The Road to Smithsburg

On the morning of July 5th, 1863, General JEB Stuart made his way from the horrors of the fields of Gettysburg to Emmitsburg. General Stuart marched a brigade and a half of cavalry to the town of Emmitsburg during the dawn hours with the 34th Virginia Cavalry under Lt. Colonel Vincent Witcher leading the advance into Emmitsburg. There was a sharp skirmish fought near the old Farmer’s Inn or what is known today as the Emmit House. Seventy Union men were taken prisoner along with some much needed supplies such as medical items that would be used for the wounded Confederate soldiers who fought at Gettysburg.

Among the prisoners was a photographer from Mathew Brady’s Photography Firm. Three photographers, Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, and James Gibson all were traveling to Gettysburg when they came to Emmitsburg on the night of July 4th. Gardner himself stayed at the (Hoffman) Farmers Inn and Motel at Emmitsburg. Which one of the three photographers that Stuart captured is not known however, evidence may suggest it could have been Gardner himself. Gardner’s fifteen year old son Lawrence was attending a boarding school just outside of Emmitsburg and his father may have been assuring his son’s safety while he was held in captivity.

Stuart’s men also captured Emmitsburg resident Samuel McNair who was resting after the fight at Gettysburg. He was a member of Company “C” of Cole’s Cavalry. Major Oliver Horner, an officer in Cole’s Cavalry wrote “After rendering General Burford valuable service during the battle, McNair and some of his companions on Saturday night, July 4th found their way back into Emmitsburg. Stuart’s Cavalry dashing into the place on Sunday morning captured them with others at Hoffman’s hotel. McNair and Gwinn were taken over the mountain but during the first night, when about Boonsboro, they made their escape and came back to Emmitsburg finding their horses had been saved to them by Harry Hoffman.”

Also among the Union prisoners were those in the Signal Corps. In this report to General Slocum, it tells of the small ordeal: “During the late movements of the army, 3 signal officers and 6 flagmen were captured by the enemy. The only reported injuries were those of 2 flagmen slightly wounded at the battle of Gettysburg. Captain C. S. Kendall and Lieutenant L. R. Fortescue, acting signal officers, were taken at Emmitsburg, where they had been on station, by Stuart’s Cavalry upon their retreat from Gettysburg.”

As Stuarts horsemen walked the streets of Emmitsburg they visited the stores that were untouched by the fire on June 15th. They had no way of paying for the personal supplies that they received from the town due to the fact that Confederate money did not hold the value of green backs, and Confederate money was no good in this northern region. Emmitsburg store owners were unable to recoup the money for what the Confederates took.

Farms in the Emmitsburg area were also being raided for their horses. On one occasion, Confederate soldiers halted by a local mill and were in the process of taking the mill horses when the miller became aware of what was happening and ran outside and yelled “You can’t take my horses, I need them for my work.” The soldiers told the miller that they needed them badly to get back home, and if they could use them to get to Hagerstown and across the Potomac River that the miller could have them back. So the miller went with the troopers and brought the horses safely back to his mill several days later.

General JEB Stuart learned that the battle of Monterey Pass happened only a few hours prior to his arrival in Emmitsburg and that the route he wanted to take to rejoin Lee’s Army had been occupied by General Judson’s Kilpatrick Third Cavalry Division. Kilpatrick’s Cavalry rode out of Emmitsburg during the afternoon of July 4th to attack a Confederate wagon train on top of South Mountain and another detour was needed. General Stuart studied maps of the area to determine which roads he could use to cross the mountains. While Stuart interviewed prisoners that he had detained at the Emmit House, orders were being carried out by his cavalrymen to feed and water their horses.

While watering their horses, Emmitsburg residents, curious of the outcome of the battle of Gettysburg asked Jenkins’ troopers who won the battle of Gettysburg, their reply was that they had won. The troopers became suspicious of some of Emmitsburg’s residents. On one occasion the Rebels detected two gentlemen watching their every move, when suddenly the Rebels raised their pistols. They thought that the gentlemen were Union spies or were part of the Signal Corp. Once the two gentlemen explained that they were villagers of the town and were curious as to what all the bedlam was about, the Rebels placed their guns back into their holsters realizing that it was a false alarm.

