilian during the American Civil War that is based upon research. Some living historians consider a reenactment degrading to the men who fought and sometimes died during the Civil War.

The main difference between a reenactor and a living historian is that a living historian continuously researches different aspects of the American Civil War in order to educate the public, focusing on the roles, uniforms, equipment and mindset of the average Civil War soldier, especially paying close attention to detail of the time period and theater of the Civil War they are portraying. All uniforms, food and camps of a group of living historians have a higher standard of authenticity. They use only items that are documented and made to the exact specifications as the original like you would see in a museum or what the actual soldiers wrote in their letters or dairies. Make no mistake, never call a true living historian a “reenactor” as there is a big difference between the two.

A living historian also understands the importance of interpretation. Without interpretation you would not be able to understand the events of a certain time period, this is lacking when you attend a reenactment. The role of educator would apply to a living historian as they share their research with the public, research that is based upon fact and not secondary sources.

Some of the area’s most authentic living histories are held at the South Mountain State Battlefield near Boonsboro, Maryland. The Battlefield holds an annual event entitled “Fire on the Mountain” which will be held in September of this year, and will feature artillery and infantry demonstrations as well as tours of Fox’s Gap. Events such as “Fire on the Mountain” are very important as it educates people not only to the significance of the Battle of South Mountain, but it also shows people how these soldiers encamped during the Maryland Campaign.

Every year on Labor Day weekend, the Gettysburg National Military Park holds an authentic event that features a full Confederate battery. Last year was my first year participating in this living history demonstration and it was great to be able to educate the public about Confederate artillery. Most spectators that come to this demonstration are surprised to see three original cannon tubes dating back to 1864 that are actually being fired.

For the last several years, I have participated in living history demonstrations on the artillery at Monocacy, Antietam, South Mountain and Harper’s Ferry. The public gains so much from these events, all things that they can not experience at a reenactment. They are up close and personal with the living historians and they can see exactly how the battery, section or piece worked as well as witnessing a detachment of cannoneers working their post.

This year, the Monterey Pass Battlefield Association in Blue Ridge Summit will be conducting a series of educational programs for locals to understand the average Civil War soldier on campaign. Many people are unaware that what you see at a big reenactment is not what the soldiers experienced. We are also planning several living history events to educate the public on their Civil War heritage as well as the area’s Civil War history.

With summer approaching, and the celebration of Bells and History Days behind us, it is a great idea to get out and explore the Civil War related sites in your own back yard. There are so many sites, and these sites offer several educational programs that can be fun for the whole family. Three campaigns entered Maryland during the Civil War. The first is Maryland Campaign and includes the sites of South Mountain State Battlefield, Washington Monument State Park, Antietam National Battlefield, Harper’s Ferry National Park and the C&O Canal National Park which also houses Ferry Hill, the home of Henry Kyd Douglas, who rode with General Stonewall Jackson. This campaign ends with the battle of Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

The Pennsylvania Campaign also includes several sites from South Mountain State Battlefield, Emmitsburg, Gettysburg and Monterey Pass. The 1863 Invasion of Pennsylvania which resulted in the battle of Gettysburg is considered the turning point of the American Civil War. The Retreat from Gettysburg, considered as one major battle, includes the battles of Monterey Pass, Smithsburg, Funkstown, Boonsboro and Hagerstown, all fought from July 4 through July 14.

The last campaign to take place in our area occurred in July of 1864 when General Jubal Early led his corps of Confederate troops through Maryland and came close to taking the Union Capital of Washington. These sites include South Mountain State Battlefield, Monocacy National Battlefield and Fort Stevens, near Washington, D.C.

All of these places are near Emmitsburg and are a great way for the family to experience Civil War history through interpretive programs, living history programs, tours and demonstrations. These parks allow families to take in views of the landscape, which in many instances were written about by Civil War soldiers who traveled through the area. So get out and support your local battlefields, I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.

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Outline of Events on South Mountain 1861-1864

1861: Maryland Elections

November – Major Stone who was the provost-marshal for the areas of Woodsboro, Myersville, Wolfsville, Emmitsburg, Mechanicstown, and Wolf’s Tavern sent troops of infantry and cavalry for the protection of pro-Union voters.

1862: The Maryland Campaign and Stuart’s Chambersburg Raid

September 13 – Confederate General D.H. Hill guarded the rear of Lee’s Army on South Mountain.

September 14 – The Maryland Campaign: The battles of Turner’s Gap, Frostown Gap, Fox’s Gap, Brownsville Pass and Crampton’s Gap.

