While the people of the South rejoiced over the Confederate victory at Second Manassas in late August of 1862, the people in the North saw their morale sink even further as fear sat in. The Confederate army followed up on their victory with an attempt to cut off General John Pope’s Army of Virginia at Chantilly, Virginia, and prevent his retreat to the fortifications of Washington. By September 2nd, the Confederate cavalry attacked Union cavalry at Leesburg, opening a clear route to the Potomac River. By September 3rd, the main body of the Confederate army was encamped near Leesburg. With permission from the Confederate government, Lee was now ready to march his army across the Potomac River into Maryland.
Up until now, the Army of Northern Virginia fought their battles in Virginia, taking a toll of the civilian population in the South. No major battles or campaigns had been waged north of the Potomac River and because of that, the northern people had no idea of the devastation caused by the armies. By taking the war northward into Maryland it would provide Virginia farmers time to harvest their crops, and at the same time disrupt the daily lives of the northern population. If victory could be obtained, the Confederate government could get European recognition and additional manpower from Marylanders enlisting in the Confederate army. A victory on northern soil could turn the northern population against its leaders in Washington, demanding peace by putting an end to the war.
By September 4th, the Confederate army began fording the Potomac River. It was important for the Confederate army to be seen as liberators, and orders were issued to the Confederate soldiers respecting the people of Maryland. While the Confederate army was marching into Maryland, the alarm was sent out all along the countryside. Even in Pennsylvania, the civilian population began to panic. Many boat keepers along the C&O Canal fled with their animals to Frederick upon seeing the Confederate army fording the Potomac River.
As the fleeing civilians entered Frederick city, they told the people about the men of Lee’s army coming. Rumors spread all the way to Baltimore and Philadelphia about an invasion. In Philadelphia, a state of emergency was issued preparing people for the worst. Rumors have been rapidly here since June of 1862. But when farmers of the countryside ran into Frederick saying that a Confederate force would occupy the city in twenty-four hours, the rumors turned into a state of emergency. The people of Frederick that were Union loyalists began packing their belongings and fleeing the city, traveling north to Emmitsburg and Gettysburg. Several newspaper accounts stated that hundreds of fugitives were seen all along the Mason & Dixon Line. Other accounts stated that some ran in fear to Baltimore. Rumors of a Confederate invasion were old news to the people of Maryland.
By September 6th, Frederick city was occupied by Confederate cavalry, followed by infantry, and some artillery. Colonel Bradley Johnson was made Provost since he was a Frederick city resident before the war broke out. As the Confederate soldiers entered Fredrick, many pro-southern citizens watched in disbelief that this ragtag army of men were the same soldiers who achieved the recent victories in Virginia. Many descriptions were written about how dirty these Confederate soldiers were. While the pro-southern civilians stood in disbelief, the pro-Union civilians who could not escape were upset by the fact that there was no Union army to rid Frederick from the threat of the Confederate invaders.
Speeches were made to the civilians, many of which listened, but turned their backs on the Confederate plea. The soldiers were told to purchase items needed and not steal, but Confederate money was worthless in Maryland. As the Confederate soldiers ran door to door begging for food, many people kept their doors locked, including many of the pro-Southern people who upon seeing the dirty men, could not bear the smell and vermin that came with them.
The recruitment of men to serve in the Confederate army was less than one hundred and at that point. To Lee, it looked as though Frederick and Frederick County had already made its choice in favor of the Union. It wasn’t that Marylanders didn’t believe in the Confederate cause, the problem was that Maryland had already given up thousands of its sons and fathers, brothers and uncles to the Confederate cause. One example was the 500 men who left Maryland to fight in Charleston in December of 1860. Many Marylanders served in other areas of the Confederacy as well.
By September 9th, Lee issued Special Orders No. 191, moving his army into Washington County and sending more than half of his army to begin its part in besieging Harper’s Ferry. This was done to keep communication and supply routes open with no fear of Union soldiers attacking the rear of the Confederate army while it was in Washington County. The Confederate cavalry was busy. Many of them took to the mountain passes on the Catoctin Mountain, overlooking the country side toward Emmitsburg, Mechanicstown and Lewistown. Several Confederate cavalrymen were spotted as far east as Carroll County.
