Catoctin Mountain Park
Historic Resource Study
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Chapter Three:
Civil War and Decline of Industry


The Catoctin area had been fortunate not to have experienced fighting during the Revolutionary War. The region would not be so fortunate during the Civil War. Memories of the dislocations and fears wrought by the Civil War long lingered for generations in the mountain area. Following the war, the second half of the nineteenth century continued to bring change. A changing economy threatened and eventually subsumed the furnace. Meanwhile, the first signs emerged that the Catoctins might one day become a recreation and vacation area. For those farming in the mountains, however, such changes were hardly noticeable. And subsistence agriculture continued in many ways as it had since the arrival of the first settlers.

Catoctin's Civil War

"Maryland, by the mid-nineteenth century," wrote historian Robert Brugger, "had become a sectional netherland, a mix of free and slave economy, Northern and Southern cultures." [1] Throughout the 1840s and 1850s, tensions between North and South mounted. As a true border state in every sense of the term, Maryland (and more specifically Frederick and Washington Counties) sat geographically along an unenviable fault line. By the 1850s, there was little hope of delaying the inevitable conflict between North and South. Western Maryland suffered terribly during the war. While the upper areas of Frederick County were spared the worst of the fighting, the region still experienced the uncertainty, fear, dislocation, and occasional violence of the conflict.

In the fall of 1859, rumors swept across western Maryland of some sort of a riot or battle in Harper's Ferry. "Conspicuous among the rumors," reported the Frederick newspaper, "was the alarming statement, that the outbreak was a Negro insurrection." [2] The event was John Brown's raid on the Harper's Ferry arsenal, which the insurrectionist hoped would be the beginning of a revolution. When the local militia proved unable to handle the situation a company under Colonel Robert E. Lee, which included soldiers from Frederick County, quickly contributed a company to restore peace to Harper's Ferry. [3]

The next trauma came with the election of 1860. The newly formed Republican Party, and its nominee Abraham Lincoln, had its strength in the North and West. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party was badly split and nominated two candidates--Stephen Douglas, from the North and John Beckinridge, representing southern sentiments. A fourth candidate, John Bell of Tennessee, ran as a member of the Constitution Party, advocating some sort of eleventh-hour compromise. Beckinridge won Mechanicstown with 189 votes, followed closely by Bell with 182. Stephen Douglas, the Democratic candidate from the north, earned 7 votes and Lincoln only 6. Meanwhile in Hauvers District, west of Mechanicstown, Beckinridge won overwhelmingly with 154 votes, Bell won 46 votes, Douglas 27, and Lincoln only three. In the end, Lincoln won only 103 votes in all of Frederick County. [4] But the Republican candidate, with the other parties deeply split, won enough votes nationwide to become the new president. The prospect of a Lincoln presidency sent chills through western Maryland. In mid-November, The Frederick Herald could offer only a prayer: "May God in his mercy avert the dangers so threateningly." [5]

Clearly significant sympathy for the southern cause existed in western Maryland. In December 1860, a countywide convention met in Frederick City in an attempt to establish a common approach to the coming troubles. But the convention split roughly in half between unionists and secessionists and no progress could be made. [6] Towns in southern Frederick County--such as Urbana, Buckeystown, and Petersville--all were particularly pro-South. In areas to the north, such as the upper-Catoctin region, opinions tended to be split. Bell's strong showing certainly suggests that many in Mechanicstown/Hauvers District areas hoped that conflict could be put off. But there was much pro-southern sentiment to be found even in the northern portions of Frederick County. In the growing town of Mechanicstown, in 1861 Isaiah Wolfersberger began the first newspaper, The Family Visitor, a weekly with a decidedly pro-southern orientation.

Among the strongest secessionists in the county were a member of the family that owned Catoctin furnace and a descendent of the family that had built the facility. Jacob Kunkle, the politically-savvy lawyer who had entered into a partnership with Fitzhugh and whose family later gained sole ownership of the furnace, actively promoted the southern cause. Fluent in German, Kunkle--often addressing audiences in German--campaigned aggressively for Beckinridge. [7] In addition, Bradley Tyler Johnson, grandson of former furnace owner Baker Johnson, and grand-nephew of Governor Thomas Johnson, was perhaps Frederick County's most outspoken southern sympathizer. Like Kunkle, Johnson campaigned for Beckinridge, and when Lincoln moved to invade Baltimore in the spring of 1861, attempted to mobilize local secessionists to block Union troops. [8]

