This is the script for a local cable television program
produced by the Howard County Genealogical Society
under a grant from the Howard County, Maryland government.
There is also a volunteer reenactor Patapsco Guard group.
Click here for more infomation about Ellicott City .
A company consisted of about 100 men, usually from the same town or rural area. Only one infantry unit from the state of Maryland began and ended its career as an independent company --the Patapsco Guards.
Recruiting began in mid-September, 1861 in Ellicotts Mills (now Ellicott City), the county seat of Howard County and an important station on the main line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Through the course of the war, they moved from there to Harpers Ferry (now West Virginia); York, PA; Gettysburg, PA; Harrisburg, PA; and Chambersburg, PA.
The company was mustered out on October 17, 1865, at Chambersburg, PA.
Why would a young Howard County man in 1861 choose to join a small, local unit like the Patapsco Volunteer Guards, anyway?
For one thing, volunteering was the right thing to do. The majority of soldiers in both the Union and Confederate armies were volunteers, not draftees, and usually their allegiance was to their own state. For another, the outbreak of war disrupted trade in border states like Maryland, throwing many out of work.
Besides this, a young man could find good reasons to join a local unit. A primary reason was that he could serve along with his brothers, other relatives, friends, and neighbors.
A second reason is that local units could usually elect at least some of their own officers. Occasionally they voted in a popular local nincompoop, but sometimes this element of democracy was satisfying to the troops.
Another advantage to local units was that despite being officially under state jurisdiction, in reality they had considerable leeway in selecting their own uniforms, drills, and regulations. they could run their own show.
Besides all this, the uniquely complicated political situation in Maryland left many local people divided in their sympathies. Few were eager for war, yet Maryland surrounded the nation's capital and stood in the path of any fighting to come. In 1860 only 9 percent of Marylanders had voted for either Lincoln or Douglas. By September of 1861, Union General Benjamin Butler was imprisoning Maryland politicians who were considered pro-South, while Southern sympathizers were burning down railroad bridges.
In that September, Captain Thomas McGowan had a persuasive enlistment argument for Howard County men. He proposed a local guard unit to protect Ellicotts Mills and the local railroad lines. This was nothing new. There had been a town guard in Ellicotts Mills in the 1840s, and older citizens could recall the local militia who served in the War of 1812. Captain McGowan also promised recruits that this unit would avoid combat and be near home to help out with their families. What is amazing is that he actually managed to fulfill these promises to some extent.
A Patapsco Guard for whom we do have a personal story is one of the younger soldiers, Hezekiah Weeks. In 1862, Hezekiah Weeks was a 19-year-old blacksmith from Roxbury Mills in western Howard County. After his father died in a train accident, Hezekiah, his widowed mother and five sisters moved from Cooksville to the mills to find work. He enlisted in the Patapsco Guards at Ellicotts Mills on January 1, 1862, after talking with Captain McGowan. McGowan assured him that the Guard would probably be stationed in Ellicotts Mills to protect the train line along the Patapsco. Thinking that this would be his best chance to stay near the family, Weeks enlisted in the Patapsco Guards on January 1, 1862.
Click on photo for larger image.
The Patapsco Guard was officially organized at Ellicotts Mills on September 16, 1861, and remained there until May, 1862.
What was it like for the troops in Ellicotts Mills? Since most of them were already close to home, they didn't need to write. (explain why. ie: there's little documentation etc.) We can get a more vivid picture from the troops of the Twelfth New Jersey who were stationed here after the Patapsco Guards left. The Twelfth New Jersey camped on the 150-foot height (?) north of town , about where the County Offices are today. Private Eli Middleton of Company C wrote:
"Some men felt endangered by the camp's position; in places, the footing was treacherous. If the Twelfth remained here long, about on half of us all get our necks broke, as several of them have fell and hurt themselves pretty bad already on the bare ground, let alone when it comes to get icy and slippery. I guess Uncle Sam will have to shoe us pretty rough if we stay here".
