Eagle Archive Harry Gilmor

Confederate Major Harry Gilmor (U.S. Army Historical Photo / July 11, 2011)

On July 10, 1864, a large contingent of Confederate cavalry was moving out of Westminster. A day earlier, it had arrived at dusk with a ominous mission:

Hold the town for ransom … or burn it to the ground.

What unfolded in Westminster in July 1864 is considered by some historians to have been the most perilous experience Carroll County had during the Civil War.

At this point in the war, the conflict had grown ugly as a result of the North's decision to target civilians and burn and destroy the South into submission.

As a result, Union generals were determined to carry the fight to civilians and non-military targets such homes, farms and entire cities, which were burned and destroyed, especially Virginia, Missouri, Kentucky, Georgia and South Carolina.

More Americans died in the Civil War than in all U.S. wars combined and July 1864 was the beginning 'of the worse of the worse.' It was the beginning of a period of time in which President Abraham Lincoln was expected to lose the presidential election of November 1964 – in part because of the broadening anti-war movement in the north.

Riots against the draft continued in the northern states. The Union was essentially bankrupt and the global economy was a disaster as a result of the economic turmoil, in part precipitated by the American Civil War.

Arguably, July 1864 was one of the darkest hours in American history. And for two days in the summer of 1864, Westminster was Ground Zero for retaliation by the South.

Yet our fare county seat escaped destruction as the result of one individual — a friend and neighbor it did not even know it had.

The events that played out on that hot and humid Sunday marked the end of the third occupation of Westminster by Union and Confederate troops during three important military campaigns in 1862, 1863 and 1864.

As the events that caused the Civil War unfolded, rural Carroll was certainly aware of national and international events, according to "Carroll County Maryland, A History 1837-1976" by Nancy M. Warner.

Then, the "events in the second half of 1862 jolted Carroll County citizens into recognizing the reality, seriousness, and persistence of the war," Warner wrote.

One of the warning signs that Carroll County would not be able to escape the social, political, and economic and ultimately the military consequences of the war of 'brother against brother' occurred on September 17th 1861.

That was when Bernard Mills, a Carroll County member of the Maryland State Legislature, was arrested at a special session of the legislature in Frederick.

Then at the end of August, 1862, the Fourth Maryland Regiment entered Westminster by the newly constructed railroad from Baltimore and arrested 16 prominent Westminster citizens on August 28th, 1862 for "being a member of some guerilla band" or "having talked succession talk."

They were taken to Baltimore for trial and subsequently released, according to Warner's research.

On Sept. 11, 1862, Confederate Col. Thomas L. Rosser led the Fifth Virginia Cavalry in a raid of Westminster. This was a part of the maneuvers of Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and its first invasion of the North, just before Lee's engagement with Union forces led by Major Gen. George B. McClellan at Antietam on Sept. 16-18, 1862.

The raid was disturbing, but did not cause that much material damage to Westminster. However, the Battle of Antietam, for the community of Westminster, was not a battle in some far off state in the south, casually discussed in the newspaper, but, for the first time in the American Civil War, huge armies fought on nearby soil in a major battle of horrific consequences.

For some contrast and comparison, keep in mind, that in 1864, there were only 1,900 citizens living in Westminster.

Just a year before, on June 29th, 1863, approximately 100 soldiers of the First Delaware Calvary were camped at the Commons on the Hill – now known as McDaniel College.