Soon orders were given and Stuart’s Cavalry rode out of Emmitsburg during the mid morning hours. While Stuart’s Cavalrymen trotted along, Stuart came in contact with Reverend John McCloskey, a staunch supporter of the Union, riding his horse. Dr. Thomas C. Moore of Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary recalled seeing General Stuart’s Cavalry during the second raid on the college grounds during the Civil War. Dr. Moore wrote: “The Vice-President, Rev. John McCloskey, an excellent horseman and a notable figure on horseback, rode for quite a distance alongside the commander, General J. E. B. Stuart. Father McCloskey related frequently, as an incident of the interview he had with the commander, that whilst they were conversing, as they rode along leisurely, an orderly rode up asking for instructions; taking off his soft felt hat the commander looked attentively for a few moments at the interior and held it so that Father John could see it, and at once gave directions as to the road and paths to be taken to make their escape through the mountains into the Cumberland valley, and so to the crossing of the Potomac. Father John says every road and mountain path was carefully marked in the hat-covered map.”

After leaving Emmitsburg, Stuart’s Cavalry traveled toward Creagerstown on the direct road to Frederick or what is known as Old Frederick Road. At around noon, an hour and a half after departing Emmitsburg, Stuart came to an intersection. The roads of this intersection led to Rocky Ridge, Creagerstown and Graceham. Stuart sent a detachment to follow the rode to Graceham, while Stuart and the main body went to Creagerstown passing through Loy’s Station. Colonel Robert L.T. Beale of the 9th Virginia Cavalry recalled: “We left the main pike leading from Emmitsburg before noon, and, filing off to the right.” This road would have taken them into the town of Graceham.

Mr. William Cramer, a resident of Graceham did not have time to hide his horses and the black powder that he kept in his store as the Confederate cavalry entered Graceham. Outside of his store Confederate troopers and their mounts were thirsty. Cramer’s daughter, Belva Anne Elizabeth Cramer, pumped the water for the horses and men. Tears started to roll down her face as she pumped. Thinking that the little girl was frightened of the ragged appearance of the soldiers, a trooper told her “Don’t cry little girl. We’re dirty and ragged, but we are all gentlemen and we will not hurt you.” The trooper did not know that Belva had a bad tooth and that pumping the water from the well had made the pain worse.

As General Stuart entered Creagerstown or Cooperstown as he called it, he ordered his men to rest their horses before taking a northwestern road to Graceham to meet up with the detachment that he had sent there. After leaving Creagerstown, Stuart took Graceham Road to avoid the town of Thurmont, known as Mechanicstown during the Civil War.

The main objective for General Stuart was to get across the Catoctin Mountain and South Mountain and rejoin General Lee’s Army as it retreated from Gettysburg. At Graceham, Stuart learned of the impasse at Harman’s Gap near Foxville due to General Wesley Merritt’s U.S. Cavalry guarding the road that led from Thurmont to Cavetown. This was discouraging to Stuart as that road would have been a good route for the Confederate cavalry to take. After learning of the impasse at Harman’s Pass, General Stuart traveled Old Emmitsburg Road passing through Franklinville, located between Thurmont and Emmitsburg.

At Franklinville according to a Baltimore Sun Correspondent, General Stuart and about 2,000 exhausted cavalrymen rested in the fields near the mill and creek to feed and water their horses. Oats, wheat and rye were taken from the mill and was strewn out along the roadbed making a trough for the horses. After spending several hours there, Stuart ordered his cavalry to make their way to Deerfield. Meanwhile, patrols of Confederate cavalry who were detached from the main column rode around the countryside scouting for General Stuart.

Studying his map, Stuart chose to take the road leading over the Catoctin Mountain to Deerfield Station from Franklinville. Colonel Robert L.T. Beale of the 9th Virginia Cavalry remembered this road, “Followed a narrow road which penetrated the Catoctin Mountains along a ravine, having either side precipitous bluffs and spurs”.

