Civil War pitted brother against brother in Washington County as Civil War moved into border state
The Cornfield at Antietam National Battlefield looks much as it did on Sept. 17, 1862, when troops from the North and the South waged a daylong battle that would be the bloodiest single day of fighting of the Civil War. Fighting in the 30-acre Miller¿s Cornfield was intense, with battle lines fewer than 250 yards apart. (Photo by Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer)
Bearss called Maryland “a border state,” a place where sentiments were divided, where brother would fight against brother, neighbor against neighbor, where the North and the South would converge in bloody battle.
Stephens said that once war was declared, many chose to join the Union and fight for Maryland. Others were drafted.
Some crossed the Potomac River to Harpers Ferry to join the Army of Northern Virginia, she said.
Some, like Bradley Johnson of Frederick and Luke Tiernan Brien of Urbana, became officers in the Confederate army, she said.
Others never made it to the South.
A young Williamsport man, Dewitt Clinton Wrench, wanted to fight for the Confederacy, Clemens said.
To join the Confederacy after the war started, men had to steal away across the Potomac River, but when Wrench tried to leave Williamsport, Clemens said, he was beaten to death in the streets.
In Hagerstown and Frederick, Southern sympathizers were rounded up as spies, Stephens said.
Some, she said, were hanged.
The shot that counts
“There were other first shots in the Civil War, but the shot that counts is the shot that was fired at Fort Sumter, at 4:30 a.m. on the morning of the 12th day of April,” Bearss said.
Until the end of 1861, the war had not seriously distressed the people of Washington County, Williams wrote in 1906.
“The presence of the army, whilst offensive to many of the people, had been rather to the advantage of the county in furnishing an excellent market for all kinds of products,” he wrote.
Stephens said residents became opportunists of sorts, selling to whichever army occupied their county at the time.
She told the story of a 6-year-old girl named Virginia Thomas, the daughter of Christian Keefer “CK” Thomas of Frederick County, whose farm would be at the center of the battle at Monocacy.
While staying at the Thomas farm in August 1864, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant asked Virginia whether her parents supported the Union or the Confederacy, Stephens said.
Virginia told Grant that when the Yankees were here, her father was a Yankee; when the Rebels were here, he was a Rebel.
“That is how people felt in this state, it was the nature of being where the armies were marching, where there was constant military presence,” Stephens said. “No one wanted to upset an army capable of destroying their families and farms.”
Washington County was “a battlefield. It was overrun by both armies,” Williams wrote. “Vast quantities of property were destroyed. The population were divided in sentiment, and each portion ascribed to the other the losses and indignities they suffered.”