Sergeant William S. Hineline of E Company shared Middleton's concern: "There is scarcely an even place to be found in this neighborhood, and when the boys are on the march they have some climbing to do."
But a Lt. Pierson climbed to the tops of the Patapsco Institute for Girls and rhapsodized about the scenery: "beautiful and picturesque, being a mixture of rocky hills covered with beautiful timber, and the Patapsco rushing over its rocky bed in a number of small but perfect falls and rapids."
The Twelfth settled into a daily schedule that called for reveille at 5:30 a.m., followed by breakfast at six, surgeon's call at seven, guard mounting at 7:30, regimental drill from 8:30 to 11:30, dinner at noon, company drill from two to five p.m., supper at 5:30, retreat at six, tattoo (when the evening roll was called) at 9:30, and lights-out at 9:45. At least that was the plan.
In reality, the New Jersey officers found that they had to march the men three miles beyond the town to find a level enough field to practice drilling. Then they had to march three miles back for lunch. Lt. Pierson wrote that actually, "The time spent in going and returning make a large part of our drilling."
One alternative was to stay in town and practice close-quarter tactics and house to house fighting for three hours at a time. Local people lined the drill field every day, and some would cheer. The New Jersey men wrote home about "the fine town band, which played for the enjoyment of the townspeople several evenings every week." Major Davis wrote that the Twelfth dines on "Bread and crackers, fresh beef, bacon, pork, potatoes, beans, Jamaica peas, rice and hominy, molasses, sugar, coffee, and sometimes tomatoes....For my own part, I think we dine well."
Many of the Twelfth New Jersey turned out for services at the nearby Emory Methodist Church. Some began to attend mass at the Catholic church in the morning, then go on to Protestant services later in the day. Other pastimes included brewing applejack, going fishing and hunting, and having tintypes made by the itinerant photographers who visited the camp.
Both the Patapsco Guard and the Twelfth New Jersey showed an interesting pattern of many early casualties of war before any conflict occurred. In fact, 60 percent of the known deaths in the Guard occurred before they ever left their home town. One cause was illness.
At 20 years old, Nathan Bortle died of pneumonia in December, 1861. While the Twelfth New Jersey was in Ellicotts Mills, six of its soldiers died of either diphtheria, pneumonia, typhoid, or dysentery.
Accidents were another
Toole was run over by a train while guarding the tracks in
Death was also caused by careless behavior as young men
to military realities. At that time, the Patapsco Guards
covered bridge over the Patapsco on the Howard County side
the soldiers of Company B, the 60th Regiment, New York
patrolling the Baltimore County side. Every two hours, at
the change of
guard, the guards on each side of the bridge met at the
center for a
Click to link to oldmainline.com
Town witnesses gave testimony that William Knight had been horsing around with Private Simon Fishbeck of New York at the bridge, playing at bayonet fights, when Fishbeck's gun went off. (sound of gun shot) Knight was wounded in the shoulder. Although he received immediate care from Dr. McGlaughlin of Ellicotts Mills, who witnessed the shooting, Knight still died within minutes. The New York troops were not allowed to carry loaded guns in the daytime, but Fishbeck testified that he had picked up the wrong gun, on left over from a night sentry. Though this group saw little action, about 3 percent of the men died in service.
The first time the Patapsco Guard left Ellicotts Mills proved disastrous, resulting in death or disgrace for many of the troops. Captain McGowan's reports contain almost nothing to explain what happened on June 2, 1862, for 21 soldiers. His only notation that summer is for the month of May and reads:
"Camped at Patterson Park awaiting orders."
Those orders would come from General John A. Dix, who, a month earlier on March 29, had been appointed to command the newly created Middle Department including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, the Eastern Shore, as well as Anne Arundel, Harford, Cecil, and Baltimore Counties. Dix would be removed from the post after serving only two months. But in the meantime, he was issuing the orders.
From Virginia were coming stories of the rapid advance of Stonewall Jackson and the retreat of the Union troops under General Banks. Confederates were advancing up the Shenandoah Valley in a chain of victories.
