"Tell it not to Gath": A Brief Biography of George Alfred Townsend

Located in the Maryland hills, nestled on the ridge of South Mountain lays the remains of the Gapland estate. The estate was built by a writer simply known as “Gath.” George Alfred Townsend was his given name, and he added the H to his initials for his pen name due to the biblical passage of II Samuel, 1:20 where it read “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askalon.” Today, many people are unaware of George Alfred Townsend. Those who do take the time to learn about him either like his personality or despise of the man. Some of his works have been compared to Walt Whitman, and to several journalists of today.

George Alfred Townsend was born on January 30th, 1841 in Georgetown, Delaware. As a child, he spent a great deal of his time in Pennsylvania, Maryland, as well as in Delaware attending various schools wherever his father, Reverend Stephen was assigned to. His parents were highly religious and strict. This was a no nonsense type of family. The first theatrical play he attended was “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” After a gunshot in the theater rang out, he quickly hurried out, thinking that this was a sign from above that he shouldn’t be attending such things as theatrical performances. This was a reflection of his very strict upbringing.

Some of the schools that George attended were Newark Academy, which is now the University of Delaware. In February of 1860, George graduated from Central High School with a Bachelor in Arts degree. As a child, George was interested in writing, and had a love for nature, as well as an interest in art. At the age of 16, he published a small magazine.

The night before his graduation, George received some news that would change his life. He was told to contact the Philadelphia Inquire. He began working there as a news editor, and then became an editorial writer. Shortly afterwards in early 1861, George became a city editor for the Philadelphia Press. There he wrote about current events, poems, and then became a traveling correspondent. During this period he wrote a play called “The Bohemians.”

Upon graduating, he developed a love for travel. Using the book entitled “Fields of the Revolutionary Battlefields,” he visited many of the battlefields of the Revolutionary War. After his visit, he would write about his personal experiences there.

During the outbreak of the American Civil War, George worked for the New York Herald as a reporter in Philadelphia. Shortly afterwards, he took on a new position as a war correspondent and his first Civil War article was about the death of Lieutenant Greble during the Battle of Big Bethel. However, during the first year of the Civil War, George found himself writing more about local events in Philadelphia as they related to the war.

By April of 1862, George was a war correspondent. He got his break when General George McClellan rode through Philadelphia on his way to Washington. George became a war correspondent with the army where he wrote a piece on the Battle of Cedar Mountain. George was forced to suspend his career when he came down with Chickahominy Fever. By the end of the year, George was recuperating and decided to travel to Europe.

While in Europe, George wrote several pieces about the Seven Days’ Battles for the New York Herald, and wrote a book that was never published. The articles he wrote were good, but they were often outdated due to the time it took to get that information across the Atlantic Ocean. While in London he traveled the circuit, lecturing about some of his experiences. He studied European literature and developed a fascination for it. Although he enjoyed Europe, he grew dissatisfied with European journalism, and by 1864, he returned to America.

Still a war correspondent, he would see the Civil War end with Grant as overall commander. While still covering the war, he experimented with his writing, but found that America had no market for literary works. George’s first touch of fame came during the closing of the Civil War, when he wrote about the battle of Five Forks. This was the article that launched his career and helped him to achieve fame. Some of his best works came from his reports while covering the events following the assignation of President Abraham Lincoln.

Townsend also covered the news stories about the Lowrie Band in North Carolina while working for the New York World. Henry B. Lowrie was the leader of the North Carolina gang who was viewed as the “Robin Hood” of his day. He fought for the civil rights of the Lumbee and Tuscarora people. Lowrie was described by Townsend as “one of those remarkable executive spirits that arises now and then in a raw community without advantages other than those given by nature.” In one of his articles Townsend enraged a gang member to the point that he threatened to kill the journalist who wrote the article.

On December 21st, 1865, George Townsend married Miss Bessie Evans Rhodes of Philadelphia. Heading into the New Year, things were going well for George. During the year he managed to have his book entitled “Campaigns of a Non-Combatant” published.

In 1866, Townsend and his wife left America to travel to Paris where he covered the Austro-Prussian War. In October of that same year in Paris, his first child was born. He visited one of the Prussian camps where more than a 100,000 soldiers encamped, and felt that a war with France was inevitable, a feeling that came true in 1870 with the Franco-Prussian War. By 1867, George would see the end of the Austro-Prussian War while still in Paris.

