Can you imagine a Catoctin County, Maryland? It would have included Frederick County north of Walkersville, Md., and Mechanicstown, Md., would have been the county seat.

It was a dream that some people in the northern Frederick County area pursued throughout 1871 and 1872. The Catoctin Clarion was only on its 10th issue when it carried a lengthy front-page article signed with the pen name Phocion. Phocion had been an Athenian politician, statesman, and strategos in Ancient Greece.

Creating a new county had been talked about within groups of people for a while, and it was time to garner support by taking the issue to a broader, general audience.

“Some sober sided citizens in our valley are quietly discussing the question among themselves, shall Frederick county be divided and the new county of Catoctin be erected into a separate organization?” the newspaper reported. Wicomico County had been formed in 1867 from portions of Somerset and Worcester counties, so the idea of another new Maryland county was not far-fetched. In fact, Garrett County would be formed from the western portion of Allegany County in 1872.

The main reason put forth for creating a new county was the distance and expense of traveling to Frederick, Md., to register deeds and attend court. Opponents argued that creating a new county would be costly for the citizens of the new county. New county buildings would have to be constructed and county positions filled. All of this financial burden would have to be absorbed by the smaller population in the new county.

“Our neighbors across the Monocacy in the Taneytown District have but a short distance to go to attend Carroll county Court. Why shall we on this side be deprived privileges which were granted to them? Shall the people on one side of the Monocacy be granted immunities which are to be withheld from citizens residing on the other side?” the Clarion reported.

Besides northern Frederick County, Phocion said that in Carroll County, Md., residents of Middleburg, Pipe Creek, and Sam’s Creek were also interested in becoming part of Catoctin County.

“If a majority of the citizens residing in Frederick, Carroll and Washington counties (within the limits of the proposed new county), favor a division, I see no reason why it should not be accomplished,” the newspaper reported.

In deciding on what the boundaries of the new county would be, three conditions needed to be met in Maryland. 1) The majority of citizens in the areas that would make up the new county would have to vote to create the county. 2) The population of white inhabitants in the proposed county could not be less than 10,000. 3) The population in the counties losing land could not be less than 10,000 white residents.

Interest reached the point where a public meeting was held on January 6, 1872, at the Mechanicstown Academy “for the purpose of taking the preliminary steps for the formation of a New County out of portions of Frederick, Carroll and Washington counties,” the Clarion reported.

Dr. William White was appointed the chairman of the committee with Joseph A. Gernand and Isaiah E. Hahn, vice presidents, and Capt. Martin Rouzer and Joseph W. Davidson, secretaries.

By January 1872, the Clarion was declaring, “We are as near united up this way on the New County Question as people generally are on any mooted project—New County, Railroad, iron and coal mines, or any other issue of public importance.”

Despite this interest in a new county, by February the idea had vanished inexplicably from the newspapers. It wasn’t until 10 years later that a few articles made allusions as to what had happened. An 1882 article noted, “It was to this town principally that all looked for the men who would do the hard fighting and stand the brunt of the battle, for to her would come the reward, the court house of the new county. The cause of the sudden cessation of all interest is too well known to require notices and only comment necessary is, that an interest in the general good was not, by far, to account for the death of the ‘New County’ movement. Frederick city, in her finesse in that matter, gave herself a record for shrewdness that few players ever achieve.”

A letter to the editor the following year said that the men leading the New County Movement had been “bought off, so to speak, by the promises of office, elective at the hand of one party, appointive at the hands of the other, and thus the very backbone taken out of the movement.” The letter also noted that the taxes in Frederick County were now higher than they had been when a new county had been talked about and that they wouldn’t have been any higher than that in the new county. “And advantages would have been nearer and communication more direct,” the letter writer noted.

Catoctin County, Virginia

map_compareNearly 150 years later, Virginians started talking about forming a Catoctin County that would be created from western Loudoun County. The proposed county would include Loudoun County west of the Catoctin Mountain watershed. Purcellville, Va., would become the seat of the new Catoctin County.

The movement began in 2005 with a letter to the Washington Post and has waxed and waned since then.

