Maryland, My Maryland

Today, we are pleased to welcome back guest author Sarah Kay Bierle

Part one in a series

Imagine having to sneak home – into enemy territory – to see your family. Imagine knowing your decision and wartime actions have made your loved ones hostages in their own house. Imagine being exiled from your home because you helped wounded “enemy” soldiers.

Civil War history is often taught as blue verses gray. Human nature wants the easy answer: the “good guys fight the bad guys” version of history. Rarely is the past so simple. There’s always someone caught in the crossfire of war. And there are usually a few strong individuals who refuse to conform to the stereotypical image.

One striking example when history’s saga is definitely not crystal clear is found in the fate of the Border States’ citizens during the American Civil War. Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware: the states both blue and gray wanted. The Border States were caught in the middle; battles erupted, civilians were arrested, families split as the men took opposing sides.

Maryland occupies the center stage of Border State conflict in the eastern theater of the war. Embracing the Union capital on three sides, both combatants knew the importance of Maryland’s allegiance. If Maryland joined the Confederacy, Washington City would be surrounded, and the seat of the United States government would either be captured or forced to move. If Maryland stayed in the Union, her railroad transportation lines to the west, agriculture, and manpower would be available to northern strategy.

Each side actively courted Maryland, but the fair state was undecided in the early days of the conflict. Citizens and state government alike were in a predicament over loyalty – loyalty to the idea of states’ rights or allegiance to the concept of union.[i] In 1861 Governor Thomas Hicks believed his state should stay in the Union; the state legislature leaned toward secession.[ii] Results from the 1860 election revealed that Maryland as a whole was divided, politically, ideologically, and morally. At the beginning of the war, slavery was still legal in Maryland.

Attack on the 6th Massachusetts
Attack on the 6th Massachusetts

Maryland’s war started early. On April 19, 1861, southern sympathizers in Baltimore attacked the 6th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment as they passed through the city. Four soldiers and twelve civilians died and, in turmoil, the citizens destroyed the rail and communication lines through Baltimore. Retribution came. On May 13th, the city was put under martial law.[iii] Throughout the war, there were many efforts to suppress southern sympathies; the writ of habeas corpus was suspended, citizens were arrested for so-called “suspicious actions,” and other political force was used to coerce Maryland to stay with the Union. The official stance of the governor and state legislature was neutrality – denouncing the war and agreeing not to hold a secession convention, but refusing to support any war effort.[iv] Regrettably, neutrality rarely works. It sounds like a nice policy, but does not account for human nature which tends to take sides in any excitement.

The state’s official position may have been neutrality, but plenty of Marylanders supported the war effort…on both sides. Approximately one-third of all fighting men from Maryland enlisted with the Confederacy.[v] The ramifications against Confederate support in the state were harsh, and this article examines the Maryland conflict through the eyes of two youthful, active participants who experienced Civil War nationally and on the state level. Henry K. Douglas and Euphemia Goldsborough were young adults whose decisions to stand by their chosen principles made them rebels in their own homeland.

To Be Continued…

[i] See Gary W. Gallagher’s book The Union War (2012) for a full discussion of “union” and its 19th Century American definition.

[ii] James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (1988), pages 284-285.

[iii] James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (1988), pages 285-287.

[iv] James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (1988), page 287.

[v] James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (1988), page 293.



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