Black Rock, More than a Scenic Overlook

Since I decided to write about Black Rock, I wanted to see the site for myself and to do the proper field research that was needed for both work and for this blog posting. I had one major question that needed to be answered. Why did the Union command want to establish a lookout on Black Rock and not on Annapolis Rock? So I parked at the Appalachian Trail parking area off of Route 40 by Greenbrier State Park and began my journey ascending up South Mountain and hiking the three miles to Black Rock where I began my research.

Black Rock is located a few miles south off of the old Black Rock Road. Surveying the trees in the area, you can see that there are several decades worth of growth, giving evidence that this area was at one time clear or thinly forested. From Black Rock, you can see far north toward Waynesboro,almost to Chambersburg, and as far south as Cedar Creek with three top mountain in the distance. The view is amazing!

I then decided to hike back one mile to Annapolis Rock and see that area. The differences between Black Rock and Annapolis Rock became clear and my number one question was answered very quickly. The view from Annapolis Rock is very limited. Annapolis Rock sits back on a curve in the South Mountain range which limits the view from the right. Then you have smaller hills on your left that limits your view looking toward Boonsboro. Hagerstown was dead center of the vista at Black Rock and was not visible at all from Annapolis Rock. Now don’t get me wrong, the view is pretty from Annapolis Rock, but Black Rock is worth the extra mile to hike.

South Mountain during the Civil War was very important for several reasons. The first and foremost reason is that it is the main barrier that separated Eastern and Western Maryland, and it would be the first major obstacle in a raiding attempt on Washington or Baltimore, providing that the opposing force forded the Potomac River between Shepherdstown and Clear Spring. Another reason is that the mountain range intersected with the Potomac River near Harper’s Ferry at Sandy Hook. In the event of a Confederate raid, the garrison of Harper’s Ferry or the Middle Department would be the first responders. Last but not least, there are several overlooks upon South Mountain that are mentioned by name in “The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies” that were vital to the Union Army during the days after the Battle of Gettysburg. Northward near the Mason and Dixon Line is High Rock, then near Smithsburg you had Raven Rock. Near Wolfsville you have Black Rock, closer to Route 40 there is Annapolis Rock, and finally the Washington Monument.

Black Rock, a bare area on the mountain features a wonderful overlook. During the time of the American Civil War a road called Black Rock Road ran through the area that connected Wolfsville to Beaver Creek. Today on both sides of the South Mountain you can follow the blacktop to where it ends and to this day you can still see traces of the old road going into the mountain.

So what about the Civil War history of Black Rock? After the Union Army, under the command of Major General George Meade cleared the Catoctin Mountain and entered the Middletown Valley, a series of communication posts were constructed. On July 7th, 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 Union Army. Using the mountain passes of Turner’s and Crampton’s Gaps, a string of signal and observation posts were established. On July 8th, Washington Monument joined the series of communication networks established on South Mountain, Middletown, Catoctin Mountain, and Sugar Loaf Mountain. On the western side of South Mountain, signal stations were built upon Elk Ridge and Boonsboro and they communicated with the southern end of the Cumberland Valley.

On July 11th, Captain William G. McCreary of the 102nd Pennsylvania Volunteers was ordered to proceed to Black Rock for the purpose of observation. In his report Captain McCreary wrote: “On the 11th instant, I was requested by you to proceed to Black Rock, an elevated and naked rock on South Mountain Range, but on to see anything, and returned to the valley. On the 12th, again went to Black Rock, and on that day and the 13th endeavored to get communication, but in vain. On the evening of the 13th, left and went to Funkstown.”

While the Confederate Army began to concentrate at Williamsport, the Union Army marched on. By July 14th, the Confederate Army was put into motion crossing the Potomac River. During the Confederate march into Virginia, all signal and communications were ordered to cease upon South Mountain.

A year later, during the Confederate Raid on Washington and General Jubal Early’s march over South Mountain, Black Rock was once again occupied by a small portion of the Confederate Army in what was classified as a “chain of pickets.” On July 10th, Lieutenant Colonel Samuel B. Lawrence, Assistant Adjutant General for the Middle Department (8th Army Corps) received a dispatch stating: “It is reported that a cavalry of the enemy are moving from Boonsborough through Westminster on Baltimore. This command is accompanied by a section of artillery. The general commanding wishes you to consult with General Morris upon the subject and send on the Westminster pike, and along the road leading to Black Rock Bridge, mounted men with instructions to develop the designs of the enemy and report to you.”

