While Maryland stayed within the Union, it was mostly by the strong hand of Abraham Lincoln.
During the Civil War, Maryland, a slave state, was one of the Border States straddling the South and North. Because of its strategic location, bordering the capital city of Washington D.C., and the strong desire of the opposing factions within the state to sway public opinion towards their respective causes, Maryland would play an important role in the Civil War.
Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, Maryland, is a coastal star-shaped fort best known for its role in the War of 1812, when it successfully defended Baltimore Harbor from an attack by the British navy in Chesapeake Bay during September 13–14, 1814. It was during the bombardment of the fort that Francis Scott Key was inspired to write "The Star-Spangled Banner," the poem that would eventually be set to the tune of "To Anacreon in Heaven" and become the national anthem of the United States. During the Civil War, Key’s grandson, Francis Key Howard, was imprisoned at McHenry because, according to President Lincoln’s policy, he was deemed a Southern sympathizer along with 2,000 political prisoners, including 28 newspapermen, 31 members of the Maryland General Assembly, and the mayor of Baltimore. Freedom of Speech and Due Process were ignored.
Maryland Sentiment and Civil War
Maryland, as a slave-holding Border State, was deeply divided over the antebellum arguments over States’ Rights and the future of slavery in the Union. Culturally, geographically and economically, Maryland found herself neither one thing nor another, a unique blend of Southern agrarianism and Northern mercantilism. In the lead up to the American Civil War, it became clear that the state was bitterly divided in its sympathies. There was much less appetite for secession than elsewhere in the Southern States, but Maryland was equally unsympathetic towards the potentially abolitionist position of Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln. In the presidential election of 1860 Lincoln won just 2,294 votes out of a total of 92,421, only 2.5% of the votes cast. In seven counties, Lincoln received not a single vote.
The areas of Southern and Eastern Maryland, especially those on the Chesapeake Bay, which had prospered on the tobacco trade and slave labor, were generally sympathetic to the South, while northern and western areas of the state, especially Marylanders of German origin, had stronger economic ties to the North. Not all blacks in Maryland were slaves. The 1860 Federal Census indicates there were nearly as many free blacks (83,942) as slaves (87,189) in Maryland.
However, across the state, sympathies were mixed. Many Marylanders were simply pragmatic, recognizing that the state's long border with pro-Union Pennsylvania would be almost impossible to defend in the event of war. Maryland businessmen feared the likely loss of trade that would be caused by war and the strong possibility of a blockade of Baltimore's port by the Union navy. After John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, many citizens began forming local militias, determined to prevent a future slave uprising.
Not all those who sympathized with the rebels would abandon their homes and join the Confederacy. Some, like physician Richard Sprigg Steuart, remained in Maryland, offered covert support for the South, and refused to sign an oath of loyalty to the Union. Later in 1861, Baltimore resident W. W. Glenn described Steuart as a fugitive from the authorities:
"I was spending the evening out when a footstep approached my chair from behind and a hand was laid upon me. I turned and saw Dr. R. S. Steuart. He has been concealed for more than six months. His neighbors are so bitter against him that he dare not go home, and he committed himself so decidedly on the 19th April and is known to be so decided a Southerner, that it more than likely he would be thrown into a Fort. He goes about from place to place, sometimes staying in one county, sometimes in another and then passing a few days in the city. He never shows in the day time & is cautious who sees him at any time."
The first bloodshed of the Civil War occurred in Maryland. Anxious about the risk of secessionists capturing Washington, D.C. (known as Washington City at the time), given that the capital was bordered by Virginia in the south and Maryland in the north, The Federal Government requested armed volunteers to suppress "unlawful combinations" in the South. Soldiers from Pennsylvania and Massachusetts were transported by rail to Baltimore, where they had to disembark, march through the city, and board another train to continue their journey south to Washington.
The political situation in Maryland remained uncertain until May 13, 1861 when General Benjamin F. Butler entered Baltimore by rail with 1,000 Federal soldiers and, under cover of a thunderstorm, quietly took possession of Federal Hill. Butler fortified his position and trained his guns upon the city, threatening its destruction. Butler then sent a letter to the commander of Fort McHenry:
The weeks following the Baltimore Riot of 1861 were tense as troop lines were reestablished. On April 27, President Lincoln authorized the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in Maryland. Lincoln also ordered the military to arrest several Confederate sympathizers and hold them as political prisoners. John Merryman was among those incarcerated at Fort McHenry. When Merryman appealed for his release, Chief Justice Roger Taney, in ex parte Merryman, ruled that the Constitution permitted only Congress to suspend the writ. This debate on civil liberties only served to further galvanize citizens of Maryland against Union occupation.