By the 12th of September, the rear of the Confederate army was moving through the streets of Frederick when the advance units of the Army of the Potomac were marching into the city. Clashes in the streets occurred. The next day, McClellan was hailed by the Frederick residents and was seen as the liberator. General George McClellan received a copy of General Robert E. Lee’s orders. But McClellan had to find out how accurate they were. McClellan ordered General Alfred Pleasanton to send out cavalry patrols. Many of those Union cavalry companies were spread across the country side. Upon their arrival in Emmitsburg, many civilians thought that these Union men were Confederate soldiers.
As the Confederate army marched into Washington County, many pro-Union civilians were afraid they would be turned into the Provost by their pro-southern neighbors because of their political views. Fear of being sent to a Confederate prison or being conscripted into the Confederate army as laborers, drove many of the pro-Union men to leave their families and flee to Pennsylvania taking valuables, livestock, and horses with them.
As a small portion of the Confederate army occupied South Mountain at Turner’s Gap and Fox’s Gap, the Wise family would have to leave their farmstead to avoid getting caught in the crossfire of the two opposing sides. They loaded up a wagon and headed west to a local church to take refuge there. As they left, an artillery shell came bursting through the woods, and General Daniel Harvey Hill, seeing one of the Wise children frightened and crying thought about his own child of the same age. He said a few soothing words to the young Wise girl and went back to work.
Allen Sparrow had taken many of his valuables to Pennsylvania. Upon arriving in Wolfesville, he heard the sounds of cannon firing. These sounds were from the Battle of South Mountain. At Wolfesville, receiving accurate news was hard to come by. He had heard that Middletown was torched by the Confederates but seeing the church steeples in the background in Middletown, he knew it wasn’t true.
The Battles on South Mountain were heard far and distant. Near Emmitsburg, Maryland, Right Reverend Monsignor James T. Dunn of Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary recorded “The battle of South Mountain, which lasted all day Sunday, the 14th of September, 1862, could be plainly heard at the College. As we were going up to Mass to the old church on the hill and as we were returning from Mass, we could hear the firing distinctly. Yet, recreation went on on the terraces and the ordinary routine of college life was followed, as if nothing unusual was happening. After vespers, which were held in the church on the hill, at 3 p. m., a few of us, under the care of Mr. John Crimmens, went down the Frederick pike, along the mountain side, to a place where a stream crossed the road well on towards Mechanicstown, and stood listening with awe to the sharp, ringing volleys of musketry and then the quick, sullen booming of the cannon, as they came along the reverberating sides of the mountain. The falling shades compelled us to tear ourselves away, as the rules required us all to be at home in time for supper. Again and again we stopped, as one report louder than another followed us, as if begging us to stay.”
The civilians in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania also heard the gunfire during church services. The sounds of artillery fire echoed up the Cumberland Valley and the citizens of Waynesboro knew that they must prepare to assist in any way they could. The women of the town hurried that evening to get supplies and comforts together for the wounded. During the night one woman screamed upon finding out that her son had been killed at South Mountain. This was only the beginning of what was to come.
The morale of the northern people was at its lowest point and the Maryland Campaign would change that, in that the Battle of South Mountain would be the turning point. As September 14th, dawned the citizens of Maryland had not seen the death and destruction that war brings with it. The battles on South Mountain would be the forefront of what the Maryland population had never experienced before with the sounds of gunfire, the loss of life, and the care for the wounded. The battles of South Mountain would be a political turning point of the American Civil War, although today, Antietam has that distinction. It could be argued that South Mountain was one of the most important battles to be fought, after all if it wasn’t for South Mountain, then Antietam wouldn’t have been fought and the Emancipation Proclamation would have been delayed.
