Civil War divided our great nation like no other war before it or since,
and nowhere was that divide more deeply felt than in the state of
Maryland. With its industrialized north and its agrarian south, Maryland
would find itself unique in its struggle to align with either the Union
or the Confederacy. Although no major battles occurred in Southern
Maryland, the region played a key role in providing information to the
Confederacy through the area's many spies, blockade runners, and
Long before the war, tobacco plantations had been a major source of
income for Charles, St. Mary's, and Calvert counties. These plantations
required vast numbers of slaves to ensure their success and viability.
With the election of President Lincoln and the looming possibility of
emancipation, many plantation owners began preparing for a fight.
As early as 1860, records show that groups of men throughout Southern
Maryland were organizing brigades, such as the Maryland Line, to fight
Union forces. The Confederate Association of St. Mary's County held a
meeting in March of that same year. By invitation of Captain George
Thomas (President of the association), Brigadier General Bradley T.
Johnson spoke regarding the imminent war saying, "When Captain Thomas
invited me to address this association last fall, I was obliged to
decline to do it at the time, but wrote him that I wanted to make the
address, for there were some things that ought to be said before we all
are dead, that St. Mary's was the place to say them in, and that I was
the man to say them." Adding, "I never saw a Marylander a coward."
By September of 1861, talk of secession and unrest among some Maryland
residents had become so fervent that the U.S. government arrested and
imprisoned some state legislators who supported the southern cause, to
prevent Maryland from joining the Confederacy. Even this drastic measure
could not quell the southern sympathizers, and many men from Charles,
Calvert, and St. Mary's counties either crossed the Potomac to fight for
the Confederacy or acted as blockade runners and spies to help fight the
This loyalty to the South came at a price for some residents including
Henry J. Carroll of St. Mary's County. He was just one of the many men
questioned and sometimes jailed for rallying people to the Confederate
cause. Mr. Carroll was charged with "disloyalty and with having
counseled and advised a large number of the residents of St. Mary's
County to join the Confederate Army and with contributing liberally of
his means to equip and forward recruits to Virginia for the rebel army."
Though not much documentation exists on the subject, it is presumed that
some of the spies and those aiding both the North and the South, were
women of Southern Maryland. It is believed that over 400 women fought
during the civil war, many disguising themselves as men, while countless
others served as nurses. A few even used their feminine wiles to acquire
valuable secrets for both sides.
Throughout the war, recruitment of slaves in Southern Maryland had
become commonplace, but in October of 1863 plantation owners took the
matter up with the federal government claiming the practice to be
illegal. The government decided to make reparations to the slave owners
by offering "manumissions" or compensation in the amount of $300 for
each freed man who would enlist and fight for the Union Army. During
that same year Camp Stanton was established in Benedict to train these
newly freed slaves. Four separate regiments were established, and the
men were promised food, shelter, and money in exchange for their service
to the Union. In spite of the harsh conditions and inadequate supplies,
these soldiers went on to participate in some of the most important and
brutal battles of the war.
Wealthy gentry of Southern Maryland could also pay a $300 "bounty" to
have an African American volunteer take their place and fight for the
Union cause. This was not only done because so many plantation owners
refused to support the Union, but also to ensure that their livelihood
would be protected, and that they could remain on their farms and
continue to produce crops. Many plantation owners did leave and go to
Richmond to join the Confederacy, only to return after the war to find
their plantations in utter ruin. Some even successfully sued the federal
government and were compensated for their losses following the war.
As the war progressed, and the number of prisoners from both sides began
to increase, the government began looking for sites to establish
prisoner of war camps. A resort at Point Lookout became the ideal
location to construct a hospital complex and also a prisoner of war
"depot." Named for Surgeon General W.A. Hammond, in July of 1862
construction began on the hospital, a dining room, and numerous other
buildings. Following the battle at Gettysburg in July of 1863, the focus
of Camp Hammond was to house as many as 10,000 rebel soldiers in tents.
Many of the Confederate soldiers captured at Gettysburg would do much of
the construction on their own prison camp. Because tents were used
instead of more weatherproof wooden structures (and other substandard
conditions), more than 3,500 prisoners lost their life at the camp.
During its operation from July 1863 until May 1865, over 50,000 men were
imprisoned at Camp Hammond. With the camp located so near to many
Confederate sympathizers, many tried to aide the prisoners only to find
themselves detained at the same facility. Just one year after the end of
the war lease of the property was discontinued and the prison was
The most famous event to take place in Southern Maryland is undoubtedly
the escape of John Wilkes Booth following President Lincoln's
assassination at Ford's Theater in Washington on April 14, 1865. A
26-year-old stage actor, Booth's sympathies for the South reached a
fever pitch following the surrender of General Lee just days before the
assassination. After fatally wounding President Lincoln, Booth fled to
Prince George's County and eventually to Charles County where he felt he
would be given safe haven as he attempted to escape to Virginia. On
April 15, he and fellow conspirator, David Herold, arrived at the house
of Samuel Mudd where Booth received medical treatment for a broken leg.
He and Herold then fled through Zekiah Swamp to the home of Colonel
Samuel Cox who provided the fugitives with food and shelter for the next
four days. Booth and Herold eventually made their way across the Potomac
River to Virginia where Booth was later killed on April 26th. Dr. Mudd
was convicted and received a prison sentence and was later pardoned by
President Andrew Johnson in 1869. Other conspirators, including several
from Charles County were named and either received prison sentences or,
as in the case of David Herold, were hanged in July of 1865.
With all the hardships suffered by both sides during the war, Southern
Maryland slowly recovered following the end of the war. Plantations,
though economically devastated by the war, began to function without the
use of slave labor and some found other ways to become financially
viable again. Today, monuments and memorials throughout Southern
Maryland are small reminders of those who fought so valiantly for what
they believed. The greatest legacies are the hard fought lessons from
the Civil War learned by the families of Southern Maryland, who saw such
great sacrifice by so many.