Harold W. Hurst - October 2006
Following the outbreak of the Civil War, the secessionist members of the Maryland legislature were arrested by Federal authorities and Union troops occupied large sections of Maryland and Delaware. In the gubernatorial elections of 1861 in Maryland, William Bradford, the Unionist candidate, defeated the states rights nominee, Benjamin C. Howard, thus assuring that Maryland would remain with the Union.
Delmarva, with the exception of the two counties in Virginia that followed the lead of their state in seceding from the Union, was destined, by choice or necessity, to remain a part of the United States.
Some ardent pro-Southern residents of the region, however, were opposed to dealings with the Unionist authorities. Some remained secret supporters of the Confederacy while other escaped into Virginia or other parts of the South, where they joined the rebel army.
Who were the leading supporters of the Confederacy on Delmarva? Quite naturally, most of them stemmed from the wealthy planter class that had close marital and economic ties with the slaveholders of Virginia and the deep South. Their sympathies for the Southern cause far outweighed any remaining loyalty that they once held to the Union. This class provided a number of high-ranking officers for the rebel army.
One of the great patrician families on the Eastern Shore of Maryland was the Tilghmans, who owned such magnificent estates as “Grosse Coate” and “Plimhimmon” in Talbot County. Several Tilghmans served as officers in the Confederate Army. Lloyd Tilghman graduated from West Point and later participated in the Mexican War. After joining the Confederate Army he saw action in the Army of the West as a brigadier general. A martyr for the Southern cause, he was killed in action in 1862.
Tench Tilghman of “Plimhimmon” was sympathetic to the South but was confined to his estate by Federal authorities throughout the war. His three sons, however, escaped to the South, where they served in the rebel army. One of these, Tench Francis, helped Jefferson Davis to evade capture by the Union Army and later returned home with a considerable amount of Confederate gold in his pockets.
The Goldsboroughs were another illustrious family whose members had played a notable role in Maryland’s political and social life since the Colonial era. Robert H. Goldsborough of Queen Anne’s County joined the Confederate Army as a private in Company B of the 39th Virginia Cavalry and later rose in rank to become an aid-de-camp on the staff of J.E.B. Stuart. He was eventually captured by he Union Army and confined in the Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. Released in an exchange deal, he subsequently served as an aid-de-camp on the staff of General Curtis Lee. Goldsborough was mortally wounded at Saylor’s Creek on June 6, 1865.
The first Medical Director of the Confederate Army hailed from the Eastern Shore. Thomas H. Williams, a native of Dorchester County and a graduate of the medical college of the University of Maryland, first served as Medical Director of the Army of Virginia and was later appointed to the Surgeon General’s Office in Richmond. After the war, Dr. Williams practiced medicine in Cambridge, where he died in 1898.
One of the most daring and enterprising Eastern Shoremen to serve in the Confederacy was William Independence Rasin, who came from a family that had owned land in Kent County, Maryland, since the early 1700s. Captured by Union detectives after returning home from service in the Missouri State Guard, he was also thrown into the Capitol Prison. Rasin miraculously escaped and journeyed to North Carolina, where he organized and equipped a company to serve in the First Maryland Cavalry of the Confederate Army. Wounded twice, he and his company were discharged on April 28, 1865.
Somerset County, Maryland, contributed at least two high officers to the Confederate Army. Major General Arnold Elzey, a graduate of West Point, saw service in the Mexican War and later became a lieutenant in the Confederate Army’s First Maryland Cavalry. Wounded at Cold Harbor, he was later in command of the defenses of Richmond. In 1864 he became General Hood’s chief of artillery.
John Henry Winder, also a graduate of West Point and from Somerset County, fought in the Seminole and Mexican wars. In April 1861, he accepted a brigadier generalship in the Confederate Army. He was placed in command of several military prisons, including the notorious Andersonville Prison. Later in the war Winder became Commissary General for all military prisons in the Confederacy east of the Mississippi River. Noted for his strictness, he was often criticized for cruelty to the Union captives under his control.
Another member of the Winder family was Brigadier General Charles S. Winder, whose mother was a member of the renowned Lloyd household, which owned hundreds of slaves and thousands of acres in Talbot County and elsewhere in Maryland and the South. Winder was the right-hand man of the famous Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and was killed on August 9, 1862 at the battle of Cedar Mountain. General Winder was buried at Wye House on the Lloyd estate near Easton in Talbot county.
