“Moulded in the form of a spread eagle”: Mosby’s Rangers, the Fourth of July, and a Dispute Over Cake

John S. Mosby

Independence Day in 1864 seemed like it could have been the last such celebration for the United States. The Presidential Election of 1864 loomed four months in the future, and a Lincoln reelection seemed very much in doubt. Jubal Early’s Confederate force neared the Potomac River, poised for a third Confederate incursion into Maryland.

John Singleton Mosby’s Rangers worked in conjunction with Early’s command to wreak as much havoc as possible along the Potomac frontier. Mosby eyed Point of Rocks, Maryland, an important Federal supply hub on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Armed with a cannon, Mosby’s 250 men charged across the river into Maryland on July 4, 1864.

Mosby’s gun scared away an entourage of United States Treasury employees trying to enjoy the holiday aboard a canal boat. The Rangers swooped down on the abandoned prize, ransacking it for the vacated liquor, cigars, and foodstuffs. Following a brief fight, Mosby’s command drove the Federal garrison from Point of Rocks. Immediately, they commenced raiding the numerous supply stores there. Mosby’s men managed to capture so much cloth that the veterans forever called it the Great Calico Raid.

One unexpected prize of the sortie was the spoiling of a large Fourth of July party to be held in town. The Federal officers in command there hoped to celebrate their nation’s independence and had the Unionist ladies of the town prepare a large cake for the American holiday. This cake fell into the hands of Mosby’s Rangers and became a matter of dispute for the Confederates, Federals, and local civilians over the next couple of July weeks.

Mosby man John Marshall Crawford wrote the below description of the cake and its subsequent history. His telling of the tale is tremendously fascinating and well-written. Thus, I will leave it to Crawford to take the story from here.

Sadly, no image of the cake, or any cake ever made like it, exists, so a generic photo of a bald eagle must suffice.

     Passing through the burning camps, the boys, after collecting what relics they wanted, pushed on back to town. Such an exciting and laughable scene few have ever witnessed or enjoyed. They had secured a huge pound-cake, which had been prepared by some ladies, who were to give the officers of the garrison an entertainment that evening.

     The history of the cake is as follows: The officers of the garrison had signified to some of their lady friends their desire and intention of celebrating the Fourth of July in a becoming manner, so their lady friends went to work and prepared a monster cake for the occasion. This cake was moulded in the form of a spread eagle, the mould being made in Boston, and measured twenty-five feet from the tip of its bill to the tip of its tail. It was a complete eagle in all its parts. It had glass eyes, talons, &c., &c., and in the baking of it, which occupied three days and nights, it was burnt (intentionally I presume), so that it looked like a real eagle. But the most remarkable thing about it was, that inside of it there was some machinery that every time one of the boys thrust his sabre into the eagle to cut off a piece, the bird would scream. What their idea was in inserting this instrument into this spreadeagle cake, I have never been able to learn or conceive. I inquired diligently of the residents of the place, but they would give us no satisfaction. Colonel Mosby would have brought it across the river, and sent it to Richmond; but the enemy had destroyed all the boats, so the boys concluded to take it to pieces; which, being done, it was with great difficulty got across the river in the evening by means of a raft. A six-horse team belonging to Mr. S. was pressed into service, the cake put into it, and started for Fauquier County. A guard of five men accompanied the wagon.

     While in camp on Goose Creek, the second night they were out, the guard got drunk on “blockade,” and all of them lay down and went to sleep. The driver being a strong Union man, and having conceived the idea he would be made a hero, if he could save what was left of the great American bird, availed himself of the opportunity, and drove his load in the night to a Mr. _____’s farm, in Loudon County, situated on Goose Creek. Securing four of Mr. _____’s most reliable colored servants, he secreted his precious load in one of those safe places which abound on that stream, and which are known only by those patriotic and loyal colored men, and started back with his team. Sunrise next morning, found him in the bosom of his family, on the banks of the classic Potomac. This Union driver kept the part he had played a profound secret, until General _____, occupied the valley, when he divulged his secret to him. On General _____’s retreat from Washington, a portion of his wagon-train and eight hundred prisoners crossed the Blue Ridge mountains at Ashby’s Gap. This portion of his army was pursued by General Durfea [Duffié], with two thousand five hundred cavalry. After occupying the Gap three days, Durfea fell back to Snickersville, where General Wright was encamped with a division of the Union army. On their march to Wright, they passed by Mr. _____’s house, and found these colored Union citizens, who conducted them to the spot where the treasure was hid, and carried it off with them. But the fates seemed opposed to having the remnants of the bird ever reaching the shores of Maryland again. Notwithstanding its long captivity, it retained signs of life still; and as it approached the soil on which the stars and stripes had never ceased to wave, these symptoms of vitality increased. An escort was sent with it; while crossing the Shenandoah River at Rock Ford, the wagon upset, and the load was precipitated into the river. By an eye-witness of the scene, I was told that it was beyond description. Suffice it to say, the greatest confusion prevailed. Every one wanted his own plan adopted to save the bird, and before any one that the men suggested could be adopted, to their utmost dismay and horror the bird gave on shriek, and then sunk; to rise no more. I never learned whether or not it was recovered; the presumption is that it was not.

