During the summer of 1864, one of the most interesting Confederate campaigns (in my opinion) was launched in Virginia and Maryland. This campaign resulted in the Confederate army marching all the way from Petersburg, Virginia, down the Shenandoah Valley into Maryland, and to the gates of Washington. The Nation’s capital had not witnessed an enemy force at its gates since August 24, 1814. This was when British Major General Robert Ross occupied the capital, and then sat fire to all public buildings. Fifty years later, the Confederate army, led by Lieutenant General Jubal Early, would try to enter the city. But before Lt. Gen. Early could accomplish this, he would need to perform several maneuvers. The first was to clear the Shenandoah Valley of the Union forces under the command of Major General David Hunter.
Major General Hunter was sent into the Shenandoah Valley, and on June 5, 1864, he defeated a Confederate force under the command of Brigadier General William Jones at Piedmont, Virginia. The next day, Maj. Gen. Hunter would occupy Staunton, and from there disrupt daily activities in the valley. Major General Hunter would hit military targets, disrupting lines of communications, and supplies flowing through the valley. He also disrupted the agriculture economy and the railroads. By June 11, Maj. Gen. Hunter had burned the Virginia Military Institute, located at Lexington, as well as the home of former governor John Lecture. The burning of the V.M.I. was in response to the cadets fighting at New Market in May. The burning of John Lecture’s home was for encouraging the people of Virginia to wage a guerrilla type warfare.
In response to the actions of Maj. Gen. Hunter, and the growing pressure of Union Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s armies at Petersburg, General Robert E. Lee ordered out Lt. Gen. Early’s Corps. First, he was to protect Lynchburg and link up with Major General John C. Breckenridge’s Army of South Western Virginia. Secondly, he was to clear the Shenandoah Valley. If these operations were successful, he was then to launch the campaign in Maryland. The Confederate army defeated Maj. Gen. Hunter at Lynchburg, and then moved north, clearing all threats in the valley. As the Confederate army approached Martinsburg, West Virginia, stores were emptied of supplies. The Confederate cavalry was detached and operated along the B&O Railroad, where portions of the railroad were tore up or destroyed.
By July 5, Lt. Gen. Early’s army forded the Potomac River and concentrated itself at Sharpsburg, Maryland. The Confederate army was in need of supplies. The hard marching and campaigning had taken a toll on the men. Knowing that, Lt. Gen. Early issued orders to his men, as given to him by General Lee, that officers are the only personnel to make requisitions or assessments with the people of Maryland. However, this order was overlooked by many as they marched through Maryland. In retaliation of Maj. Gen. Hunter’s destruction in the Shenandoah Valley, a series of ransoms would be ordered in Maryland.
On July 6, Lt. Gen. Early ordered Brigadier General John McCausland and his brigade of cavalry to Hagerstown, Maryland. By 1:00 p.m., the Union pickets were driven into Hagerstown, along the Sharpsburg Pike. Street fighting erupted, but when the eighty to ninety Union troopers saw the large Confederate force in the distance, they quickly began to fall back. Several of these men were captured by the Confederate cavalry.
Once Hagerstown was secured by the Confederates, Brig. Gen. McCausland called upon the city council for a meeting, and the ransom of $20,000, plus the requisition of 1,500 suits of clothing was given. In reality, Brig. Gen. McCausland was to ransom Hagerstown for $200,000. Due to an unknown error a zero was mistakenly dropped. Whether, Brig. Gen. McCausland misread the order, or the order was written incorrectly is undetermined.
Brigadier General McCausland and a regiment of cavalry were positioned at the courthouse. The town had about three hours to raise the money or the town was to be torched. The city officials pleaded with Brig. Gen. McCausland, but he did not listen to their pleas. However, McCausland would give the town two extra hours to levy the money.
Items of fabric and clothing were collected, and later taken to the courthouse. The $20,000 was raised and collected by town officials. $10,000 was given by the Hagerstown Bank, while the First National Bank, and the Williamsport Bank both contributed $5,000 each. But before one penny was turned over to Brig. Gen. McCausland, the city officials wanted a guarantee for the safety of Hagerstown. By 1:00 a.m. on the morning of July 7, Brig. Gen. McCausland rode away toward Boonsboro.