Many hikers along the Appalachian Trail enjoy the beautiful vistas that South Mountain has to offer such as the view of the Cumberland Valley. Numerous high peaks and open areas provide many a breath taking view today, but were vital during the Pennsylvania Invasion of 1863 and General Jubal Early’s Confederate Raid on Washington in 1864. When talking to park visitors here at Washington Monument State Park, they don’t realize that these overlooks provided very important military intelligence during the days following the Battle of Gettysburg.

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Clearing the Mountain Range, Notes on the Road System

Every year, I always receive questions about the roads that led over South Mountian and why they were important. To answer these questions, I had to hit up the Maryland State Archives online to find answers to these questions. I also receive questions about the starting point and ending point of South Mountain and what classifies a mountain gap or mountain pass. Now the roads listed in this blog posting is not complete by any means. These are considered to be the main traffic routes from the 1700’s to about the time of the American Civil War.

South Mountain is a mountain range that covers three states. Near Hillsboro, Virginia, South Mountain is known as Short Hill Mountain and covers an area between Hillsboro and Leesburg that follows the Potomac River. South Mountain then extends into Maryland at Knoxville and crosses into Pennsylvania at Blue Ridge Summit and ends at Dillsburg as a series of small hills near the Susquehanna River outside of Harrisburg, covering a distance of more than seventy miles.

South Mountain consists of several mountain gaps and passes. Typically the definition of a mountain pass is a location in a range of mountains that is lower than the surrounding peaks. A mountain gap travels between mountain peaks. During the Civil War the armies waging campaigns into Maryland and Pennsylvania used many of the gaps and passes on South Mountain.

There are many gaps in Maryland that were used during the Civil War. During the Battle of South Mountain, there were five main gaps on South Mountain that were used by the opposing forces. Brownsville Pass is located near Brownsville and that road today is no longer used. One mile to the north is Crampton’s Gap which is located where the Arnoldstown and Gapland Roads intersect. Fox’s Gap is located on the old Sharpsburg Road known today as Reno Monument Road. Turner’s Gap is located on the old National Road between Middletown and Boonsboro. Above Turner’s Gap you have two roads that connect to Frostown, which the gap is named after. In the middle of South Mountian in Maryland you have Olier’s Gap which would be considered to be mondern day Route 40 or the Baltimore Road as it was called. Toward the northern section of Maryland, Wolf’s Tavern Pass connects the Thurmont area to the Smithsburg and Cavetown area. Raven Rock Pass is located on a section of roadway that once traveled from Hagerstown to Westminster.

Crossing into Pennsylvania, you had three main mountain passes that were used extensively during the Pennsylvania Campaign. Monterey Pass connects Emmitsburg and Waynesboro with the Fairfield Road that leads through Fairfield Pass. Traveling from Chambersburg to Gettysburg one must pass through the Cashtown Gap.

As discussed in the previous two paragraphs, the mountain gaps or mountain passes are located on a series of roads. Many of these roads were established in the mid 1700’s for the purpose of increasing settlements west of South Mountain. For example on April 30, 1751, a road from Williby’s Gap was built and connected to the road that led to Yorktown. This was first known as Nichol’s Gap and was part of the Great Wagon Road from Philadelphia. Williby’s Gap became known as Monterey Gap.

In 1774, the Maryland General Assembly wanted to improve the quality of the land, and to promote an increase in settlements, as well as cultivation of the land. In doing so, Maryland wanted to expand and improve their roadway system to promote exported goods, and to make it easier, and cheaper to increase trade from Frederick County to Baltimore County. The Maryland General Assembly appropriated eight thousand dollars to Frederick County for the use of laying out and expanding the roadway. This was to be done by opening, straightening, widening, repairing, and putting it in good order. South Mountain was part of this agreement, as it would have a roadway from the Conococheague Creek, crossing over Turner’s Gap to Frederick, while another road leading from Hagerstown would intersect the western base of South Mountain leading to Turner’s Gap.

