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Harford residents played major roles in Battle of Gettysburg

Wars and InterventionsBattle of AntietamFort McHenryU.S. Army

In 2013, one can look online and see, via a live camera feed, the green fields of the Codori Farm outside Gettysburg, Pa.

The only sound to be heard through the feed, which is provided through the http://www.earthcam.com website, is the whoosh of cars going by on the Emmitsburg Road.

The scene was very different on this date 150 years ago. On July 3, 1863, at least 12,000 Confederate troops under the command of Maj. Gen. George Pickett, Brig. Gen. James Pettigrew and Maj. Gen. Isaac Trimble advanced from their lines in an area just south of town, known as Seminary Ridge, across the Codori fields and Emmitsburg Road to dislodge Union troops from their positions across the road on Cemetery Ridge.

It was the third straight day of fighting between northern Union troops under the command of Gen. George G. Meade and southern Confederate troops under Gen. Robert E. Lee.

"The third day, Lee hoped to break the Union lines strung along what was called Cemetery Ridge and not only take the battle, but in breaking Union lines, the ultimate goal was to move toward Baltimore and Washington," Jim Chrismer, of Bel Air, said.

Chrismer, who taught U.S. history for 40 years in Harford County, is a research aide at the Harford County Historical Society and editor of the Harford Historical Bulletin, a quarterly journal published by the Historical Society.

He is also descended from the Codori family, which owned the farm across which Pickett's troops marched on a fateful and fatal maneuver forever to be known as Pickett's Charge.

His great-great grandfather was George Codori, whose brother, Nicholas, owned the farmland and rented it to tenant farmers.

George Codori's daughter, Susan, married Chrismer's great-grandfather, John Edwin Chrismer.

Jim Chrismer himself was born in the Gettysburg hospital in 1944.

Chrismer and Richard Sherrill, director of archives at the Historical Society, visited the Gettysburg National Military Park last weekend as National Park Service officials kicked off a week of events to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the largest military battle fought on American soil.

The battle lasted from July 1 to July 3, 1863, and involved more than 165,000 troops on both sides; 51,000 men were either killed, wounded, taken prisoner or reported missing, according to a fact sheet posted on the Gettysburg park website.

Gettysburg was the second major attempt by Confederate forces to invade the north; the first took place in 1862 when Confederate and Union forces clashed at Antietam Creek in Western Maryland. The Battle of Antietam resulted in horrific loss of life on both sides, but no decisive victory for either force.

Lee's troops began moving north again in the summer of 1863, and Meade positioned his forces in Carroll County, southeast of Taneytown, to stop Lee as he came through Maryland.

'Fear of God...'

Chrismer said Lee's "ultimate goal" was not necessarily to occupy Washington and Baltimore, but to "put the fear of God, you might say, into the American people," and force U.S. President Abraham Lincoln to negotiate an end to the war with the Confederacy.

The Baltimore Sun reported this week that Meade preferred to fight Lee in Maryland, but the battle ended up taking place about 15 miles to the north in Gettysburg as Union Gen. John Reynolds, of Pennsylvania, led his units into his home state to attack units of Lee's army there.

The first shots were fired on July 1, and the action continued for two days. On the afternoon of July 3, Lee made his final push to knock the Union troops off their perch on Cemetery Ridge.

The commander passed the orders to attack to Pickett and his fellow generals.

The Confederate infantry greatly outnumbered the 5,000 Union soldiers spread along Cemetery Ridge, but the Union forces had the high ground, and their artillery pounded the Confederate men as they advanced through the open fields.

During Pickett's Charge, the Confederate troops made some breaks in the Union lines, but they were ultimately pushed back and Lee's army retreated to Virginia.

The Confederacy would spend the rest of the war on the defensive until Lee surrendered in Appomattox, Va. in 1865.

Chrismer said some "scattered" invasions of the North took place following Gettysburg, the most prominent of which has become known locally as Gilmore's Raid.

Maj. Harry Gilmor, from a prominent Baltimore County family, led a band of Confederate troops through northern Maryland and Pennsylvania, destroying railroad tracks and bridges and cutting telegraph lines. At the Magnolia station of the Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington Railroad on July 10, 1864, the raiders set trains on fire and destroyed a central portion of the bridge over the Gunpowder River. A historical marker at Route 152 and Old Joppa Road commemorates Gilmore's Raid.

Harford's role

Harford County had a great presence on both sides during the Battle of Gettysburg, and Marylanders clashed with each other on some occasions during the three days.

"There was many a Harford County guy there that day . . . here, there and everywhere around Gettysburg," Chrismer said.

