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This is the third in a series of posts about the Civil War in Frederick County, Md

 

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The Battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862.

 

Turning the Tide of the War

The battles at Gettysburg and Antietam have been credited as turning points in the Civil War, but it may have actually been during the Battle of South Mountain when the tides of war shifted toward the Union.

“Tactically, the Maryland campaign for the Confederacy was lost at South Mountain,” said John Miller, historian for South Mountain State Park. “Union morale turned around there. It was the beginning of the end. It showed that Lee could not carry the war on the offensive.”

The Battle of South Mountain in western Frederick County was actually five separate skirmishes at the mountain passes as the Confederate Army tried to hold back the Union Army and keep it from crossing. It was the first major battle that occurred in Maryland in Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s campaign that had come through Frederick City days earlier.

The fighting on the mountain lasted from 9 a.m. in the morning to 10 at night when the Confederate forces finally fell back.

“The Confederates really didn’t have much of a chance,” Miller said. “They were caught off guard, but the few Confederates forces left there to hold the passes managed to hold a massive force back for the day.”

That delaying action allowed Lee to stop his northern march through Washington County and pull back to support his troops from South Mountain as they retreated.

Then Union Army followed and the two armies met near Sharpsburg for the bloodiest single day in American history.

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This is the second in a series of posts about the Civil War in Frederick County, Md.

 

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St. Joseph College in Emmitsburg during the Civil War. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

 

Union and Confederate Armies Trade Places in Emmitsburg

The Daughters of Charity archives hold accounts of the Union Army arriving in Emmitsburg on the evening of June 27, 1863. They camped around St. Joseph’s Academy and the officers used homes in Emmitsburg for quarters.

The army headed north on June 30 when “a sudden order was given to strike tents and march for Gettysburg. In fifteen minutes it was done, and Saint Joseph’s Valley relapsed into quiet. Father Gandolfo came out early to say Mass and unaware of the departure of the Northern Army was halted by some Confederate pickets…”

While the Daughters of Charity showed no favoritism in the war, the same didn’t hold true for the girls who boarded at the academy. Many were from Confederate states and were trapped in a country at war with their home states. As the Union Army prepared to leave, one girl is said to have climbed into the cupola on one of the buildings and signaled to Confederate scouts where the Union troops were and that they were leaving.

Confederate troops slipped into the area behind the advancing Union Army with the Daughters of Charity accounts noting, “The country now changed hands for a little time, and the Southern Grey swept round St. Joseph’s, not in large force, but detachments of cavalry, picket men etc.”

They stayed only hours before they, too, headed north.

John Miller, a historian for South Mountain State Park and the Emmitsburg Area Historical Society’s expert on the Civil War, says the problem is that there is no record of the Confederates in Emmitsburg at that time, though there were a few hours during the early morning of  June 29 when it might have happened. He also says that an army the size of the Union Army could not have moved out in 15 minutes.

Sis. Betty Ann McNeil, former Daughters of Charity archivist, agrees that there are discrepancies in the timeline, but adds that the information comes directly from the accounts of sisters and Father Francis Burlando. These accounts were recorded in 1866, though, so their memories might have mixed up the dates.

Miller does note that on July 5, Confederate Gen. JEB Stuart and his men were acting as a rear guard for the slower-moving wagons leaving Gettysburg. He had been told that the Union troops had moved out of Emmitsburg and came in from the western side of town.

“The Union troops hadn’t left, though,” Miller said. “There was a small skirmish out near where the Emmit House is and Stuart’s men took 70 Union soldiers prisoner.”

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This is the first in a series of posts about the Civil War in Frederick County, Md.

 

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 Confederate troops marching west on East Patrick Street, Frederick, Maryland, September 12, 1862. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Frederick County, Md., citizens helped split the Union, but they also helped preserve it. As contradictory as that sounds, the Civil War divided Frederick County as much as it did the country. Within its borders, a smaller version of the war played out 150 years ago. Frederick County saw battles fought in and near its towns and reeled in the aftermath of other battles. It saw great military leadership and even greater displays of compassion. Both Union and Confederate troops occupied its towns and families were divided because of where their loyalties lay.

 

“Frederick County was a border county within a border state,” said Chris Haugh with the Tourism Council of Frederick County. Bordered by the Mason-Dixon Line to the north and the Potomac River along the southwestern edge, Frederick County has the traditional border between the North and the South as its northern border and the actual border during the Civil War to the southwest.

