The Dahlgren Connection to South Mountain

This is totally off subject relating to the Civil War period upon South Mountain, but it does have a small connection. Let’s talk about the Dahlgren connection. Mrs. Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren moved to South Mountain shortly after the death of her husband Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren who passed away on July 12th, 1870. Although the South Mountain Inn still stands which served as her home, her famous structure on the mountain is the Dahlgren Chapel that stands on the site of a Confederate artillery position during the Battle of South Mountain. Construction of the Dahlgren Chapel began in 1881, and was completed in 1884. Today the Central Maryland Heritage League owns Mrs. Dahlgren’s chapel and rents it out for weddings and such.

Mrs. Dahlgren’s husband, Admiral John A. Dahlgren, was a naval officer during the American Civil War. Before the war broke out, he enlisted in the Navy as a midshipman, and by 1847, he was assigned to the Navy’s Ordnance Bureau at Washington, D.C. By 1850, Lieutenant Dahlgren began working on weaponry.

One of the cannon Dahlgren designed in particular is the bronze 12-pound boat howitzer. In 1849, Dahlgren began designing a smoothbore bronze cannon that could either be mounted for use on a boat or mounted to a carriage for field usage. During the Maryland Campaign of 1862, less than a dozen of these cannon were used by the Union troops who participated in the Maryland Campaign.

Why focus on this particular cannon? On January 12th, 2011, it was announced by the Department of Natural Resources that they had purchased a Dahlgren 12-pound boat howitzer that was used during the Oyster Wars on Chesapeake Bay. The Oyster industry was huge industry following the Civil War to about 1890, and with it came problems. In 1868, the Maryland State government created the Oyster Police. Hunter Davidson, a former Confederate Naval officer, after assuming his post, requested that his ship, the Leila be supplied with cannon. Commander Davidson received the Dahlgren 12-pounder. The Dahlgren 12-pounder was made at the Richmond foundry known as Tredegar Iron Works.

In 1884, the steam-power Leila was replaced by a more modern vessel named the Governor R. M. McLane. During the time period of the Oyster Wars, the cannon saw lots of action according the DNR press release combating the poachers, or what is referred to Oyster Pirates. Poachers used dredgers that often illegally harvested the Maryland Oysters from the Chesapeake Bay using metal baskets that would drag across oyster beds. Because of this pitched skirmishes occurred, sometimes resulting in bloodshed between the Maryland State Oyster Police and the illegal dredgers. In 1891, the cannon was retired and replaced with a more modern artillery piece.

I applaud the efforts of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Natural Resource Police for purchasing the cannon that was used during this time period. The Dahlgren cannon was purchased from the American Legion Post 116 for $40,000, half of that price was contributed by a private donor. The cannon is now resting in a temporary home at the headquarters for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Read the press release

Indian Lookout

Emmitsburg was not only important to the cavalry operations of the Union army, but it also served as an important role in communications and observing battle maneuvers in Gettysburg. Indian Lookout was a very important landmark during the battle of Gettysburg for the Union army. It served Union officers who could see the positions of the armies on the battlefield. It also served as a communication center via dispatches and telegraph for the Union army.

The Signal Corps used Jacks Mountain, Indian Lookout on the Catoctin Mountain, Emmitsburg and Monterey Pass and South Mountain during the Civil War. Due to the communication and observation advantages both the Union and Confederate armies needed to obtain and protect their positions using mountain gaps and overlooks.

Using the highest point in the Emmitsburg area, Indian Lookout became a landmark. This area, situated near Mount Saint Mary’s College held the most spectacular view of the battle of Gettysburg. A letter reprinted on March 25, 1976 from the Emmitsburg Chronicle by a gentleman known only as A.J.B. wrote about the Battle of Gettysburg as seen from Indian Lookout directly behind Emmitsburg. There he writes about the battle as he saw it: “I should spare some of that talk for describing the battle of Gettysburg as seen by us from Indian Lookout. Truly we are at that place (Indian Lookout) almost the whole time during the three days battle. We had plenty of glasses viz telescopes, spy, and opera glasses. We had a clear view of the field and could see so as to make the men in their lines, attending cannon, the cannon themselves, making charges, officers riding along about their lines, and in a word the whole scene was spread out to our view.”

“We could distinctly observe the changes in the position of the armies: sometimes one army would slowly give way, but seeming to dispute every inch of ground with as much energy and determination as if the fate of the Nation depended on its holding or yielding its position again rallying and driving the foe headlong before it for some distance. When the retreating body either reinforced some fresh troops or perhaps reinforced with courage, the battle would become terrific.”

Emmitsburg resident George T. Humerick was sixteen years old when the Civil War broke out. During the first day of the battle of Gettysburg, he witnesses the flags waving from the top of the mountains west of town. He went up to what is known as the old Wagaman farm and came upon seven signal corpsmen taking signals from the Gettysburg battlefield. The signal from Gettysburg read: “General Reynolds was killed and they are pressing us hard.” Mr. Humerick, the first civilian to hear of the death, spread the news through the valley. It was by means of the signal corps that the Union forces at Gettysburg kept in contact with Washington, D. C. From atop the mountain here the signal was relayed to Sugar Loaf Mountain, below the city of Frederick, and from there to Washington.

An article reprinted in 1951 from the Emmitsburg Chronicle gave a sharp description of the Union cavalry and signal corps that was stationed at Emmitsburg during the time of the battle of Gettysburg: “Small flags waved and dipped from the tower of the old Lutheran Church, used as a signal station by the army. Bearers of dispatches and squads of cavalry dashed madly through the town. The long roll of drums and the blood-stirring bugle calls filled the air; the fields were alive with soldiers. To the untrained eye it looked like a great mob, but it was not a mob in any sense, for in a very short time the men fell into orderly lines and in full marching swing, pressed forward across the fields toward Gettysburg, towards victory and also many of them toward death.”

