As Civilians Cope, So Goes the War

Before the outbreak of the Civil War, many communities along South Mountain may not have been aware of the underground activity that was occurring, known as the Underground Railroad. Many routes went straight through South Mountain, both in Maryland and Pennsylvania as African Americans were seeking their freedom. However during the Civil War, Maryland was still considered a slave state. The Herald of Freedom and Torch Light in September of 1862 ran a notice of runaways that were detained at the Washington County Jail. A family of African American slaves belonging to Fanny Myers of Hampshire County, Virginia were placed under arrest. A 45 year old man who called himself William Williams, a 45 year old woman calling herself Fanny Williams, an 11 year old girl Estetta Williams, and her 9 year old brother Henry Williams were all captured in Washington County. Among the family was a 14 year old girl calling herself Betty Fetter. The article simply read: “The owners of the above described slaves are requested to come forward and prove property; otherwise they will be discharged according to law.”

Many battles and skirmishes were fought for control of the roadways that led through South Mountain, but what about the daily life on the home front? South Mountain is full of stories of men hiding out in the mountain, as well as Virginia refugees that were pro-Union fleeing their state. As with today, politics also played a role along the mountain and the surrounding communities that border South Mountain. The Valley Spirit on July 2, 1862 stated: “A reply to the Dispatch’s criticism of an earlier Valley Spirit editorial that claimed that the Democrats were less partisan than the Republicans.”

While the war carried on, life seemed normal. Several incidents occurred just as today with accidents, robbery and a damaging fire here and there. During the four years of the Civil War, many areas along South Mountain were occupied by Union soldiers, but when the Confederate Army invaded, these areas were subject to be under the Confederate flag until the threat had subsided. During the winter of 1863, severe droughts in the region also had an affect on life. Gist Mills were unable to work. Stories of women’s fashion also appeared in the papers. While the sons and fathers, brothers, cousins and uncles were off fighting the war, the citizens of the region tried to carry on with their lives the best that they could.

As the war continued, many local men of South Mountain were drafted into the military, while others were allowed to stay behind, providing that they found a substitute. If you were drafted and did not show up, the papers ran your name so that the public could judge what kind of man you may be. On December 17, 1862, The Valley Spirit published a list of names of those that had not reported for duty: “A list of drafted men who never reported to their camp of rendezvous. They have the liberty of reporting to the camp voluntarily in the next few days, or an armed force will be used to bring them in and they will be tried as deserters.”

There are a few instances where Union soldiers who deserted the Union Army took refuge upon South Mountain along the Mason Dixon Line, as it was a good hiding place. In the Valley Spirit on July 23, 1862, it was reported that an unidentified man was stabbed near Waynesboro on Saturday by a deserter. The soldier was arrested and brought into the jail. Earlier, a “highly respectable citizen” from the same area was shot by a deserter. A year later, It was reported in the Waynesboro Village Record on March 6, 1863, that a Union soldier, Samuel Wade from Company A of the 77th Pennsylvania Volunteers was shot near Buena Vista Springs, Pennsylvania by the Provost Guard who had arrested him earlier. His injuries were not life threatening.

In May of 1863, the town of Waynesboro was home to several men known as copperheads. Copperheads were northern Democrat men who were very out spoken and voiced their opinions about an immediate peace settlement with the Confederate Government. These men would meet in the town square of Waynesboro in the middle of the night, and according to the Waynesboro Village Record “rejoice over the reverses in the Union Army” and “cheer for Jeff Davis.” However, when General Jubal Early’s Confederate Division entered Waynesboro in June of 1863, many Confederate soldiers shunned the Copperheads, saying that if they really supported the South then they should pick up a rifle and fight along side of them. As you can imagine, many of the Copperheads did not comply with the requests of the Confederate soldiers.

While, the Copperheads in Waynesboro attended to their political business, it was also reported that Solomon Helser and his son, both of Washington County, Maryland (Smithsburg) were arrested for voicing anti-Union sentiments and sent to Fort Henry. The pair were then escorted “beyond the Federal lines into Dixie.” The punishment was carried out by order of General Robert C Schneck.