Happy Fourth of July!

 

Artillery: Sticking to his guns – Lt. Charles Parsons at the Battle of Perryville

Napoleon Bonaparte himself once said, “It is with artillery that war is made.” So too could it then be said that it is with artillery that war is lost.

Charles C. Parsons as a cadet at West Point (courtesy of findagrave.com)

Such was the case atop a ridge outside of Perryville, Kentucky on October 8, 1862. The ridge today bears the name incredibly not of the highest ranking officer killed there during the Battle of Perryville, but instead that of a lieutenant who literally stuck to his guns to the very end before abandoning them on the field: Lt. Charles Carroll Parsons.

Parsons’ early life hardened him for the trials to come. His father died shortly after Charles’ birth in Ohio in 1838. He grew up with his uncle and showed a penchant for doing well in school. That ability earned him a spot at the United States Military Academy, which he entered in 1857.

Parsons made many friends at West Point. His classmates recalled his kind nature and his willingness to help out his fellow West Pointers, even “if it was spiced with self-sacrifice.” Doing so “seemed to give not pleasure only, but a visible joy.” Despite his glowing and affable personality, Charles Parsons had a rugged side. During his cadet years, he took on a man with a much larger stature than he in a fight. Parsons’ opponent knocked him to the ground seven times, but each time Charles stood back up “without ever a thought of quitting so long as he could get up.” Charles Carroll Parsons graduated 13th in the June 1861 class, one spot behind Alonzo Cushing.

Lieutenant Parsons bounced around from post to post in the war’s early years west of the Appalachians. At Louisville, Kentucky in September 1862, Parsons received the opportunity to lead a battery of guns into action, though the circumstances were likely less than ideal for the recent graduate.

Federal forces huddled in Louisville during the summer of 1862 in an attempt to prevent Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of the Mississippi from making its way north of the Ohio River. Panic seized the United States. “The situation at Louisville in the latter part of September, 1862, was not unlike that at Washington after the first battle of Bull Run,” remembered one Federal staff officer.

William R. Terrill (courtesy of Wikipedia)

During the chaos, recently promoted brigadier general and infantry brigade commander William Terrill pulled guns and volunteers together to create a super battery of sorts to attach to his brigade. Terrill himself was a former artillerist and took an intense interest in the battery’s formation and subsequent actions. All told the battery that fell under Lt. Parsons’ command consisted of five Napoleons, two howitzers, and one 10 lb. Parrott rifle. Skilled artillerists were few and far between to fill a battery of eight guns, so Terrill took volunteers from his infantry regiments to stock his mutt battery. Together, 136 volunteers made up Parsons’ Battery, though most of the volunteers had hardly been in the army before their assignment to this motley assortment of guns. One Army of the Ohio officer said the battery “was not regularly organized.” It was hardly an ideal assignment for Lt. Parsons.

Major General Don Carlos Buell began moving his reinvigorated Army of the Ohio out of Louisville on October 1, 1862. Buell planned to cut Bragg off from his escape route back into Tennessee. As the army marched forward, Parsons’ cannoneers only had a couple of weeks of training with their field pieces. The two armies came to grips on October 8, 1862 outside of Perryville, Kentucky.

