- The Washington Times - Friday, December 16, 2005

A historical marker outside Front Royal, Va., bears the inscription “Brother Against Brother,” and that overused expression was never truer than on May 23, 1862, when the 1st Maryland Regiment (CSA) met and routed the 1st Maryland Regiment (USA).

Maryland was a typical border state, with divided loyalties, but it was atypical in one respect: If Virginia seceded, a Confederate Maryland would mean the nation’s capital would be completely surrounded by “foreign” territory. That was an outcome the Federal government could not allow.

In early 1861, a Maryland secession convention tried to have it both ways: It pronounced secession to be unconstitutional, but also condemned the Federal government for “forcing” the Southern states into taking radical action. The delegates also agreed not to allow Federal troops to pass through the state. But Maryland’s attempt at neutrality soon became moot as Virginia seceded and Federal troops occupied Annapolis, Baltimore and key points along the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

Realizing that Maryland would not secede, several thousand Marylanders crossed the Potomac and enlisted in regiments in Virginia and North Carolina. About 800, mainly uniformed militia from in and around Baltimore, formed the Maryland Battalion at Harpers Ferry. When Virginia’s troops were transferred to the Confederate Army, the Maryland Battalion was renamed the 1st Maryland Infantry Regiment.

The regiment fought gallantly at the Battle of First Manassas. In early 1862, the Marylanders were assigned to Richard Ewell, whose troops were soon dispatched to join Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley.

The Federal 1st Maryland was mustered into service in Baltimore in May 1861. Although at first it was assigned guard duty along the Maryland side of the Potomac and the C&O; Canal, several companies saw action against Confederate raiding parties. In March 1862, the regiment crossed into Virginia with Nathaniel Banks’ troops and moved into the Shenandoah Valley.

Banks was inching up from Winchester to find out where Jackson was going to strike next. The main Federal force was at Strasburg, and the lead element, the 1st Maryland, was at Front Royal. On May 22, Jackson was marching north down the Luray Valley with Ewell in the lead. On the morning of the 23rd, as Ewell approached Front Royal, he received a report that the Federal 1st Maryland was holding the town.

Ewell sent for the Confederate 1st Maryland, which was at the rear of his column. The Confederate Marylanders had been itching to meet their counterparts, the “bogus” 1st Maryland as they called it, and now they had been assigned the place of honor — they would lead the attack.

What happened next became a classic chapter in the annals of the war. One of the Confederacy’s most effective female spies — Belle Boyd, “the Cleopatra of the Secession” — happened to be in Front Royal. Originally from Martinsburg, Va. (now West Virginia), Belle’s earlier spying had landed her in a Federal prison in Baltimore. She had recently been released and was staying with relatives in Front Royal.

Belle had been gathering all the intelligence she could about the size and disposition of Banks’ force, but had no way to report it. Suddenly, Federal troops were running about and shouting that the Rebels were coming. She ran to a second-story balcony and through opera glasses, saw the Confederate advance guard about three-quarters of a mile from the town.

Belle ran to meet the column. Her sense of urgency was heightened with the knowledge that her father was a soldier in Jackson’s army. Yankee pickets fired at her and an artillery shell barely missed her. She made it to the Confederate line, saw a major she knew and quickly said, “Go tell General Jackson the Yankee force is very small — one regiment of Maryland infantry, some cavalry and a few pieces of artillery. Tell him I know, for I went through the camps and got it from an officer. If he charges right now, he’ll catch them all. My love to all the dear boys, and remember — if you meet me in town you haven’t seen me today.” She waved her bonnet and walked back toward Front Royal.

The Confederate Marylanders quickly drove in the Yankee pickets and swarmed through the town. The Federal Marylanders put up a stiff resistance. Front Royal became one of the few Civil War battles that was fought for a time building-by-building and street-by-street.

The Confederates advanced through Front Royal, and the Federal Marylanders attempted to hold them off on a hill near a river crossing. Discovering that Confederate cavalry was approaching from the west, the Federals retreated across the bridges of the north and south forks of the Shenandoah River and attempted to burn them. The Confederates ran forward to douse the flames and saved the bridges.

The Federals withdrew beyond Cedarville with the Confederate cavalry in close pursuit. When the Federal Marylanders finally turned to make a stand, the Rebel cavalry swept around their flanks. The Federal commander fell mortally wounded, and the defense collapsed. More than 700 Federals threw down their weapons and surrendered.

After the battle, Marylanders on both sides of the struggle lived out the “Brother Against Brother” theme. As the Confederate 1st Maryland’s regimental historian put it, “The scenes that were enacted that night when the prisoners were brought in are indescribable, for in the ranks of each were found dear friends, and in some cases near relatives, and the attention shown the vanquished by the victors did much to cheer them up in their hour of captivity.”

Badly outnumbered at Front Royal, the Federal Marylanders’ casualties were 32 killed, 122 wounded and 750 captured. But their gallant defense gave Banks time to withdraw his small force from the Shenandoah Valley in safety.

The two “1sts” never met in battle again. The Federal prisoners were sent to Richmond, but were paroled in September and declared exchanged two months later. Most rejoined the regiment, which in the meantime had been assigned to the Maryland Brigade in the Eighth Corps. In March 1864, when the soldiers’ three-year enlistments were up, most re-enlisted and the regiment was assigned to the 5th Corps, where it fought many battles as part of the Army of the Potomac until Appomattox.

Although the Confederates won the “Battle of Maryland” at Front Royal, they saw plenty of action during the remainder of Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign and fought bravely during the Seven Days around Richmond. But their fate became entangled with the fortunes of war.

The regiment’s enlistment period expired just before the Battle of Second Manassas. Some had hopes of forming a new Maryland regiment. Having crossed the Potomac, they knew they couldn’t go home. They had attached themselves to the Confederacy for the duration of the war.

A new 1st Maryland was formed, but was soon redesignated the 2nd Maryland to distinguish it from its predecessor. In June 1863, at the start of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s second invasion of the North, the 2nd fought another “Battle of Maryland” by driving the Federal 5th Maryland out of Winchester. One of the Confederate captains captured his brother there, a surgeon in the Federal unit.

The 2nd fought at Gettysburg and remained with Lee’s army to the end. At Appomattox, the regiment could muster only 59 men.

The record does not show whether the Confederate and Federal Marylanders got together again during the surrender at Appomattox. We can only hope they did and that the good feelings expressed after their meeting at Front Royal continued and grew deeper as the war ended and their home state, and the nation, began to heal.

Richard P. Cox is a lawyer and freelance writer. He lives in Annapolis.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide