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History is Very Much Alive in Washington County, Where we Celebrate the Past, Thrive in the Present and Plan for a Bright Future!

History is Very Much Alive in Washington County, Where we Celebrate the Past, Thrive in the Present and Plan for a Bright Future!

Located in the center of the Great Valley in Western Maryland, Hagerstown was at the Crossroads of the Civil War. The Valley provided a natural corridor for refugee and troop movements between Virginia and Pennsylvania. As a regional crossroads town just north of the Potomac River, Hagerstown was a favorite staging area for military leaders traversing the region. The following stories illustrate the impact of frequent military occupation on this small rural town.
The Military in Hagerstown
With its strategic location at the border between the North and the South, Hagerstown became a principal staging area and supply center for four major campaigns in the East during the Civil War.
In 1861, General Robert Patterson's troops used the town as a springboard to attack Virginia Rebels in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. During the Maryland Campaign of 1862, General Longstreet's command occupied the town en route to the Battle of South Mountain and Antietam. In 1863, Hagerstown was the site of several military incursions and engagements as General Lee's army invaded and retreated at the Gettysburg Campaign.
A City Divided
As a slave-holding county in what would become a federally occupied border state during the Civil War, sympathies were divided over the issue of secession in this town of 4,132.
During the war, escaped slaves seeking asylum in Hagerstown were caught and returned to their Southern owners. Because of pro-Southern columns appearing in the Hagerstown Mail, its newspaper's offices were sacked and burned by Northern sympathizers following the defeat of the Federal Maryland troops by Maryland Confederates at Front Royal, Virginia.
Invading Northern and Southern troops received varying degrees of welcome from the local citizens depending on the outcome of military campaigns in the region. Grocery stores and businesses, owned by men whose sons went to the South, were targets for looting from time to time during the war.
Treatment of the Sick and Wounded
Throughout the war, private physicians and citizens took care of men from both sides in a number of locations including personal residences and at the Franklin Hotel, the Washington House, the Lyceum, the Hagerstown Male Academy, and Key-Mar College. Wounded Federal soldiers eventually were transferred to primary military hospitals in Frederick, Maryland. Confederates were sent off to prison.
The spread of smallpox from returning soldiers to their families and friends was a serious problem during the war. When an epidemic spread throughout the town, the Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church's Black congregation volunteered the use of its church as a smallpox hospital.
Following the war in 1872, Maryland and Virginia cooperated on a project to re-enter the Confederate dead from their impromptu graves to cemeteries in Hagerstown, Frederick and Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Approximately 2,800 Southerners from the Maryland Campaign of 1862 were re-interred. Sixty percent were unidentified.
Ransom of Hagerstown
In 1864, Hagerstown almost literally felt the heat of the Civil War. In July, General Jubal Early, commander of the Valley District of the Confederacy, moved his troops from the Shenandoah Valley toward the Potomac River, threatening a third invasion of the North by Southern soldiers. On July 3 fighting occurred at Harpers Ferry, Leetown, Darkesville and Martinsburg.
On Wednesday, July 6, Early sent 1,500 cavalry, under the command of Brigader General John McCausland, into Hagerstown to levy a ransom of $20,000 and a large amount of clothing, in retribution for Federal destruction of farms, feed and cattle in the Shenandoah Valley.
A cooperative effort by three banks and the Hagerstown City Council produced the money to save the town from burning, while citizens and businesses surrendered vast numbers of pants, shirts, hats and shoes to the Rebels.

Credit for this article goes to the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Published with permission for this issue.

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