During the afternoon of October 8, as Maj. Gen. Alexander McCook’s 1st Corps deployed northwest of Perryville, McCook ordered William Terrill’s untried brigade to occupy a bald hill overlooking the Chaplin River in order to secure much sought after water in those dry October days. Lt. Parsons’ battery wheeled into position atop the hill alongside the 123rd Illinois Infantry and began pounding away at the first Confederate attackers of the day led by Brig. Gen. Daniel Donelson. One eyewitness saw Parsons leading his guns into position: “The fire of battle was in his eye and one guessed that the trot the bugle sounded was less because of any emergency in the order he had received than of his own impatience for the fray.”

While Parsons’ guns faced south to hit Donelson’s men, a Tennessee and Georgia brigade under Brig. Gen. George Maney appeared at the base of the hill where Parsons deployed his guns a mere 200 yards away. The lieutenant quickly swung his guns to face this new threat coming from the east.

Modern view from atop Parson’s Ridge (courtesy of Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site)

Maney’s Southerners found a fence at the base of the hill from which to find cover and fire upon the Federals staring down at them. Here William Terrill jumped in amongst Parson’s guns. During the fight, according to a member of the 105th Ohio Infantry, the actions of Terrill’s pet project “eclipsed in interest the maneuvering of his brigade.” To save Parsons’ Battery and keep Maney’s men at a respectable distance away from the guns, Terrill ordered the 123rd Illinois to fix bayonets and dislodge the Confederates beneath him. The green Illinoisans departed on this hefty mission but just as quickly came streaming back up the hill; one-fourth of the regiment fell in the attack. “The fear of losing his battery evidently blinded General Terrill to all other considerations,” one member of his brigade mused.

During the firefight, Federal division commander Brig. Gen. James Jackson fell standing near Parsons’ line. Maney’s men were pouring just as much fire into Parsons’ cannoneers and Terrill’s infantry but the situation at the base of the hill 120 yards away was quickly falling apart for the Confederates. “It seemed impossible for humanity to go farther, such was the havoc and destruction that had taken place in their ranks,” wrote a soldier in the 6th Tennessee Infantry. Lieutenant William Turner’s Mississippi Battery dropped trail behind Maney’s infantry and added their metal to the fight. George Maney recognized that retreat here was not an option. “Go,” he ordered a staff officer, “direct the men to go forward, if possible.”

Parsons’ gunners and their infantry support continued to keep it hot for Maney’s Confederates as they moved uphill, stalling the attack short of the goal. “[T]o hold the field the capture [of] [Parsons’] battery was a necessity,” Maney related and he put the full force of his brigade into the charge. This final push was enough to force the Federals off the hilltop, driving them to the rear in confusion.

With the Federal left flank breaking, thanks in part to Terrill’s focus on Parsons’ guns according to one soldier, Lt. Charles Parsons relied on his tenacity to attempt to resurrect the worsening situation. With his volunteer artillerymen falling back around him, Parsons stood to his guns. “He remained with [his battery] until deserted by every man around him,” commented Maj. Gen. McCook in his report of the battle. Ultimately, Parsons “had to be removed by force” from his guns and moved to the rear away from the victorious Tennesseans now in possession of seven of the battery’s eight guns.

As Parsons headed for the rear, he “appeared perfectly unmanned and broken-hearted.” He told Capt. Percival Oldershaw, “I could not help it, captain; it was not my fault.” Charles Parsons did put up a heroic fight on top of the ridge at the Perryville battlefield that bears his name. His untrained artillerymen paid dearly for their stand, losing 10 men killed, 19 wounded, and 10 missing or captured, roughly 29% of the battery’s strength. Approximately fifty of the battery’s horses were shot down, as well, and the battery was disbanded in Perryville’s aftermath.

Lt. Charles Parsons wearing the uniform of an officer in the 4th United States Artillery (courtesy of findagrave.com)

Veterans of the battle wondered what the outcome might have been on the Federal left had William Terrill, who later died during the fight, acted more the part of a brigade commander than a battery commander. Terrill sought to make his battle with his artillery and he ultimately lost that gamble and imperiled Buell’s left flank.

Charles Parsons received praise for his heroics on October 8, 1862. He received a brevet promotion to captain as a result and received another brevet for a solid performance at the Battle of Stones River a couple of months later. Parsons served the United States for the rest of the war and resigned from the army in 1870. He became an Episcopalian minister in Memphis and died in 1878 while heroically serving victims of a yellow fever outbreak. Charles Carroll Parsons stood to his guns to the very end.

