- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 3, 2002

The residents of Port Deposit on the Susquehanna River in Cecil County, Md., didn't lack for patriotic fervor. With the expectation of hostilities between North and South, a militia unit calling itself the Cecil Rifles enlisted 40 men on Jan. 4, 1861. Another Federal unit began to form during the summer, after war had begun.
This was Battery B of the 1st Maryland Light Artillery, which entered official service in October 1861. The unit was better known as Snow's Battery after its commander, Capt. Alonzo Snow.
Before the war was over, the 450 officers and men of Snow's Battery would see action for the Union at Antietam, Malvern Hill, New Market and in the Shenandoah Valley. Some would be captured in Virginia and spend the war in the Confederacy's worst prison, at Andersonville, Ga.
Like many areas of Maryland during the Civil War, Cecil County, at the head of the Chesapeake Bay, was divided in its loyalties between the Confederacy and the Union. Families that relied on slaves to work their large farms often sided with the South, especially families that owned plantations in the flat, rich fields south of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.
By 1861, northern Cecil County had a strong industrial base of mills and shipbuilding works. Residents there had more in common with their Northern counterparts. There often was bitterness between the two Maryland factions.
The Cecil Whig newspaper was fiercely pro-Union and wrote the following in January 1865 about a county resident who had joined the Confederate army: "John B. Rowan, who left this county in the fall of 1862, and joined the Rebel Army, where he has served since then as an officer in an artillery company, was killed at the battle of Nashville. Of this little band of traitors who left this county, for their country's good about that time, he is the only one, we believe, that has been killed."
Like the Whig editor, most Cecil County residents were overwhelmingly pro-Union. Nearly 1,600 served the Union as soldiers and sailors. It's harder to determine just how many fought for the Confederacy, but at least 60 Cecil men are documented to have fought for the South.
Even the residents of Port Deposit were divided. At least one of them, a young man named David G. White, who was a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point when war broke out, joined the Confederacy and became a colonel under Gen. Patrick Cleburne.
Still, there was little doubt about the loyalty of most Port Deposit residents to the Union. Nearly all the soldiers and officers of Snow's Battery came from the town or nearby villages and farms.
The first major battle in which the unit participated was Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862. Snow's Battery was part of the 2nd Division under Gen. William B. Franklin. The men from Port Deposit were placed in an area near the landmark Dunker Church, which would see some of the heaviest fighting, at the northwest angle of the East Woods and a cornfield.
Commanding the battery that day was 1st Lt. Theodore J. Vanneman, who made his official report: "Sept. 20, 1862 On 17th, on orders of General Franklin, moved to the right and in front of Headquarters in a cornfield, and ordered to shell woods in front where an enemy battery stationed near a school house opened on us. We fired 300 rounds, and with the help of other batteries, silenced it. We suffered no losses. All the officers and men behaved with bravery."
The dueling of Confederate and Union batteries and the volley fire from the soldiers' rifles created a hailstorm of lead and iron. The Union commander in that area of the battle was Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, who recalled, "Every stalk of corn in the greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife and the slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in their ranks a few moments before."
A Confederate gunner remembered it more simply as "artillery hell."
There was a terrible human toll. Sketch artist Frank H. Schell, who drew some of the batteries in action, later described coming across some of the Confederate dead and wounded. "One of them had bound his shattered leg with corn stalks and leaves to stop the flow of blood," according to an account based on Schell's descriptions.
"He asked for water of which there was none and then begged the artist to remove his dead comrade, who was lying partially on him, which was done. He wanted to be carried out of the woods, because he expected his friends to return and fight for them again. At the right was a tall young Georgian with a shattered ankle, sitting at the feet of one of the dead, who he said, was his father."
Those Confederates were among the more than 6,000 men, North and South, who died at Antietam.
Snow's Battery also played a role in the battle of New Market on May 15, 1864. An anecdotal account of the battle was recorded in the 1950s by local historian William T. Mahoney, who relayed a story told to his father by Jacob McCardell, a sergeant in the battery.
Mahoney wrote that McCardell one of the battery's best gunners was ordered to fire a single shot at a group of Confederate officers about a mile away. In the group were the Confederate commander Gen. John C. Breckenridge and his staff, who were on horseback on the town's Main Street near the Lutheran church. Mahoney later investigated the story and found a weathered post at that spot with a shell hole, above which was a framed notice stating that the hole had been made by an unexploded 3-inch shell fired by Snow's Battery.
In June 1864, the battery experienced one of its bleakest periods, an unsuccessful campaign under the command of Gen. David Hunter against Confederate forces at Lynchburg, Va. During the retreat, several members of Snow's Battery were captured. The July 23, 1864, issue of the Cecil Democrat newspaper lists the names of one lieutenant and 20 privates who were taken prisoner. Most were sent to the infamous Andersonville prison, where several died from disease and the harsh conditions there.
After nearly four years of service, Snow's Battery was mustered out in 1865. The battery had lost 41 men killed in action, 117 wounded (one-third of whom later died) and 82 captured (21 of whom died in prison).
Most of the veterans remained friends and neighbors in Port Deposit long after the war. An account from the Cecil Whig newspaper describes a reunion on Oct. 11, 1890: "On last Saturday Port Deposit was decorated with bunting in honor of the reunion. Nearly every dwelling and store had our national ensignia floating to the breeze. The reunion was held in the town hall. At 1:30 p.m. the soldiers formed in procession with the River Side Band in the lead followed by a number of wounded comrades in carriages and marched through the town."
As the years passed, the veterans of Snow's Battery were buried one by one at Oakwood Cemetery in town. Reunions continued well into the 20th century, until the minutes of the Snow's Battery veterans' group sadly stated in 1926, "Too few remaining to continue."

David Healey is the author of the Civil War novel "Sharpshooter" and is at work on a book about the War of 1812. He lives in Chesapeake City, Md.

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