African Americans living in Washington County had to face the Confederate invasion of Maryland in 1862, including the battles of South Mountain and Antietam. Below is an excerpt about the invasion, from my forthcoming book, Black Antietam: African Americans and the Civil War in Sharpsburg:
In the late summer of 1862, the Army of Northern Virginia marched toward Maryland, its dusty ranks passing the slave cabins near Harpers Ferry where Hannah Arter and her young son Jared stood and watched. … The Confederate army crossed the Potomac into Montgomery County, two counties south of Sharpsburg, and then moved north into Frederick County, entering Frederick city on September 6. After a few days … the Confederates advanced west towards the long ridge of South Mountain that separated Frederick County from Washington County…
The arrival of the Confederate army galvanized western Maryland. While some southern sympathizers celebrated, the majority of locals, including people of color, viewed the invasion as a calamity. African Americans in Sharpsburg were quickly alerted to this dramatic new turn in the war. A wave of local refugees, probably including many free people of color, fled north from Washington County in advance of the invaders. In general, residents of western Maryland believed that Confederates were likely to take two kinds of civilians captive: free African Americans and white men loyal to the U.S. This meant that both Black and Unionist men often fled to the hills or woods when Confederate troops were in the area.
So the first reaction of many African Americans in Washington County to news of the Confederate invasion in 1862 was fear. One white eyewitness wrote this account of a Black prayer meeting in the northeast part of the county:
About the time of Lee’s first invasion of Maryland, the local black people were greatly alarmed…. It was in the midst of [a prayer] meeting… that news arrived that the Southern army was coming, and in less than five minutes there was not a black man around. Like a flock of quails … scatters in all directions, so did these frightened black people [scatter], some to go home and some to hide in the mountains.
In Clear Spring, about eighteen miles northwest of Sharpsburg, free African Americans “nearly looked ashey,” according to a white diarist, and “nothing like a laugh could be seen in any of their countenances. It was understood they were to be taken South [if captured by the Confederates] and sold…” Across the county, last-minute preparations for invasion included fleeing into the woods or hills, hiding livestock, and concealing food and other valuables.
On the Henry Piper farm just outside Sharpsburg, fifteen-year-old slave Jerry Summers was in charge of hiding the farm’s horses; some white farmers sent enslaved people into hiding along with livestock. Theoretically, enslaved people did not have the freedom to choose evacuation, though some probably chose it nonetheless, picking this moment of confusion to make their escape from slavery. For most, though, decisions were made for them by their enslavers; in the coming days some white families—such as the Ottos and the Rohrbacks—would leave enslaved people behind to look after the home when the whites moved to a safer location.
Families at home
Black families that were separated, like Rev. Daniel Ridout’s family, wanted to gather their members together in this crisis: “We were all very much worried about father, and he was worried about us…. His prolonged absence became unbearable, and mother had concluded to send us to a neighbor’s and go in search for him.” African Americans also had to contend with their white neighbors’ suspicion of them; a white man near Clear Spring “watched his horses 2 or 3 nights for fear if the free Negroes started [to leave] they might take the horses along.” Fear ran through the county this week, ahead of the Confederates and alongside them.
But while some fled or hid, most African Americans remained at work and at home, anxiously or stoically watching as the invaders arrived. … Seeing large numbers of Confederates for the first time, county residents had a range of reactions. Like their white neighbors, African Americans noticed how ragged and worn the southerners looked, worse dressed than even the poorer local Black folks. Some locals got to see celebrities…
In Funkstown, ten miles north of Sharpsburg, 38-year-old Sarah Henley, an ex-slave, was working as cook in a white household when the Confederate army passed by on Thursday. As Henley’s employer—a Unionist—stood on the front steps all day handing out drinks of water to the thirsty Confederates, it was probably Henley who drew bucket after bucket from the well and carried them to her mistress at the front door. The mistress saw Robert E. Lee pass by the house, but Henley, hard at work, very likely missed him.
