Never-Ending Story

Custodian With a dry mop in a hallway

More than 160 Years Later, the Civil War Continues to be Re-Discovered

By Lisa Gregory and Photography by Turner Photography Studio

Joseph Shelton grew up in Frederick hearing the stories of his family who first came to the area in 1780, and more specifically hearing about the parts they played in the Civil War. It would inspire a lifelong and committed interest in Civil War history as Sheldon went on to become a superintendent at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and a president of the Frederick County Civil War Round Table, as well as a reenactor portraying Confederate Gen. James Lawson Kemper for the past four decades.

“It was our family history,” he says.  And an important part of local history, as well.

Frederick cannot lay claim to a major battle like Gettysburg or Antietam, but it played a significant role in the Civil War, nonetheless. “Frederick is a critically important story to the American Civil War,” says Patrick McGuire who cohosts The History Things Podcast.

For example, in September 1862 Union and Confederate armies fought during the Battle of South Mountain—a small-but-savage fight that set the stage for the Battle of Antietam a few days later. The Union Army also marched through Frederick on its way to victory at Gettysburg in July 1863. A year later, a Confederate invasion of Frederick culminated with the Battle of Monocacy on July 9, 1864, which was instrumental in saving the nation’s capital in Washington from being taken by Confederates.

“You go just north a few miles or west a few miles and you have these enormous battles,” says Greg Elder, chief historian for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and who conducts a lecture series on intelligence in the Civil War. “Frederick is such a hinge point. It’s such a key location on the map with so much movement around it. And that location proved to be really vital during the Civil War.”

Being at the confluence of so many forms of transportation “… means that there are armies crossing through here all the time,” says Kyle Dalton of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. “Mostly Union armies, but occasionally Confederate, and all of those stories intersect here.”

Today, Frederick commemorates that history with the Civil War medicine museum, Monocacy National Battlefield and many other historic landmarks and institutions—all of them telling a story that continues to speak to many 160 years later. The story can be found in the music they choose to play, the books they choose to research and write, their personal visits to battlefields and other Civil War sites, the historic homes where they live, and in Shelton’s case in their very own bloodlines.

Shelton’s family was divided during the Civil War, not so uncommon in a border state such as Maryland. “I do know they faced each other a few times in battle,” says Shelton of the brothers who lived on a farm on the Frederick County and Carroll County line. 

Shelton’s great-great-grandfather William George Shelton and brother Joseph Edward Shelton fought for the Confederacy—William for the 11th Virginia Infantry Regiment and Joseph for the 7th Virginia Calvary Regiment. Two other brothers, James W. Shelton and Thomas Henry Shelton, fought for the United States: James was in the 7th Maryland Infantry Regiment and was killed in action. Thomas fought with the 3rd Maryland Infantry Regiment and, “was the last surviving Civil War veteran of Maryland to die when he passed in 1938,” says Shelton.  

Despite his ancestors fighting for the Confederacy, “They didn’t have or own slaves,” says Shelton. But others did, and that is part of Frederick’s Civil War history, as well. “You did have a significant enslaved population in this area,” says Dalton. “When the Civil War begins, there is a good number of slave owners here in Frederick who cross the Potomac and join the Confederate Army and, in so doing, they’ve given up everything here. A lot of those enslaved people become what are called contraband; they are in a quasi-free state—kind of an uncertain freedom. They often follow the U.S. armies, or they would go to the Capitol. There were many that they called, ‘contraband camps,’ villages of self-emancipated peoples. So, there’s a draining of population here both of the enslavers and the enslaved population.”

He adds, “There are, of course, many enslaved people who remained here. Not everybody who enslaves goes and joins the Confederacy, but then there’s the Emancipation Proclamation that does not end slavery in Maryland [which was not considered a state in rebellion]. So, you have a very strange, almost year-long-period where the enslaved people here are still enslaved, even though everyone south of the Potomac is now legally free.”

Shelton does not know why his own family had divided loyalties. “That’s a question or a family mystery that I will never know,” he says. And he often ponders what it was like for his great-great-great-grandmother Sarah Ann Cain Shelton to witness the division of her sons firsthand. “I think about her a lot,” he says. “1861 to 1865 was a sad time in our history.”

Homes  to Hospitals

However, it might not have been just brothers fighting the war. Gary L. Dyson is the author of three books regarding Frederick and the Civil War – Confederate Row, Beyond the Bowie List and most recently The Rebels of Frederick County. It was while researching those buried along Confederate Row at Mount Olivet Cemetery that he stumbled upon a mystery.

“There might be a woman buried on Confederate Row,” he says.

