Published in the National Tribune, a newspaper for veterans of the Civil War, in October 1886, this letter to the editor came from Dr. Charles E. Goldsborough. He was serving as a Union Army surgeon at U.S. General Hospital #1 in Frederick, Maryland when Confederate forces occupied the city on September 6, 1862. This is his account of the Confederate occupation and the subsequent events leading up to the Battle of Antietam. – Jake Wynn, Director of Interpretation
FIGHTING THEM OVER
What Our Veterans Have to Say about Their Old Campaigns
BLUE AND BUTTERNUT
Graphic Description of Lee’s Occupation of Frederick, Md., in 1862.
EDITOR NATIONAL TRIBUNE:
It was soon after our bloody repulse at Ball’s Bluff that I was assigned to duty at the old barracks at Frederick city, Md., to assist in establishing a division hospital for Gen. Bank’s boys, who were about to go into Winter quarters in and around that place. I found that Dr. Crane, of the 3rd Wis., had already routed out a troop of Maryland cavalry and occupied one of the rooms on the ground floor for a hospital, where he had collected some sick and wounded, belonging chiefly to his own regiment. It was not a great while before our hospital had grown to considerable size, with a fine medical staff in attendance, as an open Winter created a large amount of sickness in the various camps, some of which were very unfavorably situated.
The division was composed of the 3rd Wis., Col. Ruger, doing guard duty in the city; 12th Mass., Col. Webster; 16th Ind., Col. Hackelman; 27th Ind., Col. Colgrove; 9th NYSM., who wore red stripes down the legs of their broadcloth uniforms – that they had themselves furnished – tony fellows, who, being from the city, contributed nearly all the details for clerical duty at the various headquarters; besides other commands that I cannot recall.
The boys had a nice time during the Winter of ’61-62 (barring the mud, that was generally knee deep) attending balls and parties and making love to…
THE PRETTY GIRLS OF MARYLAND,
And not a few captures were made from our ranks by the dear creatures. And yet it was a hard Winter upon the troops, as smallpox, measles and typhoid fever raged with considerable severity, and many a poor fellow got no farther in his effort to suppress the rebellion than the little cemetery on the hill beyond the barracks.
I will not pretend to narrate the many interesting and amusing events that occurred during our encampment at Frederick, but all will remember the habit of almost everybody wearing shoulder-straps with great silver letters in German text to denote the branch of service they belonged to, and the guards were sorely puzzled to know how to salute when an officer made his appearance, as the M.S.Q.D.A.S. of the Medical Staff, Quartermasters, and Sutlers were often mistaken for general officers.
But Spring came at last, and Gen. Banks commenced his memorable campaign up the Shenandoah Valley, followed by his equally memorable retrograde movement out of it into Maryland again, which we consoled ourselves was one of the most masterly retreats in the annals of warfare.
The Summer passed away, and the bloody battles on the Peninsula had been fought and Pope defeated, and our hopes and fears were chasing each other from zero to blood heat and back again like the mercury in the thermometer. Our hospital was no longer a division, but a general hospital, and one of the very best in the country. Dr. Robert F. Weir, U.S.A, was in charge, with a large staff of assistants, and St. Joseph’s furnished the nurses from the sisterhood.
On Sept. 5, 1862, I was Officer of the Day at the hospital, and Gen. Lee was crossing the Potomac with his army to invade Maryland. The Surgeon in charge, late in the evening, had gone t take a little much needed rest, leaving orders that I should watch the telegrams from Gen. Miles at Harper’s Ferry, and obey orders, if any, to the best of my judgment. The valiant Provost Marshal had fled with all his “fixings” long before. Near midnight I received the following dispatch from Gen. Miles and the last he sent:
Lee’s army will enter Frederick tomorrow. Any property that you do not want to fall into the hands of the enemy had better be destroyed. Our communications will soon be destroyed.
I ordered the long roll beaten, and about 600 convalescents, with their arms, answered, and were sent off in charge of A.A. Surg. C.P. Harrington towards Gettysburg, Pa., with two wagons loaded with the most valuable medicines and other property of the hospital. Then setting fire to the hospital and quartermaster stores that could not be removed we awaited the arrival of “Lee’s Miserables.”