Shamed at Sharpsburg: The Court Martial Case of Alfred Ransom Courtney

A postwar portrait of Alfred Ransom Courtney
(courtesy of George Seitz, findagrave.com)

As September 17, 1862, wore on, Robert E. Lee realized he would need as much help as he could find. Robert Chilton, a staff officer of Lee’s, wrote a dispatch in the midst of the battle to artillery chief William Nelson Pendleton, requesting “fifteen or twenty guns, suitable for our purposes…with a sufficiency of ammunition.” Lee stressed to Pendleton: “We want ammunition, guns, and provisions” as the battle intensified.[1]

 

One artillery officer who had plenty of capacity to help Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia in this respect on September 17 commanded a battalion of artillery (four batteries)—Maj. Alfred Ransom Courtney. The 28-year-old major’s roots in North America dated back to 1620. “With an ancestry in whose veins flowed Scotch and English blood so pure,” wrote one of Courtney’s associates, it was no surprise that Courtney “developed in a high degree characteristics of intelligence, integrity and courage.” Courtney passed his bar exam before the Civil War began. He became a lieutenant in one Confederate battery at the outset of the war before receiving command of his own battery in July 1861.[2]

Courtney’s performance as an artillery officer attached to Richard Ewell’s command seemed promising. His battery performed good work during the June 8, 1862 Battle of Cross Keys. Massed in the Confederate center with several friendly batteries, Courtney’s guns poured a “well conducted” fire into the Federal ranks.[3] The captain’s solid performance caught eyes, and Courtney became a major and artillery battalion commander following the Seven Days’ Battles.[4] Unfortunately, for Courtney, his solid record soon ran dry.

Following the Army of Northern Virginia’s forced capitulation of the Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry on September 15, 1862, most of the Confederate forces involved in that operation immediately began marching to rejoin the rest of the army at Sharpsburg, Maryland. This included Ewell’s Division (Alexander Lawton commanded the division in the wounded Ewell’s absence) to which Courtney’s Battalion was attached. Some of Courtney’s batteries joined the hurried march back into Maryland, but Courtney remained behind with a handful of Confederate batteries attempting to reequip their commands from the captured Federal stores.[5]

In the wake of the Maryland Campaign, Alfred Courtney came under the ire of Jubal Early, who pressed charges against Courtney for neglect of duty, disobeying orders, and being absent without leave. Early faulted Courtney for not bringing three batteries under his command to Sharpsburg from Harpers Ferry with the rest of Ewell’s Division on September 16 and for failing to bring them to the Antietam battlefield in time the next day. On September 18, as Lee desperately sought to strengthen his lines as best as he could, Early again called upon Maj. Courtney to cross his batteries to the north side of the Potomac River to bolster Early’s line and to report to Early in person. According to Early’s charges against Courtney, the major ordered the senior captain present to follow Early’s orders before Courtney himself went absent without leave for nearly one month.[6]

The charges that Jubal Early pressed against Courtney stood up against a court of inquiry, which found Courtney guilty of “dereliction of duty.” Courtney subsequently lost his command in Robert E. Lee’s army.[7]

Though severely singed by the ignominy of a court-martial, Alfred Courtney did not give up on getting back into the war. On July 18, 1863, he wrote Confederate Gen. Samuel Cooper begging for a new position. Courtney was “anxious to be on duty,” he wrote, and hoped to receive orders assigning him to either Braxton Bragg’s or Joseph Johnston’s western commands.[8] The Confederate government gave Courtney a second chance. The artillerist received orders to head west, where he fought in the Atlanta Campaign and suffered a serious wound during the Battle of Resaca. He recovered quickly enough to rejoin his soldiers during the battles for Atlanta and surrendered as an artillery battalion commander at the end of the war.[9]

Courtney took up his law practice when he returned home. The citizens of Henrico County elected him as their Commonwealth Attorney, a position Federal military authorities barred him from holding. Alfred Courtney also became a Freemason in the midst of the Civil War while stationed in Dalton, Georgia. His prominence rose in that organization, too. By 1896, Courtney occupied the post of Grand Master of Masons in the state of Virginia. After a Mason meeting in November 1914, a brain hemorrhage afflicted Courtney. He died on the evening of November 4, 1914, in Richmond.

