The Washington Monument during the Pennsylvania Campaign of 1863

Before the Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863, the Middle Department, the Eleventh Corps, the First Corps, and a few brigades of the Third Corps all had occupied the various mountain gaps of the old South Mountain battlefield. General Joseph Hooker who was in command of the Army of the Potomac ordered communication and observation posts to be established in order to visually see where the Confederate army was located at in the Cumberland Valley as they marched toward the Mason & Dixon Line.

On June 28th, General George G. Meade was promoted to commanding General of the Army of the Potomac. Upon receiving word of his promotion, General Meade, dissatisfied with the layout of the Union army, ordered his army to concentrate around Frederick before marching northward. This left the garrison at Harper’s Ferry, which had already evacuated to Maryland Heights, and the Middle Department to guard the areas of South Mountain and Frederick while a major battle was occurring in Pennsylvania.

After the Battle of Gettysburg, the Confederate army began it’s withdraw on July 4th. By July 7th, the Army of the Potomac was marching southward toward Frederick and the Catoctin Mountain. The weather was poor, leaving many Union soldiers exposed the elements. Prior to General Meade’s Army of the Potomac marching southward to pursue the Confederate army, General William French was ordered to reinforce the various gaps of the South Mountain battlefield.

By July 7 and 8th, as general headquarters were being moved to Middletown, signal stations and observation posts were in the initial phases of being established at Crampton’s Gap, Middletown, Boonsboro, Turner’s Gap and Washington Monument. As the signal officers moved on toward South Mountain, several points of communications were established by telegraph.

Early in the morning of July 8th, Captain Nahum Daniels ordered Captain Ernst A. Denicke and Lieutenant C. F. M. Denicke to observe movements in the Cumberland Valley from Washington Monument. Captain Daniels also ordered the signal corps officers to procure a detail of men to cut away timber that may obstruct the view near Washington Monument. Due to the recent rains, this task proved to be very difficult. As pioneers worked, sounds of battle were heard near Boonsboro, and by 10:00 am, the Washington Monument signal station was operational. During the Battle of Boonsboro, signalists at Washington Monument communicated with several other stations that were established.

Lieutenant Swain opened a station on the hill at Boonsboro directly in front of the Washington Monument. Lieutenant Briggs opened a station four miles south from Boonsboro at Elk Ridge. By 11:00 am, Elk Ridge communicated with Washington Monument, relaying information to the battlefield. During the afternoon, the signalists were sending messages throughout the valley. Washington Monument communicated with Boonsboro, as well as Elk Ridge. During the Battle of Boonsboro, the Washington Monument signal station proved to be invaluable.

Messages were being sent to Boonsboro, where many of those signalists reported that they were under fire. By 3:00 pm Captain Daniels had received information that they were unable to communicate with Frederick, and he ordered Lieutenant Denicke to assist Lieutenant Galbraith at Turner’s Gap in opening communications.

A day later, on the 9th, stations and posts were also established on Maryland Heights, and at Black Rock. However, the Washington Monument and other signal stations in the area were unable to communicate due to the hazy conditions.

The next day, as headquarters for the Army of the Potomac moved toward Beaver Creek, communication was again opened from general headquarters through Washington Monument. Several attempts were made to communicate with Washington Monument, however, from 8:30 am until 10:00 am there was no reply. Torches were also used at night at Washington Monument. At around 3:30 am, Captain Norton had ordered the station at Washington Monument to send a message to Elk Ridge ordering them to open communications with Bakersville.

By July 14th, the Washington Monument signal station was ordered to cease its operations. The Confederate army, under the cover of night, had already crossed into West Virginia near Falling Waters. Although, their work at Washington Monument was finished, Captain and Lieutenant Denicke were ordered to report to General Benjamin Kelley at Hancock.