Lincoln's invasion of Baltimore was certainly symbolic of the divisiveness and incendiary sentiments present in Maryland by the beginning of the Civil War. Bordering Virginia, Frederick and Washington Counties braced for a war close to home. Colonel Bradley Johnson, C.S.A. quickly moved to organize Marylanders for the new Confederate army. He refused all suggestions that he meld his recruits into the Virginia regiments, insisting instead that Maryland organize a rebel regiment of its own. [9] Johnson's recruits appear largely to have come from the southern portion of the state. A survey of names of those enlisted in the Maryland line of the Confederate army reveals none of the family names associated with the Catoctin area. [10]

Desperately needing to keep the state of Maryland in the Union camp--even if it would require force--Lincoln arrested secessionists and dispatched troops throughout Maryland. With Annapolis occupied by federal troops, the Maryland state legislature briefly moved operations to Frederick City. But in April 1861, Union soldiers surrounded the city, arrested key leaders of the legislature and forced members to take a loyalty oath. Those who refused quickly found themselves prisoners in Fort McHenry. [11] Eventually, Lincoln dispatched nearly 15,000 troops to Frederick County to insure that the pivotal region would remain within the union.

The Union army showed little concern with civil rights. They set up check points and led raids on the homes of suspected Confederate sympathizers. The army staged a surprise search of Jacob Kunkle's Frederick City home, but found only a Confederate flag and a picture of Jefferson Davis. To the north, pressure also grew on those with pro-northern sentiments. In Mechanicstown, "the union men of the town" forced the inflammatory Family Visitor out of business. [12]

Like those with southern leanings, unionists in western Maryland also mobilized for the war effort. In August 1862, Company D of the Sixth Maryland Regiment Maryland Volunteers formed under Captain Martin Rouzer. The company included fifty men from Mechanicstown and twenty-five from Hauvers' District. It would not be long before these soldiers would see action.

Despite the Union's advantages in numbers, equipment, and industrial power, the rebels scored several early victories. Frederick City became an enormous hospital, caring for the ever-increasing number of Union casualties. Following the Confederate victory at the second battle of Bull Run, in early September 1862, an estimated 80,000 southern troops poured across the Potomac into Frederick County, in hope of prying Maryland from the North and staging an invasion of Washington DC. As they forded the river, Lee's men broke into a rousing rendition of "Maryland, My Maryland." Badly outnumbered, the Union army hurried to evacuate the area. Soldiers burnt supplies and loaded patients on trains, headed for safety.

On September 6, led by Bradley T. Johnson, between 10,000 and 15,000 troops invaded Frederick City. News of the invasion rippled northward, causing great alarm. The Graceham Moravian Church recorded: "Yesterday morning we received the intelligence that the Confederates had invaded Maryland and were marching on to Frederick City. During the day the sick and the wounded quartered there were moved to Pennsylvania through Mechanicstown. All are in great excitement, fearing that they will impress union men into the service. We here at Graceham became very uneasy, and towards evening a party of eighteen men concluded to leave for Pennsylvania." The Graceham unionists mounted horses and buggies and dashed to Taneytown, where they stayed for three days. Then, when word came from the Confederates that no one would be impressed, the men finally felt confident enough to return home. [13] As the caravan of "ambulances" moved through town, local residents scrambled to find food for the refugees. One resident remembered her mother baking short cakes on top of her ten-plate stove for the wounded. Fearing that the Confederates might move northward, some drove their horses to Pennsylvania, where they would be safe from theft. Some even packed so as to be ready to quickly flee into the mountains should the need arise. [14]

The Confederates, in fact, had hoped that the citizens of Frederick County would rally to the southern cause. But they were sorely disappointed. "We were received with neither cheers nor songs or other evidence of approbation," wrote one solider, "but instead they looked on us in self-evident pity." [15] The rebels, in fact, were a motley, impoverished crew. Many arrived hungry, without shoes, wearing dirty and torn uniforms. But the troops were polite and did not plunder, despite their need.