Courtney’s obituary concluded with the following passage: “Good comrade, true friend, dear brother, we bid thee not good-bye but good-night, for you, like your great commander, [Stonewall] Jackson, have only passed over the river and now ‘rest under the shade of the trees,’ where we believe we will be reunited to you in the great beyond.”[10] Many Confederate veterans who remembered Courtney’s performance at the Battle of Antietam likely winced at this comparison to Jackson, whether that comparison came in life or death. Despite Courtney’s court-martial for his performance at Antietam, the rest of his career, including his military one, did not seem to match his conduct during those few days in September 1862.

***This post was originally published on Kevin Pawlak’s Antietam Brigades blog***

[1] Robert H. Chilton to William N. Pendleton, September 17, 1862, in OR, vol. 19, pt. 2, 610.

[2] “Major Alfred R. Courtney,” The Virginia Law Register 20, no. 10 (February 1915): 737-38.

[3] Jennings Cropper Wise, The Long Arm of Lee, vol. 1, Bull Run to Fredericksburg (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1991), 174.

[4] “Alfred Ransom Courtney,” American Civil War Research Database, http://civilwardata.com/active/hdsquery.dll?SoldierHistory?C&358028 (accessed May 8, 2018).

[5] Courtney’s old battery, commanded in September 1862 by Capt. Joseph Latimer accompanied the Army of Northern Virginia into Maryland but only with one section (two guns) of the battery. These two guns were captured at Harpers Ferry. Latimer’s Battery did not reach Sharpsburg until the afternoon of September 17. This fact begs the question of whether or not Courtney’s later actions during the Maryland Campaign were partially due to him believing the batteries in his command were unprepared for combat. Curt Johnson and Richard C. Anderson, Jr., Artillery Hell: The Employment of Artillery at Antietam (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1995), 93.

[6] The details of Courtney’s court-martial case are found in Courtney, Alfred R. file, roll 63, M331, Compiled Service Records of Confederate General and Staff Officers, and Nonregimental Enlisted Men, RG 109, National Archives and Records Administration.

[7] “Alfred Ransom Courtney,” American Civil War Research Database.

[8] Alfred R. Courtney to Samuel Cooper, July 18, 1863, in Courtney, Alfred R. file, roll 63, M331, RG 109, NARA.

[9] “Major Alfred R. Courtney,” The Virginia Law Register, 738-39.

[10] Ibid., 739-40.

Atop Reel Ridge: Examining Lee’s Fallback Position North of Sharpsburg

By 8:30 a.m. on the morning of September 17, 1862, the left end of Robert E. Lee’s line on the Sharpsburg Heights crumpled under repeated Federal blows. The Confederates of Alexander Lawton’s and J.R. Jones’s divisions had been forced back from their positions defending the high ground adjacent to the Dunker Church. Lee’s left still had three and one-half miles of open land behind it before reaching the banks of the Potomac River, but the commanding general feared for the fate of his left flank.

The red dots indicate Confederate artillery positions on Reel Ridge and around the Piper Farm during the Union breakthrough at the Sunken Road. Any Federals advancing further would do so into a concave formation of Confederate artillery.

 

Immediately, Lee began cobbling together his fallback position from the Dunker Church Plateau atop the Reel Ridge west of the Hagerstown Pike. He pulled together as many pieces of artillery he could find, a number that eventually totaled approximately 25 guns. Arriving infantry soon buttressed the defensive position, and the Federals never truly tested Lee’s position on Reel Ridge.

Reel Ridge proved crucially important to the preservation of the Army of Northern Virginia on September 17. The host of Confederate cannoneers and their pieces contained Israel Richardson’s breakthrough at the Sunken Road. Indeed, the Confederate artillerists outnumbered their Union counterparts on that part of the field: at least 25 guns to 6 Federal smoothbore pieces. One of those Southern guns even dealt Richardson his mortal wound from atop Reel Ridge, which effectively stopped any further Union incursions beyond the Sunken Road.

This annotated view from atop Reel Ridge shows the commanding nature of the position Lee chose as his left flank’s fallback point.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting Reel Ridge, which is currently owned by the Civil War Trust. The view from the top of the ridge is spectacular. Standing there and looking towards the Sunken Road gives one a clear picture of why Confederate artillery dominated the Federal artillerists in the area, and why any further advance by Richardson’s blue-coated infantry seemed improbable.

