Custer’s Brigade at the Emmitsburg Tollgate

During the afternoon of June 27th, 1863, a part of General Joseph Copeland’s Brigade of Michigan Cavalry was encamped just south of Emmitsburg on the old tollgate. On June 29th, as the two Michigan regiments began to move toward Hanover, where the other units were going to be located at. That same day, General Copeland learned that he was relieved of command and that General George Custer would be taking command of the brigade. George Custer was only 23 years old when he was promoted to Brigadier General near Frederick. The appointment was actually came through on June 28th, the day General George Meade took command, but held made it official the following day.

An article originally published in the Emmitsburg Chronicle on August 31, 1951, stated that “On Saturday the 27th day of June, two regiments of Michigan cavalry camped a mile south of Emmitsburg on the Tollgate held the advance of Kilpatrick’s division. They were armed with the deadly Spencer repeating carbines and looked like they could fight. They stayed until Monday, when the division arrived and they all marched to Hanover, Pa. They were guided by Jim McCullough, an Emmitsburg soldier boy, who was counted as one of the best scouts in the army.”

Dr. Thomas C. Moore of Mount Saint Mary’s later recalled: “The first large body that passed near the College was the 6th Michigan Cavalry. They jogged along, four abreast, many of the weary riders leaning forward, sound asleep on the necks of their horses. Many of us sat on the fences along the road watching and listening to their sayings. We naturally looked upon the men as sheep led to the slaughter, and we were not a little surprised when we overheard two of them closing a bargain on horseback with the remark: ‘Well, I will settle with you for this after the battle. Will that suit you?’ The other party readily assented. The whole period of life is treated as a certainty, even by men going into battle.”

The two Michigan regiments had made their camps on the grounds of the St. Joseph’s House. Joseph Brawner, the field manager had the cutting machine ready to cut down the clover that covered the fields to store in the barn loft. He would carry out the task of cutting down the clover in the meadows that surrounded St. Joseph’s. As the 5th Michigan Cavalry made their quarters for the night, they let their horses graze in the fields. Once sunrise came on Sunday morning of June 28th, the fields were barren and nothing was left of the clover. William O. North of the 5th Michigan Cavalry gave the Sisters of Charity a memo that stated: “Joseph Brawner was entitled to pay, for 16,000 pounds of hay being the amount consumed and destroyed by the 5th Michigan Cavalry while quartered on the grounds of the Saint Joseph’s House on the night of June 27, 1863.

Photo of the Toll House from the Emmitsburg Historical Society

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