On May 7, 1862, at his Baltimore City headquarters, General Dix ordered a hasty assembling of volunteer militia and brand new recruits. As part of this effort to scrape together reinforcements, the Patapsco Guard were hurriedly combined with the Third Maryland Infantry.
On May 24th, after two weeks of drill, General Dix gave orders to send the combined troops to the front. Together with a battalion of the First Cavalry and Parnells Legion, the Patapsco Guard were transported by B&O railroad to Harpers Ferry.
On May 27th, they marched 2-1/2 miles to camp on Bolivar Heights. The Union commander, General Saxton, ordered the troops to establish a defensive line across the crest of Bolivar Heights. Small groups were sent out on reconnaissance missions on that and the following nights. They came under fire and reported that the rebels were out in force. At least two Patapsco Guards, Samuel McKitrick and Richard Parsley, were captured by the Confederates at this time.
Around dusk on the night of May 30th, the Confederates stormed the Union lines. Union batteries on Camp Hill and heavy guns on Maryland Heights returned fire. The battle coincided with a tremendous thunderstorm, with pouring rain and lightning mixed in with the noise of the artillery.
At midnight, the Confederates renewed their attack, and the Maryland troop retreated across the Potomac to the Maryland side. Captain McGowan's reports say nothing of all this, but the Maryland Third Infantry states it clearly. "We retreated from Bolivar Heights to Maryland Heights in consequence of the rebels advancing in force and shelling our camps. Lost by the movement all our camp and garrison equipage, all books, clothing, and provisions."
After a day in Harpers Ferry without food or equipment, the troops were ordered to cross the Potomac on June 2 and march toward Winchester, Virginia. What happened next is not clearly explained in any records. Some of the troops refused to cross the river and continue with the march. Dennis Frye, Harpers Ferry historian, suggests that perhaps these were some of the Maryland troops who insisted that they had signed up to defend Maryland but not invade other states. The first lieutenant of the Patapsco Guard was one of those who refused, and his individual record states that an entire company of 100 enlisted men went with him.
Whatever the truth, in a court martial dated June 12, 1862, 21 of the Patapsco Guard were dishonorably discharged as deserters. The officer, by the way, was not one of these. At least two of these so- called deserters, McKitrick and Parsley, had actually been prisoners of war at the time. By June 2, they were on a march through the rain to a prison at Lynchburg. McKitrick would die there in August of an unspecified disease. Parsley would be paroled back to Maryland in September. But their records were not straightened out until 1890, when Parsley applied for a war pension. Whether the others named as deserters actually deserted, took a border state position not to invade, were captured, or were dead on June 2, 1862, is impossible to say.
On July 30, 1862, Special Order #30 directed that Captain McGowan report with his company to Surgeon Henry Palmer at York, Pennsylvania, as provost guards at the newly constructed York Military Hospital. Temporary barracks built in York were rapidly converted into a hospital complex. This had begun in July, but in August a tremendous influx of wounded came from the battlefield of Antietam. The dead and wounded arrived by train directly from the battlefield, often needing immediate surgery. With as many as 5,000 injured to handle, the hospital expanded to include a huge Odd Fellows Hall in the center of town and more emergency shelters.
For the Patapsco Guard, hospital duty involved guarding wounded Confederates, transporting prisoners to points of exchange, and sometimes assuring that the slightly wounded didn't get to the taverns and tear up the town. Sometimes they also had to maintain soldiers under quarantine, as smallpox was still a threat.
During this time, Captain McGowan recruited 22 men to replace the ones lost after Harpers Ferry, with interesting but mixed results. Some came from the Ellicott Mills area, others were Pennsylvanians or German immigrants to York. Three of his new recruits deserted promptly, on after serving only a single day. Others stayed for the entire war.