George Townsend and his family moved to Washington DC shortly after returning to America. George wanted to study government. As a young writer, George became a major success, being employed by just about every major newspaper in the U.S. This career spanned for almost forty years. In 1868, in the Chicago Tribune, George Alfred Townsend used the penname GATH. This would have an influence once he began building his estate later on.

George was a successful man. He had several books published including “Katy of the Catoctin” and “Tales of the Chesapeake.” You can still buy many of his books today. Life was good for George. He spent most of his money in his early years on books, travel, and experiences. In his honor he even had a cigar named after him, and then race horses, and post offices, to the point where GATH became a sort of trademark.

Even though he was a writer, he often turned down jobs, hoping to leave journalism in the past and begin exploring more along the literary style as a means to earn his living. He was also a successful lecturer among the high society Washington bureaucrats. While living in Washington, he found that his writing schedule was very harsh. He was always busy, and shortly after his 40th birthday, he found he needed a place where he could go and get away from the stress of his work. George found that place in late 1884.

On October 17th, 1884, George was taking a buggy ride with a friend and happened upon the Crampton’s Gap Battlefield. He fell in love with the area due to the surroundings of nature, and knew this was where he wanted to have his retreat from Washington. On December 18th, he owned one hundred acres of land and named this estate Gapland. By late December of 1884 and early 1885, he built the first building, naming it Askalon.

With his passion for nature and art, he began constructing several buildings. By the time it was finished, there were over nine buildings in total, including the Gapland Hall, library & den, the lodge, barn, and out buildings for his children and guests. One of the buildings was a toll house that he built to keep up improvements of the public road, an idea unpopular with local residents. Aside from the buildings, there were over ten structures on the property, two of those structures still stand today. They are Gath’s empty tomb and the War Correspondent’s Arch.

The estate was built during a period known as the “Resort era”. Many estates were built along the ridge of South Mountain from Gapland to Blue Ridge Summit. Although there is no connection to the time period of Gapland, these communities witnessed inner city bureaucrats traveling to these places for the cooler weather in the summertime.

Upon visiting the battlefield of Antietam in 1895, George noticed that there were monuments being constructed, itinerary markers, and battle lines being memorialized. He felt that the non-combatant would be a forgotten. So Gath took on the project, and in my opinion, erected one of the most unusual monuments that have ever been constructed. This is the War Correspondent’s Arch.

In Decmeber of 1895, plans were being drawn for the monument. During the initial drawing stage he incorporated something that he had seen at Hagerstown on his way to Gapland. These features were a horseshoe arch on a railroad station, and watch tower at the fire house. Gath contacted several war correspondents, and after their blessing, he began to raise the money needed to construct the monument. He had created flyers and sent them to every newspaper agency that he had worked for. Donations soon came in including donations from his friends Thomas Edison, JP Morgan, and George Pullman. Soon Gath had $5,000.00 to build his monument. John Smithmeyer volunteered his architectural experiences, and construction of the monument began.

Completed in 1896, at fifty feet tall and forty feet wide, this monument has many architectural themes that were incorporated into the drawing stage. Looking at the monument today, you can see how Gath also incorporated his love for art and nature. In her book “George Alfred Townsend,” Ruthanna Hindes describes the monument best:

“Above a Moorish arch sixteen feet high, built of Hummelstown purple stone are super-imposed three Roman arches. These are flanked on one side with a square crenellated tower, producing a bizarre and picturesque effect. Niches in different places shelter the carving of two horses’ heads, and symbolic terra cotta statuettes of Mercury, Electricity and Poetry. Tables under the horses’ heads bear the suggestive words “Speed” and “Heed”; the heads are over the Roman arches. The three Roman arches are made of limestone from Creek Battlefield, Virginia, and each is nine feet high and six feet wide. These arches represent Description, Depiction and Photography.”