Saturday, Sept. 6, 9 o’clock a.m., and no rebels. Dr. Pat. Heany had just relieved me as Officer of the Day, and after adjusting his sash, said, as he took his seat among the group of officers on the second story of the balcony: “Be jabers, but wouldn’t it be a purty piece of work for us to destroy all that property and have no Lee put in his appearance at all, at all?”
A DEMAND FOR SURRENDER.
There was a commotion at the entrance of the grounds among the group of watchers as a single horseman clad in butternut dashed through the gate, up to and in front of where we were sitting, reined up his horse, brought his carbine to his shoulder, covering Dr. Heany, who had risen to his feet and stood at the head of the stairs with his badge as Officer of the Day over his shoulder and said: “I demand the surrender of this post in the name of Gen. Lee and the Confederate States of America,” still covering Dr. Heany with his carbine.
The Doctor turned to me and asked, “What had I better do?”
“If you are prepared to defend the place tell the man so; if not, surrender it,” I replied.
“Then I surrender, sir,” said Dr. Heany hurriedly.
The Confederate smiled at the Doctor’s embarrassment, told us he belonged to White’s company of border cavalry, and was the advance of Lee’s army that would soon be up. He advised us to keep within the grounds until the army had passed and taken possession of the city, and then rode off, after promising to send a guard.
Dr. Heany soon recovered himself, and after the man had gone began to complain that “the haythen would have shot me in a moment without a bit of scruple, I really do believe, so I do; and a mean trick it was to point a rusty old blunderbuss at a gentleman as niver harmed him in his life, so it was; and divil the bit would I lament if he fell dead in the first fight, the baste.”
A roar of laughter from the officers was not calculated to soothe his wounded feelings.
We were soon placed under guard, and a battery of light artillery encamped in the grounds. Rebel Surgeons were not long in making their appearance, but except to share our supply of liquors made no demands, and were satisfied to be our guests.
WHILE WE WERE THEIR PRISONERS
Stonewall Jackson’s Medical Director, a brusque, pompous Doctor of some ability, seemed to be “best man” among them, and with rare exceptions all were gentlemanly in their behavior. The passage of the army continued day and night without interval until Wednesday, and it appeared as though it would never cease. It reminded me of what I had read of Peter the Hermit’s followers. The artillery were often mounted on the rudest of carriages, and rickety old farm wagons were seen moving along in sad contrast with captured United States wagons. The uniforms of the soldiers were not uniforms, but consisted of everything, from almost nothing to the most gorgeous apparel of all shades of colors. But squalor and abject wretchedness appeared to predominate, while a lack of skilled mechanics was everywhere apparent.
On Tuesday we were paroled and permitted to go upon the streets and to our hotels; but what a change had come over the city. Everywhere was found the butternut instead of the blue. The general behavior was good, and rarely did any act of outrage or disturbance occur. The strictest discipline was enforced in every case. In fact, the common soldier appeared too wretched and inanimate to care for anything but to eat and sleep. Now and then, as a general officer would be recognized, the peculiar yell of the army would be heard in that mournful sort of key that appeared to come from an empty stomach and a sad heart, so different from the cheer and tiger of our own well-fed Union soldiers.
The points that struck me most forcibly were their great numbers – I wondered where upon earth they all came from – and their wretched condition. They threw themselves down anywhere and slept. They ate anything and everything that was offered them, and about 800 staid in the hospital when the army moved away. How men famished and footsore could fight as they did was a question I asked myself over and over again. But as I have before said, the discipline was perfect and cruel towards the private soldier. I saw the severest punishment administered for the most trifling offenses.
The incident for Whittier’s poem, “Barbara Freitchie,” had no foundation in fact, unless it be the antics of a Maryland General in the rebel army, who, overcome with joy at meeting his old acquaintances who staid at home, went frisking around the streets with a United States flag tied to his horse’s tail and too much Washington County applejack under his jacket.
