Union Troops Move into Maryland, Confederates Take Defensive

Saturday, June 15, 1861

As Harpers Ferry still smoldered from the Rebel evacuation of the day before, Union General Patterson set into motion his advance from southern Pennsylvania into Maryland.

The march was lead by General Cadwalader, who was ordered to attack Maryland Heights opposite Harpers Ferry. There, Patterson believed, the Rebels would make their stand. Rumors that Harpers Ferry was abandoned were held in a suspicious light. It was possible that the Rebels left their position as a decoy. Cadwalader was allowed to throw his entire brigade across the Potomac at Williamsport and to reconnoiter as far west as Martinsburg, if he found the area abandoned. If Harpers Ferry was vacant, he was to occupy it with a small force.

Cadwalader’s brigade halted in Williamsport, where the General made his headquarters. A scouting party reported that 500 Rebel troops were in Harpers Ferry. They were the rear guard to Confederate General Johnston’s move west, and were breaking camp and abandoning the post.

As Cadwalader was en route to Williamsport, Col. Wallace in Cumberland requested reinforcements as he believed 3,000 Rebels were in his front, chasing him from Romney. He wanted three regiments of infantry, some cavalry and a section of artillery (two guns). Cadwalader, being completely uncertain as to where the Rebels might be hiding, lamented that he could send nothing.

Wallace, for his part, was willing to fight the Rebels, but with his small force, he would rather have help, hoping for it to come via Hancock, Maryland. If pressed, he would withdraw his troops in that direction. He had “positive information that there will be four thousand rebel troops at or in Romney to-night, who swear they will follow me to hell but what they will have me.”

By evening, General Patterson had moved his headquarters from Chambersburg to Hagerstown. His troops were placed along the Potomac near Williamsport and Sharpsburg. Though a portion of his command had ventured to the Virginia side, for the most part, the “sacred soil” was still held by the Rebels.1

The Rebels that Patterson feared were ready to spring a trap upon him at Harpers Ferry were actually over twenty miles away. Rumor had it that Patterson’s 18,000 men were tearing into Virginia to fight at Winchester. It was thought by Johnston that the Union troops would march through Shepherdstown to Martinsburg and then down the Valley Pike [modern US 11].

Confederate General Johnston’s men marched from Charlestown to the Valley Pike, but when they turned south on the Pike, rather than north, it was clear that he was not marching towards the enemy, but to take a defensive position farther south. This action did not sit well with Col. Thomas Jackson, who was itching for a fight to “drive the invaders from our region.”

A line of defense was established in the small town of Bunker Hill, ten miles north of Winchester. Here, they would await the Yankees.2

Union Col. Stone, commanding the Rockville Expedition, reported that his men were at the Potomac as well. A regiment of Pennsylvania troops held Edwards Ferry while Conrads Ferry [now called Whites Ferry] was held by men from New Hampshire.3

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Jackson Retreats as Lyon Advances

Missouri’s Governor Jackson, along with secessionist General Sterling Price and the Missouri State Guard, had fled Jefferson City when word reached them that Union General Lyon was advancing towards them. They moved 40 miles up the Missouri River to Booneville.

When General Lyon and his men landed at Jefferson City, they faced no opposition. Immediately he issued a proclamation that accused the Governor and Legislature of treason. He referenced Jackson’s latest proclamation that called for war upon the United States troops.

Lyon was given permission by Washington to drive out the insurgents, and that is exactly what he planned to do. The next day, he would follow Governor Jackson.4

Meanwhile in St. Louis, a company of Union soldiers was marching by the courthouse when a shot from a revolver came from a window above. This company was mostly made up of Germans, who were largely hated by the secessionists in the city. The company was raw from lack of military training and raw from the taunting and abuse hurled at them by many in the city.

The company halted, faced the building and fired. There was no thought given as to where the shot came from. The volley killed four people and injured two. None of whom, it seems, fired the shot. Some argued that no shot was fired at all.

Whether provoked or not, this incident did nothing to mend the division ripping St. Louis apart.5



  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p685-690. []
  2. Stonewall Jackson by Robertson. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p108. []
  4. Life of General Nathaniel Lyon by Ashbel Woodward, Case, Lockwood & co., 1862. []
  5. The Story of a Border City During the Civil War by Galusha Anderson. []
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2 thoughts on “Union Troops Move into Maryland, Confederates Take Defensive

  1. Although Lyon is remarkably aggressive the other Generals seem somewhat timid. When asked for transfers of troops to pursue the rebels or take and hold territory the Generals all seem to decline. Do you think that is because they believe they have other greater threats in other directions or is some other factor at work?

    1. Part of it must come from the reasoning that Missouri had been, more or less, at war for 10 years. They were used to fighting (though, on a much smaller scale). The Generals back in and around Washington were the old guard and moved slowly. Nobody had any real clue what would come of the war. And everybody was pretty freaked out.

      Troops were in short supply, as were arms, ammunition and officers. Washington felt very threatened and it was believed that all of Maryland could fall to the South.

      This timidity and unwillingness (or inability) to supply reinforcements will be a hallmark of 1861. Both sides will be guilty of it.

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