Carroll native honors home's role in history

The Baltimore Sun

After Thomas LeGore helped Frederic Shriver Klein convert the Shriver Homestead in Union Mills into a museum, Klein asked LeGore to help him write a book about the Civil War.

While doing research, LeGore, then 17, became enamored with a small battle that took place on June 29, 1863, in Westminster known as Corbit's Charge. But LeGore, a Carroll County native, discovered there was not a lot of information available locally on the Civil War battle.

"All of the local newspaper accounts of the war had disappeared," he said.

Using letters, diaries, other newspapers, official records and personal reminiscences, he wrote Just South of Gettysburg. The book was the seed of a 40-year quest to bring Carroll County's role in the Civil War to the forefront.

"I had a good career, and I was able to retire young and give back to my community," said LeGore, now 61, who retired after 36 years with 3M in Westminster, where he worked as a human resources and administrative manager.

"After spending decades preserving and promoting the heritage of Carroll County, seeing my dream realized gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction," he said.

LeGore's preservation efforts include: development of a granite monument, writing interpretations for sites in the county related to the Civil War, working as a living historian, and helping to promote the county's Civil War history through the Maryland Heritage Areas Program.

On June 23 and 24, he will be front and center at festivities to commemorate the 144th anniversary of the Battle of Westminster, or Corbit's Charge.

The events will include a Civil War living history encampment, cannon-firing exhibitions, children's activities, a tent-style church service and a guided walking tour of the battle site.

"The Corbit's Charge event is going to be very special this year," said Timmi Pierce, executive director of the Historical Society of Carroll County. "It's a good educational experience for children."

And it changes every year, LeGore said. It started in 2003 as a series of speeches and has grown to include 125 living historians dressed in period dress, a processional, a military funeral, and a series of re-enactments.

For the event, LeGore dons a handmade butternut brown, wool uniform with black piping, Maryland buttons, a black vest, gray pants and leather shoes, to portray John Hayden, a member of the 2nd Maryland Infantry who was killed in Gettysburg, Pa.

New to the repertoire is a re-enactment by descendants of the 150th New York Infantry of a battle their ancestors participated in, Legore said.

The group will show how about 16 Union soldiers who used the Opera House in Westminster as their headquarters were captured.

"[The men] stopped for a siesta or something and all but three were taken prisoner," LeGore said. "They never fired a shot."

The walking tour will include a stop at the 5-foot-tall rustic mahogany granite monument commemorating the battle. LeGore spent two decades raising funds for the structure that was dedicated last year.

"I felt like this battle deserved more support than had been demonstrated," LeGore said.

A parade of the living historians and spectators will walk to the monument. Then, a ceremony similar to a military funeral will be held at the gravesite of Lt. John William Murray, a member of the 4th Virginia Cavalry, in the graveyard across the street from the monument.

If not for LeGore, Lt. John William Murray - who died in the battle and was originally identified on the grave marker as William W. Murray - might never have been properly identified in the cemetery.

"The names of prominent people were changed because their bodies were stolen for ransom," LeGore said. "While researching Corbit's Charge at the National Archives, I discovered the person buried under the grave marker for William W. Murray was actually Lt. John William Murray, a soldier in Company E of the 4th regiment of the Virginia Cavalry."

LeGore added a second marker with the correct identification, he said. Today, both markers remain at the grave.

LeGore also has served as an adviser and researcher on about eight books, including a series by former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

Most recently, he was named to the board of the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area, a program started last July to help promote tourism and economic and educational development in the heritage area.

"Tom has dedicated his entire life to being a strong advocate for Carroll County's Civil War history," said Cathy Bety, also a heritage area board member and curator of the county's historical society. "He is the historian on the board, and I represent historical places."

The heritage area program is dedicated to helping smaller organizations at the local level, said Bety. Through the program, nonprofits and other organizations are eligible for grants of up to $1,000, loans and tax incentives, she said.

"Tom has been a prime mover in drawing attention to Westminster as a fairly important part of the Civil War," Pierce said. "But one of the fun things about Tom is that his presentation, when he talks about the Civil War, is full of vitality and humor."

Perhaps his most unusual assignment was a call from the Smithsonian Institution to help exhume the body of Capt. William Downs Farley, an aide to Confederate Army Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, who lost his leg in battle.

As Farley was being carried from the field after being shot, he asked for his leg, LeGore said. "It's an old friend, gentlemen, and I do not wish to part from it," Farley is reported to have said. Farley's dying wish was to be buried next to his mother in Laurens, S.C.

In 1984, the Sons of the Confederate Veterans started the process to take Farley home, said LeGore. However, it wasn't until 2001 that a group of people met at Farley's grave in Culpeper, Va., to grant his wish. Although they expected not to find anything, they were amazed at what they found, LeGore said.

"There was a perfect impression of a man in the dirt, and 13 teeth, one with a gold filling, 31 coffin nails, 5 porcelain buttons and a strap of leather," LeGore said. "What confirmed that we had the right person was the impression of a leg offset in the dirt. We also confirmed it with DNA."

In South Carolina, Stuart's great-great-grandson gave the eulogy at a funeral attended by about 2,000 of the town's 10,000 people, LeGore said.

"When we got home, I wondered if we had done the right thing," LeGore said. "I decided that we had. We honored a man's last wish to go home."

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