Despite considerable popular support for the cause of the Confederate States of America, Maryland would not secede during the Civil War. However, a number of leading citizens, including physician and slaveholder Richard Sprigg Steuart, placed considerable pressure on Governor Hicks to summon the state Legislature to vote on secession, following Hicks to Annapolis with a number of fellow citizens:
"to insist on his [Hicks] issuing his proclamation for the Legislature to convene, believing that this body (and not himself and his party) should decide the fate of our state"...if the Governor and his party continued to refuse this demand that it would be necessary to depose him".
Responding to pressure, on April 22 Governor Hicks finally announced that the state legislature would meet in a special session in Frederick, a strongly pro-Union town. The Maryland General Assembly convened in Frederick and unanimously adopted a measure stating that they would not commit the state to secession, explaining that they had "no authority to take such action" whatever their own personal feelings might have been. On April 29, the Legislature voted 53–13 against secession. See also Maryland in the American Civil War (1861-1865).
Many Marylanders sympathetic to the South easily crossed the Potomac River into secessionist Virginia in order to join and fight for the Confederacy. During the early summer of 1861, several thousand Marylanders crossed the Potomac River to join the Confederate Army. Most of the men enlisted in regiments from Virginia or the Carolinas, but six companies of Marylanders formed at Harpers Ferry into the Maryland Battalion. Among them were members of the former volunteer militia unit, the Maryland Guard Battalion, initially formed in Baltimore in 1859.
Maryland Exiles, including Arnold Elzey and brigadier general George H. Steuart, would organize a "Maryland Line" in the Army of Northern Virginia which eventually consisted of one infantry regiment, one infantry battalion, two cavalry battalions and four battalions of artillery. Most of these volunteers tended to hail from south and eastern counties of the state, while northern and western Maryland furnished more volunteers for the Union armies.
Captain Bradley T. Johnson refused the offer of the Virginians to join a Virginia Regiment, insisting that Maryland should be represented independently in the Confederate army. It was agreed that Arnold Elzey, a seasoned career officer from Maryland, would command the 1st Maryland Regiment. His executive officer was the Marylander George H. Steuart, who would later be known as "Maryland Steuart" to distinguish him from his more famous cavalry colleague JEB Stuart.
Gen. Robert E. Lee's first invasion of the North, September 4–20, 1862, known as the Antietam or Maryland Campaign, was repulsed by the Army of the Potomac under Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, who moved to intercept Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia and eventually attacked it near Sharpsburg, Maryland. The resulting Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history and is widely considered one of the major turning points of the war.
Following his victory in the Northern Virginia Campaign, Lee moved north with nearly 55,000 men through the Shenandoah Valley starting on September 4, 1862. His objective was to resupply his army outside of the war-torn Virginia theater and to damage Northern morale in anticipation of the November elections. He undertook the risky maneuver of splitting his army so that he could continue north into Maryland while simultaneously capturing the Federal garrison and arsenal at Harpers Ferry. McClellan accidentally found a copy of Lee's orders to his subordinate commanders and planned to isolate and defeat the separated portions of Lee's army.
While Maj. Gen. Stonewall Jackson surrounded, bombarded, and captured Harpers Ferry (September 12–15), McClellan's army of 87,000 men attempted to move quickly through the South Mountain passes that separated him from Lee. The Battle of South Mountain on September 14 delayed McClellan's advance and allowed Lee sufficient time to concentrate most of his army at Sharpsburg. The Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg) on September 17 was the bloodiest day in American military history with more than 23,000 casualties. Lee, outnumbered two to one, moved his defensive forces to parry each offensive blow, but McClellan never deployed all of the reserves of his army to capitalize on localized successes and destroy the Confederates. On September 18, Lee ordered a withdrawal across the Potomac and on September 19–20, fights by Lee's rear guard at Shepherdstown ended the campaign.
Although Antietam was a tactical draw, Lee's Maryland Campaign failed to achieve its objectives. President Abraham Lincoln used this Union victory as the justification for announcing his Emancipation Proclamation, which effectively ended any threat of European support for the Confederacy.
The Gettysburg Campaign was a series of battles fought in June and July 1863. After Gen. Lee’s victory in the Battle of Chancellorsville, Gen. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia moved north for offensive operations in Maryland and Pennsylvania. The Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker and then (from June 28) by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, pursued Lee, defeated him at the Battle of Gettysburg, but allowed him to retreat to Virginia.
