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.


2 thoughts on “The Land of Milk and Honey; the Agriculture Industry of the Area

  1. Ellyn Baker December 28, 2012 / 7:43 pm

    I love the details of this post. It captures the essence of the agriculture in this area. I will be back to learn more. Thank you for sharing all the great information.

    • John A. Miller February 9, 2013 / 11:35 am

      Thank you for the comments. Materail Culture of the 1860’s has always interested me. Many historians leave out many of those details when writing about military campaigns.

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