War had seemed comfortably far away from Pennsylvania, but in mid-June, 1863, war fever struck. On June 10 the War Department established a new military jurisdiction to protect the state -- the Department of the Susquehanna, commanded by General Darius Couch. Couch had to assemble a force rapidly, and he had very little luck recruiting local men in the midst of farm season. He had to assemble a force with odd units of cavalry, state militia, and a naval gun battery, all in all no more than 1,000 men. The Patapsco Guards were part of this odd lot.
On June 15, Confederate forces invaded Chambersburg and destroyed a vital railroad line at Scotland Bridge. The Patapsco Guards were thrown into a pattern of frantic movement as generals tried to anticipate the Confederates' next move.
On June 16 they went by train from York to Harrisburg. The next day by train to Shippensburg. On the 20th they went to the destroyed Scotland Bridge near Chambersburg, but two days later they were sent north to Carlisle. On the 23rd they went to Harrisburg again, and by the 27th they were back again in York.
The situation at York was just as confused. The medical supplies and most of the wounded had been sent east of the Susquehanna. All that remained at the hospital were the 60 Guards; some 200 fairly healthy men willing to fight; the hospital director, a Dr. Palmer; and five patients too ill to be moved. Under a Major Haller, the Guards were combined with the healthiest invalids and sent to fortify the west end of town. When the Major realized that General Jubal Early was headed that way with three brigades, he gave up the idea of defense and marched the Guards and invalids to join other small Pennsylvania forces to defend the bridge across the Susquehanna at Wrightsville.
At Wrightsville, Major Haller had 1,800 men dug into fortifications but armed only with their rifles, no artillery. Confederate General John B. Gordon and his Georgia brigade of 2,800 men had a battery of four guns. The rebel battery opened fire on the Wrightsville defenders, who quickly retreated across the bridge and then burned it.
The troops were redeployed on the east of the Susquehanna, and the Patapsco Guard dug into new positions at Bainbridge, just south of Three Mile Island, and waited for the Confederate troops to try to cross at the shallow ford there. The attack never came. The Patapsco Guards waited in their rifle pits at Bainbridge until July 4, throughout the fighting at Gettysburg. On July 7 they marched back to York, having missed the battle completely.
They did not miss the battlefield, though. They were sent to Gettysburg for guard duty and camped southeast of the town near present-day Hospital Road until Christmas. Nearby homes were used as field hospitals. Head, neck, and chest wound victims were kept at a huge tented Gettysburg field hospital which remained open until mid-November. Amputees and anyone with arm or leg fractures had a jolting 28- mile trip to York in wagon ambulances. 1,100 such patients were moved there in two weeks, including many Confederate wounded who required guards. The Patapsco Guard served in many types of support functions during these six months.
Amputation at a Gettysburg field hospital, July 1863
Hezekiah Weeks never forgot the misery of his months at the devastated Gettysburg battlefield. While most of the troops were assigned to guard the wounded Confederate prisoners, Hezekiah was called out to work as a blacksmith and horse doctor.
After the battle, great numbers of lost and injured horses had to be rounded up, treated if ill, reshod, or destroyed. The misery and pain that the battle had brought to these helpless animals left a lasting impression on Weeks.
Late in the summer, Hezekiah Weeks and some of the other Guards went east across the battlefield to the site of the famous peach orchard. Despite the extensive damage to the orchard, they found a few branches with peach fruit which had ripened and ate some as well as some more fruit on the ground. They all contracted dysentery.
In September, eight weeks after the battle, Weeks and a few soldiers decided to go to Cashtown, a small settlement eleven miles west of Gettysburg, to get away from the misery of the hospitals. While the others went to a tavern, Weeks entered a general store to buy food and was surprised to meet some Confederate soldiers who were hiding out in the Pennsylvania countryside and were there for the same purpose. He spoke with them briefly. They were separated from their army and too lost to figure out how to get back across the Potomac. Still armed with plenty of ammunition, they thought they could hunt and survive until the Yankee winter set in, but the cold weather had them worried.