The idea took root because residents in the western end of Loudon County wanted to fight the rapid development encroaching in the area. Interest faded but was then reignited when an extension of the D.C. Metro silver line was proposed, resulting in higher taxes for county residents.

The group supporting the new county has even created a website. It points out that the people of western Loudoun County are feeling disenfranchised with their county representation.

“Our representatives on the Board have been forbidden from placing items on the agenda concerning the vital zoning of our land and the Chairman of our County, elected by county-wide vote, has been stripped of his powers. The current Vice Chairman, a representative from one small area of the County, now holds the Chairman’s rightful powers. Our homes, our livelihoods and the very quality of the lives we lead in Western Loudoun are all on the line and we have no say in our own future if our destiny is tied to the suburbanized east.”

Another problem, according to the website, is that a Virginia Supreme Court ruling has reversed growth controls in the western end of the county, supposedly because of a technicality.

While there is still no Catoctin County, the idea continues to live.

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Gen. John Imboden

I was asked late last year to start contributing to the Wildfulness podcast, which covers topics about Mountain Maryland. I had never done one before, so I thought it would be fun. I would have time to learn a new skill without the pressure of producing a weekly show.


The story of the Confederate attack on Oakland, Md., was my first foray into podcasts.

Here’s the link to the Wildfulness blog if you would like to follow the podcast.

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C&O CoverMy new book, Secrets of the C&O Canal: Hidden History and Little-Known Stories Along the Potomac River, is out!

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was the great national project that failed to live up the dream in the 19th century. It never reached its ultimate destination, which was not Cumberland, Maryland (where it wound up) or the Ohio River (as the name implies). The early vision of the canal planners was something far grander and longer, and it’s just one of the secrets of the C&O Canal.

In this new book, Secrets of the C&O Canal: Little-Known Stories & Hidden History Along the Potomac River, you can discover the stories of the canal, its people, politics, and connection to history.

If you’re wondering where the canal could have gone, one possibility was that it would have ended at Lake Erie to offer competition to the Erie Canal. You can discover an alternate starting point in the book.

Other “secrets” of the canal include:

  • Discovering the connection between the C&O Canal and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
  • Finding out how building the canal led to the creation of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Discovering how the Johnstown Flood helped kill the canal.
  • Solving the mystery of two murders on the canal that never actually happened.

Secrets of the C&O Canal contains 67 black and white photographs and illustrations that help bring the stories to life. It is the third book that I’ve done in the “Secrets” series.

Take a look for yourself!

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Bruno Hauptman

Electrocuted for killing Charles Lindbergh’s son


Bruno Hauptman, a 36-year-old German-born carpenter, was executed for kidnapping and killing Charles Lindbergh’s son on April 3, 1936, in the New Jersey.

“This man is dead.” So spoke the doctor at 8:47 p.m. on April 3 and thus concluded the case against Bruno Richard Hauptman.

“He died as most people thought he would—unspeaking, unshaken, cold, unsmiling. There was no hysteria, no breakdown, no tears inside the dirty white four walls where Hauptmann sat down to death,” reported the Fitchburg Sentinel on Aug. 4.

The Lindbergh Kidnapping

On March 1, 1932, a man supposedly climbed up a ladder and into the bedroom of Charles Lindbergh, Jr., the son of the famous pilot who was the first to fly across the Atlantic Ocean solo. The kidnapper took the child and left a ransom note for $50,000.

The ransom was paid, but the baby was not returned. Instead, the baby’s corpse was found on May 12, 1932, about four miles from his home. The baby was killed by a blow to the head.

Finding Hauptmann

Two years later, someone noticed a $10 gold certificate with a license number written on it. The money came from the Lindbergh ransom and the license plate number belonged to Hauptmann’s car. He was arrested on September 19, 1934.

The Trial of the Century

The trial was held in Flemington, NJ, from January 2, 1395, to February 13, 1935. Col. Henry Breckinridge, who had acted as the ransom intermediary, represented Lindbergh in the trial.

Evidence against Hauptmann included more than $14,000 of the ransom money was found in his garage, handwriting matches, and the ladder used to enter the baby’s window.