September 17 – Washington Monument is used as a signal corps station and observation point during the battle of Antietam.

October 11 – Stuart’s Chambersburg Raid: Confederate General JEB Stuart’s cavalry passes through Cashtown Gap after it leaves Chambersburg. Thinking that Stuart was returning to the Potomac River via Williamsport, Union Captain Benjamin F. Fisher was ordered to open Washington Monument for observation in order to pinpoint Stuart’s location.

1863: Mountaintop News

March 6 – It was reported in the Waynesboro Village Record that Samuel Wade of Co. A, 77th Regiment P. V., was shot near Buena Vista Springs (on South Mountain, near Monterey Pass) while trying to escape from the Provost Guard, who had arrested him earlier. Though serious, the piece relates, Wade’s wounds are not life threatening.

1863: The Pennsylvania Campaign

June 15 – The Confederate Army begins it’s invasion, crossing the Potomac River near Williamsport, Maryland.

June 18 – Union Major General Joseph Hooker requested that a signal station be built at Crampton’s Gap on South Mountain, as well as requesting cavalry support from Harper’s Ferry to seize all mountain gaps from Maryland Heights to Boonsboro. General Robert C. Schenck fulfills Hooker’s request.

June 19 – General Hooker ordered General Samuel P. Heintzelman, who was at Poolesville, to help General Schenck seize the mountain gaps on South Mountain. General Heintzelman’s force consisted of 1,600 infantry, one battery of artillery and five troops of cavalry.

June 22 – A skirmish erupted at Monterey Pass near the Mason and Dixon Line of South Mountain between a portion of the 14th Virginia Cavalry and Captain Robert Bell’s 21st Pennsylvania, Captain David Conaughy’s Home Guard and a detachment of 1st Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry under Captain Samuel Randall.

June 23 – 24 – General William French was in charge of the South Mountain operations as Union scouts were overlooking and watching the Hagerstown Valley and Pleasant Valley while the Confederate Army concentrates in Pennsylvania.

June 25 – General John Reynolds ordered General Oliver O. Howard to send a brigade of infantry along with a battery of rifled guns to report to General Stahel and his cavalry at Crampton’s Gap.

Union General Julies Stahel reported to General Reynolds through a dispatch that the whole Confederate Army had passed through Hagerstown and was now in Pennsylvania. General Anderson’s Division of General A.P. Hill Corps had passed through Boonsboro around 6am.

June 26 – General Oliver O. Howard’s 11th Corps began to occupy the mountain gaps along South Mountain. General Howard posted one brigade at Crampton’s Gap, one at Turner’s Gap, another brigade on the road to Burkittsville and the final brigade on the Hagerstown Road. During the evening General Howard sent a dispatch to General Reynolds that stated that no Confederate force was reported to have been seen at Crampton’s Gap. General John Reynolds led his 1st Corps to Jefferson, Maryland and would proceed to Middletown the following day.

Union General Stahel’s deployment was stretched all across South Mountain. He had one brigade and a section of artillery posted at Crampton’s Gap as well as a brigade and two sections of artillery from General Howard’s Corps. Stahel had one regiment at Turner’s Gap and one brigade and two sections of artillery at Middletown.

June 27 – After arriving in the area of Jefferson and Burkittsville, General David Birnery was ordered by General Reynolds to send one infantry brigade and a battery of rifled guns to Crampton’s Gap to relieve the forces of General Howard. While General Howard’s men at Crampton’s Gap were waiting to be relieved, Colonel William D. Mann, commanding the 7th Michigan Cavalry occupied Turner’s Gap and sent patrols throughout the valley toward Hagerstown.

During the afternoon, General Oliver O. Howard occupied Turner’s Gap and established his headquarters at the Mountain House. At midnight Hooker’s resignation is finally accepted.

June 28 – Skirmish at Fountain Dale in Pennsylvania near the base of South Mountain. General Joseph Hooker is relieved of command and General George Meade takes his place. Meade issues orders to withdraw from South Mountain and head northward.

June 29 – The Federal cavalry and Battery A of the 2nd U.S. Artillery under John Buford moved toward Pennsylvania, investigating the Confederate forces in the area. General Buford left Middletown taking the National Pike to Boonsboro and headed to Smithsburg. From there he traveled up to Monterey Pass and saw Confederate infantry marching in the Cumberland Valley.

General Wesley Merrit and his cavalry, stationed near Thurmont, Maryland were ordered to guard Harman’s Pass on the Catoctin Mountain and monitor Wolf’s Tavern Pass on South Mountain.