On September 6th, 1776, it was announced that two new counties would be formed. On October 1st, 1776 Washington County and Montgomery County were formed when two portions of Frederick County were separated. The ridge of South Mountain was used as a boundary from the Potomac River to Pennsylvania where the line separating Frederick County and Washington County was temporarily drawn. Anything west of South Mountain was now known as Washington County.

While surveying the best route for the road a serviceable wagon path was discovered. The wagon path connected to Charlton’s Gap on South Mountain, and had the advantage of completing what was required by the General Assembly. If the wagon road could be used, it could be extended to facilitate the transportation of produce that could extend from Cumberland County in Pennsylvania to the Allegheny Mountains and travel to Baltimore. The subjects of Maryland would be better enabled to pay their taxes, and would increase the trade in Maryland.

On November 7th, 1779 a petition from John Summers and John Aulabaugh, of Washington County asking commissioners to alter and amend the roads from Turner’s Gap to Williamsport was taken into consideration. Another petition from Conrad Snavely, of Washington County, stated that the commissioners, under the act of assembly for straightening and widening the roads in Washington County, from Swearingen’s Ferry to the top of the South Mountain at Fox’s Gap, have laid a very considerable distance of road through his plantation, to his great injury, and that the road may continue in its old course, was preferred for consideration.

In 1782, the newly appointed commissioners of Washington County were authorized to lie out a main road at forty feet wide from Elizabethtown, through Washington County to hook up with Charlton’s Gap in South Mountain, where it would connect to Baltimore. On the eastern side of South Mountain in Frederick County, the commissioners of Frederick County were to construct a road that would connect to Charlton’s Gap, run through Frederick County, and intersect with the road leading from Frederick(town) to York(town) in Pennsylvania. The road was to be the nearest and best way to Baltimore as straight as the ground would permit with minimal damage to private property.

In 1791, more roadways in Frederick County were to be laid out, surveyed, marked and bounded. This applied to many of the roadways along the Frederick and Washington County line on South Mountain. From Middletown to Turner’s Gap, connecting to Fox’s Gap; from Charlton’s Gap to Libertytown,; from Baltimore County to Emmitsburg, Maryland to the Pennsylvania Line at Nicholson’s (Monterey) Gap. In Washington County the road leading from Fox’s Gap, through the town of Sharpsburg, and then to Swearingen’s Ferry was also to be marked and surveyed. All public roadways were to be supervised by a commissioner appointed by the Maryland General Assembly to oversee that all roadways were cleared at the same time.

In December of 1800, the petitions were heard in court. The court’s decision was in favor of the existing roads, one of which was the road leading from Fox’s Gap to Sharpsburg. The road from Fox’s Gap to Sharpsburg was deemed as a public road, and it was expected to be kept up as such. Any property damages were paid out to land owners, but not to exceed the rate of ten pounds per acre in current money.

On January 4th, 1812 it was approved to lay out, open, and cut a road not exceeding thirty-feet in width at the expense of Frederick County. The road would follow from Charlton’s Gap Road in Washington County, to the crest of the mountain in Frederick County to the divisional line. The road should not extend through any house, orchard, garden, or meadow unless with the consent of the owner or owners.

In 1816, an act of incorporation was passed in the Pennsylvania Legislature forming the Waynesboro, Greencastle and Mercersburg Turnpike Company. On September 21, 1820, the road was reported completed over the mountain from the Maryland line near Emmitsburg to the west end of Waynesboro. This roadway was part of the much bigger Baltimore and Pittsburgh Turnpike, but locally known as the Emmitsburg and Waynesboro Turnpike.

Leading from Hagerstown, crossing South Mountain near Wolf’s Tavern, and continuing to Thurmont was the Westminster and Hagerstown Turnpike that was completed in 1816. Near Wolf’s Tavern was another turnpike laid between South Mountain and the Catoctin Mountain that connected Emmitsburg to Frederick.

By the 1820’s, The first macadam surface in the United States was laid on the Boonsboro Turnpike between Hagerstown and Boonsboro, Maryland. Construction specifications for the turnpike road incorporated those set forth by John Loudon McAdam of Scotland. After side ditches were dug, large rocks were picked and raked. They were then were broken, not to exceed 6 ounces in weight or to pass a two-inch ring. Compacting work for each of the three layers was quickened using a cast-iron roller, instead of allowing for compacting under traffic.