Hauptmann proclaimed he was innocent and that a friend named Isidor Fisch had left the money in his garage. Fisch had returned to Germany and died there in March 1934.

Hauptmann’s lawyer argued that the evidence against his client was circumstantial and that he hadn’t been placed at the scene of the crime. However, the jury convicted him.


New Jersey Governor Harold Hoffman wasn’t sure that Hauptmann was guilty. However, he wasn’t able to convince anyone on the Court of Errors to take on the case. Hoffman gave Hauptman a 30-day reprieve in January.

“The governor had on his desk a reprieve, properly filled out. He had wanted to sign it, not because he believed Hauptmann innocent of the century’s most infamous crime, but because he believed there were many hidden mysteries of the case still unexplored,” the Sentinel reported.

The questions over whether an innocent man was executed or not continue to be debated even today, though nothing has emerged to prove conclusively that Hauptmann was innocent.

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Eisenhower in front of one of the camp’s training tanks. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

More than 8,700 Confederate Army veterans lived to attend the 50th anniversary reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913. They camped on the field where General George Pickett and his men had made their brave charge more than mile across an open field into the cannons on the Union Army in July 1863.


Veterans of that charge would have been among the old men attending the reunion. They would have looked at the field covered with tents where the veterans camped during the reunion and remembered that the ground had been covered with bodies 50 years earlier. In that desperate charge, many of the unprotected soldiers had been felled by bullets.

Had the veterans returned five years later, they still would have seen tents on the field where so much Confederate blood had been shed. They would have also seen something that would have given them pause, for had Pickett’s men had it in 1863 rumbling across that open field as it was in 1918, Pickett’s Charge would have succeeded.

Tanks in War

Though the idea of a tank had been around since Leonardo da Vinci conceived of an armored wagon, the idea of using a tank in war didn’t come about until 1903, and then, it still took until 1915 to develop a practical model. With the start of World War I and the United States’ entry into the conflict, the U.S. Army began to look for a way to integrate tanks into the service.

The Camp with No Name


Camp Colt. Courtesy of the National Park Service.


An unnamed U.S. Army camp was first established on the Gettysburg battlefield in May 1917. The reason it had no name, according to the 1918 Report of the National Military Park Commission, was because “we believe it is the practice when the location is at a conspicuous place on United States land, notably battle fields, such as Gettysburg.” The initial location was part of the Codori farm and land where the Round Top branch of the Gettysburg and Harrisburg Railroad was located. The railroad was one of the reasons the army chose the location. It made it easy to move men and equipment directly into and out of the camp.

The camp soon grew as more and more soldiers and supplies were shipped to the camp. Each regiment had 15 or 16 wooden barracks that needed to be constructed. These were not insulated barracks or even fully completed. This temporariness of the construction showed that the camp would not be suitable as a winter quarters for men.

Even though the land where General Pickett had charged would soon be trampled by soldiers once again, the U.S. Army was not ignorant of the historical significance of the park land. In a letter to the Gettysburg Battlefield Commission, the commander of the 61st U.S. Infantry wrote, “…every effort will be made by myself to see that the enlisted men of the 61st infantry do not molest in any way, the monuments, trees, shrubbery, woods, etc. of the Gettysburg National Park.’”

As the soldiers were shipped into the camp, three regiments of infantry were housed on the east side of Emmitsburg Road and one regiment was on the west side. An additional regiment was housed on the west side of the road along with a bakery, hospital and motor ambulance pool. Two more regiments were housed near where the Gettysburg Recreation Park is located.

Water and sewer lines were constructed to deal with the sanitary issues thousands of men would cause. The number of men at the camp grew to 8,000 at its peak, which was roughly the same population as Gettysburg at the time. The men trained through the summer, but by the end of November only a small detachment of men remained because the camp was not suitable to house soldiers through the cold Pennsylvania winters.



Passing Camp Colt on Emmitsburg Road. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

Camp Colt


The army camp didn’t stay deserted for too long. It was re-established on March 6, 1918, with Capt. Dwight Eisenhower commanding. However, this wasn’t going to be the same camp that had been run in 1917. It was going to be a training site for America’s newest weapon, the tank.

