The Patapsco Guards Infantry, Maryland Volunteers, and Independent Company of Volunteers

Organized at Ellicotts Mills, Maryland 25 Sept. 1861

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 .

Introduction to the Patapsco Guard

When the Civil War began, it was the individual states and not the Federal government that recruited the men and organized the individual regiments. When this task was completed, the regiments were mustered into Federal service.

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.

photo of H.Weeks

Click on photo for larger image.

Regimental Reports for the Patapsco Guard