As the Confederates occupied Frederick, northern troops massed to the east and prepared to press the invaders out of the border state. On September 10, Union troops retook the city. Some rebels headed northward. The Graceham church recorded 300 Confederate Cavalry passing through town on September 1861. The next day more rebels came through, and seven soldiers stopped and enjoyed breakfast in the church's parsonage. That evening 2,000 troops passed through Mechanicstown. [16]

Most Confederate troops, however, headed west from Frederick toward Hagerstown (along the National Road) and Antietam. On September 14, 1862, fleeing rebel troops attempted to make a stand outside Middletown, near Catoctin Creek on South Mountain. There, they suffered a decisive defeat--leading to the first Union victory of the war. Following the Battle of South Mountain, the Confederates further retreated to Antietam, where Lee assembled his tired troops behind Antietam Creek. On September 17, 1862, the Battle of Antietam proved the single costliest day in American military history. The combined dead numbered 4,800 and wounded 18,500. Worse, the battle proved indecisive. Lee simply slipped back across the Potomac and the war went on.

Western Maryland had witnessed the full anxiety and tumult of a new kind of total warfare. In the aftermath of the battle, the Graceham Church recorded, "A Time of war, and all minds are filled with apprehension and alarm. Persons who have visited the battle field describe the scenes as heart-rending." [17] The invasion and battles thoroughly disrupted life in the area. Rebels destroyed the Baltimore and Ohio railroad bridge over the Monocacy and tore up miles of train track. Thousands of acres of valuable farm land had also been ravished. Remaining was a profound sense of fear of what might still be to come.

Again, crisis was not far off. In the fall of 1862, J.E.B. Stuart crossed the Potomac at Williamsport intent on stirring up trouble in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Leading a cavalry unit of roughly 1,600 men, Stuart raided Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, then turned south to Emmitsburg. On October 12, 1862, Stuart entered Emmitsburg where he was "hailed by the inhabitants with the most enthusiastic demonstrations of joy." But Stuart's men wore blue overcoats covering their gray uniforms, and locals may have thought they were greeting union men. The real Union army soon got word of the raiding party and dispatched troops from Hagerstown to oust the invaders. Union calvary charged from Hagerstown along the Westminster-Hagerstown Pike (passing through Harman's Gap) and massed in Mechanicstown. But, by the time they arrived, they learned that Stuart had already slipped back to Virginia, probably via Libertytown. [18]

For several months an uneasy calm settled across the region. Then, in late June 1863, the calm broke. "Considerable excitement during the day," reported the Graceham Church. "The Confederates are reported massing themselves about Boonsboro, etc. A number of horses were taken." The county braced for another invasion. The free black population of western Maryland, fearing that invaders might ship them south, was the first to flee. General Robert E. Lee, in fact, had invaded Maryland apparently with the intent of bringing the war to the north, where he might win a determining battle. The bulk of the invaders moved northward from points west of the Catoctins, but fighting did break out near Frederick City, and the rebels briefly held Westminster before moving northward toward Pennsylvania.

First massing in Frederick City, Union troops took several routes in pursuit of the rebels. On June 29, 1863, the First Corps of the Army of the Potomac left Frederick and marched through the rain northward, along a series of roads paralleling today's Route 15 (see Map 3). The corps moved through Harmony Grove, Lewistown, Catoctin Furnace, Mechanicstown, Franklinville, and then onto Emmitsburg, where they spent the night. As they passed through Mechanicstown and Catoctin Furnace, the soldiers found a reception "overflowing with patriotism and hospitality." [19] In many cases food was freely passed out to the hungry soldiers. Elsewhere soldiers could buy pies, a loaf of bread for 50 cents, a canteen of milk for 25. Despite prohibitions, soldiers also bought whiskey along the way. In Catoctin Furnace, soldiers actually tried to stop and buy food at the local general store, but their superiors ordered them on. [20] At the end of the day, the soldiers passed through Emmitsburg, which only weeks earlier had suffered a calamitous fire, and set up camp just north of the burned-out town. [21] Meanwhile the Eleventh Corps moved along one of the region's major arteries, the Frederick-Emmitsburg Turnpike, passing through Creagerstown, to the east of Mechanicstown and Catoctin Furnace (see Map 3). The Eleventh Corps found the trip to be a smooth one, along a good stone road, and was able to travel thirty-seven miles in twenty-four hours. [22]

On July 1, the soldiers who marched north along the eastern border of the Catoctins met the Confederates at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The next day, the Graceham Church reported: "The community kept in great suspense and anxiety." [23] Both armies suffered causalities of well over 20,000. But for Lee, the cost was higher; he lost one third of his army. In the confusing aftermath of the battle, the Confederates managed to escape south, robbing the North of an opportunity to end the war.