“The Tank Corps was new. There were no precedents except in basic training and I was the only officer in the command. Now I really began to learn about responsibility,” Eisenhower wrote in At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends.

Running the camp was Eisenhower’s first independent command. He was given the job of training soldiers to run a piece of equipment that hadn’t been tested in battle yet and to make matters worse, he had to conduct this training without any tanks.

The new camp was named for Samuel Colt, the inventor of the Colt Peacemaker, and the camp was called Camp Colt. Equipment for tank training was moved from Camp Meade in Maryland to Gettysburg where Camp Colt occupied 176 acres of the Codori farm, 10 acres of the Smith farm and 6 acres of Bryan House place. Much of the current Colt Park housing development was also part of the camp.

The training program Eisenhower developed had soldiers practicing with machine guns mounted on flatbed trucks instead of tanks. They learned to repair engines and to use Morse Code. “At times, HQ entertained English officers who had early war experience with the first English constructed tanks on French battle fields. They came to advise on training. Then again, a few members of Congress would arrive to get a peep at the one and only tin can of a tank which was used for partial training of tankers, especially those small men, who could easily climb into its interior. A 200-pound man just couldn’t,” recalled George Goshaw in a 1954 Gettysburg Times article. He had served at the camp under Eisenhower.

Each time a call for tankers to join the fighting in Europe came, battalions of men were moved to Hoboken, New Jersey, where they boarded transports to Europe. There, they joined the fighting climbing inside of real tanks and facing real bullets and mortars.

The camp did manage to get two Renault tanks to use by the time that summer arrived. Over the nine months the camp existed more than 9,000 men were trained to fight in the war.

By October, many of the men had been transferred elsewhere because there were no suitable winter quarters. However, worse than winter happened in the fall of 1918. Spanish Flu swept across the world killing an estimated 50 million people, including 160 at Camp Colt, according to the Gettysburg Star and Sentinel. At one point during the month, the bodies literally began to pile up. The dead soldiers were taken to the Grand Army of the Republic Hall in town until arrangements could be made to ship their bodies home. As each body was taken to the depot, it was given a military escort through Gettysburg.

Closing the Camp

As the flu abated, so did the war. The armistice ending World War I was signed on November 11, 1918. “When November 11th came upon us, Ike and his entire staff were saddened, knowing full well that they were cheated out of actual battle service,” Goshaw recalled. “From then on, there was a let down on training and the necessary daily duties.”

The orders to close Camp Colt came on November 17. Then remaining men were sent to Camp Dix in New Jersey for their final discharge.

Veterans of the camp soon began organizing reunions in Gettysburg, although there was no longer a camp to visit. The first reunion in the 1940’s was marked with the planting of the large pine tree on the east side of Emmitsburg Road south of the entrance to the old visitor’s center. The tree was planted in remembrance of the tankers’ fallen comrades. You can still see it today along with a commemorative plaque summarizing the history of Camp Colt.

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After the Civil War ended, a young 24-year-old veteran returned home and decided that he wanted to be a teacher. He found a job as the schoolmaster for the school in Grantsville, Md., which was then part of Allegany County, Md. Ross R. Sanner was a man who commanded men in battle, and he turned those leadership skills into educating a new generation of young citizens.

“The writer (editor of the Oakland Republican) had the privilege of being one of his primary pupils in 1868 and among the readers of The Republican are many who received their first instructions from this grand old pedagogue and who have ever since held him in grateful memory and high esteem,” Benjamin Sincell wrote in 1916.

Sanner was born in Lower Turkeyfoot Township in Somerset County, Pa., in 1842. He had answered the call for soldiers in 1861 and walked to Uniontown to enlist in the 85th Regiment Pennsylvania Infantry as a 19-year-old private. He fought gallantly in various campaigns with his unit and soon started earning promotions, ending the war as a captain.

He was wounded at Folly Island in Charleston, S.C., and spent two months recovering in a hospital. He returned to duty and was injured a second time during the Battle of Petersburg. Sanner was fighting alongside his cousin, Norman Ream, when Ream was injured.

“He was six feet, two inches tall, and Captain Sanner carried him a mile on his shoulder to safety, the Cumberland Press reported. “Later Captain Sanner was wounded in the same battle and the pair became separated.”