Many diseases ran rampant through the area along the Mason Dixon Line. In the spring of 1863, the Waynesboro Village Record reported on February 13, that the outbreak of small pox in Waynesboro appeared to be subsiding. Typhoid fever was reported several times in the paper around the Waynesboro area, killing an entire family in October of 1863. On October 21, 1863, the Franklin Repository reported that “the family of John Brown, near Monterey Springs, all died of a fever threatening Franklin County residents.”

Just a month and a half prior to General Jubal Army’s Confederate Invasion of Maryland, the Franklin Repository on May 25, 1864, ran a story about Confederate spies in Pennsylvania. “Mr. Latshaw, the enrolling officer for Franklin Township in Adams County, apprehended a suspicious looking character on the road, and arrested him. In the company of Mr. Slonaker, Latshaw started for Chambersburg to deliver the prisoner to Captain Eyster. When the prisoner attempted to escape, Latshaw shot him in the shoulder and the hip. Thinking he was dying, the prisoner said his name was Lloyd, and confessed that he was a rebel spy. Although presently in the Chambersburg Hospital and in the custody of General Couch, Lloyd will be sent to Fort Mifflin once he has recovered sufficiently.”

On June 1, 1864 the Franklin Repository ran another similar story entitled “Another Supposed Spy Captured.” “Jacob M. Funk, of Mercersburg, who has been devoting his attention recently to the arrest of deserters, accosted a suspicious-looking man on South Mountain. Funk was convinced that the man, who identified himself as Mordaunt Winchester of Frederick, Maryland, was a spy, and took him to Sheriff Eyster. Winchester appears to have been on a tour of observation for some time, and might have been trying to find his way back to Virginia when he was captured.”

As General Early’s Confederate force was marching in the Shenandoah Valley, Union refugees began pouring across the Mason Dixon Line. The Greencastle Pilot gives an account: “A number of Union refugees from Virginia, owing to the impoverished condition of the country, and impelled by the natural desire to be with their husbands again, four married women (with eighteen children) set out from the vicinity of Hensley’s Methodist Church, Rockingham county, Va., on Wednesday, the 8th of June, for Pennsylvania, where they expected to meet their husbands, who had left some months previous for the freer and purer atmosphere of the loyal States.”

While in transit, many of these refugees were subject to raids by guerrillas. The article in the Greencastle Pilot continued: “They had, when they started, two two-horse wagons and when three miles from Edinsburg, a party of guerrillas came out from a dense wood on the road, and took the best horse from them. They were then compelled to load up their effects and the small children in one wagon and abandon the other. The women and large children had to walk all the way from that place, and met with no further interruption on the road. At Martinsburg they readily procured a pass to cross the Potomac. On last Thursday the party, way-worn and foot-sore, reached the vicinity of Greencastle, and were hospitably entertained by Mr. Mickley.”

On June 29, 1864, The Franklin Repository reported the same story: “Twenty-two Union refugees from Virginia, all women and children, have reached the vicinity of Greencastle, where Mr. Mickley has hospitably entertained them. They are Mrs. Wesley Hensley, with seven children; Mrs. Robert Hensley, with five children; Mrs. Matthew Lamb, with six children; and Mrs. Hiram Hensley. Their husbands had preceded them, making up a party of men cutting timber in Adams County, but small pox had broken out among the men. Some had died, including one of the husbands, and the rest had scattered, all of which was news to the women.”

The ending note to the Franklin Repository read: “Our readers will remember that some months ago we published a statement that a band of twenty-four men, Union refugees from Rockingham Co., Va., had passed over the South Mountain into Adams County, where they were engaged in cutting timber. Here the small pox broke out among the party, and some of them died, and the rest scattered: among those who died was a son of the elder Mrs. Hensly, the husband of the younger woman of that name. The first intelligence they had of this fact they received here, and were distressed very much in consequence.”

My point to this blog posting is that even though South Mountain has experienced several military engagements, those were not the only important events that ever took place in this area. South Mountain has a wonderful history and I am glad that I am in a position to educate visitors on the rich history and heritage that South Mountain has to offer as we commemorate and remember the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War.


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