Even Cecil County, a Unionist stronghold on the Pennsylvania boundary, contributed a high officer to the rebel army. William Whann Mackall, a West Point graduate and a veteran of the Mexican War, joined the Confederate Army as a Lieutenant Colonel in July 1861. Later in the war he became chief of staff to General Braxton Bragg and, after that, to General Joseph E. Johnston.
The highest ranking naval officer from the Eastern Shore was Admiral Frank Buchanan, a native of Baltimore who moved to Talbot County, where he married Ann Catherine Lloyd of Wye House. A graduate of Annapolis, he served in the Mexican War and later accompanied Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan.
In 1862 Buchanan was given command of the Confederate warship Virginia (later known to Northerners as the Merrimac). Near the end of the war Buchanan was placed in command of Confederate forces defending Mobile Bay in Alabama. It was here that Admiral David G. Farragut of the Union Navy gave the famed command “Damn the torpedoes – Full speed ahead!”
John W. Bennett, a native of Talbot County and a graduate of the Naval Academy, also served in the Confederate Navy. He was assigned to the Confederate vessel Nashville and later in the war saw service in the battles defending Mobile Bay from Union forces.
High-born aristocrats who went South to become Confederate officers were far outnumbered by men of humbler origins who signed up to serve as enlisted men in both the Union and Confederate armies. Despite the Southern sympathies of the region, thousands joined the Union Army, probably to keep from being drafted for service outside of their home territory.
Cecil, Kent and Talbot counties furnished enough volunteers so that a draft was unnecessary, but Queen Anne’s, Somerset and Worcester counties fell short of meeting their quotas. Local men who escaped South to serve in the rebel army were probably more fervent and devoted to their cause. After all, it was daring and risky to evade the Federal authorities and flee South to sign up with a Confederate regiment.
Civilians who sympathized with the Southern cause included judges, officials, clergymen, newspaper editors and ordinary farmers. The most illustrious official on the Eastern Shore to incur the wrath of the Federal authorities was Richard Bennett Carmichael of Queen Anne’s County. Born into a wealthy land-owning family, he graduated from Princeton in 1828 and was admitted to the bar in 1830.
Carmichael served several terms in the Maryland legislature and was appointed in 1858 to be Judge of the Seventh Judicial Court, which sat in Easton. A states rights Democrat, his outspoken opposition to the arbitrary arrest of Southern sympathizers led to his apprehension on May 27, 1862, when Union troops invaded his courtroom and charged him with treason. His resistance led to a brutal beating by the soldiers and eventual internment at Fort McHenry and later at Fort Delaware, where he was released in December, 1862. For decades after the Civil War, Judge Carmichael remained one of the Eastern Shore’s most staunch and illustrious advocates of states rights and “the lost cause.”
Newspaper editors in the eastern counties of Maryland were not generally outright secessionists, but their opinions were often strikingly pro-Southern. Most of them vigorously opposed the Lincoln administration’s prosecution of the war against the South and the occupation of Maryland and Delaware by Federal troops. Moreover, they disliked Northern ideas on the abolition of slavery and “Negro equality.”
Many towns on the Eastern Shore supported two newspapers – one was conservative unionist while the other was more openly pro-Southern in outlook. In Chestertown, for example, the Kent News favored remaining in the Union while opposing the radicalism of the Lincoln administration. But the Conservator, published by J. Leeds Barroll, often manifested open support for the Southern cause. The latter paper was shut down by the U.S. Provost Marshall on April 17, 1863 and Barroll was arrested and taken to Baltimore, where he was eventually released and sent behind the Confederate lines. Barroll spent the remainder of the war working in the mail service at Richmond.
Other pro-Southern newspapers on the Shore included the Cambridge Democrat, the Easton Star, the Denton Journal, and the Centreville States and Rights Advocate. Tom Robinson of the Easton Star was arrested for his condemnation of the Federal treatment of Judge Carmichael and, by order of President Lincoln, was imprisoned at Fort McHenry on May 8, 1863. He was later released to the Confederate authorities and conscripted by them for government service.