At the small hamlet of Flint, Stuart picked up the old Hagerstown and Westminster Turnpike and followed it to Lantz Deerfield Station. Many stories have surfaced from the locals about Stuart’s Cavalry taking an old logging road to Mount Zion Church. According to Stuart, it was here that he divided his cavalry at Mount Zion Church at a fork in the road. At this intersection, one road led to the left by way of Smithsburg where it would join the Leitersburg Turnpike. The other fork to the right took a more northern approach, also leading to Smithsburg but bearing more towards Leitersburg. General Stuart ordered Colonel Milton Ferguson, who was acting as the brigade commander for General Albert Jenkins to take the lower road that led directly into Smithsburg. General Stuart and Colonel John Chambliss traveled the upper road that took them through Raven Rock Pass and back on the old Hagerstown Road that would also eventually lead them to Smithsburg.

Confederate troopers foraging the area came upon a river of rocks where their horses became very spooked by the sound that came from the ground. The sound was similar to that of rattlesnakes. The troopers dismounted and placed their ear down on the rocks and heard not rattlesnakes, but a small stream that flows beneath them. The boulders were deposited by glaciers millions of years ago and are called the Devils Racecourse.

Stuart was not aware that General Judson Kilpatrick had broken through Monterey Pass and was commanding the approach to Smithsburg from the east and northeast. General Kilpatrick had deployed his cavalry division on three hills. General George Custer’s Brigade and Pennington’s guns held the hill on the left, behind Kilpatrick’s center. Colonel Pennock Huey’s Brigade and Fuller’s Battery held the hill known as Gardenhour’s Hill at the center of General Kilpatrick’s deployment. To Kilpatrick’s right, on Goat Hill or Federal Lookout as it is called today was Colonel Nathaniel Richmond’s Brigade with Elder’s Battery. The photograph show’s Elder’s position.

General Kilpatrick had sent scouts to the eastern entrance of Raven Rock Pass to watch for any enemy movements from the direction of Emmitsburg when they spotted a portion of Stuart’s Cavalry. Colonel Beale recalled: “About three o’clock p.m. the sharp report of rifles was heard at the head of the column”. The Union cavalry pickets immediately turned their horses and cantered to Smithsburg. The shots that were heard were most likely those from the 7th Virginia Cavalry of General Grumble Jones’ Brigade that was assigned to General Stuart’s command. Colonel Beale continued: “Lieutenant Pollard was ordered to the front. Dismounting his men, and throwing them out along the side of the mountain, the firing soon receded and we pushed on.” After being informed of Stuart’s approach by local farmers and scouts, Kilpatrick was ready to receive him, as there were only two mountain roads that led into Smithsburg that Stuart could have been traveling upon.

Colonel Ferguson proceeded toward Smithsburg while Stuart and Colonel Chambliss were riding northward to cross South Mountain near Raven Rock. Colonel Ferguson was beginning to ascend the rocky hillside of South Mountain and ran into Richmond’s Brigade that held Kilpatrick’s left. According to Kilpatrick, at around five o’clock the battle of Smithsburg began, “The Rebel columns were seen debouching from the wooded mountain passes and around 5:30 pm Fuller’s battery opened; a few moments later Elder’s followed.” William Henry Forbush, serving on Fuller’s Battery said “We opened on them with our whole Battery” and during the cannonade, Colonel Huey acknowledged that the firing from Fuller’s guns were “with spirit and effect.”

The fighting took place from crag to crag on the western side of South Mountain. Trying to cut his way through and deploy in an opening, Ferguson found the going tough as Fuller’s and Elder’s Batteries, consisting of three-inch rifles, fired on them. As Elder’s Battery commenced firing on Ferguson’s deployment, Colonel Richmond complimented “Fired a few rounds, with good effect.” However, Elder’s Battery did little damage to Ferguson’s Brigade.

