We Civil War enthusiasts have a fascination with casualties. We rapture over which regiments were bled white on the battlefield and which regiments had the highest casualty figures. We pore over the last, heroic words uttered by officers as they expired. Those are the stories we tell. We don’t often hear stories of the many, many more soldiers who expired from disease in camp or in hospital, in lonely, neglected corners of the war. Many of these soldiers died before they could achieve those perceived glories of the battlefield.
Such was the case for the 8th Ohio, arguably one of the finest fighting regiments of the Army of the Potomac. From Antietam to Petersburg, for three years the regiment was thrown into some of the fiercest fighting of the war in the east. But like so many other regiments who would find their way to the Army of the Potomac, their service would start elsewhere. For the 8th Ohio, this was a lonely hilltop in western Maryland.
In July 1861 George B. McClellan, flush from a string of victories in northwestern Virginia, ordered a Garrett County, Maryland hilltop to be fortified. This hilltop was perched above the village of Gormania, Virginia on the north branch of the Potomac River. Fortifications here would command the covered bridge below on the Northwestern Turnpike – one of the major east/west avenues of invasion into western Virginia – and provide protection from the southern approaches to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad depot at nearby Oakland, Maryland. Confederates had also realized the strategic location and had been constructing fortifications there that summer before abandoning the works following the retreat of General Robert S. Garnett’s army from Laurel Hill and Corrick’s Ford.
McClellan and General William S. Rosecrans would dispatch engineers to the site as well as soldiers from the 4th, 6th, and 8th Ohio, the 17th Indiana, and Howe’s Battery of the 4th US Artillery. The flat-lander troops from Ohio and Indiana marveled at the mountainous scenery of western Maryland and northwestern Virginia. “The scenery to us, accustomed only to the level plains of Ohio, was very grand,” recalled one soldier of the 8th Ohio.[i] A soldier from the 17th Indiana further recalled the scenery…
“Our route extended through a mountainous region. First we would ascend a lofty mountain, then pass a short distance of plane or table land, and again ascend another mountain. Pen can scarcely describe the glories of his march. The fine scenery, the bracing air, blowing fresh in our faces from mountain peaks; the silvery streams, sparkling like diamonds as they gushed from and came trickling down the mountain sides, and the delicious fragrances of a thousand mountain flowers rendered the journey almost entrancing, and stirred our sense of the sublime and beautiful of nature, more than would a visit to the Louvre or Vatican, gazing on the speaking paintings and statuary of the First Masters.”[ii]
The fortifications, dubbed Fort Pendleton, would be situated on property of Major Philip C. Pendleton, a slaveholder and a paymaster in the regular army. Pendleton’s house, described by multiple sources as a ‘mansion’, was appropriated for use as a hospital. As illustrated in the sketch shown here, the main fort was located just south of the house, while an expansive series of earthworks, log fortifications, and barricades ranging across the hilltop and commanding the turnpike.
The 8th Ohio arrived at Fort Pendleton on July 27 and was immediately detailed to work on the fortifications. “It must seem strange to the people living here to see such preparation going on where nothing like war before disturbed their majestic hills,” recorded one member of the regiment.[iii] The weather, as it had been for much of that spring and summer in western Virginia and Maryland, was unforgiving. The 8th Ohio also arrived at Fort Pendleton without tents. Some soldiers bivouacked in an open field, while those more enterprising went into the woods to construct shelter from hemlock boughs, though in pouring rain they “leaked badly…we got quite wet.” One soldier recalled “my boots were nearly filled with water that ran down my pants.”[iv]
While the weather did no favors for the men, their designated camp spot would further their misery. The 8th Ohio was directed to an area of the fort described as “a deep, damp gorge in the mountain.”[v] Almost immediately the men started to come down sick with “a low type fever,” identified by some men as typhoid fever and dysentery.[vi] Rather than Fort Pendleton, the 8th Ohio began referring to it, and would ever remember it as Camp Maggotty Hollow.
The regimental history recalls that within a few days “about three hundred were in the hospital.”[vii] It became apparent that something had to give, and the on August 6 the regimental campground was moved to the other side of the fort “on a steep hillside.” The idea was obviously to get the men to a more dry spot, and perhaps it was too dry, as one soldier recalled the site had “very little water, and that little unhandy.”[viii] Two days later the regiment was moved again, this time to the Pendleton orchard.
As was the case in regiments throughout the war, some companies suffered from disease more than others, often due to the locale where the various companies were raised. Those soldiers from more densly populated urban areas were more often earlier exposed to germs and diseases than those soldiers from rural areas who may not have ever traveled more than a few miles from home. As an example, one member of Company B of the 8th Ohio, recruited in the city of Cleveland, recalled that as disease swept through the regiment at Camp Maggotty Hollow, his company was scarcely affected. The soldier proudly boasted that “country men are not more hardy than city boys.”[ix] Another soldier from Company A, recruited in Tiffin, Ohio, wrote home complaining of “hard marches, exposure, a want of proper clothing [and]…a great deal of rain in the mountains” that resulted in “a large number…on the sick list.”[x]
On August 18 the 8th Ohio was ordered from Fort Pendleton to Grafton. The regiment was so depleted by the diseases contracted at Camp Maggotty Hollow that it was deemed unfit for further field service. The regiment was instead broken up, with companies assigned to guard duty along the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad between Grafton and New Creek. It was hoped that this less strenuous service would restore the regiment’s health. It would be months before the regiment was again consolidated.
Nearly three dozen men of the 8th Ohio would lose their lives during their stay at Camp Maggotty Hollow or in the weeks immediately following. Others were so ravaged as to make them unfit for further service. A highway historical marker for Fort Pendleton notes that six Federal soldiers remain buried at the site in an unmarked grave. Fort Pendleton was abandoned by January 1862, reoccupied in the spring of 1863, and then occupied intermittently for the remainder of the war.
Ironically, following the war the site of Fort Pendleton and Camp Maggotty Hollow would become a popular health resort, featuring a boarding house, walking trails, and magnificent vistas. President Grant apparently visited the site in 1876, and three years later an editor at the Evening Star (DC) newspaper marveled that “the view from the top of the mountain and from the fort are simply perfect. I have traveled much, seen many mountain views, but none to surpass these.”[xi]
A monument to the 8th Ohio stands south of Bloody Lane at Antietam, noting that “on this field Ohio’s sons sacrificed life and health for one country and one flag.”[xii] The regimental monument at Gettysburg, located south of town on Steinwehr Avenue, notes that of the 209 men of the regiment engaged in the battle, 102 would become casualties. No monument stands to mark the site of those soldiers who suffered and died at Camp Maggotty Hollow, and those who remain there today. Their lives and deaths are less celebrated than those of the battlefield, but were sold no less dearly.
[i] Sawyer, Franklin. A Military History of the 8th Regiment Ohio Vol. Inf’y; Its Battles, Marches and Army Movements. Fairbanks & Co: Cleveland, OH. 1881. 20.
[ii] Evansville Daily Journal, August 08, 1861.
[iii] Martin, Kenneth R. & Ralph Linwood Snow. “I am now a soldier!”: The Civil War Diaries of Lorenzo Vanderhoef. Patten Free Library: Bath, ME. 1990. 41.
[v] Sawyer, 21
[vi] Ibid, 22
[vii] Ibid, 21
[viii] Martin, 42
[ix] Galwey, Thomas Francis. The Valiant Hours: Narrative of “Captain Brevet,” an Irish-American in the Army of the Potomac. Stackpole: Harrisburg, PA. 1961.
[x] Tiffin Weekly Tribune, August 23, 1861.
[xi] Evening Star (DC), August 20, 1879.