The confectioner Southern Unionist of Harpers Ferry… and his Unionist son

Posted on August 24, 2012 by


Before writing this, I probably should have posted something about the rifts between some Southern fathers and sons, when it came to sentiments in the war, but I’ll get around to it.

Tonight, I’m focusing instead on Frederick Augustus Roeder. The name might be familiar, especially if you’ve visited Harpers Ferry. Yes, THAT Frederick Roeder, who might be better known for his confectionery shop in lower town. I think most who have visited and listened to the stories are familiar with his tale, but, just in case… and I’ll be brief…

Roeder, a German immigrant, owned a confectionery shop and tavern in Harpers Ferry. While business was probably good, situated near the Armory, his good fortune seemed to begin to wear out with the death of his wife, in March 1861. A widow with seven children (two were infants), Roeder continued in his avocation, even after the war opened. On July 4, 1861, Roeder… his sentiments with the Union… found himself in an undesirable situation. With Confederate forces occupying Harpers Ferry, he sought to see the “old flag”. As such, he made his way down to “the point” (overlooking the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers), in the hopes of seeing the flag on Maryland Heights. Regretfully, the 51 year-old confectioner took a bullet in the process… a victim (the first civilian casualty of Harpers Ferry) of a shot fired from a Union soldier (though I’ve heard two versions of the story… one that tells how he was killed by a ricocheting bullet, and the other… how he was a victim of a Union soldier, on Maryland Heights, who was bent on killing a “rebel”). Despite the mortal wound, he was able to make it back to his house, but died within the hour, on his back porch.

A look from the outside, into the kitchen, during a recent (just this past weekend) interpretive foodways interpretive program. The event took place in what is now the lower floor (below the level of the current road) of the Roeder Confectionery.

Still, as a German immigrant, how could we possibly see Roeder as a Southern Unionist? He was not a Southerner by birth and was not “culturally Southern”, but he was Southern based on locality. It’s a stretch, I’ll admit it… but, could we give a little credit, perhaps, to his son, Herman?

Indeed… this is part of Roeder’s story that visitors probably don’t hear as much (or, at all), but… Augustus Herman Roeder was Virginia-born and it appears he shared the same sentiments as his father… at least it would seem, based on his eventual service in the Union army. But, let’s back up, just for a bit.

Herman was Virginia-born, and was brought up south of the Mason-Dixon line, but was he culturally Southern? Certainly, it would seem he had some reaction to all that was going on, even though he was no more than 11 years old (going on 12) when John Brown made his famous raid, within sight of the Roeder home. Come to think of it, did he really give much thought to political matters? I mean, after all, consider his age. What was important to him at that age? Surely, he heard his father express some opinions, but beyond that… what? Did Herman take notice? What seems obvious is the fact that with the secession of Virginia that came less than three years later, many folks in Harpers Ferry stood to lose much. After all, the town centered on a Federal industry… no differently than many a town that grew-up, years later, around any number of US military bases. Maybe at the age of 14, in the wake of his mother’s death, Herman heard this expressed by his father, and began to pay more attention than he had just a few years before. Maybe it struck home even more with the death of his father… a death that came just because his father wanted to see the Stars and Stripes… something that he loved… something that he longed to see flying over Harpers Ferry again. Was it love of what US industry brought to his businesses or was it truly love of the country. I suspect the latter based on his efforts on the last day of his life, but… who can really say with certainty.

Nonetheless, less than three years after the death of his father, Herman opted to wear blue, in defense of the Union. At first, I thought… well, maybe he was drafted. Nope… doesn’t seem likely… as he was only 17 years old (actually, he was five days short of being 17) when he enlisted. He even fudged a little, tacking on an extra year to make the enlistment valid. What’s even more interesting is the unit he selected… the Loudoun Rangers… the only fully organized and active unit to serve the Union from the Commonwealth of Virginia (the Eastern Shore Regiment didn’t quite get to the level of the Loudoun Rangers, but I won’t digress).

The first notation card in the Combined Service Records for Herman Roeder, as a member of Co. B, Loudoun Rangers.

Herman chose a rather busy year to join the Rangers, and I imagine he saw a bit of action, but… by the end of July/beginning of August, he was sick, in a hospital in York, Pennsylvania… where he remained… maybe two or three months before (and this goes beyond my focus on him as a Southern Unionist, but…) he was taken into custody and placed in jail by civil authorities in Frederick, Maryland. There is no clue as to why (there is, however, a remark in January, 1865, suspecting that he had joined Cole’s Maryland Cavalry… but no record of him in that unit) or for how long, exactly, but Herman didn’t report for muster-out until August 22, 1865 (three months after the rest of his unit was mustered-out).

Whatever the civil reason that caused him to be listed as absent without leave… Herman still received a pension in later years…

It’s too bad we don’t have more, especially something written by Herman to describe himself as a Southerner (maybe… or maybe not)… and a Unionist… but, at the very least, it appears we can add another dimension to the story of Frederick Roeder and the legacy of his Unionism… whether he would be considered a Southerner, or not.

* The headstone of Augustus Herman Roeder can be seen on Find-a-Grave.