“The aforementioned tower contains a statue of Pan with the traditional pipes, and he is either half drawing or sheathing a Roman sword. Over a small turret on the opposite side of the tower is a gold vane of a pen bending a sword. At various places on the monument are quotations appropriate to the art of war correspondence. These are from a great variety of sources beginning with Old Testament verses. Perhaps the most striking feature of all are the tablets inscribed with the names of 157 correspondents and war artists who saw and described in narrative and picture almost all the events of the four years of the war.”

The unusual arched monument was dedicated by Maryland Governor Lloyd Lowndes on October 17, 1896. This was the beginning of the downfall for George Alfred Townsend. In 1903, his wife Bessie, passed away, and instead of being buried in the tomb on the Gapland Estate property, she was buried in Philadelphia.

In 1904, George turned over the arch to the National Park Service, to be maintained as a National Monument. Soon afterwards, George’s age caught up with him and it seemed as if he spent more time in Washington rather than traveling to Gapland. While visiting one of his children, Gath became sick and soon passed away. After Gath’s death on April 15, 1914, he was buried next to his wife, and his daughter sold the Gathland estate. The empty tomb at Gathland simply states “Goodnight Gath,” a reminder to him where life’s journey will take you in the end.

Today less than one-third of the Gapland estate still stands, and is part of the Maryland Park Service simply called Gathland State Park. Gapland Hall is only a fraction of what once stood and serves as a museum dedicated to the man. You have a small portion of the lodge that still stands as well as ruins of the barn. The lodge also serves as a Civil War museum dedicated to the Battle of South Mountain with special exhibits on the Battle of Crampton’s Gap. Two of the other houses still stand, but are private residental homes. One of those houses was the tollgate and is located at the intersection of Townsend and Gapland Roads. Today the monument fall’s under the care of Antietam National Battlefield and stands as a reminder to those who risked their lives to bring the civilian population the news from the battlefields of the American Civil War.


Revisited Subject: Hamburg Pass on South Mountain

Every year, while performing my duties at the South Mountain State Battlefield, I always get that one, particular question by an eager Civil War enthusiast. Where is Hamburg Pass located at? My reply is that it is on the Catoctin Mountain, near the town of Hamburg. Then, the park visitor elaborates with me because they were interested in the position of the 4th Georgia Infantry, which was noted as being on Hamburg Pass on South Mountain, three miles north of Turner’s Gap. It is with that in mind that I have decided to revisit the topic. Looking at several period maps, the location of Hamburg Pass on South Mountain is unknown. Looking at other maps that post date the American Civil War, it doesn’t appear there either. So, as Master Yoda would say, “A mystery, there is, we have.”

The only record of this Hamburg Pass located on South Mountain is written by General Roswell Ripley. In his report after the Battle of Antietam, General Ripley wrote: “On the evening of September 13, I received orders from Maj. General D. H. Hill to march with my brigade and take a position with it and a battery of artillery on the eminence immediately on the northeast of Boonsborough, and to send a regiment at daylight on the following morning to occupy the Hamburg Pass. This was accomplished, and on the following morning, at an early hour, Colonel [George] Doles, with the Fourth Georgia Regiment, was in position at the pass.” So where did the 4th Georgia Infantry perform this duty?

After studying the maps of the surrounding area, I discovered that there were several roads running through the area. The main route to it’s south was the National Pike, and to it’s north were some smaller roads that followed along modern day Baltimore Road. Connecting these main roads that ran east to west were several smaller roads, running from the north to the south. One of the major roads was Mount Tabor Road. It ran from Bolivar northward toward the Baltimore Pike, and connected just west of Myersville. Connecting to that road was the Frostown Road, which forked at Frostown. The left fork went to Turner’s Gap and the other fork led to Monument Knob or the Zittlestown Road.

Before connecting to the Zittlestown Road, the Frostown Road again forked to another back road that led east of South Mountain, connecting to the Mount Tabor Road. Several homesteads dating back to the late 1700’s early to mid 1800’s are located along this road. This is modern day Michael Road. This road on the eastern side of South Mountain opens wide and presents itself with a wonderful view shed of the Catoctin Mountain, and yes, in the distance one can see Hamburg Pass. As you travel a mile and a half through this very steep and narrow road it will take you to where Michael Road connects to Mount Tabor Road. About two miles north of Meade’s right flank.

