Historic Newspaper Index
VOL I, No. 1
Hagerstown, Maryland - Saturday, February 24, 2024
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Hagestown Pike with Cornfield
The Hagerstown Pike with the Cornfield on the left
Courtesy of Antietam National Battlefield



Hagerstown is located near the crossroads of fragments of two major historic travel routes, the National Pike (present-day U.S. Route 40) moving from east to west and the route moving from north to south from Pennsylvania to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia (The Great Wagon Road). The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal ran along the Maryland side of the Potomac River from Georgetown, DC to Cumberland, Maryland. The canal passed by the towns of Sharpsburg and Williamsport in Washington County with Williamsport being only six miles south west of Hagerstown. The coal transported on the canal was used by the Federals at the Washington Navy Yard for its ships. As a result, the Confederates were drawn to the area to attempt to destroy or at least interrupt traffic on the canal. Union soldiers were stationed in the area to provide protection resulting in soldiers of both armies firing at each other across the Potomac River.[1]

The roads in the county were transportation conduits for both armies as well as for farm produce. Washington County was an agricultural community growing grain and fruit and raising livestock. The transportation links, agricultural produce and proximity to both Pennsylvania and Virginia meant that Hagerstown could provide a good staging area for the army throughout the war years. The market house in Hagerstown was used by the Federal army to store supplies and food, much of which was provided through government contracts with the local farmers. For months after the war ended, government wagon trains continued to travel through Hagerstown heading to Kentucky and other mid-western locations.[2]


Local historian and newspaper editor, Thomas J. C. Williams dynamically described in 1906 the political and economic climate of the county during the war.

The excitements of the war were more lively and the feelings of animosity were necessarily much more bitter here than elsewhere. This County was a battlefield. Both armies overran it. Vast quantities of property were destroyed. The population were divided in sentiment and each portion ascribed to the other the losses and indignities they suffered. It was literal fratricidal strife and a fratricidal strife is always the most embittered...There was strife and division within the family circle. In some instances the father would sympathize with one side, the mother with the other. Some of the sons would join the Northern army and some the Southern or it might be that the father would be armed against his sons and not infrequently would brothers be brought into direct conflict in opposing forces.

Those who sympathized with the suffered loss during the Southern occupancy and inconvenienced all the time and they felt that their nearest neighbors might be aiding and abetting those who were despoiling them. Those who sympathized with the South...were oppressed and insulted and some of them taken from their homes and families to be imprisoned in Northern forts.

In the North people were growing rich on the war, patriotism was profitable, but in Washington County the country was overrun by armies and farmers frequently saw the results of a year’s hard labor swept away or trod under foot in an hour. Crops would be sowed, the ground ploughed with hired horses and the work done at enormous expense and as the crops would be white [sic] for the harvest an army would encamp in the field. Or at a critical time every horse from a farm would be carried off leaving the farmer paralyzed. Miles of fencing which had cost almost as much as the land it enclosed was swept away and burnt up for firewood in a day. For this condition each side considered the friends of the other side responsible.

The man did not doubt that the secessionists, by attempting to break up the and by firing on the flag, were responsible for the war. The Secessionist did not doubt that the Southern States had a constitutional right to terminate a compact with those who had violated its terms and that the North, by invading the South was alone responsible for the conflict. Then, too, the successive occupancy of the County by the troops of the two sides gave rise to much feeling. If, during the occupation of the Northern army the man under that protection, treated his Secession neighbor with arrogance, it might be expected that the latter would take his revenge when the Northern army had given place to the Southern. This then was the feeling which prevailed during the progress of the war.[3]


Maryland shared the distinction of being a border-state with Delaware, Kentucky and Missouri. Marylanders, in general, did not identify themselves exclusively with either the Northern or Southern geographic area of the nation. Some Marylanders considered themselves part of the South while others did not. Those who did not consider themselves southerners included businessmen, newer immigrants, and the 75,000 free blacks in the state by 1850. Slavery in Maryland was more predominant on the Eastern Shore and in the southern parts of the state rather than in central and western Maryland. This was due to the tobacco economy in those regions.[4] The different emphasis on slave labor led to changes in the state constitution in 1850 to safeguard the master-slave relationship.[5]

Washington County was invaded and occupied three separate times by the Confederate Army, in 1862, 1863 and again in 1864. Its citizens were divided over the issues that led to war and they experienced dissension and hardship as the two opposing armies moved back and forth through their streets, alleys, and yards. Hagerstown changed hands several times during the conflict and first one and then the other faction held the upper hand.[6] Citizens were required to take a loyalty oath to the Union, and those who refused were arrested and taken to prison at Fort McHenry in Baltimore or other places.[7]