The Washington Monument Signal Corps Station during the Maryland Campaign and JEB Stuart’s Chambersburg Raid of 1862

On Monday, September 15th, a day after the Battle of South Mountain, the last remaining barrier between the Confederate army and the Union army was now under Federal occupation. With the layout of South Mountain, and a clear view of the Cumberland Valley below, it wasn’t long before detachments of the Union army began establishing communication and observation posts.

According to the official records, during the day of September 15th, 1862, orders came from the commanders for the establishments of several posts located along the mountain ridges of South Mountain. Two lieutenants by the name of Camp and Clark took position on the crest of South Mountain to communicate with General George McClellan’s headquarters. Lieutenants Edward Halsted and Edwin Pierce took position on the mountain near the main road, but were withdrawn during the day.

At 2:00 am on September 16th orders were sent to Captain Benjamin Fisher, who was at Boonsboro, to bring the party forward as rapidly as practicable to near the Antietam Creek. Captain Fisher was also directed to establish an officer at the Washington Monument observation post, so he ordered Lieutenant Halsted to report there, on Monument Knob. Lieutenant Halsted, as well as all members of the signal corps located on South Mountain and Elk Ridge were to report any movements of the Confederate army visible at any point in the Cumberland Valley, whether it was dust or smoke.

By 10:00 am the Washington Monument station was communicating with the other established stations as the main Union army approached Antietam. Lieutenant Halsted was instructed to communicate any movements by the Confederate army during the battle. Careful telescopic examinations were made of the valley. One observation from Washington Monument, as well as one at Elk Ridge, reported that the Confederate army was at Sharpsburg.

As the Union army prepared to meet General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army at Sharpsburg, the officers at Washington Monument were ordered to be at their post both day and night. The Washington Monument station was worked with peculiar labor. I am unsure if this happened or not, but at some of the other signal stations it was necessary to observe, at times, from the top of a tree while the signals were made from a point beneath, among the branches, where the flagman could only sustain himself by exertion.

During the Battle of Antietam, reports that the Washington Monument signal station failed to report to the signal station near Hagerstown was recorded. Afterward, an investigation was launched against those officers at Washington Monument, as they were given direct orders to be on alert. In Albert Myers’ report, he stated; “The case of an officer absent from his station is now under investigation. I have only to regret that the efforts of those who well did their duty were not followed by successes to our arms, to which they could claim to have contributed.” On September 18th, those stations were held in the same positions for observation. The station communicating with Washington Monument, which had been withdrawn during the 17th, was reoccupied.

A month later during General J.E.B. Stuart’s Raid in Pennsylvania on October 9th-12th, Union signal corpsmen under the command of Captain Benjamin F. Fisher were ordered to reopen Washington Monument for observation by Major Albert Myers on October 11th. Captain Fisher communicated with Lieutenant Spencer who was stationed at Hagerstown, and was also ordered to communicate with those stations located on the Catoctin Mountain. Stuart’s cavalry never back-tracked toward Hagerstown or Williamsport. Instead Stuart made his way toward Cashtown, turning south to Fairfield, before crossing the Mason and Dixon Line at Emmitsburg and then crossing the Potomac River near Hyattstown. Because of this, the Washington Monument signal station was ordered to cease.

The photo is from the LOC and is of Elk Ridge during the Battle of Antietam

The First Completed Monument to George Washington

Some may not be aware that South Mountain is home to the first completed monument built and dedicated to the memory of our first President, George Washington. Although many people refer to it as jug or a tower, the oddly shaped monument was designed to resemble the end of a cannon barrel. The monument is situated on Monument Knoll, a mountain peak that was renamed once the monument was built and is near the Civil War battlefields of South Mountain and Antietam. Today, many park visitors come to Washington Monument State Park to enjoy not just the monument itself, but the view from the vista of the Cumberland Valley. Anyone who learns about George Washington, in my opinion should perhaps visit the Washington Monument that overlooks the town of Boonsboro.