With the defeated rebels retreating through the area, anxiety again rippled through northern Frederick and Washington Counties. On a rainy Sunday, July 5, the day after the battle, J.E.B. Stuart--seeking to protect the rebel retreat--moved his unit south along the Emmitsburg-Frederick Turnpike. He stopped in Graceham long enough to frighten locals, then moved to Creagerstown (which he called Cooperstown). From Creagerstown, Stuart and his men planned to move west, along the Westminster-Hagerstown road (today's Route 77), with the eventual aim of joining up with General Lee (see Map 3). But Stuart received intelligence that Union soldiers had blocked Harman's Gap. Instead of taking the established road, Stuart thus shuttled northwest to the small hamlet of Franklinville (just north of present-day Catoctin High School) where he may have encamped. From there Stuart continued to move westward, probably through Harbaugh Valley then onto the Deerfield area. At some point, probably in Washington County, he emerged back on the road to Hagerstown. Very quickly, probably at Harman's Gap, Stuart came under fire from Union troops. After a standoff, however, the northerners backed off, allowing Stuart to pass through. [24]

Some Union troops also moved through the area on their return from Gettysburg. The First Corps, which had advanced up through Mechanicstown, retreated along the same road, as did the Sixth corps. According to one report, along the way, young girls serenaded the soldiers with "Battle Cry of the Republic." [25] After a few days the Graceham Church could finally give "thanks for our deliverance from the calamity of Confederate invasion. [26]

The ongoing war was the cause of endless anxiety and tension in the area. Fifty years later, one Mechanicstown resident vividly recalled the trauma of being woken by a soldier loudly banging at her family's front door. In the darkness, it was some time before the unionist family could determine that the solider was not a rebel, and the family could direct the midnight visitor to Chimney Rock, from where he apparently sent signals to Sugar Loaf Mountain. [27]

By 1863, the war had caused serious economic and social disruption throughout western Maryland. Fighting in the region had destroyed much valuable farmland. Likewise the draft caused serious labor shortages. The Frederick Examiner, in the fall of 1863, noted that "serious apprehensions are beginning to be expressed least the agriculturists of Maryland shall experience loss and inconveniences for the want of labor to till the earth." [28] Likewise the hard work, dislocation, and anxiety of the war, resulted in numerous social problems. A resident of Catoctin Furnace later recalled the war as a time of "a-working and a-scotching (working and drinking)." [29] It could also be a time of lawlessness. In "a deep vastness of the Catoctin Mountains" roughly eight to ten miles from Frederick City, "seven or more guerilla horse thieves" kept an encampment. Angry victims of the thieves finally raided the hide-away and captured four of the "guerillas," whom they suspected to be "rebel recruits on their way to Dixie." [30]

While law enforcement could be loose in some places, elsewhere it remained tight. Travelers had to pass through check-points all over western Maryland. In 1863, when Jacob Kunkle told a union officer, inquiring after his destination, that it was "none of his business," the secessionist found himself under arrest for disrespecting military authority. [31]

A year after the Battle of Gettysburg, in the summer of 1864, with the war entering its fourth miserable year, the Confederates--as they had the two previous years--again invaded western Maryland. "Rumors in town that the Confederates are again in Maryland" interrupted Independence Day around Catoctin Mountain. The reports turned out to be true. The rebels again took Frederick City, holding it for ransom. Meanwhile, Confederates led raids as far north as Lewistown and Creagerstown, where the rebels "robbed store-keepers and took horses." [32] The looting panicked locals. Soon, even Bradley Johnson was complaining about the plundering by rebel troops. [33] Finally, after the Battle of Monocacy, the Confederates again left Maryland--for the last time.

By early 1865, the Civil War--the most difficult time in the history of western Maryland--had come to an end. But there was one last casualty--President Lincoln. News of the president's assassination reached the Catoctin area, "mournful intelligence," according to the Graceham Church, just in time for Easter prayers. [34]

For generations, the Civil War, which had caused so much upheaval in the Catoctin area, remained a monumental event about which stories were told and retold. One longstanding claim about the area had the Catoctin Furnace playing a part in the manufacturing of the U.S.S. Monitor, a 172 foot long, turreted war ship. The vessel, designed by John Ericsson, a Swedish‑American engineer and inventor, was first launched at Greenpoint, Long Island, on January 30, 1862. Because we have such limited records for the Catoctin Furnace, claims are difficult to substantiate or refute. But it does not appear that the furnace produced the sort of bar iron capable of being molded into the rolled plate that surrounded the ship.