This area is also three miles north of Turner’s Gap. Considering the two main roads running east to west, and the Union army breaking through the Catoctin Mountain during the evening of September 13th, it would present a perfect opportunity, if given the chance, to flank the Confederate rear guard. But as history is documented, General George Meade’s Pennsylvania Division formed up along the Mount Tabor Road two miles to the south of Michael Road.

So how did the 4th Georgia Infantry get to what General Ripley referred to as Hamburg Pass? This could have been done by way of Zittlestown Road, that connected to the National Road just west of Turner’s Gap. From there, a mile and a half march would put a soldier at the base of Monument Knob. This is where the intersection of Michael Road and Zittlestown Road is located. Considering that it was a regiment, more than likely the companies covered both of those roads picketing the direction of Myersville, Frostown, and Mount Tabor for any flanking attempt by Union cavalry or infantry.

I have not found any evidence to suggest that this area near Washington Monument State Park is that of Hamburg Pass as described by the account relating to the 4th Georgia Infantry’s whereabouts. But rather an unnamed mountain pass that led to Zittlestown, running along side of Monument Knob. It is my professional opinion and the opinion of others who have studied the subject, that what is being referred to as Hamburg Pass on South Mountain is located one mile along Michael Road along the eastern summit past the intersection of Michael and Frostown Roads.

A Small Skirmish on the Catoctin Mountain and Jefferson

Picketing the Catoctin Mountain and the Fight North of Frederick The Fight at Quebec SchoolhouseThe Braddock’s Gap Fight The Fight at Jefferson Pass

On September 13th, as the advance of Union army was marching upon the eastern base of the Catoctin Mountain many cavalry skirmishes erupted as they collided with the rear guard of the Confederate army. These skirmishes are some of the first major actions to take place in Maryland, as detachments of the Confederate cavalry, supported by artillery, guarded the approach to the Middletown Valley via the Catoctin Mountain. The Union cavalry was under orders to probe and locate the rear of the Confederate army.

On September 12th, 1862 Colonel Thomas Munford and his 2nd Virginia Cavalry, along with the 12th Virginia Cavalry were ordered to guard the Catoctin Mountain pass of Jefferson. Supporting them was Chew’s Battery. The 2nd Virginia Cavalry and the 12th Virginia Cavalry were part of General Beverly Robertson’s Cavalry Brigade. The other units that made up Robertson’s brigade were separated and acting independently. The 6th Virginia Cavalry was left at Centerville, the 17th Virginia Cavalry Battalion was on detached duty in western Virginia moving toward Berkley, and the 7th Virginia Cavalry was ordered to Harper’s Ferry.

During the early morning hours of September 13th, General Alfred Pleasanton ordered the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Rush’s Lancers, under the command of Colonel Richard H. Rush, and a section of artillery to move from the Monocacy River to report to General William Franklin, whose 6th Corps was marching toward Jefferson. The 9th New York Infantry under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Edgar A. Kimball was ordered by General Isaac Rodman to support Rush’s Lancers. Soon afterward, the remnants of the brigade that the 9th New York was part of, was ordered out.

General John Park, the Chief of Staff for General Ambrose Burnside, ordered the remainder of Colonel Harrison S. Fairchild’s 1st Brigade of General Isaac Rodman’s 3rd Division, General Jesse Reno’s 9th Corps to reinforce the 9th New York Infantry. The other infantry regiments that made up Fairchild’s Brigade were the 89th New York Infantry commanded by Major Edward Jardine, and the 103rd New York Infantry commanded by Major Benjamin Ringold. Fairchild’s Brigade also consisted of a battery of naval howitzers under the command of Captain James Whiting, which was Company K, 9th New York Infantry.

On September 13th, the Lancers moved out along the Jefferson Road. When they were approximately five miles west of Frederick, and a mile east of Jefferson they came upon a few Confederate soldiers. Early in afternoon, Rush’s Lancers were waiting for their infantry support to come up. Colonel Munford’s picketing force saw Union infantry marching upon three roads. Munford noted “The enemy advanced on Jefferson by the Point of Rocks road, on the main road from Poolesville, and by a road over a gap which intersects the road leading to Middletown about 1 1/2 miles from Jefferson.”