Since a visit to the top of Reel Ridge does not happen often, I thought I would share with the readers at Emerging Civil War the view from the top, with a few of my own annotations mixed in.

Maryland, My Maryland? Jefferson Davis and the Maryland Campaign of September 1862

Confederate soldiers splashing across the Potomac River in early September 1862 jubilantly bellowed out the tune “Maryland, My Maryland” as they marched into the Old Line State. Just months earlier, with the war escalating around the Confederate capital of Richmond, this feat seemed impossible. As the Southern army placed its collective foot on the soil of Maryland, one of the Confederacy’s early war aims was about to be realized.

Recognizing Maryland’s status as a border state caught between North and South, the Confederate Congress issued a series of resolutions on December 8, 1861 about the state’s status and their desire to join it with their fledgling nation. “[I]t is the desire of this government, by appropriate measures, to facilitate the accession of Maryland, with the free consent of her people, to the Confederate States,” the Congress resolved. Confederate successes in the summer of 1862 now made this goal a possibility.

Despite the joyous mood of the Confederate soldiers entering Maryland, Robert E. Lee, commanding those soldiers, remained skeptical that Maryland’s citizens would return the favor in kind. “I do not anticipate any general rising of the people in our behalf,” Lee wrote President Jefferson Davis on September 7. The general sought Davis’ assistance days before, requesting that the President send former Maryland governor and Southern supporting exile Enoch Lowe to rouse Marylanders to the Confederate cause.

Himself excited by Confederate fortunes north of the Potomac River, Davis told Lee to issue a proclamation to the people of Maryland declaring “the motives and purposes of your presence among them at the head of an invading army.” The President then listed out a blueprint of eight resolutions and statements Lee could draw from for the proclamation he ultimately issued on September 8.

Jefferson Davis’ enthusiasm for Confederate advances in the summer of 1862 did not end with the stroke of his pen, however. Seizing on Lee’s request for Enoch Lowe to aid the Confederate effort in Maryland, President Davis decided to accompany Lowe to the Potomac River as far north as Leesburg. Perhaps Davis could join his troops in Maryland next.

A “special train” carrying Davis and Lowe left Richmond on September 7 and made its way to Rapidan Station, where Davis notified Lee of his journey. Davis’ September 7 correspondence with Lee is unfortunately lost to history. Thus, his true intentions in traveling north are unknown. Southern newspapers theorized the purpose of Lowe’s visit, though: “placing Maryland within the political association of the Confederate States.” Correspondents in Richmond could only surmise what the departure of Davis truly meant.

Robert E. Lee also could not divine Davis’ reasons for heading north. Regardless, the general did not believe Maryland was a good place for his commander-in-chief. “While I should feel the greatest satisfaction in having an interview with you,” Lee said, “I cannot but feel great uneasiness for your safety should you undertake to reach me.” The trek would be “very disagreeable,” the general warned. It would also expose Davis to the risk of capture by Federal patrols ranging throughout northern Virginia. Exercising extreme caution in this case, words alone on paper would not do for Lee. To further convince Davis of the dangers plaguing his northern excursion, Lee sent his staffer Walter Taylor to intercept the President before he reached Leesburg.Taylor departed the Confederate camps outside Frederick, Maryland at midday on September 9. That night, he slept at the Harrison home in downtown Leesburg, which served as Lee’s quarters shortly before crossing into Maryland. Walter Taylor reached Warrenton on September 10 and found that his journey was for naught: Davis turned around on September 8, headed back to the Confederate capital.

Enoch Lowe continued his efforts to bring Maryland into the folds of the Confederacy even though Davis no longer traveled with him. It is possible that Walter Taylor met Lowe and the two traveled to Winchester together. From the Shenandoah Valley town, Lowe continued to champion Maryland’s supposed dormant Confederate sympathies. “He said Maryland, long disappointed, had been perfectly taken by surprise on the entrance of our army, and that when it was seen to be no mere raid, 25,000 men would flock to our standard, and a provisional government would be formed,” wrote one eyewitness. The lofty goal of 25,000 Marylanders rising to fight under the Confederate banner never materialized, as Lee predicted. Perhaps as few as 200 men signed up with the Army of Northern Virginia. The Confederate foray into Maryland failed to fulfill Southern hopes for a fourteenth star on its flag.