The armies would meet on the farm fields surrounding Sharpsburg during the evening of September 16th. The bloodiest single day of the Civil War would start at daybreak on the 17th. Many civilians prepared for this by hiding personal belongings and even fleeing their homes. One farmer hid eight horses in his cellar by tying feed sacks to their hooves to muffle their sounds. Upon a knock on a door by a soldier, one man hid under his wife’s crinolines to avoid detection.
Right Reverend Monsignor James T. Dunn wrote in reference to the Battle of Antietam: “The battle of Antietam followed immediately after South Mountain. During two days, the 16th and 17th of September, the battle raged, and more men were killed than in any previous battle of the war. The New York papers of the time even asserted that it was as great as the battle of Waterloo. As studies and classes and recreation succeeded one another, during those fearful days, little attention was paid, if even the students were conscious of it, to the battle.”
In Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, the town’s people wrote about the earth shaking throughout the day, as the percussion from artillery made it seem as if an earthquake had hit. Windows rattled, floors shook, and objects fell off the walls inside of homes. The carnage revealed the next day would be devastating and would not be experienced again until ten months later when the Confederate army invaded Maryland and Pennsylvania, meeting at Gettysburg.
After the Battle of Antietam, every community in the north and south were affected in someway or another by the amount of bloodshed that occurred at Antietam. Whole regiments were almost wiped away from the earth. Here, in Maryland as well as in portions of Pennsylvania, communities were turned into hospitals, caring for the wounded and dying. Women were turned into nurses, assisting in saving the lives of others. One organization that helped was the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland, as they were called upon by Washington.
Elizabeth Ann Seton, was the founder and first Superior of the Sisters of Charity in the United States. Just after the Battle of Antietam, the Maryland state authorities petitioned the Sisters at Emmitsburg for help. The bodies of the blue and gray were scattered along the ground until many of them were moved into hospitals. For several days the Sisters went from site to site helping with the care of the wounded men. The soldiers were surprised to see the Sisters and bestowed upon them the nickname of the “Black caps.”
After the Battle of Antietam, the Confederate army forded the Potomac at Shepherdstown. There again the armies would meet. The civilians of Shepherdstown would be caught in the crossfire of war. Rumors spread throughout the town, but with so much confusion, people there didn’t know if these rumors were true. All communications leading to the town had been cut, due to the war being waged in the Shenandoah Valley before Manassas. The railroads lay in waste. By September 13th, the citizens of Shepherdstown awoke to see that their town was occupied by stragglers of the Confederate army.
By September 15th, thick fog covered the town and the people there had no idea of what was to come. Casualties from the Battle of South Mountain began to pour in. Everyone in town prepared for the massive hoard of Confederate wounded. By the 17th, the sounds of war were close, and the surge of wounded soldiers completely overwhelmed the town. The citizens were so fatigued with the care they provided to the Confederate soldiers. By September 19th, the war had approached them as the Confederate army began entering the town followed by the reserves of the Union army. Artillery fire aimed at the Confederates and their counter fire placed Shepherdstown right in the middle.
As a result of the Maryland Campaign, the war was brought to the civilian population in the North. The sites of the carnage, and the moans of the wounded and dying were now imprinted into the memories of those who experienced it. The sites of war took months and years to erase. Even in 1864, several Confederate soldiers with General Early’s army still saw damages suffered from the Battle of Antietam that took place almost two years earlier.
Although the war moved back into Virginia, the Union army still laid in wait. By October, General JEB Stuart and his Confederate cavalry launched a raid that now took the war north of the Mason & Dixon Line to Chambersburg. From there he would enter back into Maryland at Emmitsburg, where he was hailed and received additional recruitments. These recruits were the men who were previously afraid to leave their homes to enlist, for fear of pro-Unionists punishing them. Now they had protection.
Because of the Maryland Campaign, many things changed, although the fear was still there. Politically, the people of the north saw the war take on a new agenda. This was not only a war to preserve the Union, but it became a war with a political agenda that included the freeing of slaves. The war would enter Maryland several more times and by 1864, Maryland citizens saw a path of destruction and the ransoming of its towns, including a threat to Washington, itself.