In Washington County as elsewhere in the state, the dissension surrounding the war occurred over a state’s right to withdraw from the United States. The two major political parties with any presence in Maryland were the Democrats and Unionists. The Democrats believed that it was their constitutional right to leave the Union, while the Union Party did not. Neither party approved of federal government intervention with the institution of slavery. However by 1863 and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves in the areas in rebellion, the institution of slavery began to break down in Maryland. A combination of slaves fleeing the Confederate south, the Antietam and Gettysburg campaigns and other military movements in the region resulted in the declining value of slaves.[8]

Further, in July 1863 the War Department began recruiting free African Americans for army service. The non-slaveholders in Maryland were concerned that the labor market would be adversely affected and advocated the recruitment of both free and enslaved African Americans. They felt that the recruitment of only free African Americans in Maryland would result in increasing the value of slaves due to the loss of free African-American labor, something the non-slaveholders did not want to happen. At the same time, free labor was already reluctant to come into the state because of the use of slave labor. The slaveholders were against the enlistment of slaves but were already losing their slaves to military commanders in the area who were not strictly enforcing the fugitive slave laws. Military law and state law required that military commanders not only avoid interference with slavery and not entice slaves to runaway but return runaway slaves to their masters.[9]

By the final months of 1863, slaves were allowed to enlist with the permission of their masters; the slave was emancipated and if the master was loyal to the Union he would be given compensation for the loss of his slave. African-American recruitment would count toward the quota for state enlistments. By 1864 slave values in Maryland had collapsed. In Frederick in 1862, a group of slaves sold for $2,500. By 1864 the group would have sold for only $400. In Hagerstown in 1864 slaves were selling for $5.00 each. The writing was on the wall, and in October of 1864 the new Maryland Constitution freeing the slaves was ratified.[10]


According to Williams, the first appearance of troops in Hagerstown was a group of 50 Federal regulars from Harper’s Ferry on 9 April 1861. Thus began a flood of people of all kinds through Hagerstown not seen since the stagecoach days.[11] Armies were on both borders of the county with 4,000 Federal troops in Chambersburg and 4,000 Virginia troops at Harper’s Ferry. “It was a strange circumstance that on Sundays many Southern sympathizers of Hagerstown made the journey to Harper’s Ferry to see their Southern friends, whilst people went to Chambersburg to view the army there...Confederates from Harper’s Ferry came freely over to the Maryland side of the Potomac and by their presence obstructed canal navigation....”[12]

Early in the war Federal troops were camped in Washington County to guard the government stores, ammunition, mules, and wagons at Hagerstown and Williamsport.[13] In June of 1861 Major General Robert Patterson with about ten thousand Federal troops occupied Hagerstown with his headquarters in the Hagerstown Female Seminary (site of the current Washington County Hospital.[14] The July 24, 1861 issue of the Herald and Torch suggested that the troops would not be permanent. It was thought that Federal troops at Harpers Ferry would be able to guard transportation on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.[15]

However, in December of 1861, Confederate General Thomas Jonathan Jackson and his men tried to disrupt traffic on the canal by dismantling Dam No 5 on the Virginia side of the Potomac River causing damage to surrounding property on the Maryland side. With the Union defending the dam and the Maryland shore, cannon and rifle fire also caused damage on the Virginia shore. The Herald &Torch for 11 December 1861 reported the damage Jackson’s men caused on the Maryland side of Dam No. 5. Unable to destroy the dam “they commenced throwing shot and shell across the river at the houses and barns within reach…setting fire to the barn of Mrs. Jacob Reitzell” which was being rented by Samuel Stabling. The barn was “entirely consumed, together with a thousand bushels of corn, a quantity of wheat, hay and other property, inflicting a heavy loss upon both the owner of the barn and the tenant.”[16]

When Union General Nathaniel P. Banks was forced to withdraw from Winchester, Virginia in May 1862, his troops crossed the Potomac River into Washington County, entered Hagerstown and destroyed the press, type, materials, and building of the pro-southern Hagerstown Mail and other business enterprises. When they learned that the building belonged to a Union man the Federals raised money to pay him for his loss.[17]

When General Robert E. Lee’s army passed through Hagerstown on the Confederates’ first invasion of the Union in September of 1862, a Confederate correspondent wrote that “some few young men openly avowed their Southern feeling and joined us, but the greater number stood as if thinking...I must sacrifice principle and secure my home.” The Union supporters including farmers, merchants and the editors of the Herald of Freedom and Torch Light fled across the border into Pennsylvania.[18] Author Kathleen Ernst states in her book Too Afraid to Cry, that during the 1862 campaign, “the vocal minority of Hagerstown civilians who were secessionists made the Southerners feel welcome.” Memoirs of the time speak of Hagerstown providing more of a welcome to the Southern army than did the citizens of Frederick. Soldiers were fed, clothed, and housed. Many of the merchants opened their stores to the Confederates. Generally, Ernst states, the Confederate occupation was orderly and the men enjoyed their stay.[19]