From January 10 to July 4, 1864, the Patapsco Guard served as provost guards in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Camp Curtain at Harrisburg was a major hospital depot, supply center, and training camp. Thousands of troops had spent some time there, and wartime bars and entertainments were flourishing in the city.
In addition, during times of peak population, the camp was overcrowded. Troops had to camp on the state capital grounds and on empty lots throughout the city, often disturbing the politicians and residents. Provost guards were expected to keep some sort of order through all this.
For the Patapsco Guard, the first order of business at this post was the marriage of Captain McGowan and Miss Anna Diehl of York. Aside from that happy event, the Guard had a few problems. Reenlistment bonuses were promised but not delivered.
A typical case is Sgt. Joshua McCauley, who went home to Ellicott Mills after being promised $60 to re-enlist but being given only $3.
In July of 1864, the threat of Confederate attack on Pennsylvania seemed small. Union troops were winning and advancing. At this time, the Patapsco Guard was assigned to guard the railroad lines near Chambersburg. To defend the city and the Cumberland Valley, General Couch had about 135 men, including the Guards.
But at this time, Lee ordered General Jubal Early to destroy the transportation networks in south central Pennsylvania, and General Early ordered General John A. McCausland to strike at Chambersburg. On the night of July 28, 1864, McCausland's 2,800 troops began a march on the city.
Just a few miles south of Chambersburg were 2,500 Union troops commanded by General William Averell. On the 29th, General Couch sent messages to Averell about the advancing rebels. Through the early morning hours of July 30, he sent frantic telegraph messages to Averell, but no one could find the general. About 4 a.m. the general was found lying by a roadside, asleep by a fence. When messengers awakened him with the urgent request for help, all he said was, "Tell Couch I'll be there in the morning."
Morning had already come, and McCausland's 2,800 troops were moving steadily toward Chambersburg. Couch had only 40 cavalrymen, who had been scouting the Cumberland Valley through the night; 60 Patapsco Guards; and 35 men from the 1st New York Light Artillery, with just two cannons.
At 3:00 a.m. General Couch gave up hope of reinforcements and began evacuating the military supplies and headquarters staff by train. He sent cavalry scouts, 35 Patapsco Guards, and one of the cannons to hold the west end of town as long as possible. The other cannon was kept at the train station to cover the retreat.
These troops set up the cannon on a slight rise overlooking a stream the rebels would have to cross. When McCausland's sleepy troops reached the bridge, the Union opened fire, killing one Confederate and wounding several others. The rebels took cover, and the Union troops fired five more rounds over the next hour. Not knowing that only about 45 men were holding the hill, McCausland's 2,800 troops halted for nearly two hours. By then the Patapsco Guards and the cavalrymen had retreated to the station and left on the last train.
McCausland entered Chambersburg at 6:00 a.m. and demanded $200,000 ransom. He didn't get it, and about 9:00 the city began to burn. McCausland lost control of his troops; some began to loot and burn houses indiscriminately. Others, including officers, refused to participate and assigned their men to protect certain buildings and even to fight housefires and rescue property. Chambersburg was the only northern town burned during the Civil War.
General Averell marched his men southeast around Chambersburg. Even though soldiers saw tremendous smoke clouds rising, Averell did not turn towards the city. Meanwhile, General Couch reassembled his troops at Shippensburg, and they returned to the ruined city on the next day, July 31, 1964
As Hezekiah Weeks recalled it, the actual fighting at Chambersburg only lasted about 45 minutes -- less than an hour. The rest of the time was spent hauling the single cannon around and waiting for the Union reinforcements that never arrived.
The real shock came when the Guard returned to Chambersburg and saw the devastation after the fire. That gave them a taste of the rough conditions in the camp to follow.
At their other posts, the Patapsco Guards had always been near a city or town to buy extra provisions. All across the north, local communities had volunteer ladies groups who cared for sick soldiers, sending them packages of food at holidays and nursing those who were ill. Here the situation was reversed.