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the National Road both ran through the county making it an important transportation center during the war as troops and supplies moved through the area.

“Frederick County was important to the Confederacy, too, as this was kind of their thoroughfare to the North,” Haugh said. He points out that the Confederacy had three major campaigns into Maryland and they all had ties to Frederick County.

Before the War

Frederick County’s experience in the Civil War could be said to have begun years before the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, South Carolina (where some Frederick County citizens were among the Confederate attacking force).

Roger Brooke Taney lived in Frederick City for 22 years practicing law. He moved to Washington to become a U.S. Supreme Court in 1835 and eventually chief justice. That is when case of Dred Scott vs. Sanford came before the court. His court ruled that slaves could not sue in federal court because they were not citizens, the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional and Congress had no right to abolish slavery from its territories. The decision became so controversial that it is frequently listed as one of the causes of the Civil War.

John Brown had a scout in Frederick before his raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 and Frederick’s Home Brigade was part of the armed response to the raid.

Avoiding Secession

Frederick County’s split sympathies about the war drew a line across the county that was as clear as the one the war drew across the country. It was in this environment that Gov. Thomas Hicks brought the Maryland legislature in the spring of 1861 to vote on whether Maryland would secede from the Union. As divided as Frederick was, Annapolis was a bomb waiting to explode and a secession vote would have lit the fuse.

As the legislature debated the issue in Kemp Hall in Frederick, the federal government began taking steps to ensure that Maryland would not secede. Virginia had already done so and if Maryland followed, the Washington, D.C. the Confederacy would have entirely surrounded the Union capital. Federal troops arrested legislators with Confederate leanings and imprisoned them in Fort McHenry. When the time for the vote came, so many legislators were either afraid or imprisoned that a quorum couldn’t be reached.

“Some of the legislators did not even answer when their names were called. They were in the gallery, but they feared being arrested,” Haugh said.

Hospital City

In the fall of 1861, Union Gen. Nathaniel Banks created a military hospital in Frederick’s Hessian Barracks.

“From an operational standpoint, it was a perfect location,” said George Wunderlich, executive director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. “It was near the B&O Railroad so patients could be evacuated if need be. It had clean water and mountain air.”

The hospital was called Union Military Hospital No. 1 and unfortunately, there would be more, many more, in Frederick. Following the Battle of Antietam, Frederick would have 28 hospitals taking over most of the large buildings in the city.

Military Hospital No. 1 could house 900 patients, but it wasn’t until June 1862 that the number of patients began to climb toward that number.

On June 4, 400 Union sick soldiers arrived at the hospital and the medical authorities were not prepared for them. The doctors requested that the Daughters of Charity help care for them. The Daughters of Charity had a reputation as excellent nurses, and Catholic sisters were the only trained nurses in the country at the beginning of the war. More than 300 Daughters of Charity would serve in hospitals, battlefields, military prisons, ambulances and troop transports for both the Union and Confederacy during the war.

By the end of the war, Military Hospital No. 1 would treat more than 40,000 patients.

Antietam

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s first invasion into the north came in September 1862 and his first destination was Frederick City.

“He had been told that he would find plenty of men to sign up and volunteer in Frederick, but they gave him the cold shoulder,” Haugh said.

The Confederate Army occupied Frederick for only a few days, but hosting an army can devastate a town. The additional soldiers and horses overwhelm an area’s ability to support the numbers of people.

It was during this time that 96-year-old Barbara Fritchie defied Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson and flew the Union flag while the Confederate Army was marching out of town. Her actions turned her into a folk heroine who was immortalized in a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier.

As the Confederates were leaving, one soldier left behind Lee’s orders issued to the army. A Union soldier found the orders wrapped around a set of cigars.

“How much the lost orders changed the course of the war is debatable,” said Barbara Justice, a national park ranger at Monocacy Battlefield. “Some say most of the orders had already been carried out, but others say that it caused [Union Gen. George] McClellan to speed up his pursuit so that Lee didn’t have as much time as he expected to have to carry out his plan.”

The Union Army caught up with the Confederate Army on South Mountain. Fighting began there and carried over to the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single day in American history.