July 4 – Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered the two key passes of Monterey and Fairfield on South Mountain to be secured for the Confederate withdraw from Gettysburg. The Confederate wagon train of wounded will go through Cashtown Gap.

July 4 – 5 – The battles of Monterey Pass and Fairfield Gap occur as Union cavalry under General Judson Kilpatrick is ordered to harass the retreating Confederate Army. The 1st Vermont is ordered from Monterey Pass to head to Leitersburg via Raven Rock Pass on South Mountain to disrupt the Confederate wagon train, making the battle of Monterey Pass the only battle to be fought on both sides of the Mason and Dixon Line.

July 5 – The battle of Smithsburg occurs between General Stuart’s Cavalry and Kilpatrick’s Cavalry.

The majority of Lee’s Infantry marches through Monterey Pass.

July 6 – The last of General Lee’s main army crosses South Mountain at Monterey Pass.

The Union Army begins its pursuit of General Lee. General John Buford reaches Turner’s Gap where General Morris was stationed. General Buford ordered a small group of signal corpsmen to begin observation from the top of Washington Monument.

July 7 – A party of signal officers under the charge of Captain William J. L. Nicodemus arrived from Washington for the purpose of working in conjunction with the signal corps of the Federal Army. Captain Nicodemus opened a line of communication between Frederick and (Turner’s Gap) South Mountain Pass.

July 8 – Captain Ernst A. Denicke and Lieutenant C.F.M. Denicke opened a signal station at Washington Monument early in the morning around 9:00am.

The Confederate cavalry under General JEB Stuart was ordered by General Lee to attack and stall General Meade’s movements as they were holding the western approach of South Mountain Pass.

Elements of the Eleventh Corps guard Turner’s Gap.

July 9 – The headquarters of the Union Army is moved to Turner’s Gap. General Meade utilizes the Mountain House as his headquarters as the Army of the Potomac closed behind Lee’s Army. He ordered a signal station to occupy Turner’s Gap, communicating through others at Middletown and Crampton’s Pass, with Maryland Heights.

July 10 – General Neill’s expeditions from a point on Franklin’s Cliff, South Mountain Range, near Leitersburg, discovered the numbers and position of the enemy in and around Hagerstown.

July 11 – A small group of Federal soldiers led by Captain William G. McCreary went to Black Rock, a bare and elevated rock on the South Mountain Range between Boonsboro and Smithsburg. A reconnaissance of the area was made. With most of the action occurring in the Hagerstown and Boonsboro area, the observation team went back into the valley.

July 14 – General Meade issued marching orders to his corps commanders. By the end of the day all signal operations and observation stations were discontinued. Lee’s Army had crossed the Potomac River.

July 15 – The 12th and 2nd Corps marched to Pleasant Valley, encamping there for the night. The 3rd Corps marched to Brownsville, encamping in Pleasant Valley near Harper’s Ferry. The 5th and 1st Corps would march on the Boonsboro Road to the Sharpsburg Road crossing over South Mountain at Fox’s Gap to Burkittsville and encamping for the night at Berlin. The 6th and 11th Corps along with the artillery reserve marched through Turner’s Gap to Middletown and on to Berlin.

1864: Early’s Maryland Campaign and the Burning of Chambersburg
July 6 – The Confederate 1st Maryland Cavalry skirmishes with elements of Mean’s Loudoun County Rangers, the 8th Illinois Cavalry, and a section of artillery.

July 7 – Confederate forces under General John C. Breckinridge encamped at the western base of South Mountain in Rohrersville.

General Robert Rodes skirmishes with elements of Federal forces on the road to Crampton’s Gap and encamped near Crampton’s Gap that night.

July 8 – Confederates with the 1st Maryland Cavalry skirmishes with elements of Mean’s Loudoun County Rangers, the 8th Illinois Cavalry, and a section of artillery at Turner’s Gap.

Breckinridge marches over South Mountain at Fox’s Gap while General Jubal Early and General Stephen Dodson Ramseur marched through Turner’s Gap and encamped near Middletown that evening. Further to the south, General Robert Rodes marched through Crampton’s Gap and encamped near Jefferson that evening.

July 9 – Major John B. Burt, an Aid-de-Camp wrote a dispatch to Major Schultze that Confederate troops were fortifying South Mountain near the old battlefield. He stated that two of his men were in a Confederate camp at Wolfsville on South Mountain. The Federal scouts stated that about fifty Confederate infantrymen were on picket duty and that they were part of a chain of pickets that stretched across South Mountain from Boonsboro to Monterey Pass.

