Understanding Unionism in the Maryland “borderland”

Posted on September 30, 2009 by

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Some are aware of my latest efforts in developing a unit history for Cole’s Cavalry, so I thought I’d occasionally share samplings of some findings.

One of the things that strikes me about some of the Marylanders in the unit is the way that they considered themselves Southerners… and most really were since the majority of men in the first four companies, excepting Company C (many from Gettysburg), originated south of the Mason-Dixon Line. So, some could certainly be considered Southern Unionists. The advantage that they had over other Southerners, however, was the ability (courtesy of the various efforts to suppress secessionist hotheads in the state) to take action on their sentiments and form in organized units. Additionally, for those Marylanders who remained civilians, there was the ability to express Unionist sentiment without repercussions (excepting, of course, the times when the Confederates came to town and the local secessionists came out of the woodwork and “ratted them out.” Then again, turnabout was almost certain, so even the most ardent secessionists might think twice about what they did, even when the boys in gray were in town).

Yet, whether uniformed or not, what was at the core when it came to Unionist beliefs of the people of Maryland? Well, I’m not quite that deep into it yet, but I am at a point where I can begin to grasp the thoughts of the families of some of those in Company B. Company B (William Fiery’s company) originated mostly from Clear Spring and the surrounding area. While I haven’t quite laid my hands on many first-hand accounts of the sentiments of each and every man (and I doubt that I will), courtesy of the local newspapers of the time, I have been able to peek through a window in time.

Now, keep in mind, Maryland was a slave state… and even though many western Marylanders had strong beliefs in the Union, they also had some opinions on those in the North who threatened the institution of slavery (as we see in the following set of resolutions that follow). It was a peculiar situation in which to be, but it makes for an interesting story all around. I’ll share some additional thoughts in later posts on the evolution of thoughts on slavery in western Maryland, as the war progressed.

Without further delay, let me get to the set of resolutions endorsed by the citizens of Clear Spring, Maryland late in January 1861 (this is from the January 30, 1861 issue of the Herald of Freedom and Torch Light, Hagerstown, Maryland) ….

Union Meeting in Clearspring

The citizens of Clearspring, Dist. No. 4, in favor of preserving the Union and endorsing the firm and decided course of our patriotic Governor, Thomas Holiday Hicks, held a large and enthusiastic meeting in the Academy in this town on last Wednesday evening.

The meeting was organized by calling to the chair Denton Jacques, Esq., and electing George Ernst, Vice President, and Dr. H.F. Perry, Secretary. With a view to save time, the usual appointment of a Committee to draft resolutions was dispended with, and citizens were invited to offer any resolutions they have previously prepared. – The following resolutions, offered by two citizens, were read and adopted by the meeting: –

Whereas, The period has arrived in the history of our country when the Constitution and the Union is in danger of being subverted and the great experiment of man’s capacity for self government about to prove a failure, from the insensate ambition and mad designs of partisan leaders in the Cotton States of the Union, who are now in open rebellion against the government, and are endeavoring to create among us the same frenzied excitement, and to withdraw us from the shelter of the Stars and Stripes, therefore we, the citizens of District No. 4, Washington county

Resolve, That  we patriotically and religiously adhere to the Union of the States as the best form of government yet devised by man, that we will cling t it and stand by it to the last man with the firm conviction that within it is embraced all that is worth living for, national and individual honor, peace, security, the hope of prosperity, the hope of the world.

Resolved, That as citizens inhabiting a border county our interests are closely allied to the Union which affords is our only protection against the incursions of northern fanatics and our only hope for the restoration of our fugitive slaves, all of which must be surrendered in the event of its dissolution.

Resolved, That our interests are not identified with any section; that Maryland is neither a northern nor a southern state, but one of the United States, with her peace, her honor, her influence all centered in and indissolubly united with the Union, that to destroy the one is to destroy the other, and cast ourselves upon the open sea of revolution and anarchy without chart or compass to guide us upon the dangerous element.

Resolved, That the course of our esteemed Governor Thomas Holiday Hicks, in nailing old Maryland to the mast of the Union deserves the heartfelt thanks of every true American.

Resolved, That we most cordially approve of the stand he had taken in refusing to convene the Legislature of the State in a period of intense excitement, and by that means to hazard the moment interests of the Union and the Constitution in the precipitate judgment of the people, wrought up to the highest excess of passion by the exciting scenes transpiring around us and by the inflammatory appeals of partisan presses.

Resolved, That the final determination of President Buchanan to enforce the laws of the United States in the seceding States, thereby securing the friends of the Union of a fixed intention on his part to uphold the Constitution to the full extent of the powers conferred upon him, meets with our cordial approbation and receives our warmest support.

Resolved, That South Carolina from the earliest period, enjoying a large share of the offices and emoluments of the government, without any, unless imaginary infringements of her rights, and at the same time overtly or secretly plotting the dissolution of the union for more than thirty years, and now engaged in open rebellion, levying troops and seizing upon the property of the United States, is guilty of flagrant  violations of law unparelleled in the annals of treason and richly deserves the unqualified condemnation and detestation of the civilized world.