Following Antietam, wounded poured into Frederick. “Imagine a town of 10,000 getting 8,000 wounded in, which almost doubles the population, and those 8,000 men are helpless. They need to be fed and cared for. They and the horses brought in with them create a tremendous amount of additional biomass that pollutes the water. Things disappeared very quickly when an army came through. Financially it must have been devastating for them,” Wunderlich said.

Monocacy

During the summer of 1864, Confederate Gen. Jubal Early came through the county with his army and ransomed Frederick for $200,000. He demanded the ransom in gold or medical supplies or he would burn the city to the ground. City officials managed to pay the ransom and Early continued south intending to capture Washington. A smaller Union force fought Early’s army during the Battle of the Monocacy. The battle delayed Early and allowed Washington’s defenses to be reinforced

“I think it’s very possible they [the Confederate Army] could have captured Washington,” Justice said. Could they have held it? Probably not, but they could have burned it and the capture would have had an effect on the effect on the 1864 Presidential election.”

When the war ended in April 1865, Frederick citizens celebrated the end of three years that had been marked by invading armies and deprivation.

“It was a fascinating time to live in Frederick County, but it must have been scary knowing you were in the path of armies,” Haugh said.

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Thurmont’s Western Maryland Railroad Station.

On March 2, 1915, David Firor kissed his wife goodbye and told her that he would be back on the evening train from Baltimore. Then he headed into the city to buy Easter items for his store on East Main Street in Thurmont.

 

That evening, “The train came but Dave did not come home, and it was taken for granted that he did not get to finish his shopping and remained until next day as he had done on future occasions,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

When he failed to come home the next day, Firor’s wife and mother began to worry. They began to make inquiries at the places where he typically went, but no one could help them with any information.

Rumors began to run rampant. He had met with foul play in the streets of Baltimore. He was running from creditors because his business was about to go bankrupt. Both of these proved false.

Firor’s brother, J. W. Firor, was a professor at the University of Athens in Georgia. He took a leave of absence from his teaching to join his family in Thurmont. Then he set off for Baltimore to search for his brother in hospitals and other institutions.

Firor was 31 years old and had a medium build.  He stood 5 feet 6 inches tall and had black hair and eyes. He wasn’t particularly distinguishable from among hundreds of men in the city. J. W. made his inquiries, though, and walked through the hospital wards and looked at John Does in the morgue.

No sign could be found of him.

Ten days later, Grace Firor received a telegram from her husband. He was in Jacksonville, Florida.

“Losing all trace of his identity, knowing nothing whatever of his whereabouts until he was put ashore penniless from a dredge boat at Jacksonville, Florida, and cared for by a family of Italians, David Firor, of Thurmont, last Tuesday for the first time in a week realized who he was,” The Gettysburg Times reported.

The cause of the problem was what Firor called “sleepy-headedness” and the doctors called aphasia. In recent months, he had started sleeping a great deal of the time and when he slept, he was nearly impossible to wake. His mother even said that he could fall asleep talking or standing up.

Even after being found in Jacksonsville, he had an attack where he slept for 18 hours straight.

When asked about what had happened to him, Firor said that he couldn’t remember how he came to be on the boat. The last thing he remembered was speaking with Helen Rouzer, formerly of Thurmont, in a Baltimore Department Store.

He also had taken $60 with him to Baltimore when he left Thurmont. It was all missing when he reached Jacksonville. He didn’t remember what had happened to it, but since no orders were delivered to the store, he apparently didn’t spend the money on what it had been intended for.

Some people suggested that he may have been robbed. While this is a possibility, Firor still had his gold pocket watch on him when he was found. It seems unlikely that a robber wouldn’t have taken it as well.

Firor apparently never solved the mystery of what had happened to him during the missing days. He didn’t even know whether he had been conscious for most of them.

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GoldfishCompetition in goldfish farming was inevitable, however, and by the late 1930s, the appearance of larger, more diversified, growers across the country reduced the demand from Frederick County, Maryland, farms.

Modern technology also worked against county goldfish farmers. Advances in shipping techniques and the increased variety and quality of goldfish available from growers around the world gradually changed the goldfish market.  By the 1950’s, fish could be shipped in plastic bags by air freight. The plastic reduced shipping costs and the planes extended the distance the goldfish could be shipped. This further increased the competition in the market.  Air transportation allowed areas that had not previously engaged in goldfish farming, such as Arkansas, to become competitive or even better locations than Frederick. “By going south, you had a longer growing season,” said Charles Thomas. “In a place like Arkansas, instead of having only one crop each season, you could have two.”