July 10 – Confederate cavalry foraged South Mountain from Monterey to Frederick, stealing horses, and creating much alarm.

Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence scouted the area on South Mountain at Black Rock Bridge. Reports were of Confederate cavalry and a section of artillery moving along the Westminster and Baltimore Pike, moving from the direction of Boonsboro. The Westminster and Baltimore Pike was a roadway that led from Hagerstown over South Mountain at Wolf’s Tavern and over the Catoctin Mountain through Emmitsburg, continuing to Westminster.

July 29 – 30 – Various elements of Union cavalry units guarded many of the northern passes on South Mountain.

July 31 – The 11th West Virginia Infantry Battalion, General Duffie’s First Cavalry Division and Second Brigade, and the First Infantry Division were encamped in the fields surrounding Wolfsville.

August 1 – Union Lieutenant Ellis reported from High Rock that the town of Chambersburg had been burned.

Emmitsburg, a Town Divided

Published Emmitsburg News-Journal

In the year leading up to the Civil War, Emmitsburg was already a divided town, politically speaking. During the 1860 presidential elections, Emmitsburg’s political views supported the Southern Democratic Party giving John C. Breckinridge 323 votes, more than half the population of Emmitsburg during the time of the Civil War. Although many Emmitsburg citizens supported the Southern Democrats, their views were mostly devoted to the Union.

Shortly after the bombardment of Fort Sumter, Maryland citizens were faced with a decision to determine if Maryland was to remain loyal to the Union or secede with the newly formed Confederacy. The strong southern feeling prevailing in Baltimore culminated in a violent outbreak on April 19, 1861, when the 6th Massachusetts Regiment marching on their way to Washington was obstructed by a mob. After the riot, a number of citizens opposed to secession left Baltimore for their safety.

The Commissioner of the Land Office William Seabrook, a Frederick native, remembers, “Only a few weeks after the exhibition of mob sympathy with secession in Baltimore, a notable meeting of prominent citizens was held in the auditorium of the Maryland Institute, in that city, to give expression to their views in relation to the action of the Government in resorting to war for the preservation of the Union. Every section of the State was represented and the great hall of the institute was crowded with a body of as representative citizens as ever assembled in Maryland.” Emmitsburg resident Doctor Andrew Annan was among those who attended this meeting and gave Emmitsburg’s support to the preservation of the Union.

Although this vote didn’t include the southern viewpoint of Emmitsburg, the history of Mount Saint Mary’s College records that the citizens who lived in and around Emmitsburg were very evenly divided during the outbreak of the Civil War. Doctor Thomas C. Moore recalled, “A company of volunteers marched off openly one day to strike for the Union cause; whilst others discovered they had important business demanding immediate attention down in the direction of Dixie’s land. The latter went off without the aid of brass bands; and if any tears were shed at parting they rolled in secret. But the feeling of bitterness on both sides was doubtless more intense than could be found farther either way from the line. Border States are always more exposed to the vicissitudes of war, and the hatred begotten of daily intercourse between citizens is deeper and more lasting than among enlisted soldiers.”

Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary did not escape the divided loyalties. It had a good many Southern students who had proclaimed their allegiance to the newly formed Confederate States of America. Dr. John McCaffrey was the college’s President and a strong supporter of the Confederate States. In a letter written on October 4, 1861, from Archbishop John Purcell to Doctor McCaffrey, he stated his opinions about the Confederate Cause. John McCloskey was the college’s Vice-President and a strong supporter of the Union. Although a Union man, he still placed the practices of Mount Saint Mary’s first and treated every Southern student with respect.

The faculty of Mount Saint Mary’s College was just as divided, but the College itself for the most part was a pleasant place no matter what side the students and faculty chose. Daniel Beltzhoover, a professor of mathematics, was an 1847 graduate of West Point and served in the wars in Florida and also Mexico. Before the Civil War, he commanded a company of Zouave Mountain Cadets and drilled them thoroughly on Eardin’s and Casey’s tactics. Beltzhoover helped to organize Watson’s Artillery, named after A. C. Watson. According to the Story of the Mountain, at least thirty Mountaineers (Mount Saint Mary’s Students) also served in the ranks of Watson’s Artillery.

With more trouble anticipated during the late election since Maryland was a border state and loyalties were truly divided, 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 Woodsboro, 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. This would be the first time that the Emmitsburg area would escape the disturbances of the Civil War.