Upon arriving at the eastern base of the Catoctin Mountain, it was reported that a small Confederate force was positioned to the front with artillery near the ridge, blocking Jefferson Pass. Colonel Munford, seeing the Union force, began falling back toward Jefferson. Chew’s Battery was also reported as calmly limbering their guns and moving out toward Middletown. Colonel Fairchild confirmed that Munford’s force had left their position, noting “Company B, of the Ninth New York Volunteers, was thrown forward to reconnoiter on the left, and reported the enemy as having left the position they had occupied the previous night with three guns and a small cavalry force, and the road clear.”

Upon withdrawing, Colonel Munford ordered the 2nd Virginia Cavalry to hold back the Union troopers, while he and the 12th Virginia Cavalry dashed for Burkittsville in order to protect and keep the roads open. There, along the Catoctin Mountain, the mounted and dismounted cavalrymen were used as sharpshooters while hiding in a ravine covered with brush.

The 9th New York Infantry followed behind Rush’s Lancers, and within a few minutes, they deployed skirmishers. Company B took to the left of the road while three companies (C, H, and I) went to the right into the thickly vegetated woods. Within minutes, the Confederate skirmishers of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry under the command of Captain Holland fired. Private Charles Johnson of the 9th New York Infantry reported that he had heard at least a half a dozen shots. While the other companies of the 9th New York were held back in the reserve, Private David Thompson noted “Far up on the mountainside ahead of us we could see, in the fields confronting the edge of the woods that crowned the ridge, the scattered line of Rush’s Lancers, their bright red pennons flattering gaily from their spear heads.”

Within seconds, the mounted Confederate troopers charged into Rush’s Lancers, forcing them back. While this was going on, the 9th New York located in the woods, became entangled and finally reached the summit of Jefferson Pass. Seeing the Confederate mounted force ahead, and not realizing that a handful of dismounted Confederates were near, the Union soldiers began to scramble for a few minutes, resulting in a handful of Confederate soldiers being taken as prisoners.

By then the rest of the 9th New York Infantry was ordered into the woods. During the same time, Colonel Rush asked Colonel Fairchild for additional support. Colonel Fairchild detached two companies of the 103rd New York to support the skirmishers of the 9th New York that was engaged in the woods. The three New York companies were again pushing forward, and began descending the Catoctin Mountain into a cornfield just east of Jefferson.

As Rush’s men began their reorganized advance, the 103rd New York went to support Captain Haseltine’s company of lancers, who were skirmishing with Confederates near the road leading to Middletown. In the book “Annals of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry,” by Samuel Levis Gracey, he remembered that they “Came across a body of dismounted rebel cavalry in the wood. Although largely outnumbering his small force, he drove them into confusion, and made some prisoners. The enemy were armed with carbines, though our men only had the lance and their pistols, by one determined charge they succeeded in dislodging the enemy.” Not able to hold, the 2nd Virginia Cavalry began to fall back.

Union troops of the 9th New York Infantry filled the streets of Jefferson. The naval guns of Company K were brought up and posted, but never saw action during the Jefferson Pass fight. In a line of battle, Colonel Fairchild was situated west of Jefferson with the 89th New York Infantry, and remained there until after sunset when orders came from General Jesse Reno for the brigade to return to Frederick. The next morning at 3:00 am, the brigade would be put into motion and arrive at Middletown by midmorning.

Toward the evening hours Munford took position along the Mountain Church Road and waited for the Union follow up to come, which never occured. General Paul Semmes, who had a brigade posted at Brownsville brought them forward to Brownsville Pass, which overlooked Burkittsville. During the same time, General Semmes ordered Colonel William Parham’s small brigade to Crampton’s Gap. Union General William Franklin arrived at Jefferson that same evening with the advance of the 6th Corps.

By the end of September 13th, all focus was shifting ever so quickly to South Mountain. There along that mountain ridge, the first major Civil War battle would be fought in Maryland. Although the Battle of South Mountain hosted a larger number of soldiers and casualties, the actions of September 13th, 1862 deserve recognition and are just as important. The Union cavalry with horse artillery, supported by infantry had done its job. South Mountain was a consequence of those actions just as Antietam was a consequence of the Battle of South Mountain.