Hagerstown and Washington County, The Crossroads of the Civil
History is very much alive in Washington County,
where we celebrate the past, thrive in the present
and plan for a bright future!
Located in the center of the Great Valley in Western Maryland,
Hagerstown was at the Crossroads of the Civil War. The Valley provided
a natural corridor for refugee and troop movements between Virginia and
Pennsylvania. As a regional crossroads town just north of the Potomac
River, Hagerstown was a favorite staging area for military leaders traversing
the region. The following stories illustrate the impact of frequent military
occupation on this small rural town.
The Military in Hagerstown
With its strategic location at the border between the North and the South,
Hagerstown became a principal staging area and supply center for four
major campaigns in the East during the Civil War.
In 1861, General Robert Patterson’s troops used the town as a springboard
to attack Virginia Rebels in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. During the
Maryland Campaign of 1862, General Longstreet’s command occupied
the town en route to the Battle of South Mountain and Antietam. In 1863,
Hagerstown was the site of several military incursions and engagements
as General Lee’s army invaded and retreated at the Gettysburg Campaign.
A City Divided
As a slave-holding county in what would become a federally
occupied border state during the Civil War, sympathies were divided over
the issue of secession in this town of 4,132.
During the war, escaped slaves seeking asylum in Hagerstown
were caught and returned to their Southern owners. Because
of pro-Southern columns appearing in the Hagerstown Mail,
its newspaper’s offices
were sacked and burned by Northern sympathizers following
the defeat of the Federal Maryland troops by Maryland Confederates at
Front Royal, Virginia.
Invading Northern and Southern troops received
varying degrees of welcome from the local citizens depending on the outcome
of military campaigns in the region. Grocery stores and businesses, owned
by men whose sons went to the South, were targets for looting from time
to time during the war.
Treatment of the Sick and Wounded
Throughout the war, private physicians and citizens took care
of men from both sides in a number of locations including personal residences
and at the Franklin Hotel, the Washington House, the Lyceum, the Hagerstown
Male Academy, and Key-Mar College. Wounded Federal soldiers eventually
were transferred to primary military hospitals in Frederick, Maryland.
Confederates were sent off to prison.
The spread of smallpox from returning soldiers to their families
and friends was a serious problem during the war. When an epidemic
spread throughout the town, the Bethel Methodist Episcopal
Black congregation volunteered the use of its church as a smallpox
Following the war in 1872, Maryland and Virginia cooperated on a project
to re-enter the Confederate dead from their impromptu graves to cemeteries
in Hagerstown, Frederick and Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Approximately
2,800 Southerners from the Maryland Campaign of 1862 were re-interred.
Sixty percent were unidentified.
Ransom of Hagerstown
In 1864, Hagerstown almost literally felt the heat of the Civil
War. In July, General Jubal Early, commander of the Valley District of
the Confederacy, moved his troops from the Shenandoah Valley toward the
Potomac River, threatening a third invasion of the North by Southern soldiers.
On July 3 fighting occurred at Harpers Ferry, Leetown, Darkesville and
On Wednesday, July 6, Early sent 1,500 cavalry, under the command
of Brigader General John McCausland, into Hagerstown to levy
a ransom of $20,000 and a large amount of clothing, in retribution
for Federal destruction of farms, feed and cattle in the Shenandoah
A cooperative effort by three banks and the Hagerstown City Council produced
the money to save the town from burning, while citizens and businesses
surrendered vast numbers of pants, shirts, hats and shoes to the Rebels.