If the pens of newspaper editors stirred the wrath of the Federal authorities and Union troops, the ordinary citizens of Delmarva were harassed, intimidated, and even arrested for a variety of reasons including the use of “subversive” language and writing, alleged spying activities, insulting the American flag, and participation in supposed contraband trade with the Confederacy.
A few examples of Federal treatment of Southern sympathizers will illustrate the tense situation which existed on the Shore throughout the war period. In Queen Anne’s County, Captain Ogle Tilghman was arrested for his organization and support of the Smallwood Rifles, a militia company that openly espoused the Confederate cause.
In the same county, John Tilghman was apprehended for burning the schooner Hard Times, which had been taken over by Federal authorities because Southern sympathizers had used it for contraband trade with the Confederacy.
In Easton and Salisbury, “disloyal ladies” incurred the wrath of Union troops for refusing to walk by the American flag. Somerset County’s Gunby family were notorious Confederates. Several boys in the clan served in the Southern army and a sister, Clara, was imprisoned for “treason” as she had been accused of smuggling food and other contraband to Virginia.
Berlin, a village in Worcester County, was the scene of a secret contraband ring that smuggled mail, bonds and money to the South. The leader was arrested and interned in a Federal prison.
Southern sympathies were manifested in two important elections held in Maryland in 1864. A referendum on a new constitution to abolish slavery won statewide approval. The Eastern Shore counties opposed the document overwhelmingly with 11, 095 votes against and only 4,420 for the measure.
The Presidential election of 1864 pitted Abraham Lincoln, the Republican candidate, against George McClellan, the Democrat nominee who favored immediate cessation of hostilities and the recognition of the Confederacy by the Union. The Eastern Shore cast 9,758 votes for McClellan and only 5,702 for Lincoln.
Delaware, like Maryland, was a divided state during the Civil War. New Castle County and the industrial city of Wilmington lie in the northern part of the state. This area supported the Unionist cause and voted the Republican ticket. Kent and Sussex counties in lower Delaware were rural and agricultural in character and generally sympathetic to the Southern cause, although not outright secessionists. As the war progressed, these counties became increasingly pro-Southern in outlook and backed the Democratic party, which was inclined to oppose the war effort.
Newspapers, churches and militia companies revealed the partisan split between Unionists and Republicans and pro-Southern Democrats. The leading Republican organ in Delaware was the Milford Peninsular News and Advertiser, published by J. S. Prettyman. The Dover Delawarean, owned by a powerful Salisbury family, was a conservative Democratic newspaper. Never an outright secessionist publication, it opposed the Lincoln administration and used the race issue to win votes for the Democrats.
Militia companies displayed marked partisanship. In New Castle County most volunteer companies were Unionist, but in Sussex County outfits in Georgetown, Laurel and Seaford were disbanded by Union soldiers because of “secessionist” views. Their arms and equipment were expropriated and turned over to Federal authorities.
Even the churches in Delaware were torn apart by the civil conflict. Most congregations in Wilmington and New Castle County openly supported the Union cause, but some churches in Kent and Sussex counties favored the South. The Old School Presbyterians throughout the state were avid supporters of the Confederacy.
What is the legacy of the Civil War in Delmarva? Until well into the twentieth century, many people on the Eastern Shore and lower Delaware voted for conservative Democrats as they associated the Republicans with Unionist behavior during the Civil War, Federal encroachment upon states rights, and attempts to force black suffrage and civil rights on the region.
As late as the 1960s, Southern-style politics thrived on the Shore. In 1964 the Maryland Democratic Presidential primary saw the rabid segregationist governor of Alabama win 42 percent of the statewide vote while carrying all counties on the Eastern Shore. A state law providing for the opening of public accommodations to blacks was opposed by six counties in the region. In Delaware there was stubborn resistance to school desegregation in Sussex County.
Since the 1970s the region has changed politically and socially. Real estate development, tourism, immigration from other areas, desegregation and population growth have transformed the once largely isolated area. Republicans have absorbed much of the conservative vote, making the Peninsula a two-party region. Small-town habits and Southern ways endure in some rural districts, but the region as a whole is gradually becoming a near, carbon copy of an increasingly monolithic America. The Civil War is now a part of a faded past.