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Recalling the battle before Gettysburg


A 5-foot-tall, 3-ton, boulder-style memorial to the 1863 Battle of Westminster, known as Corbit's Charge, will be unveiled at 1 p.m. Saturday at War Memorial Park on Court Place as part of the Corbit's Charge Commemorative Weekend.

"It's the only memorial we have to this battle that impacted the Battle of Gettysburg," said Tom Legore, local historian who has spent more than 40 years researching the Main Street skirmish.

"It's a tribute to not just the men on both sides who fought here but to the citizens of Westminster who opened their homes to care for the wounded afterward," Legore said.

The monument, surrounded by a concrete walkway provided by the county, will be unveiled by six descendents of Union soldiers from the 1st Delaware Cavalry who fought in the hourlong battle, Legore said.

The story starts 143 years ago, in late June 1863, as Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia headed north to Gettysburg. The morning of June 29, Stuart and nearly 6,000 men entered Carroll County, tearing up the railroad tracks at Hoods Mill and Piney Run to try to cut off communications between Washington and the Army of the Potomac.

Shortly before noon that day, about 90 men from 1st Delaware Cavalry Companies C and D arrived in Westminster to guard the rail and road junction in town. Capt. Charles Corbit and Lt. Caleb Churchman were company commanders.

Stuart and his troops entered Westminster about 4 p.m. On hearing of the Confederate approach, Corbit gathered his men and marched toward Washington Road. The Union soldiers were surprised by the size of the Confederate Army but attacked anyway.

An hour later, four men - two Confederate officers and two Union soldiers - lay dead, while many were wounded and Corbit and Churchman, among others, were captured.

The battle, though a small victory for the Confederates, delayed Stuart's getting to Gettysburg long enough to affect the outcome of that battle and turn the war to the Union side, said Legore, who wrote Just South of Gettysburg: Carroll County, Maryland, in the Civil War, which details Carroll's involvement.

"If it weren't for Corbit's Charge, we'd all probably be speaking Southern," said Stan Ruchlewicz, administrator for economic development for the city of Westminster, a co-sponsor of the event, along with the Civil War Pipe Creek Roundtable.

A historical sign on Main Street at Washington Road describes Corbit's Charge, and one of the dead Confederate soldiers is buried at Ascension Episcopal Church as a reminder of the skirmish.

Lt. John William Murray, 31, of Company E, 4th Virginia Cavalry, died several hours after the battle on the steps of the Union Meeting House, which was being used as a hospital, Legore said.

His family was too poor to come claim his body to take back to Virginia, so he remains buried at the Church of the Ascension, his grave shaded by a large sycamore tree. It was thought that burial in an Episcopal Church would ensure that his grave would be protected, Legore said.

And it has been. Legore put a new footstone on Murray's grave years ago. The original one misspelled Murray's name. Legore also has placed a tribute on Murray's grave every year on the anniversary of the battle.

After the monument dedication, the re-enactors will march to Murray's grave to lay a wreath. A 21-gun salute will be fired, and Ruchlewicz and his fiancee, Pat Miller, will play taps.

Saturday's other events are to include encampments of re-enacting soldiers representing both sides of the Civil War, a march at 12:30 p.m. to the monument, a concert of patriotic and period music by the Benfield Brass Band of Anne Arundel County at 6:30 p.m., and an 8 p.m. talk by Legore about the battle.

The weekend continues next Sunday with the encampment, a Civil War-style tent church service at 10 a.m., historical relic and sutler displays at Ascension Church from noon to 4 p.m., tours of the battle site, book signings by authors who write about the Civil War and a concert by Gilmore's Light Ensemble.

Ruchlewicz said an estimated 400 to 500 people attended last year's Corbit's Charge weekend.

Refreshments will be available for purchase both days. All events are free. Visitors should take seating for the concerts.

Information: 410-848-5294.

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