Chambersburg was in ruins. All the food and blankets available had to go to the poorest civilians and to those who had no relatives in other towns to take them in. The local farms had been raided in 1863 and 1864 -- every time an invading army had marched through. Chambersburg homes and businesses which had not been burned out had usually been looted. Here there was no "Ladies Aid Society" to offer any help to the troops stationed nearby.
As the fall of 1864 set
Guard were still in tents, some of them sleeping in single
the bare ground. In the cold, rainy November and the
of that year, colds and flu spread quickly among the troops.
increased their hardships.
In what proved to be an exceptionally bitter Pennsylvania winter, the soldiers camped in their dog tents. Troops around Chambersburg previously had lived in what they called shabangs -- little wooden shanties about 8 by 10 feet and 5 feet high, with the tent stretched over the top as a roof. But extra wood was hard to come by that winter.
The weather was cold and rainy in late fall, but at the end of January, it became even worse. Night temperatures dropped below zero and rose only to the teens for the first half of February.
About a foot of snow from the January storms covered the ground. Even in Harrisburg, officers arranged for the troops stationed there to be moved in empty factories and hospitals.
taverns presented a chance to keep warm. The final death
the regiment occurred when Private John Redman, in a
tavern on East
Street, got into an argument with Lt.
of the First New York Artillery. At a hearing later, Lt.
that Redman had resisted arrest, so he shot Redman.
Redman was from Baltimore County and had been with the
The last Patapsco Guard court martial also occurred during this cold, bleak period.
Private James Basman was court martialled on January 31 for being drunk on duty, going AWOL, slugging Second Lt. Lem Bewley, and punching the provost guards who arrived to help Bewley make the arrest. Ironically, considering the miserable weather, Basman was sent off to prison in the Dry Tortugas, Florida.
On April 9, 1865, General Lee surrendered to the Union commander, General Grant, at Appomattox Court House, and the war was over. The Patapsco Guard remained at Chambersburg until August 17, when the unit was finally mustered out.
Many men had already left when their three-year enlistment was up. Sgt. Basil Burton, for instance, was back home on his farm April 15 when Lincoln died, and his family went to Washington, D.C. for the funeral.
Even Captain McGowan had left for life back in York with his Pennsylvania bride. First Lieutenant John Downey, a young Ellicotts Mills stone mason who had entered as a private on the first day of the unit's existence, September 16, 1861, was its commanding officer at the end, with Sgt. Allen Fort as his second in command.
The Patapsco Guards returned to a Howard County still divided and resentful after the war. A year later, when a flood hit Ellicotts Mills on October 10, 1866, the Civil War bitterness still made a united relief effort impossible. Reverend Parkman, the Episcopal minister, could collect only six hundred dollars because he turned down all offers of money which could be given only to Union or Rebel sympathizers. Reverend Parkman blamed political feelings for the hard-hearted behavior of Howard County citizens.
Ed Koehl, a Navy officer stationed in Philadelphia, came home to help his widowed mother, whose house had washed away, and he was shocked by the anti-Union sentiment from people he remembered as friends from before the war. His late father's employer offered them $5.00 and suggested they move out of town. Cole wrote to his brother: "That hole of Ellicotts Mills, I hate worse than ever, and I am only sorry that anything was accepted from the uncharitable wretches that inhabit it!"
Obviously, the Patapsco Guards returned from Chambersburg not to a hero's welcome but to a bitter and unsettled town and state.
|RANK||NAME||DATE IN||DATE OUT|
|Captain||Thomas S. McGowan||16 Sept 1861||20 June 1865|
|1st Lieutenant||Jacob Timanus||16 Sept 1861||22 Dec 1862|
|Alex McCrone||16 Sept 1861||17 Oct 1864|
|John Downey||16 Sept 1861||17 Aug 1865|
|2nd Lieutenant||Lemuel Bewley||11 Oct 1861||17 Oct 1864|
|Allen T. Fort||16 Sep1861||17 Oct 1864|
The Patapsco Guards, Independent Company of Maryland Volunteer Infantry, Daniel Carroll Toomey, 1993, Toomey Press