On July 4th, 1827, picking up where they left off the previous year, several hundred citizens of Boonsboro decided to build a monument dedicated to General George Washington. Close to five hundred citizens gathered at the town square to begin their two-mile march up to South Mountain. With stars and stripes waving, they began to build the Washington Monument.

The site on South Mountain was chosen because of the natural rock crop of granite or blue rock, as the locals called it. Construction of the monument began around noon after a dedication service was held. By 4 o’clock of the first day the citizens completed 15 feet of the 30-foot tower, carefully cutting the blue rock into size with a circumference of 54 feet. There was no water source on the mountain, so when the stones were laid, they were laid dry.

The day ended with a reading of the Declaration of Independence and a three round salute was fired by three remaining Revolutionary War veterans. The citizens would return after the harvest to complete the tower. A marble tablet was placed on the side nearest to Boonsboro that read: “Erected in Memory of Washington, July 4, 1827 by the citizens of Boonsboro.” The Washington Monument became a popular meeting place until the dry stacked stones began to loosen due to exposure of the weather and vandalism. These elements took a toll on the monument and prior to the American Civil War it lay in ruin.

The structure itself has a very interesting Civil War history. On September 14th, 1862, during the battle of South Mountain Lt. Colonel Edward Porter Alexander was riding with General Lee through Boonsboro when he observed a party of people on a tower like structure. Thinking it was a detachment of Union signal corpsmen, Lt. Colonel Alexander made his way up the mountain until he came in view of the party. What he had thought was Union signal corpsmen turned out to be citizens of the area.

During the battle of Antietam on September 17th, 1862, a Union signal corps detachment under the command of Lieutenant Halsted did use Washington Monument as a base to communicate with the signal station on Elk Mountain, the Pry House and also with Hagerstown.

A month later during General J.E.B. Stuart’s Raid in Pennsylvania on October 9th-12th, Union signal corpsmen under the command of Captain Benjamin F. Fisher were ordered to reopen Washington Monument for observation by Major Albert Myers on October 11th. Captain Fisher communicated with Lieutenant Spencer who was stationed at Hagerstown.

A year later, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, learning from the mistakes of the Maryland Campaign of 1862, launched his Invasion of Pennsylvania. On June 15th, 1863, the first portions of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac River near Hagerstown, Maryland and by July 1st, the Battle of Gettysburg erupted along the Pennsylvania countryside.

On July 4th, 1863, after the Battle of Gettysburg, General Lee began to withdraw his Confederate forces south along South Mountain. Lee used Monterey Pass to cross the mountain and in turn access the Potomac River. The next day General George G. Meade began to withdraw his Union army from Gettysburg.

On July 8th, Captain Ernst A. Denicke and Lieutenant C.F.M. Denicke of the Union signal corps reopened the station at the Washington Monument. Shortly thereafter Confederate forces were observed marching toward Williamsport, MD. During the mid morning hours, the Washington Monument played an important role in the Battle of Boonsboro, keeping Union General John Buford informed of every move that was made by Stuart’s cavalry.

On July 10th, Captain Denicke opened communications with the Bakersville, MD signal station. During the next several days, bad weather conditions interfered with signal operations throughout the Middletown and Cumberland Valleys. The Washington Monument signal station ceased operation on July 14th. It was at this time that Lee’s army began to cross the Potomac River. With the threat gone, the Washington Monument was no longer needed.

In 1880, the Odd Fellows Lodge rebuilt the monument and added a canopy to the top. A road was cleared leading to the monument, however the structure was laid as a dry stack. In the years following the monument once again fell into disrepair. In 1920, the Washington County Historical Society purchased the remains of the Washington Monument. In 1934, the monument was deeded to the Maryland State Forestry system and was rebuilt to its current appearance during 1934-1936, by the CCC or the Civilian Conservation Corps. Today Washington Monument serves as a Maryland State Park where many come to enjoy the beautiful view that it has to offer.