Originally Published in Emmitsburg News-Journal
On August 30, 1862, after the battle of second Manassas found the Union Army, under the command of Major General John Pope, in full retreat, marching his army to the safety of Centerville, Virginia. On August 31st, the victorious Confederate Army under the Command of General Robert E. Lee, decided to send General Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson to Chantilly, Virginia and cut off Pope’s Army from retreating to Washington. On September 1st, General Jackson engaged Union forces, but the battle of Chantilly proved to be a tactical set back as General Jackson’s army’s movements were foiled and he was unable to block the Union retreat or destroy Pope’s army.
Cole’s Cavalry remained in the Shenandoah Valley until September of 1862, when General Lee began his invasion into Maryland. As the Confederate Army began marching toward Leesburg, on September 2nd, portions of Cole’s Cavalry engaged a superior Confederate force at Leesburg. They managed to push back the Confederate cavalry, at a severe cost and then fell back into Harper’s Ferry. Several Emmitsburg men were wounded or taken prisoner by the Confederate forces during this skirmish.
General Lee, planning his next movement, sent a dispatch to Confederate President Jefferson Davis asking for his approval to take the war north and enter Maryland. General Lee wanted to take the war northward into Maryland for three reasons. The first was to liberate the citizens who could possibly join his join army. The second was to relieve war torn Virginia so that the farmers could harvest crops without the threat of Union forces interfering. The final reason was that if General Lee could have a successful campaign in the north, England and France would be easily persuaded to recognize the Confederate States as a separate country with the end result of supporting the South in the war. The stakes were high for General Lee and the Confederacy and everything seemed to hang in the balance of the outcome of this campaign. With President Jefferson Davis’s blessing, General Lee’s Army began to cross the Potomac River near Leesburg on September 3rd. Once in Maryland, the Confederate Army concentrated on the city of Frederick. While in Frederick, Emmitsburg resident Edward Thomas McBride enlisted in the Maryland Cavalry.
While the Confederate Army was at Frederick, Union General Pope was relieved of his command and General George McClellan was given command of the Army of the Potomac. General McClellan re-equipped the army and marched out of Washington to meet General Lee head on. On September 9th, while Lee was at Frederick, he issued Special Order No. “191” to his division commanders, dividing his army in five sections scattered throughout Frederick and Washington Counties, and sending General Stonewall Jackson’s wing to Harper’s Ferry by way of Martinsburg to lay siege to Harper’s Ferry, protecting Lee’s Army as it continued into Maryland. General Jackson laid siege to Harper’s Ferry by September 12th.
As the rear of General Lee’s Army left Frederick on September 13th, General McClellan entered Frederick where a sharp cavalry fight took place in the streets. During the morning, a copy of General Lee’s Special Order No. 191 was found. That night General McClellan marched out of Frederick toward South Mountain knowing that Lee’s Army was divided. General Lee had left General D. H. Hill to guard the mountain gaps of Turner’s Gap and Fox’s Gap. Further to the south, a portion of General Lafayette McLaws’ division defended Brownsville Pass and Crampton’s Gap near Burkittsville. Cavalry patrols were sent out by both armies during this period. In Emmitsburg, a Federal cavalry patrol entered and stayed for the night. While near Lewistown, a small portion of Confederate cavalry guarded Hamburg Pass on the Catoctin Mountain.
At daybreak on September 14th, the battle of South Mountain erupted. The sounds of the battle were heard as far away as Emmitsburg and were noted by Rt. Rev. Monsignor James T. Dunn of Mount St. Mary’s College. Marching to Boonsboro, members of the 9th Virginia Cavalry passed Hamburg, Maryland, and noted; “Both the men and women gave proof that they were free imbibers of the product of their stills, and it was not easy to find a sober inhabitant of either sex.” The battle of South Mountain lasted a day and by the day’s end, the Union forces had broken through Crampton’s Gap, while Fox’s Gap and Turner’s Gap were barely held by the Confederate Army. By midnight, General Lee, determined to make a stand some where in Maryland, pulled his forces into Sharpsburg. This brought an end to General Lee’s campaign, which up until this point was on the offensive. Now General Lee would have to make a defensive stand or pull back into Virginia by way of Shepherdstown or Williamsport.
While at Harper’s Ferry, General Stonewall Jackson’s Army had surrounded the town. On September 14th, when it became apparent that it was the intention of the garrison commander to surrender, Major Henry Cole of Cole’s Cavalry informed the commander, Colonel Miles, that he would not surrender his command. Miles then authorized any cavalry within the garrison to attempt a breakout if they chose to do so. That night, Cole’s Cavalry along with the 12th Illinois Cavalry, 8th New York Cavalry, Rhode Island Cavalry and 1st Maryland Cavalry, slipped out of Harper’s Ferry and crossed the Potomac River into Maryland, straight through the Confederate lines. As it were, this breakout put them right between Jackson and Lee’s forces that were concentrated near Antietam. The Federal cavalry column, while moving around Lee’s flank encountered General James Longstreet’s ammunition trains moving south to rejoin the main body of the Army of Northern Virginia. The cavalry was able to capture a large portion of the wagon train and escorted it to Federal authorities. Cole’s Cavalry escorted the ammunition train to Chambersburg.
With the surrender of Harper’s Ferry on the 15th of September, General Lee decided to make his defensive stand on the banks of the Antietam Creek. If the Maryland Campaign could be saved for General Lee this was where he wanted it to happen. That night, the first clash of musketry took place. By day break on the 17th, General Lee and General McClellan met in a stalemate. The battle of Sharpsburg or Antietam as it is known today was the bloodiest day of the Civil War up until that point with a total of 23,000 casualties. The Maryland authorities petitioned the help of the Sisters of Charity at St. Joseph’s of Emmitsburg, Maryland, to assist with the wounded who fell during the battle of Antietam.
At dawn on the 18th, Lee had used up his reserves and decided to pull his army back into Virginia at Shepardstown. There General Lee could move his army northward to Williamsport and continue back into Maryland and possibly march to Chambersburg. As General McClellan closed in on Lee at Shepherdstown on the 19th, Union forces attacked the rear of General Lee’s Army. By September 20th, the Confederate Army had managed to push back the Union Army with a devastating blow. This rearguard action discouraged any further Federal pursuit. However, with much reluctance General Lee was also forced to completely abandon the Maryland Campaign and pull his forces farther back into Virginia.
Photo is Mount Saint Mary’s College – 1863 LOC