Once the head of Chambliss’ Brigade made it through South Mountain on the northern road, they saw first hand Kilpatrick’s deployment with Colonel Huey commanding the front and skirmishers deployed on both sides of the road at the foot of South Mountain blocking the road below the mountain pass located on modern day Fruit Tree Road and Fuller’s Battery commanding the center. The western side of South Mountain featured a beautiful landscape of rolling hills and open fields as well as blue lines of cavalry in the distance; Colonel Beale noted that he could not form any idea of their number.

“Under this artillery fire, Stuart essayed in vain to take up a position,” Colonel Beale noted that Fuller’s Battery began throwing shells toward the South Mountain gorge as soon as the head of Chambliss’ Brigade was at the mouth of the mountain pass. As the Confederate troopers filed off of the main road they dismounted and formed their skirmish line. A portion of Stuart’s Artillery was still in the rear and had to be brought up in a hurry. Colonel Beale recalled: “Climbing up the steep mountainside on our right, and using some cavalry horses to aid those of the artillery, several of our guns were drawn to the summit.” While Stuart was trying to get Griffin’s Battery unlimbered, Stuart had sent word to Ferguson to reinforce him at Raven Rock as Griffin’s guns got in range of Kilpatrick’s left flank and was about to break. The courier had to go back up to Mount Zion and ride down to where Ferguson was located in order to relay the message. As the courier left Stuart’s command, Kilpatrick had ordered the 6th Michigan Cavalry of Custer’s Brigade to support the left of Huey’s Brigade and for Pennington’s Battery to fire and try to force Stuart back into South Mountain.

As Griffin’s Battery fired on Kilpatrick’s command, Major John Hammond of the 5th New York Cavalry recalled: “As the command was in line awaiting the order to march, the artillery of the enemy opened to the right of the town, when I was ordered with Elder’s battery to take position in rear of the town. I posted the regiment in a cornfield on the left of the battery, and for a short time was exposed to the enemy’s shells, which did no damage.”

As Ferguson received Stuart’s orders to leave the field and reinforce Chambliss’ Brigade engaged with Huey’s command, Ferguson fell back eastward to Mount Zion Church and traveled down the same road that Stuart and Chambliss had previously used. Seeing the road empty, Major Hammond later wrote “I was ordered to take position upon a high ridge to the left about half a mile and the first squadron, under Capt McGuine, was sent forward to reconnoiter, as there were evidences of a flank movement by the enemy; but at dusk the reconnaissance, being completed, reported the enemy retreating.”

Griffin’s Battery consisted of rifled 10-pound Parrot guns, the shells of which began to fall around Huey’s position as well as through the streets of Smithsburg, hitting a few houses along the way. Stuart began to push through the mouth of Raven Rock Pass and descend the mountain toward Smithsburg. Colonel Beale recalled, “Very soon [we] drove the enemy’s guns to a distance so respectful that their balls fell short of our men.”

As dusk approached, seeing Ferguson’s troopers on the move, General Kilpatrick thought that General Stuart ordered a withdraw from the field. Seeing this, Kilpatrick, carrying his captured goods and prisoners from the previous day’s battle at Monterey Pass ordered his command to start withdrawing from the field and to fall back through Smithsburg. Sergeant William Wilkin of the 1st West Virginia Cavalry recalled from Federal Lookout, “The fight lasted till dark.” As Kilpatrick’s Cavalry was withdrawing to Boonsboro, Company E of the 6th Michigan Cavalry, who served as skirmishers, were never given the order to withdraw from the field. Not realizing they were the only Union troops still left on the field, they saw Ferguson’s troopers pitching their camps for the night. They quickly withdrew and followed the road out to Boonsboro. Kilpatrick, using the Boonsboro Road followed the western base of South Mountain to Boonsboro where he arrived at around 10:30 that night.

That night, Stuart and Chambliss continued to ride to Leitersburg, where they camped for the remainder of the night. The following day on July 6th, Stuart rode back to Smithsburg where he found General Grumble Jones. From Smithsburg, Stuart continued to Hagerstown sending portions of Jones’ Brigade toward Boonsboro.