The Ridout family
Living near Burkittsville on the Frederick County side of South Mountain, and about ten miles southeast of Sharpsburg, was the family of Rev. Daniel Ridout, the A.M.E. circuit preacher for Washington and Frederick Counties. Rev. Ridout was a familiar face in Sharpsburg’s Black community, and he was away traveling on his circuit in Washington County when the Confederates rolled into Burkittsville. His son later described the arrival of the Confederate soldiers:
“One morning we were awakened by shouts, and the rumbling of wheels. Arising, we found that the Confederates were all around us; they were pitching their tents and and planting their artillery a few hundred yards from our house, and were making themselves generally comfortable. Things looked gloomy, I assure you….” But five-year-old Archie Ridout, like other local civilians, did a brisk business with the invaders; he used a small wooden bucket to fetch them drinks of water from a spring next to the Ridout house, which the soldiers paid him for with Confederate money.
Meanwhile Caroline Ridout, mother of the family, exuded confidence in dealing with the soldiers, who frequently came into her home. According to her son’s memories, she “showed no signs of fear when they came, and, woman-like, would have her say.” Caroline Ridout demanded respectful treatment from the invaders.
One anecdote that was passed down in the Ridout family illustrates this in dramatic fashion: “A private came in one day, and made an insulting remark, whereupon she grabbed him by the nape of his neck and the seat of his gray breeches, and ‘fired him out’ the house. She then put on her bonnet and went directly to the Confederate camp and reported him. The officers made him come and apologize.” Caroline Ridout insisted on being treated by the invaders with the same respect they gave white women, and somewhat surprisingly they complied this time.
Still, she understood the danger she and her family faced with Confederate troops nearby. As her son remembered, “she would put us to bed and sit up all night with an ivory-handled dirk knife in her hand. During the day she carried it in her bosom.” In the experiences of this one family we see the range of relations between local Black civilians and southern soldiers.
Sounds of danger
As the Confederates massed in Washington County, residents began to understand that battle was brewing in their fields and streets. Even though troops had become a familiar presence over the past year and a half, this situation was much more ominous. On Saturday, September 13, tension escalated: the bombardment of Harpers Ferry could be clearly heard along the Maryland side of the Potomac. Residents were used to occasional cannon fire by late 1862, but this was a new level of barrage, menacing and persistent. Rev. Ridout, who was tending to Black parishioners in Washington County, turned now for home.
“I had a hard time to get here,” he told his family. Three times he failed to get through the Confederate lines. On the fourth attempt, “I passed all the guards safely until nearly home, when a sentinel leveled his musket at me, telling me at the same time to ‘halt.’” The soldier asked a string of questions, which the pastor answered, until the soldier finally sneered, “Darkey preacher, eh? well, pass on.” Ridout had traveled through the thickest concentration of Confederates, at the very moment when Union troops were heading west from Frederick to confront them. The bulk of the Confederate army was still massed to the north and east of Sharpsburg, around Boonsboro and South Mountain.
Local civilians slept uneasily on Saturday night, if they slept at all. Then, on that hot and sunny Sunday morning, African Americans looked down from the balconies of white churches in Boonsboro and Hagerstown to see Confederate visitors called away from worship. The time for fighting in Maryland had come.
Black Antietam will be published by The History Press in summer 2022.
 Jared Maurice Arter, Echoes from a Pioneer Life (Atlanta: A.B. Caldwell Publishing Co., 1922), 10.
 Charles Wilson Bingham, A Little Boy in Maryland during the Civil War (Northampton, NH: privately published, 1994), 59, 71; Davis, “War Remembrances,” 15-18.
 Bingham, Little Boy, 38.
 Otho Nesbitt diary, in Windmills of Time (Clear Spring Alumni Association, 1981), 192.
 Nesbitt diary, 192-3; Mumma, Antietam, the Aftermath, 31. There are no recorded cases of people of color being abducted from Washington County or nearby areas before the battle of Antietam.
 See Chapter 4 of Black Antietam (forthcoming).
 D. Archie Ridout, The Life of Rev. Daniel A. Ridout… (Wilmington, DE: J. Miller Thomas, 1891), 46.
 Nesbitt diary, 192.
 This was a white observer’s judgment; Davis, “War Remembrances,” 19.
 Angela Kirkham Davis, “War Remembrances,” in S. Roger Keller, Crossroads of War: Washington County, Maryland in the Civil War (Shippensburg, PA: Burd Street Press, 1997), 11, 15, 17-20.
 Ridout, Life, 45-6.
 Ridout, Life, 46.
 S. Roger Keller, Events of the Civil War in Washington County Maryland (Shippensburg, PA: Burd Street Press, 1995), 86-7.
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