The battle in the Southern part of Washington County left the area devastated. Crops were ruined, wells dry or polluted, livestock gone, and there was virtually no food to be had. The farmers lost all of their fences. When farmers reacquired livestock, they did not have the means to rebuild fences, only to lose them once again. Hospitals were set up in homes and barns throughout that part of the county as well as in Hagerstown. Clara Barton came to Washington County after the battle and set up nursing at the Poffenberger Farm north of Sharpsburg. For the newspaper accounts of the Battle of Antietam and the devastation in the county see the Herald of Freedom and Torch Light accounts for September 24, 1862 and October 1, 1862. Herald of Freedom and Torch Light

“By the middle of July [1862]the number of sick in the hospitals was greatly augmented by the wounded who were gathered from the various skirmishes along the Potomac and in Virginia as well as by those who became victims of the hot weather and camp life. Hospital tents had to be erected in the Male Academy grounds on South Prospect Street. The constant succession of military funerals had a most depressing effect upon the public and men began to talk about the general health of the town and suggest measures for the prevention of an epidemic.” The Academy building, the Female Seminary (Washington County Hospital site), and the Court Hall (Washington County Court House) were also in use as hospitals. The ladies of Hagerstown and the surrounding area of the county gathered supplies, clothing, and foodstuffs and helped tend the sick and wounded.[20]>


In June of 1863 General Lee led his army northward once again through Maryland. The Confederate army was preceded by displaced persons, mainly African Americans, from the Shenandoah Valley along with their families and possessions. Farmers, merchants and other Union sympathizers south of the Potomac River also sought refuge in Pennsylvania bringing their horses, merchandise and other moveable possessions in hopes of keeping them from falling into the hands of the Confederates.[21]

After the battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) General Lee’s retreating army clashed with cavalry in Smithsburg, Boonsboro, Funkstown, and Williamsport and through the streets of Hagerstown.[22] In his diary, Hugh St. Clair, a member of the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry described the pitched battle that took place on 6 July 1863 in the alleys, streets and churchyards of Hagerstown. He tells of finding a good position by Mr. Levi’s storehouse on the East corner of the Public Square[23] and how the rebels were streaming into the Square from the direction of the Washington House, one block away from the Square on West Washington Street. Being blocked in by the rebel line, St. Clair had to run through people’s gardens and jump fences to get around the Confederate line while listening to a woman crying over her dead loved one.[24] Again, the nightmare of war was brought to the doorsteps and gardens of the people of Hagerstown and Washington County.


Amid many rumors on 1 July 1864 the Confederates again swept through Hagerstown and Washington County. They came from the south up the Sharpsburg Pike and occupied Hagerstown once again. Under orders from Brigadier General John McCausland, $20,000 and 1,500 suits of clothing were demanded from the citizens of Hagerstown under threat that the town would be torched.[25] After much negotiation on the part of the town fathers, the ransom was paid and the town spared. If anyone doubted the sincerity of the rebel threat, there was no doubt left when Chambersburg was set on fire on 30 July after refusing to pay the ransom demanded of them. Again, as in September of 1862 when the Confederates invaded Washington County resulting in the battle at Antietam Creek, the Herald and Torch Light newspaper staff fled with other businesses and farmers to safety in Franklin County Pennsylvania.[26] Herald and Torch Light account


Over time, a toll was taken on the citizens of Washington County. The mere rumor of the Confederates coming into the county was enough to put fear in the hearts of all Unionist citizens. Repeated removals of animals and merchandise to safety in the north wearied the people and caused loss of business profits. Those Confederates who attempted to pay for goods did so in worthless Confederate script. Union soldiers left government IOUs to be claimed later by the unfortunate citizen. Claims for damages and loss of goods were so numerous and difficult to retrieve that claims agents ran ads soliciting business.

The Herald of Freedom and Torch Light and the Herald and Torch Light reported the rampant crime during those years and the months after the war ended. Horse theft rings were operating in the county due to the scarcity and high value of horses.[27] The number of robberies and murders increased no doubt due to the presence of displaced persons, strangers and military personnel. One high profile murder took place in 1864 near Leitersburg. A young Pennsylvanian bringing horses belonging to a military friend back to Hanover was accosted and murdered by four soldiers. The men were tried in Washington County court in 1865.[28]


Amid all the chaos of those years, life did go on in Hagerstown and Washington County. This was apparent by the ads, stories, poems and legal notices printed by the newspapers side by side with the glorious stories of battles, marriage and death announcements, accounts of devastation by the armies, and editorials about politics and politicians. Unlike in the south and even the Shenandoah Valley, goods of all kind were available to the residents of the area. Merchants continued to go to the cities, mainly Baltimore and Philadelphia, to renew their supplies of merchandise whether food stuffs, clothing, fabric or fancy goods.