It was these very roads during the American Civil War that would be used by both the Union and Confederate armies. These roads are described by many troops that marched upon them. Macadam roads tore up the soldier’s feet as they marched upon the hard, rocky surface, while dirt roads in foul weather made the march miserable. Remember that the infantry marched on these roads after the heavy wagons, cannon with their limbers, and caissons went through. Since the heavy wagons and cannon moved through first, often times they would unintentionally tear up the roads due to their weight, leaving it in an most undesirable condition for the soldiers to march upon. Many a soldier wrote about the road conditions during the retreat from Gettysburg, noting that the roads that led through South Mountain were the worst that they had seen for the duration of the war.

The Land of Milk and Honey; the Agriculture Industry of the Area

Most visitors to the South Mountain State Battlefield or the Monterey Pass Battlefield are surprised to learn that agriculture played an important role along South Mountain. Most people think of the mountain as being heavily forested with a complete isolation for those who want to experience the wilderness. While their logic is understandable considering the appearance of South Mountain today, during the Civil War many accounts of South Mountain in Maryland, as well as in Pennsylvania mention that the mountain range was quite harvested, more so in Pennsylvania than in Maryland.

There are several reasons as to why South Mountain forests were harvested during the 1800’s. During the 1700’s in Pennsylvania many trees such as oak, chestnut, hickory and birch were cleared for the purpose of allowing livestock and horses to graze. Fruit production was also very popular, although the rocky terrain was hard to cultivate. Another reason for the harvest of trees upon South Mountain was due to the mining of iron ore and other minerals. This industry started in the early 1800’s, and continued through the American Industrial Revolution until about the turn of the century. The trees were needed for the process of making charcoal which was to fuel the furnaces in Pennsylvania that once dotted the landscape just across the Mason & Dixon Line.

With that being said, I do not want to give the misconception that there were no trees on South Mountain, as several areas were indeed forested and full of habitat for various wildlife. Traces of farm fields are still visible especially when walking along the Appalachian Trail in Maryland as you stumble upon stone fences in the middle of the woods which would suggest that a farmer’s field was there at one time. It could have been used for growing crops or keeping in livestock. If you travel the back roads surrounding South Mountain in Maryland you’ll notice the abundance of small farms and the rich produce of corn, wheat and other valuable crops.

However, just as our farmers today are faced with natural disasters, this was no exception for farmers of the 1860’s. Droughts and hot weather were also concerns, and they both took their toll on the agriculture of the area. A write up in the Semi-Weekly Dispatch on August 09, 1861, reported that “For some days past, Chambersburg has suffered from intense hot weather. The effect of this weather has been enervating and depressing upon local residents and it is the hope that the corn will not suffer for the heat and lack of rain.” By January 16th, of 1863, the Waynesboro Village Record reported “With many wells failing and the water level of streams so low that millers are unable to grind, the region is in the grip of a severe drought.”

Weather patterns were not all that took a toll of the farmers, even the free market took a slight hit. The Waynesboro Village Record reported that on June 12th, 1863 “It is quite easy to determine the motives underlying copperheads’ support for the Confederacy: naked self-interest. Proponents of the southern cause in New York advocate “peace at any cost” because they “lost the Southern trade” as a consequence of the war. Similarly, supporters of the rebel cause in Illinois are spurred primarily by the drop in the price of corn occasioned by the onset of the conflict.”

Local farmers experimented with different breeds of various seeds to grow their crops. A small write up in the Semi-Weekly Dispatch on August 20, 1861 stated “Captain John Jeffries of Chambersburg has grown nine or ten hills of “Canada corn” in his garden. This breed of corn produces between three and five stalks per hill and three to six ears on each stalk.”

From above, standing on High Rock, you’ll get a clear picture as to why the Cumberland Valley, west of South Mountain was considered the “Bread Basket” or the land of “Milk and Honey” in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Along the base of South Mountain heading toward the Mason and Dixon Line, there are a several accounts of orchards and farms that were in operation then and are still in operation today. The rich soil provided the minerals needed to sustain a way of life that still exists today. As you drive along from Smithsburg to Cashtown using Md. Route 64/Pa. Route 997, you’ll see a mixture of farmland and orchards.