Confederate efforts to bring another state under the country’s flag came off on October 4, 1862 in Frankfort, Kentucky but did not amount to much except a great deal of fanfare. Southerners held similar hopes for Maryland, but their dreams fizzled before there was a chance. The Charleston Mercury quickly denounced Davis’ trip north as nothing more than “merely for recreation and to have a quiet talk with the Governor [Lowe]. If Lowe is to be proclaimed Provisional Governor, it is to be hoped the people will rally to him, and our army keep in front of him, otherwise the affair will resemble the Provisional Government of Kentucky, which was rather a farce, tending to alienate rather than encourage the inhabitants.”

Establishing a provisional government in Maryland, it turned out, was the least of the Confederacy’s worries in the Old Line State in September 1862 and the Southern nation’s dreams of enticing more states to its cause and expanding its boundary to the Mason-Dixon Line never came to fruition. Maybe September 1862 represented the best odds for that to happen, or perhaps by then it was a foregone conclusion and Jefferson Davis, Enoch Lowe, and the Confederate Congress were only whistling into the wind.

The Heroics of Capt. John Woodward, 1st Vermont Cavalry

The Civil War constantly moved past the Aldie Mill. On March 2, 1863, it became the site of the famous Aldie Races (courtesy of Richard T. Gillespie)

On March 2, 1863, fifty-nine troopers of the 1st Vermont Cavalry trotted into Aldie and stopped at the village’s prominent mill to rest. Suddenly and unexpectedly, two Vermont scouts on the northwest end of town stumbled into an advancing force of Confederate cavalry belonging to John S. Mosby’s command. “A charge was immediately ordered,” Mosby recalled. Mosby’s tactics caught the Vermonters—who dismounted their horses and wandered around the Aldie Mill and the village—completely by surprise. The Federal cavalrymen panicked and ran in several different directions. Few fought back against Mosby’s charge.

Amidst the chaos, twenty-three-year-old Capt. John Woodward leapt onto his horse and began firing at the Confederates during his first taste of combat. Woodward desperately attempted to rally his soldiers, but he mainly fought alone in that effort. Mosby’s men zeroed in on the heroic officer. The young captain continued to fire until he ran out of ammunition. Dropping his revolver, Woodward drew his sabre and charged into the enemy. A bullet struck down Woodward’s horse, which collapsed on top of him and trapped him underneath. Still, Woodward refused to give in, and pulled a smaller revolver out of his coat pocket. The revolver had only two shots, but he made good use of them, mortally wounding one enemy soldier bearing down on him. Now faced with no more options, Woodward threw up his hands in surrender.

Woodward’s injuries sustained during the brief fight in Aldie earned him a stay in a nearby home. That evening, Mosby visited the heroic captain, supposedly remarking that Woodward “was the bravest and best fighting man he [Mosby] ever saw.” Respecting his gallantry and the hard-fighting 1st Vermont Cavalry, Mosby paroled Woodward, sending him back to the Federal camps in northern Virginia the next day.

Capt. John Woodward’s grave in Cambridge, Vermont (courtesy of Sabina, findagrave.com)

John Woodward found himself in another predicament four months later in Maryland. During the Confederate army’s retreat from Gettysburg, a fight erupted in the streets of Hagerstown on July 6, 1863. The well-respected Vermont cavalrymen charged into the fight, spurred on and led by Capt. Woodward. Two bullets pierced Woodward’s body simultaneously, one through the brain and another into his breast. He pitched forward onto his mount’s neck and died almost instantly. A countercharge by his Confederate adversaries left his body in the enemy’s hands for one week while Southern soldiers “rifled, stripped and buried” his remains. Federals recovered the body when Hagerstown once again fell within Union lines and reinterred them “in the Presbyterian burying ground at Hagerstown.” His father, the regiment’s chaplain, retrieved the remains and returned them home to Vermont for burial.

Local Vermont newspapers covered the young captain’s death extensively. One mourned the loss of the University of Vermont graduate, calling him “a young man of high spirit and sense of duty, and of genial qualities which endeared him greatly to his friends, and a capable and efficient officer.”