Poor families in the community were provided for through fund raising events put on by prominent women from the area. This was especially important to the widows of soldiers who had lost their means of support. This benevolence extended beyond the home front to raising funds for soldiers through the Christian and Sanitary Commissions.

When General Lee surrendered to General Grant in April of 1865 the soldiers trickled home to Washington County over a period of months as their units were discharged. However, not all of the veterans were welcomed back. The loyal soldiers were hailed as heroes and given a magnificent festival in July 1865.[29] However, those who had chosen to fight for the Confederates were imprisoned or asked to leave by the vigilance committee which monitored the actions of these Confederate sympathizers.[30] Further, the north-south dispute continued to be hotly debated, whether in street brawls and assaults or in the editorials disputing the federal government’s leniency towards those who fought for the Confederacy.[31]

[1] Thomas J. C. Williams, A History of Washington County, Maryland, Volume 1 (John M. Runk & L. R.Titsworth, 1906), 312. Also Herald of Freedom and Torch Light, 11 December 1861, 18 December 1861, 25 December 1861.
[2] Herald of Freedom and Torch Light, 5 Feb. 1862, Herald and Torch Light, 15 March, 7 June 1865, 6 September 1865.
[3] Williams, 303-304.
[4] James S. Van Ness, “Economic and Cultural Changes: 1800-1850” in Maryland: A History 1632-1974, Richard Walsh and William Lloyd Fox, editors (Baltimore, Maryland: Maryland Historical Society, 1974), 219.
[5] Richard R. Duncan, “The Era of the Civil War” in Maryland: A History 1632-1974, Richard Walsh and William Lloyd Fox ed. (Baltimore, Maryland: Maryland Historical Society, 1974), 360.
[6] Fletcher M. Green, "A People at War: Hagerstown, Maryland, June 15-August 31, 1863". Maryland Historical Magazine (Baltimore, Maryland: The Maryland Historical Society, December 1945) 252-3.
[7] Herald of Freedom and Torch Light, 13 Aug. 1862.
[8] Duncan, 361-362, 365-366.
[9] Ibid., 362,366.
[10] Ibid., 369-370, 376-77.
[11] Williams,307.
[12] Ibid., 308. Also Green, 253.
[13] Herald of Freedom and Torch Light, 24 July 1861.
[14] Williams, 310.
[15] Hagerstown Herald of Freedom and Torch Light, 24 July 1861.
[16] “Firing at Dam No. 5,” Hagerstown Herald of Freedom and Torch Light, 11 December 1861.
[17] Green, 252-3. Also, S. Roger Keller, Events of the Civil War in Washington County, Maryland (Shippensburg, PA: Burd Street Press, 1995.), 67.
[18] Ibid., 253. Also, Hagerstown Herald of Freedom and Torch Light, 10/24 September 1862 and 1 October 1862.
[19] Kathleen A. Ernst, Too Afraid to Cry: Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1999), 82-84; quote from page 83.
[20] Williams, 313. Also, Hagerstown Herald of Freedom and Torch Light, 8 Oct. 1862 and 19 Nov. 1862.
[21] Keller, Events, 123. Also, Hagerstown Herald of Freedom and Torch Light, 28 May 1862; 4 June 1862.
[22] Ibid., A-4.
[23] Ad for B.F. Hahn's New Sky-Light Gallery, Herald of Freedom and Torch Light, 10 September 1862.
[24] Hugh St. Clair, Hugh St. Clair’s Civil War Diary, CD-ROM Edition. (Hygiene, Colorado: Sunshine Press, 2000.)
[25] S. Roger Keller, Crossroads of War (Shippensburg, PA: Burd Street Press, 1997),211-212.
[26] Herald of Freedom and Torch Light, 10/24 September 1862; Herald and Torch Light, 7 July 1864, 17 Aug. 1864.
[27] Herald and Torch Light, 29 March 1865.
[28] Herald and Torch Light, 22 March 1865.
[29] Herald and Torch Light, 31 May 1865 and 19 July 1865.
[30] Herald and Torch Light 10 May 1865, 24 May 1865, 2 August 1865.
[31] Herald and Torch Light, 24 May 1865, 21 June 1865, 5 July 1865.