Lee's army slipped away from Federal contact at Fredericksburg, Virginia, on June 3, 1863. While they paused at Culpeper, the largest predominantly cavalry battle of the war was fought at Brandy Station on June 9. The Confederates crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains and moved north through the Shenandoah Valley, capturing the Union garrison at Winchester, Virginia, in the Second Battle of Winchester, June 13–15. Crossing the Potomac River, Lee's Second Corps advanced through Maryland and Pennsylvania, reaching the Susquehanna River and threatening the state capital of Harrisburg. However, the Army of the Potomac was in pursuit and had reached Frederick, Maryland, before Lee realized his opponent had crossed the Potomac. Lee moved swiftly to concentrate his army around the crossroads town of Gettysburg.
The Battle of Gettysburg was the largest and deadliest of the war. Starting as a chance meeting engagement on July 1, the Confederates were initially successful in driving Union cavalry and two infantry corps from their defensive positions, through the town, and onto Cemetery Hill. On July 2, with most of both armies now present, Lee launched fierce assaults on both flanks of the Union defensive line, which were repulsed with heavy losses on both sides. On July 3, Lee focused his attention on the Union center. The defeat of his massive infantry assault, Pickett's Charge, caused Lee to order a retreat that began the evening of July 4.
The Confederate retreat to Virginia was plagued by bad weather, difficult roads, and numerous skirmishes with Union cavalry. However, Meade's army did not maneuver aggressively enough to prevent the Army of Northern Virginia from crossing the Potomac to safety on the night of July 13–14.
The Confederacy's main objective of the entire series of battles was to pull, draw or lure Grant's army and resources away from Lee, who was pinned down in the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign (aka Siege of Petersburg), and consequently relieve Lee of the overwhelming Union resources that confronted him. Although the hotly contested Shenandoah Valley Campaigns resulted in 33,000 Union and Confederate casualties, it is perhaps the least studied and talked about of all the Civil War campaigns.
Originally organized as the Second Corps in Lee's army, Early's Army of the Valley (officially the Army of the Valley District) numbered approximately 14,000 soldiers. The infantry, totaling near 9,000, was organized into two corps, each consisting of two divisions. The First Corps was commanded by Robert E. Rodes, a Virginia Military Institute graduate and one of the highest-ranking Confederate officers not to have attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. The Second Corps, meanwhile, was led by John C. Breckinridge (cousin to Mary Todd Lincoln), the former U.S. vice president under James Buchanan and a Democratic candidate for president in 1860 (ran against Lincoln). The North Carolinian Robert Ransom commanded roughly 4,000 cavalrymen, organized into four brigades. Approximately sixteen artillery batteries supplemented the army.
The Shenandoah Valley held considerable strategic and logistical promise that attracted the attention of both Union and Confederate forces. The 1864 Valley Campaign far exceeded Confederate general Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's famed 1862 Valley Campaign in scope and impact. Early's Army of the Valley engaged in systematic marching maneuvers up and down the Valley, engaged Union forces in numerous battles, offered resistance to Union general Philip H. Sheridan's hard-war policies, invaded Maryland and Pennsylvania twice, and also ransomed and burned Northern cities in hard-war tactics of its own.
Lt. Gen. Jubal Early's independent command during the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns in the summer and autumn of 1864 was the last Confederate unit to invade Northern territory, reaching the outskirts of Washington, D.C. (The Army, however, became defunct after its decisive defeat at the Battle of Waynesboro, Virginia, on March 2, 1865.)
The Confederate's invasion of Maryland arrived in the early part of July, 1864, when the Southern forces under Gen. Early suddenly and unexpectedly entered the Cumberland valley. The people of Hagerstown were forced to raise $20,000 to prevent the destruction of the city, and a demand was made upon the merchants to furnish from their stocks of goods 1,500 suits of clothes, 1,500 hats, 1,500 pairs of shoes, 1,500 shirts, 1,900 pairs of drawers and 1,500 pairs of socks within four hours. There were not enough articles in the city of the kind described to comply with the demand, but all that could be found were appropriated, after which Gen. McCausland gave the city authorities a written assurance against any further tribute being levied against the town or its citizens. From Hagerstown Early moved on Frederick City, which was evacuated by the Union troops, and a demand was made for $200,000, in default of which payment the city would be burned. Mayor Cole called together the officials remaining in the city and after a short consultation decided to submit to the terms and ransom the city. The money was accordingly paid in United States currency, Confederate money and bank notes being refused, and the Confederate soldiers visited the stores and "took what they wanted," sometimes offering Confederate currency in payment, but more frequently without either offer of compensation or apology. Early's advance was checked by Gen. Wallace at Monocacy on the 9th and he made a precipitate retreat back to Virginia.