We had been told by the Confederate Surgeons that Gen. Lee did not intend to remain in Frederick, and all day Thursday and Friday saw indications of preparing to evacuate the city. We had heard nothing from our forces since our capture, and were profoundly ignorant of what was going on outside of the city, and nearly so as to what went on in it.
Exactly one week from the hour that we were captured the same group of medical officers were sitting on the same balcony, facing east, in company with about an equal number of Confederate Surgeons, when a puff of smoke was seen to rise from the Monocacy hills, about three miles from the city, on the turnpike leading to Baltimore, followed a moment later by the boom of a cannon. Another and another followed in quick succession. The puffs of smoke farthest away appeared larger than those nearer, and we surmised they were our guns.
The Confederate Surgeons now arose, and, telling us that our army was approaching and they would soon leave the city, took a long, last pull at our supply of spiritus frumenti, shook hands, bade us goodbye, and mounting their horses rode away. We watched the puffs of smoke come nearer and nearer after each short interval of silence, and soon saw lines of skirmishers in dark blue coming toward us, stretching a long distance on each side of the turnpike, while a body of Confederate cavalry slowly retired toward the city, stopping every now and then to fire a shot or two from their light field pieces.
When our forces had come so close that I thought the enemy must have left the city, I ran down Market Street to the corner of Patrick, expecting to meet some of our advance-guard, but judge of my surprise at seeing a Confederate officer with large, sandy whiskers calmly sitting on his horse, apparently waiting for somebody. As I approached he beckoned to me and said:
“You are a Federal Surgeon, are you not?”
I answered affirmatively, and he continued:
“Tell your commanding officer that we have treated your friends kindly while in possession of this city, and we will expect your army to do the same toward those who sympathize with our cause.”
I replied that I could deliver no verbal message, but if he would put his request on paper I would deliver it.
He replied that he had no time for that, but if he heard of any ill-treatment toward them he would be in a position to retaliate, and then he informed me that he was Gen. Stuart.
I left him, and, walking down East Patrick Street had approached the edge of the city, when I met a body of Union cavalry galloping past, led by a gray-headed Colonel. Almost immediately a section of artillery unlimbered a short distance down the street from where I was, and I saw the gunners standing by their guns with lanyards in their hands, apparently waiting for an enemy from up the street where our cavalry had gone. Hesitating for a moment which way to go, after failing to enter a door that I had tried, I heard a dreadful clatter of hoofs up the street, mingled with pistol shots and shouting, and a moment later a surging mass of cavalry came dashing down the street where I stood in the front door of a dwelling.
The Union cavalry were being driven by the rebels, who were close up against their rear, firing and slashing at them with their sabers. It was every man for himself, and some whose horses had fallen scaled garden fences, while others darted up side alleys, but the body came rushing along like a cyclone. One Sergeant came dashing past at full speed, standing in his stirrups, with a rebel close after, thrusting at him with his saber at every jump of his horse, but unable to reach him. As they neared where I stood the rebel dropped his saber, and, drawing his revolver, took deliberate aim and fired, not 10 feet from the back of the Sergeant, who fell dead from his horse within a few yards of where I stood. He was a fine-looking man, and I examined his revolver afterwards and found every chamber loaded, and why did not use it I never could understand. I had him buried with others, and sent his watch, revolver, and effects to his widow in Michigan.
On went the conglomerate mass of blue and butternut, followed a second later by a terrific roar, and men and horses were hurled back, torn and scattered like chaff in a hurricane. They had rushed pell-mell upon and overturned the cannon, discharging them at the moment the mass was densest. The rebels who were unhurt hastily retreated, but a sickening mass of dead and wounded, friend and foe, lay side by side, with their horses, torn limb from limb. Our cavalry, a Michigan regiment, had been ambushed at the bend of West Patrick Street.
A moment later and Burnside’s infantry swarmed through the city, driving everything before them toward South Mountain. And now commenced the series of terrible battles of this campaign at Burketsville [sic], South Mountain and Antietam.
C.E. Goldsborough, Hunterstown, Pa.
This newspaper article was preserved and digitized by the Library of Congress through their Chronicling America program.