Many towns along the National Road such as Boonsboro, and Middletown were forced to give rations to the Confederate soldiers. General stores were depleted of their stock. As July 8, came the Confederate army had penetrated through South Mountain into the Middletown Valley, and Middletown itself would be ransomed.
Middletown was asked to levy $5,000. After some progress, Burgess William Irving promised he could secure $1,500, and could gather the rest from the nearby farms. Lieutenant General Early agreed to allow Middletown to pay $1,500, while the remainder of the balance would be raised from the election district. Middletown had until 7:00 a.m. the following morning to pay, while the district itself had until 6:00 a.m.
Lieutenant General Early left a brigade of troops behind to make sure the ransom was collected. Mayor Braithwaite paid the ransom. This left Middletown in shambles with regard to their economy. For two days the Confederates had taken food, clothing, livestock and horses. Many communities in West Virginia and Maryland suffered similar experiences.
By the evening of July 8, Union Major General Lew Wallace left Frederick in order to prepare his defenses along the Monocacy River. This area of the river provided the best ground to make a stand for the protection of Washington. During this time, Frederick had about 8,000 residents, and also contained five large warehouses of military goods. With time running out, and a lack of wagons, Maj. Gen. Wallace was forced to leave these items behind.
Early in the morning, Confederate Major General Stephen D. Ramseur’s division was the first to enter Frederick. By eight o’clock in the morning, Lt. Gen. Early and his staff entered the home Doctor Richard Hammand, a practicing physician. Doctor Hammand and his family were both slave holders and southern sympathizers. There, in the Hammand home, Lt. Gen. Early wrote out the ransom of Frederick.
The city was to be levied for $200,000, or $50,000 each for commissary goods, medical goods, quartermaster goods, and ordnance. The ransom was signed by Colonel William T. Allen, Chief Ordnance, Major John A. Harman, Chief Quartermaster, Major J. Will Hawks, Chief Commissary, and Doctor Hunter McGuire, Surgeon and Medical Director. A separate demand was made by Major Hawks for commissary goods of 500 barrels of flour, 6,000 pounds of sugar, 3,000 pounds of coffee, 20,000 pounds of bacon, and 3,000 pounds of salt.
As the battle along the banks of the Monocacy was unfolding, Lt. Gen. Early moved his headquarters to the front, leaving behind Colonel Allen and other officers to complete the transaction. Mayor William G. Cole negotiated with the Confederate officers and city council. Mayor Cole tried explaining that the city population of 8,000 equaled out to tax revenue of $8,000. They even cited that Hagerstown had paid far less in ransom. The Confederate officers demanded the $200,000 or the city would be torched.
As the day went on, Mayor Cole procrastinated with the fundraising, in order to see who would be victorious on the battlefield. Once it became clear in the early afternoon that the Confederates held the upper hand in the battle, Mayor Cole had no choice but to solicit the $200,000. Five banking institutions put up the money. The Frederick Savings Institution put up $64,000, the Central Bank $44,000, Frederick County Bank $33,000, Franklin Savings $31,000, and Farmers & Mechanics contributed $28,000. The money was brought in by wicker baskets, and the $200,000 was handed over to Major J. R. Braithwaite. Major Braithwaite was the only bond quartermaster officer who received the payment. The Confederates had no idea about the stores of Federal supplies in Frederick.
The city of Frederick now owed the banks the money that was turned over to the Confederates. The last payment made by Frederick city to the banking industry was in 1951. Since 1864, a total of more than $600,000 in interest that accrued, was finally paid, clearing its public debt. Before his death in 2010, Republican U.S. Senator Charles McC. Mathias Jr. tried to have the Federal Government repay the city of Frederick from damages suffered, due to the ransoming by the Confederate army in 1864; he never won his fight.
After the Confederate army withdrew from the gates of Washington, D.C., they marched to the Shenandoah Valley, via White’s Ford. By July 30, Brig. Gen. McCausland, under orders from his commander, would launch a raid that entered into Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where yet another ransom was delivered. The Confederates demanded $100,000 in gold, or $500,000 in greenbacks to compensate those in the Shenandoah Valley for the loss of their homes during Maj. Gen. Hunter’s path of destruction. The demand was not met, and the town of Chambersburg was torched, causing more than 1.2 million dollars in damages. Over five hundred buildings were destroyed, encompassing over eleven city blocks. If Hagerstown, Middletown, or Frederick would have refused, they may have shared the same fate.