During the Battle of South Mountain on September 14th, 1862, there are several accounts at Fox’s Gap about the Daniel Wise Farm and at Frostown of men marching through a mixture of woods, cornfields, and open hayfields. At Crampton’s Gap you also have accounts of the Crampton’s Farm as well as the farms surrounding Burkittsville. Here is an account by Uberto A. Burnham of the 76th New York as he describes the landscape that overlooked the National Road above Turner’s Gap: “When we were about half-way up we halted a few minutes to rest. The sun had gone down behind the mountain. We were marching in the shadow. The sun lighted up the valley [Middletown Valley] behind us. It was a beautiful sight, with farm houses, grain fields, orchards, groups of staff officers, and columns of troops in motion, but I cannot say I enjoyed the scene. I felt the importance of the big task before us.” Burnham continued “A little further up the mountain was a comparatively level place planted with corn, which had been fenced in.”

Private David Emmons Johnston wrote about the 8th Virginia Infantry as it ascended up the western slope of SouthMountain engaging the very Union division that Uberto A. Burnham was part of.  Private Johnston wrote: “The writer’s brigade was now in a body of open timber, among stones – large boulders, with some fallen timber along the line, behind which, lying down, the men took shelter as best they could; the enemy occupying a skirt of woods with a strip of open land between their position and ours…In a few minutes, a few yards to the right, in which lay a portion of the brigade in the edge of a field, where at the beginning of the battle was standing corn (now cut to the ground) came the sound of a voice.”

A year later during the Confederate Invasion of Pennsylvania there were several accounts about the farms between Waynesboro and South Mountain being raided by Confederate foraging parties. On the eastern side of South Mountain, toward Fairfield and Fountain Dale, there are several accounts of the lush farmlands with wheat growing in the fields that were raided as Confederate troops marched toward South Mountain. For the most part, Monterey Pass itself was a mixture of forests and undergrowth much like you see today.

Here is an excerpt from the diary of Lieutenant Hermann Schuricht of the 14th Virginia Cavalry. He wrote on June 20th: “We succeeded in capturing a number of horses and some cattle. At noon we came to the farm of an old Pennsylvania German. He was scared to death at catching sight of us, and shouted “O mein Gott, die rebels!” I soon reassured him, telling him that no harm should result to him if he furnished us with a dinner and rations for our horses, and we were well cared for. We camped for the night in an open field, midway between Lestersburg [Leitersburg] and Hagerstown.”

Confederate Gunner George Neese of Chew’s Battery noted during their march northward “Our camp tonight is in Washington County, Maryland, and not very far from the Pennsylvania line. The country we passed through this evening along the Greencastle road is beautiful, the land fertile and the farming good. The country south of Greencastle is pretty, the land fertile and well cultivated, and the barns look like churches.”

During the Confederate Invasion of Pennsylvania, the Confederate Army took an abundance of produce and sent it south to Winchester. For two solid weeks the Confederates sent foraging wagons from Chambersburg loaded with produce, livestock and other supplies needed to sustain the course of the war unopposed by any Union troops. Many Pennsylvania towns along the Confederate route were drained of their surplus of agriculture produce.

Confederate Private James H. Hodam, 17th Virginia Cavalry observed while in the saddle as they traveled toward Gettysburg “The country through which we passed toward Gettysburg seemed to abound chiefly in Dutch women who could not speak English, sweet cherries, and apple butter.” He continued “The cherry crop was immense through this part of the state, and the great trees often overhung the highway laden with ripened fruit. The infantry would break off great branches and devour the cherries as they marched along.”

The following requisition was published in the Franklin Repository, on July 08, 1863.

“Headquarters [illegible Army] Corps, June 24th, 1863. To the Authorities Chambersburg, Pa: By direction of Lt. Gen. R. S. Ewell, I require the following articles”:

  • 5,000 suits clothing, including hats, boots and shoes
  • 100 good saddles
  • 100 good bridles
  • 5,000 bushels grain, corn, or oats
  • 10,000 lbs sole leather
  • 10,000 lbs horse shoes
  • 400 lbs horse shoe nails

“Also, the use of Printing office, and two printers to report at [illegible]. All articles except grain will be delivered at the Court House [illegible], at 3 o’clock, p.m., today, and the grain by 6 o’clock, P.M., today. A. Harmon, Maj. And Ch.Q [illegible] Corps De Arm. Headquarters [illegible] Army Corps, June 24th, 1863.”