Soldiers and the Daughters of Charity

Elizabeth Ann Seton, was the founder and first Superior of the Sisters of Charity in the United States. According to Daughters of Charity and the Civil War an article written by S. Helms, the author wrote; “On September 17, 1862 the Maryland authorities petitioned the help of the Sisters at St. Joseph’s of Emmitsburg, Maryland after the Battle of Antietam. When the Sisters went to the battlefield, they found wounded of both armies on the ground; many were moved to hospitals. “For six days, the Sisters went from farm to farm, seeking wounded and sick and risking their own lives because of unexploded bombshells”. Courage and commitment to duty were a few of the solid characteristics of the Sisters. “Their mission was to serve persons marginalized by poverty, illness, ignorance, disability and injustice”. The “black caps” as they were called by the soldiers, lived out their mission to its fullest during the Civil War. The superiority of the Sisters of Charity as nurses is known wherever the name Florence Nightingale is repeated … the soldiers feel encouraged by their kindness and care”

In a letter Lieutenant William Ballentine of the 82nd Ohio Infantry describes the grounds of Saint Josephs and the Sisters of Charity. He wrote on June 30th: “Well at 4 o’clock that morning (the 29th), we began our march to this place and arrived here last night about 6 o’clock and stayed in that place until this morning when we moved to this place, a Shady Grove, near a Nunnery or rather on the farm and near the buildings belonging to the Sisters of Charity.”

“This institution of the Sisters of Charity (whose grounds we are now on) farm and buildings (especially the latter) is the finest I ever saw. Nothing in Ohio will compare with it; I was astonished to find such magnificence in such a place, a place I have never heard of before. The buildings cover about a square of ground, the same as a square in a town, built entirely of brick and ornamented with marble carvings. The main buildings are 4 stories high, built in splendid style, Before the war began, there were 500 Sisters of Charity of this institution. But all but about 60 are with the army in the various hospitals, taking care of the sick and wounded, and they are said to be very good nurses and very kind.”

General (then Colonel) Philippe Regis de Trobriand, commander of the 3rd Brigade of Birney’s Division wrote about his experience with the Sisters of Charity during his encampment near Saint Joseph’s on June 30th. “When I arrived at a gallop in front of the principal door, the doorkeeper, who had ventured a few steps outside, completely lost her head. In her fright, she came near being trampled under foot by the horses of my staff, which she must have taken for the horses of the Apocalypse, if, indeed, there are any horses in the Apocalypse, of which I am not sure. The superior, on the contrary, with whom I asked to speak in the parlor, came down calm and dignified. Her conversation betrayed neither fear nor even inquietude. When I asked her to send me up to the belfry, from which the whole surrounding country was visible, she sent for the chaplain, and ordered him to act as my guide.”

“The chaplain was an Italian priest, who did not sacrifice to the graces, and whose sermons would never have set the Hudson on fire. He led us through the dormitories and the class-room of the boarding-school, at that moment deserted, the superior having very wisely sent all the scholars to their relatives. There remained but five or six, belonging to Southern families, who had not heard from their friends in a long time.”

“We reached the belfry by a narrow and winding staircase. I went first. At the noise of my boots sounding on the steps, a rustling of dresses and murmuring of voices were heard above my head. There were eight or ten young nuns, who had mounted up there to enjoy the extraordinary spectacle of guns in battery, of stacked muskets, of sentinels walking back and forth with their arms in hand, of soldiers making coffee in the gardens, of horses ready saddled eating their oats under the apple trees. We had cut off their retreat, and they were crowded against the windows, like frightened birds, asking Heaven to send them wings with which to fly away.”

“Ah! Sisters,” I said to them, “I catch you in the very act of curiosity. After all, it is a very venial sin, and I am sure that the very reverend father here present will freely give you absolution therefore. The poor girls, much embarrassed, looked at each other, not knowing what to reply. The least timid ventured a smile. In their hearts, they were thinking of but one thing: to escape as soon as the officers accompanying me left the way clear. They immediately disappeared, crowding each other along the staircase. I have never returned to Emmittsburg; but it would astonish me very little to hear that the two armies had gone to Gettysburg to fight, on account of the miracle performed by St. Joseph, interceding in favor of these pious damsels.”

As the Sisters at Saint Joseph’s watched the troops of the Army of the Potomac march by they were terrified at the sight of the artillery rolling by. It was about noon on July 1st when the Sisters heard the boom in the distance from the artillery engaging in the battle that was opening at Gettysburg. They heard the booms until they ceased during the afternoon of July 4th. Many of the Sisters simply prayed that the terrible noise of the battle in the distance would go away.

In a letter Father Francis Burlando, the director of the Sisters of Charity, described conditions after the battle of Gettysburg. “On July first the battle commenced about nine miles from Emmitsburg; it continued three days. Two hundred thousand men were in the field and on each side there were from one hundred to one hundred-thirty pieces of cannon. The roar of these agents of death and destruction was fearful in the extreme, and their smoke rising to heaven formed dense clouds as during a frightful tempest. The Army of the South was defeated and in their retreat left their dead and wounded on the battlefield. What number of victims perished during this bloody engagement? No one yet knows but it is estimated that the figures rise to 50,000!”

After the battle ended, several Sisters and Father Burlando set out for Gettysburg. Once there they began to care for those who had been moved to the churches and hotels within Gettysburg. The Sisters were assigned in pairs to attend the wounded at various locations throughout town. The next day more Sisters arrived from St. Joseph’s. As long as there were wounded, the Sisters nursed and comforted them on both sides of the army, caring for one group of nearly 200 men in the field for three weeks until they could be taken to hospitals in New York and Philadelphia.