The result was that farms producing only common goldfish seasonally, such as those in Frederick County, could not compete. By the 1940’s only a few farms in Frederick County were still cultivating goldfish. “Everything changed,” goldfish farmer Ernest Tresselt said. “We have to supply fish year round. The competition made it unprofitable for most farmers, and they went out of business.”

The Powell family got out of the goldfish business in the 1960s. “People didn’t want them. They were starting to ban them from being in lakes. The county had a severe drought that made it hard to keep the ponds full. Fishermen were using spinning lures more than live bait, and kids didn’t want goldfish as pets. They wanted tropical fish that were harder to care for,” Bill Powell said.

By 1980, Lilypons, once the world’s largest producer of goldfish, had diversified so that it now specializes in water garden supplies and plants more than in fish. Hunting Creek Fisheries and Eaton Fisheries also survived by diversifying their offerings into plants, game fish, and/or other types of ornamental fish, such as koi.

Today, there are still fish ponds in Frederick County.  Lilypons devotes some of its nearly 500 ponds to goldfish. Hunting Creek Fisheries still has ponds in Thurmont and Lewistown, as does Eaton Fisheries in Lewistown.

Other goldfish ponds have disappeared, however. The Claybaugh fish ponds in Thurmont are covered over by Mountain Gate Exxon and McDonald’s.  Fish ponds belonging to Ernest Powell and Maurice Albaugh along Moser Road no longer exist.  The area east of the Maple Run Golf Course used to have Ross Firor’s ponds but does no more.  The ponds on William Powell’s Arrowhead Farms on Appels Church Road north of Thurmont and Frank Rice’s goldfish ponds alongside Route 15 south of Thurmont have been filled in and turned back to pasture.

Frederick County no longer is the biggest producer of goldfish in the country, but there was a time when the county led the country in growing the fish of emperors and kings.

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goldfish-1377880092-article-0George Thomas started his business as a roadside stand in Buckeystown in Frederick County, Md., that sold the vegetables and goldfish that he grew on his farm. “He had a keen eye for finding some type of venture where he might be successful,” Charles Thomas said of his grandfather in a 2006 interview. While customers may have bought his vegetables, they tended to show more interest in the goldfish bred in his goldfish hatchery, Three Springs Fisheries.  When the U.S. Postal authorities agreed to establish a branch office near the fishery to assist in the shipping of the goldfish, they asked George Thomas to select a name, and in 1932 the Lilypons post office branch was created. By the end of World War II, Thomas’ fish hatchery, now known as Lilypons, had become the world’s largest producer of goldfish.

Hunting Creek Fisheries near Thurmont, Md., was started by Frederick Tresselt, a graduate of Cornell University who had worked at the state trout hatchery in Hackettstown, New Jersey. “In driving around the county with a friend in 1922, Dad was amazed to see all the goldfish ponds in the area,” his son, Ernest Tresselt said in 2006. “Every farm that could had fish ponds. It was a cash crop for them [the farmers].”  Hunting Creek Fisheries opened in 1923 and is still in operation today as a family-run business raising ornamental fish and aquatic plants.

Tresselt believed that Frederick County might not have had the oldest goldfish farms in the country, but the county did have the most goldfish farmers. At the peak of goldfish farming in the County (1920’s and 1930’s), he estimates that as many as thirty or more farms were raising millions of goldfish.  The 1925 “News-Post Yearbook and Almanac” listed the county’s production at three-and-a-half to four million goldfish on 400-500 acres.

The Powells eventually had 45 acres of ponds on their properties and would ship out 120,000 goldfish a week from September through November.

“In the early days, we would get the fish out of the ponds and ship them around the country to five and dime stores,” Powell said.

These goldfish were sold for $10 to $50 per thousand, and the value of the yearly production was approximately $75,000.  By 1932, production increased to seven million goldfish on 500-600 acres, with goldfish selling for $35 to $70 per thousand (retail price five-ten cents each). Reports estimated Frederick County goldfish farmers had brought $1.5 million into the County.

In 1920, county farmers organized the Gold Fish Breeders Association of Frederick County, in part to fight against the high cost of shipping, property assessments on goldfish ponds and other issues of importance to Frederick County goldfish farmers. The organization ended once many of the county goldfish farmers left the business.