By command of Lt. Gen. R. S. Ewell, the citizens of Chambersburg will furnish the following articles, by 3 o’clock this afternoon:

  • 6,000 lbs lead
  • 10,000 lbs harness leather
  • 50 boxes tin
  • 1000 curry-combs and brushes
  • 2,000 lbs picket rope
  • 400 pistols
  • All the caps and powder in the town

Also, all the meats [illegible]

Wm. [illegible], M. And C.

Subsequently another requisition was sent in for the following articles:

  • 50,000 lbs bread
  • 100 sacks salt
  • 30 bbls molasses
  • 500 bbls flour
  • 25 bbls vinegar
  • 25 bbls beans
  • 25 bbls dried fruit
  • 25 bbls sour kraut
  • 25 bbls potatoes
  • 11,000 lbs coffee
  • 10,000 lbs sugar
  • 100,000 lbs hard bread

“A meeting of the citizens was called and it was resolved that the demand would not be complied with for many reasons–but mainly perhaps because the town had not one-third the articles required in it. The rebels then proceeded to help themselves, in some instances, pretending to pay in rebel scrip; but in fact plundering the town relentlessly. An officer, said to be Major Todd, brother of Mrs. Lincoln, took charge of the stealing operations, and well nigh lost his head several times by some of our enraged ladies who resisted his searches.”

Even during the retreat from Gettysburg, the Confederate Army had several miles worth of wagons that contained an inventory taken from Pennsylvania. During the midnight Battle of Monterey Pass, Union and Confederate cavalry fought each other, while cattle taken from the farms of Pennsylvania had broken free from the Confederate wagon train, roaming the mountainside as the battle was carried out.

When researching the American Civil War it is easy for many enthusiasts to get caught up in the battles, the soldiers and their encampments. Whether you realize it or not, you read all about the area’s agriculture and farmland in the history books. From Gettysburg to Antietam there are accounts of the farmlands being turned into blood-soaked battlefields. But not much is researched about the farmer’s way of life or the equipment he used stored in his barn. Maybe the farm equipment we see today was nothing new to the soldier and that is why not much was written about seeing farming equipment.

I know most people think that farm hands used hand held tools to clear cut fields or used a donkey to plow those fields. But what a lot of people fail to recognize is the fact that the agriculture process of how things were done changed a few decades prior to the American Civil War in the Cumberland Valley. Inventions such as the reaper, the horse powered mower, and steam engines attached to grain separators made their work more productive. One such inventor lived in the area and created a new kind of machine, used prior to the outbreak of the Civil War.

Peter Geiser, born on a farm near Smithsburg in 1826 would change history in 1852 when he applied for a patent for a thresher, separator, cleaner, and conveyer machine. By 1854, Geiser sold his first grain separator, forever associating him with agricultural industry history. In 1858, after building his new machine on his farm, as well as having them built in Hagerstown by Jones and Miller, Peter Geiser and George Frick began to build the Geiser separators near Ridgeville (Ringgold today). By 1860, George Frick moved to Waynesboro where he built his steam engines and the Geiser Grain Separators.

Here is an excerpt from the ‘Herald of Freedom and Torch Light,’ September 1862; “Geiser Thrasher, Separator, Cleaner and Bagger Patent Grain Separator, Cleaner and Bagger with cast iron frame Thrashers with wrought iron cylinders, 18 inches in diameter, and Spikes 2 3-8 inches long. With the improvements of this season the Geiser machine is now by far the best Thrasher, Separator, Cleaner and Bagger in this country, without exception. Any person or persons wishing to buy this best machine will do well to give us a call and examine our machine before buying elsewhere.”

The advertisement continues: “We are still making our double-geared or New York eight-horse power, which has proved itself to be one of the best powers in use. And we have also made some improvements in the Triple-Geared Power, in regard to strength and durability, and having our Patterns right we are confident that they cannot be surpassed for strength, durability, and smooth running. We have also made some very important improvements in the Jack for the Triple-Geared Power—by these improvements in the Jack the Triple-Geared Power is made to give the same motion to a machine that the New York Power does. JONES A MILLER, Union Agricultural Machine Works, East Washington Street, Hagerstown, Md. May 1, ’61

Agricultural fairs that many people go to today have their roots deep in American history. Today, if you walk around the agriculture section you’ll see livestock, crops and farm equipment. While researching for an agricultural program here at the South Mountain State Battlefield, I wanted to share an excerpt from the 1852 Pennsylvania Farm Journal as to what was exhibited at the State Agricultural Fair at Harrisburg.