It was this wound that caused him to be honorably discharged from the army on September 22, 1864, and he began collecting an invalid pension.


Grantsville School2 - pre-1909 (3)

Grantsville School prior to 1909. Photo courtesy of Alice Early.


Upon his return home, he attended the Iron City Business College in Pittsburgh and Mount Union College in Mount Union, Ohio. In 1866, he became a teacher in Grantsville, and also a husband when he married Alice C. Fuller.

He would eventually move on to teach in schools in Frostburg; Cumberland; Confluence, Pa.; and at the Soldiers’ Orphans’ School in Uniontown, Pa.

He moved to North Dakota for a number of years to try his hand at wheat farming, but teaching was his passion and he returned to the area once again and became the superintendent of schools in Oakland.

The in 1915, his career came full circle and returned to Grantsville to once again become the principal. They took up residence at the Casselman Hotel and Sanner enjoyed teaching with fewer responsibilities.

“In times of peace as well as of war he has stood by the best principles of government, and his influence over the minds of his pupils and those coming within his sphere has always been exerted for good,” according to Portrait and Biographical Record of the Sixth Congressional District of Maryland in 1898.

Three years after his return to his teaching roots, “Grantsville’s Grand Old School Teacher” passed away in Confluence at 76 years old from cirrhosis of the liver. He was buried at the Confluence Baptist Cemetery.

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Emmitsburg, Md., has a long history of both fires and fire protection. The Great Emmitsburg Fire of 1863 is considered the most-serious fire in the town’s history. By the time the flames sputtered out, 28 houses and nine businesses had been damaged or destroyed. Three of the four corners of the town square were black with fire and three of the towns four blocks were fire damaged. Other reports put the number of damaged buildings at 50 and half of the town destroyed. In actuality, probably about a quarter of the town burned, based on a population of slightly less than 1,000.


Firefighting efforts improved in 1884 when water from the town’s newly built reservoir was piped under the street to fire hydrants. This provided a more-dependable supply of water to the engines. When the reservoir was dug and the water lines put in, The Emmitsburg Chronicle reported, “When it is considered that the reservoir is located 224 feet above the level of the square, any person can estimate the advantages that must accrue to the village when the improvement is completed. With proper hose at hand, it will scarce be possible for any great fire to occur here, and this security lessening the risks, must diminish the rates of insurance, and we trust that in due time the water power will be availed of for manufacturing purposes.”

Unfortunately, this did not prove to be true because Emmitsburg had its second great fire the following year.

Fire broke out in St. Joseph’s College just before noon on March 20, 1885, and quickly spread. Fighting fires in the large college buildings was too much for the firefighters with Vigilant Hose Company who were doing “grand work, but their efforts were, of course, unequal to the requirements,” according to The Frederick Daily News. Someone telegraphed for the help of fire companies from Frederick and Hagerstown. At the time, St. Joseph’s College was valued at $1 million and the total damage calculated at about $60,000.

What could be considered Emmitsburg’s third most-serious fire happened in December 1909 just days before Christmas. Shortly before noon, the roof of the Rowe property caught fire, which at the time was occupied by the Home Bakery, Harry Hopp, and Mr. Peters.

“The alarm was sounded but by the time a stream of water could be made to play on the burning roof the adjoining properties, the Reformed Church parsonage and the house occupied by Mrs. Virginia Gillelan were ablaze,” The Gettysburg Times reported.

Vigilant Hose Company combated the fire, but “A high wind aided the flames and for a time it was thought that nothing could be done to save the Rowe property although every effort was being made in that direction.”

Lulu Patterson then discovered that the Motter building occupied by Motter and Ruth Gillelan’s store was on fire. This split the efforts of the fire company as they now battled two fires. If that wasn’t enough, it was then discovered that the homes of H. W. Eyster and George T. Eyster were also on fire.

The firefighters didn’t give up, though.

“Inside of an hour the flames had been overcome and Emmitsburg, at least part of it, was saved,” The Gettysburg Times reported.

In all, 10 buildings were lost or damaged in the blaze.

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