Early goldfish farming was relatively simple. In the spring, farmers stocked their ponds with breeder goldfish. The goldfish reproduced, and the young grew through the summer.  Feeding the fish was kept at a minimum.  Generally, some form of ground grain, like wheat middlings or ground corn, was the food of choice. The breeders were kept in the deepest ponds since these ponds provided a good water supply over the winter.

Powell said his family looked for fish with long fins and thick bodies. They would spread Spanish Moss in the ponds where the goldfish could lay their eggs. The moss was then moved to empty ponds so that the goldfish wouldn’t eat the newly hatched fish.

In the fall, the goldfish were harvested and sorted by size. Buyers would come driving trucks full of fish cans in which to carry the fish, or farmers would ship the fish to the buyers. A single farmer might ship thousands of fish each day during the harvest.

“At first, we were shipping dark fish to bait shops for fishermen, but later they began to say that the colored fish caught more fish, and they wanted them,” Powell said.

Goldfish production in Frederick County soared, until by 1920 eighty percent of goldfish produced in the United States originated in Frederick County. By 1931, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that the goldfish industry was a $945,000 business in the United States.  Throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s the publications of The News- Post Year Book and Almanac note that Frederick County had “more goldfish produced than in any part of the United States.” Interestingly, the yearbooks list goldfish as “selected crops harvested” rather than “livestock on farms.”

 

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thWhen Luther Powell and his brothers attended the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, they saw a presentation about raising goldfish. Upon returning home, they realized that their farm had a good water supply so they dug ponds and began a new business venture.

The idea caught on with other farmers who saw it as a way to make money from their ponds and within a few years nearly all of the goldfish in America were coming from Frederick County.

“At one point, 83 percent of the goldfish in the country were from Frederick County,” said Bill Powell, Luther’s grandson.

Bred in China for their color, goldfish were the first non-indigenous fish brought into the United States.  The historical record does not confirm an arrival date, but stories with references to goldfish put their arrival as early as 1826. They were being sold as pets by the 1850s, and interest in them spiked after P. T. Barnum opened the first public aquarium in 1856.

Once suggestion for the popularity of goldfish in the county is that the German families that settled the county enjoyed a fish-rich diet, which had led to a depletion of fish in the local streams. They purchased carp from the government to supplement the natural fish population. The carp were shipped in cans, and some goldfish, which are cousins to carp, also stowed away in the cans.

Ernest Tresselt wrote in his book Autobiography of a Goldfish Farmer, “That’s how goldfish found its way to the Maryland countryside, on the tails of edible carp. It is easy to speculate that one or more farms in Frederick County got goldfish along with their carp during the period when the carp culture in farm fish ponds was advocated as a supplementary food supply.”

Charles J. Ramsburg of Lewistown is believed to be the first goldfish farmer in Frederick County.  By the early 1900s, Ramsberg was shipping about a million fish a year around the country, according to History of Frederick County.

Another pioneer in goldfish farming was Ernest R. Powell of Lewistown.  In 1892, at the age of twelve, Powell began to breed goldfish.  By 1910, when his biography appeared in History of Frederick County, Powell had become successful enough in his enterprise to be identified as “one of the largest dealers of goldfish in Frederick County.”

More farmers began entering the business, using existing farm ponds or new ponds dug by hand with shovels, wheelbarrows and horse-drawn scoops.  “In the early part of the century, I think people in the county, especially farmers, saw goldfish as a way of making extra money,” Tresselt said in a 2006 interview. Tresselt believed that goldfish farming flourished in the county in part due to “the availability of water on many farms because of the mountain streams and springs. The temperate climate, with its distinct seasonal changes, is ideal for the propagation of goldfish.”

George Leicester Thomas, who founded Three Springs Fisheries in 1917 in Buckeystown, believed that the success of goldfish farming in Frederick County was largely due to the fact that the mineral content of the water was well-suited for goldfish.  Thomas’grandson, Charles, agreed, saying that the rich color of the goldfish resulted from good breeding stock and water rich in nutrients from truckloads of manure dumped in the ponds. “The manure has nutrients that fish thrive on and actually all they have to do is open their mouths in order to eat,” he told the Frederick Post in 1981.  It was these nutrients in the water, according to Thomas, that gave Frederick County goldfish the reputation of being the best-colored goldfish in the country.

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