Dyson came upon the graves of two Confederate soldiers and brothers, Emanuel and Andrew Shuman. “They both fought in the 50th Georgia Infantry Regiment,” says Dyson. But in reviewing both the 1850 census and 1860 census for Thomas County, Georgia, Dyson noticed a curious thing: “There was never an Andrew,” he says. But there was an Ally or A.E., depending on the census. In both censuses the person “appears as female,” he says.  Adding, “She was three years younger than Emanuel.”

The brother and possible sister were just two of the many soldiers—Union and Confederate—transported to Frederick following battles. Despite divisions in the country and even their own communities, many local residents rallied to care for the wounded in churches, schoolhouses and even private homes. 

In Burkittsville at the base of South Mountain, “There are stories of families who prepared food for the soldiers,” says Jody Brumage, archivist for Heritage Frederick. “And there’s indication from records that survived that the town sort of put together a Thanksgiving dinner for the soldiers who were still there. It’s interesting how that even in a small place like that that those stories endured after the conflict.”

Melanie Zimmermann grew up in one of the homes that served as a hospital during the war. Located in Adamstown, the house and property was previously called Three Springs Farm; today it is known as Thanksgiving Farms and is an orchard, nursery, garden center and brewery owned by Zimmermann’s family.

Upon purchasing the home in 1980, the family was in for a surprise.

“When my parents bought the house, it was condemned,” says Zimmermann. “As they started tearing everything down, they found a log cabin underneath. My dad did research and it turned out it was a Civil War hospital.”

According to Jon Wolz, who has researched the home and its history, the property belonged to a tenant farmer named Benjamin Moffett and it is an area full of history. As the Confederate Army camped nearby, the troops indulged in green corn making many of them quite ill in a moment that came to be called “Maryland’s Revenge.” And when Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson needed a horse, it was Moffett who stepped up. “Jackson’s horse Little Sorrel was missing,” says Wolz, who writes about local history for The Monocacy Monocle. “So, Ben gave him one.”

The horse was not having it, though. “Jackson got on the horse and the horse didn’t move,” says Wolz. “So, he kicked it with his spurs and the horse reared up and threw him down and the horse fell down, too. Jackson got injured and ended up being taken to Frederick in a hospital wagon where he recovered.”

He adds, “He never rode that horse again.”

For Zimmermann, growing up at the farm was a very real and tangible reminder of the suffering and death that resulted from the war. “And an era we are glad that we didn’t have to live through,” she says.

Sound and Silence

Amid a conflict with so much pain and suffering, there was a soundtrack to the Civil War, provided by those who picked up instruments instead of guns. They too played a part in the war.

Claude Bauer, co-founder of Monocacy Field Music, began as a reenactor and did so for a couple of decades. A long-time lover of music, however, he decided to create the Frederick-based musical group with its Union-era uniforms and fifes and drums.

“I played flute when I was younger and I started thinking about the fife,” he says. “I ordered one and I really liked it and I thought to myself, ‘I can learn this.’ So, that’s how I got into it.” He adds, “We were formed primarily to support programs at Monocacy National Battlefield. But we also do other events like for the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.”

Hollywood has even come calling. Monocacy Field Music has appeared recently in such movies as the I Heard the Bells and Gettysburg Christmas.

As such, Bauer and his fellow musicians, who perform such songs of the era as The Battle Hymn of the Republic and The Battle Cry of Freedom, are doing their part in spreading the word about the importance of music during the war.

“The field music was like an alarm clock or factory whistle,” he says. “Picture a camp with 80,000 men in it. You’ve got to organize that somehow. And they didn’t have a loudspeaker system. So, they would use music to regulate time throughout the camp.”

From morning call to supper and even when someone was going to get punished, says Bauer. “They would just stand there and play all day, every day, regardless of the weather,” he says of the musicians. “It could be 6 degrees or 96 degrees outside. It didn’t matter.”

But during battles and when needed, “They would pretty much drop their instruments and become stretcher bearers,” says Bauer. Adding, “We want to tell their story and also help keep the music alive.”

While Bauer and his bandmates note that history through music, others do so in silence.

“I have a diary in my collection of a soldier from my hometown in Pennsylvania and his first major engagement during the war was at the Battle of South Mountain,” says Jake Wynn, the marketing and communications manager at Visit Frederick and former director of interpretation at the Civil War medicine museum.

“I can go just outside of town and just below Gathland State Park along Mountain Church Road and see exactly the fields they came across. They look the same as they did back then. I think in Frederick County that is one of the most powerful places I have been to because it has that personal connection to me. I have had many moments of reflection there.”

By doing so, Wynn and others can reflect on a time of sacrifice that still resonates today with so many people in so many different ways.

Frederick Magazine