As part of its maritime history initiative, the National Park Service and other organizations sponsored a study of the manufacturing firms contributing to the U.S.S. Monitor. Of the ironworks employed in the making of the ship, all but one was from New York. The sole non-New York contributor was Horace Abbott and Sons, a Baltimore firm very involved in producing iron for railroad construction. The large Abbott iron works does not appear to have made iron, but rather focused on rolling iron at its several rolling mills. Historian William N. Still deemed it "more than likely these [Abbot's rolled iron] were the rolls used to make the plates for Monitor and other armored vessels during the Civil War." [35] Tradition does have the Catoctin Furnace producing iron that became part of the armored plating on the ship. [36] There are, however, no surviving records for the Abbott firm, thus the names of the firm's iron suppliers are lost to us. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that the Catoctin Furnace, which was already using outdated technology by the 1860s, was capable of producing the sort of bar iron required by rolling mills. Throughout its existence, Catoctin produced pig iron, unsuitable for such rolling. [37] Nevertheless, the Monitor myth has persisted, and there is much we do not know about the workings of Catoctin Furnace.

Whatever its role in constructing the Monitor, the Civil War long remained a presence in the lives of area residents. The Jason Damuth Post, G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic veterans organization), made up of veterans of the Sixth Maryland Regiment, in particular, remained an important and influential local force. [38] Every Memorial Day in Mechanicstown, veterans marched behind the Graceham Cornet Band to the Town Hall where the Gettysburg Address was read. [39] The death of Henry Fleagle, the last surviving member of the Damuth Post at the age of 95 in 1937, received heavy coverage in the local media. Fleagle, who had met Lincoln and been present at Lee's surrender at Appomattox, lived well beyond those tumultuous days to see the founding of a park in an area once so threatened by war. [40]

"The Sound of the Steam Whistle Twice a Day"

The railroad had been transforming western Maryland since the 1830s. The Baltimore and Ohio connected Frederick City and points west to Baltimore, creating tremendous economic opportunity. But the area north of Frederick City had to wait over forty years to connect with the railroad. Plans long had been in the works to build a railroad from Baltimore to the northern portions of Frederick and Washington Counties. In 1852, the Maryland General Assembly chartered the Baltimore, Carroll and Frederick County Railroad, which later evolved into the Western Maryland Railroad (see Map 3). Within a year of its chartering, construction began. But the challenges of building in mountainous areas slowed progress. On May 17, 1862 the builders of the Western Maryland Railroad caused "quite a stir" in Graceham by laying track near the outskirts of town. [41] But then the war slowed all progress. It was not until later in the decade that the railroad pushed into Graceham. And not until March 1871 did the railroad finally arrive in Mechanicstown and press through the rest of Frederick County (see Appendix 5). Its arrival brought monumental changes according to the local newspaper:

The sound of steam whistle twice a day in the suburbs of our hitherto quiet little town has awakened everything up to newness of life and a spirit of "go-aheadativeness" which is quite refreshing. We begin to put on city airs and learn city fashions; Baltimore is brought close to our doors, and oysters and cavs-back ducks and fresh fish can be produced and eaten daily as at one of the largest restaurants in the Monumental City. [42]

After its expansion to Mechanicstown, railroad workers began laying tracks westward to Sabillasville. The brand new Mechanicstown newspaper, The Catoctin Clarion, predicted that the new railroad would "whistle the inhabitants of Sabillasville from the Rip Van Winkle sleep into a new and creative existence" (see Appendix 7). [43] Once completed, the railroad took a leisurely semi-circular route around Sabillasville, a ride that quickly became known as "horseshoe curve" (see Appendix 6). [44] A strike by workers demanding a $1.75 per day and a ten-hour day temporarily halted plans to extend the railroad to Smithburg in the spring of 1871. [45] But soon labor and management settled the strike, and the new railroad was pressing onward toward Hagerstown.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, the rapid expansion of the railroad into the northern part of Western Maryland offered new excitement and pointed to a brighter future. Throughout the country--as was the case in the Catoctin--the railroad reached and transformed formerly remote areas. In northern Frederick and Washington counties, the railroad opened tourism to the mountain area and revived agriculture and industry in the region.

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Last Updated: 21-Nov-2003