One officer was Capt. William R. Bissell, commander of Company A of the 8th Virginia Infantry Regiment. Bissell, a Virginia native, lived in Bel Air for many years and married into the Webster family of Harford County.

He was the proprietor of Bissell's Hotel in Bel Air.

Bissell was mortally wounded, however, as he led his company during Pickett's Charge.

"When good old Virginny [called], he returned to good old Virginny and joined a Confederate regiment," Chrismer said.

Chrismer estimates about 150 people from Harford County served with the Confederacy during the Civil War and about 1,500 to 2,000 served with the Union.

Harford County, like the rest of Maryland, was divided between Confederate and Union supporters, in many cases within families.

Maryland was a slave state, and Harford County had about 200 slave owners, most who lived in the southeastern portion of the county, according to an Aegis story published in 2011 on the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.

Communities throughout the U.S. that were affected by the Civil War will conduct programs to observe the anniversary of the war, known as the Sesquicentennial, through 2015.

The Aegis itself was founded in 1856 as The Southern Aegis, as "the organ of the Democratic Party" in Harford County to defend Southern slaveholders, said Chrismer, whose late father, Wayde, was a longtime advertising director of the newspaper.

The name "Aegis" comes from the Greek word for shield.

"The Aegis was founded at a time when the abolitionist movement [against slavery] was growing stronger and stronger," Chrismer said.

Union troops occupied Harford County after the war began to ensure the security of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, which came through Harford, and keep Confederate sympathizers under control, Chrismer explained.

Off to battle

Local residents who joined the Confederate Army served in many units, including in the 1st Maryland Volunteer Infantry regiment, which later became the 2nd Maryland, and the 1st Virginia Cavalry regiment, which later became the 1st Maryland Cavalry.

The cavalry unit was present at Gettysburg, but did not have any "major involvement," according to Chrismer. Well-known members of the unit included Capt. Frank Bond, who would later become Maryland's adjutant general, James Watters, who would become a Circuit Court judge in Harford County, and Billy Webster, the son of Capt. John Adams Webster, who was among the troops who defended Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the British bombardment in 1814.

The 2nd Maryland Infantry, however, was among the Confederate units saddled with the task of attacking entrenched Union troops on Culp's Hill, southeast of Gettysburg.

The soldiers found themselves facing some of their fellow Harford Countians who were members of the 1st and 2nd Maryland Eastern Shore infantry units defending their section of Culp's Hill.

Chrismer said not everyone who joined the Confederacy was in favor of slavery, however, but "they were pro-Maryland and pro-South and did not like this idea of Maryland being invaded by the those Northern nasties."

He said Harford Countians who fought for the Union were either drafted or volunteered out of a sense of duty to their country.

"There was never any feeling of a strong cause celebre [for the North]," he said.

Col. William Maulsby, a Bel Air native and the namesake of Maulsby Avenue in downtown Bel Air, was among the Union troops at Gettysburg. He commanded the 1st Potomac Home Brigade, which was also stationed on Culp's Hill.

He had moved to the western part of the state before the war to practice law in Frederick and Carroll counties; he survived the war and passed away in the late 1800s.

Fighting with Custer

Capt. Robert Emmitt Duvall, also of Harford County, was a Union cavalry commander, who served with then 23-year-old Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer, who was promoted to general just before Gettysburg battle and had a significant role in the battle's final day of fighting, according to several Custer biographies. Of course, he would go on to become mainly associated with his last stand and death at the hands of Plains Indians at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.

Duvall, who hailed from the Fallston area, led Company A of Purnell's Legion, a unit of Maryland infantry, cavalry and artillery raised in Pikesville under Baltimore Postmaster William H. Purnell, according to a unit web page.

Duvall's company fought during the second and third day of the battle, and a monument has been erected in the unit's honor on the battlefield, one of more than 1,300 monuments erected to various units across the nearly 6,000-acre park.

Chrismer said the "best-known single Harford Countian" to fight at Gettysburg was Brig. Gen. James J. Archer.

Archer and his brother, Robert, who was his adjutant at Gettysburg, both served during the Mexican War in the 1840s. He resigned from the U.S. Army after the Civil War began and joined the Confederacy.

His unit was crossing Willoughby Run toward McPherson's Ridge on July 1 when Union troops surrounded Archer and his men and captured them.

The Archer brothers were held in Union prisoner-of-war camps during the rest of the war, Chrismer said.

James Archer was released in a prisoner exchange and moved to Richmond, Va., where he passed away and is buried. Robert was paroled after the war, signed a pledge of loyalty to the United States and returned to Harford County. He is buried in Churchville.

Chrismer noted that the Civil War divided families in Harford County, and some of those divisions exist today.

"Here you have a divided county, in a divided state, in a divisive war," Chrismer said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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