Resolved, That the conduct of Major Anderson and his little band in seizing upon Fort Sumter and defending the flag of his country in the midst of the enemies is justly comparable with that of Leonidas and his Spartan band at the straits of Thermopylae, where he kept in check the countless myriad of Asia by his fearless band of devoted patriots.

Resolved, That while we acknowledge the right of coercion to be an innate principle of every government, as the very idea of government implies the right and power to enforce its authority, yet in the troubled state of the county this power should not be exercised except with a timely forbearance, and a wise discretion, conceding ample time for all other means of conciliation and adjustment.

Resolved, That the right of a state to secede at its pleasure is a political heresy, an insult to the dignity of our government, a watchword of treason, that we scorn it and denounce it as subversive of all government, law or order, that the peace and harmony of the Union, nay, its very existence, would be made dependent upon the whim or caprice of a single State, which at any moment, could sever her  relations with her sister States, disrupt the Confederacy, and plunge the while country into anarchy and confusion.

Resolved, That the Constitution of the U. States, the offspring of seven long years of anxious struggle, baptized by the blood of the fathers of the revolution, matured by the wisdom and genius of Washington, Madison, Jefferson and Franklin, is eminently adapted to secure the chief end of all government, the happiness of its people, and is infinitely superior to any government capable of being devised by those arch conspirators and architects of ruin, Touey, Tombs, Rhett and Davis.

Resolved, That whilst we persist in a firm and decided demand for our rights, we prefer battling for those rights within the Union, and deprecate the secession of Maryland as a patricidal act, an insult to the memory of our fathers, a stain upon the fair page of our history, pregnant with incalculable mischief to our people and presenting no remedy for the past, no hope for the future, but offering instead the fierce distractions and untold horrors of civil strife.

Resolved, That we approve of Mr. Crittenden’s Compromise as an amicable adjustment of the difficulties distracting the country, and pledge for them our support as well as our best wishes for their noble and gifted author, who has been so anxiously laboring to avert the ruin impending over this, until now, much favored land.

Resolved, That the associations of the past, the anxieties of the present, the hopes of the future, the honor of the American name, the glory of a united people, a common destiny, all impels us by every generous motive that can move the human heart, to cling to the institutions of our ancestors, to revere the Constitution, the monument, of their wisdom, to maintain the Union as their priceless legacy, to bury sectional and party prejudices, and move onward and upward to that great destiny which we bid fair to assume among the nations of the earth.

Resolved, That we appeal to the citizens of Maryland in the name of all that is great and good in our past history, of all that is soul-stirring in the words Liberty and Union, of all that is venerable in the name of Washington or inspiring in the name of Clay, to adhere to the Constitution and the Union of States as the only safe-guard to ourselves and our posterity, and as the last hope of liberty throughout the world.

Resolved, That the Constitution and Laws of the United States, made in pursuance thereof, are the supreme law of the land, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding, and that the several acts of the northern states known as the Personal Liberty Bills, are in violation of the spirit of the Constitution and the Fugitive Slave Act, and that we earnestly appeal to the sense of Constitutional duty, to the honor and justice of those States to repeal them.

After the reading and adoption of the above resolutions, L.P. Fiery, Esq., and Col. H.W. Dellinger, were each called upon to address the meeting. They favored the citizens with a clear and interacting account of the origin and history of the present troubles in the States. They were listened to with great interest and attention.

On motion, it was

Resolved, That the proceedings of this meeting be published in the County papers.

DENTON JACQUES, Pres’t.

GEORGE ERNST, V. Pres’t.

H.F. Perry, Sec’ry.

Interesting Southern perspectives on the Constitution and Union. To me, it sounds little different than the sentiments expressed in most of the counties in the Shenandoah Valley at the same time in 1861 (just take a look at some of the newspaper accounts of Unionists meetings in Augusta County in the Valley of the Shadow Project), opposing secession, while also opposing “Northern fanaticism.” Yet, these people of Unionist thinking in western Maryland were empowered, even after Lincoln’s call for troops; something that those in the Shenandoah Valley, whether Unionists or those who were somewhere in-between, were not able to enjoy.

I’m curious to see what I might find next, in the article about the next major Union Meeting that took place in Clear Spring in April 1861. I’ll be sure to share once I’m able to get the info…

By the way, not all of Clear Springs citizens were Unionists. I know (so far) of at least one who was not. Daniel Henry Winders enlisted in Co. C, 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry (Robert E. Lee’s bodyguards and couriers) in 1863. Winders lived just a few houses away from the above-mentioned William Fiery…. adds even more flavor to the overall story!

The day after this Union meeting at Clear Spring, there was another held at nearby Four Locks on the C&O Canal. I cover this in my next post.

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