  • Whitman’s Improved Wrought Iron Railway Horse
  • Improved Hay Press
  • McCormick’s Improved Reaping Machine
  • Whitman’s Iron Corn Sheller
  • Cylinindrical Straw Cutter
  • Macomber’s Straw Cutter
  • Ruggles’ Straw Cutter
  • Beals’ Corn and Cob Crusher
  • Whitman’s Improved Chain Pump
  • Ruggle’s Plow
  • Minor & Horton’s Plow
  • Chenoweth’s Plow
  • Moore & Chamberlain’s Plow
  • Subsoil Plow
  • Whitman’s Improved Cultivators
  • Expanding Cultivators
  • Gieddes Harrow
  • Bamborough’s Wheat Fan
  • Gatchels Water Ram
  • Grant’s Improved Grain Cradle

Searching through the ‘Valley of the Shadow’ for newspaper accounts of the grain separators, I ran into a series of summaries about the dangers these machines presented and that farmer’s faced. I want to share a few of these newspaper accounts of the threshers that were being sold in area.

In the ‘Franklin Repository’ on July 20, 1859, “Mr. Abraham Ebersole, who resided in Hamilton Township, near Cashtown, after having loaded a Threshing Machine, on Monday afternoon, at the Shop of Mr. C. Stouffer of this place, had his nose broken by his horse. For the purpose of leading the horse out of the yard, after the Machine was loaded.”

On September 30, 1863, a written account in the ‘Franklin Repository’ reported that a “Fatal Accident” had occurred when Alexander Clugston, a mute, was mangled by a threshing machine. The end result was his horrible death by the machine.

On a good note, the ‘Valley Spirit’ reported on February 10, 1864, that “Franciscus and Oyer threshed 160 bushels of wheat in three-and-a-quarter hours on the farm of David Zullinger in Letterkenny Township, using a Waynesboro Separator. This is a considerable improvement on the old mode of beating out grain with a flail.”

On March 16, 1864, the ‘Franklin Repository’ reported that “Jacob, son of Jacob Wise, near Orrstown, got his arm caught in the pulley of a threshing machine on March 7th, fracturing it in a most distressing manner. Drs. Kell, Hayes, and Kennedy were called, and decided the arm had to be amputated.”

An accident was reported in the ‘Franklin Repository’ on March 1, 1865, that “John Foust, of Culbertson’s Row, mangled a finger while examining a threshing machine at Henry Shearer’s place in Lurgan Township.”

A more comical write up in the ‘Valley Spirit’ published on September 11, 1867, told of “Samson Dick almost suffered a fatal accident on September 7th, when his pants got caught in the tumbling shaft of the threshing machine at Lawrence Berger’s farm, in Hamilton. Luckily, Dick managed to avoid injury when his pants tore completely off, and wound around the shaft, leaving him standing in a state of nudity.” Luckily this was all that Mr. Dick suffered.

And finally on September 19, 1867, in the ‘Franklin Repository,’ “Charles N. Sellers, of Fayetteville, was seriously injured on September 9th when he was “caught by the tumbling shaft of a grain separator. As a result of the accident, Sellers suffered significant damage to his head and other parts of the body, and is currently is critical condition.”

It amazes me to look through old issues of the ‘Pennsylvania Farmer’s Journal’ as well as ‘New York’s Cultivator’ and to read and see illustrations of old farm equipment that was used during the day. When we research the Civil War and when you here that the valleys in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania were vital in sustaining the nourishment of the soldiers, you will come to understand, that the farmers were the “backbone” of both the United States and the Southern States. The inventors of these great machines, from Cyrus McCormick, who invented the modernized reaper and mowing machine, to George Frick whose small steam power engines were applied to Peter Geiser’s threshing machine, were all vital in the agriculture industry. Without them where would we be today?

There is an account of General Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley in 1864 that raided a farming dealer near Martinsburg, West Virginia. There he took all of the threshing machines and issued one to each divisional quartermaster and had the rest sent to the farmers near Richmond. When I find this account I will gladly post it under this article.