The Confederate Raid on Rockville
Adapted from Civil War Guide to Montgomery County, Maryland, by Charles Jacobs
On June 28, 1863, Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's Cavalry Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, invaded Rockville. One brigade under Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton arrived via Darnestown Road (Route 28) and Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee's came on Falls Road. Stuart's troops received a mixed reception. Southern leaning citizens were enthusiastic about the troops arrival, while pro-Unionists sought hiding places throughout the town.
In Rockville, Stuart’s troops captured some 150 Union wagons headed for the Federal army and cut communications by destroying telegraph lines. Stuart also gathered up some of the better known and more influential pro-Union citizens, as well as a few stray foot soldiers, and forced them to accompany his column on the march northward. Among those captured were town commissioner John H. Higgins, Judge Richard Bowie, Postmaster Joseph Bailey and Provost Marshall Mortimer Moulden – some of whom had unsuccessfully sought refuge in Christ Episcopal Church. After spending a few hours in town confiscating horses and supplies and organizing his newly acquired wagon train, Stuart left via the Old Baltimore Road (Route 28) to rendezvous with General Lee in Pennsylvania. The Rockville captives were later paroled in Brookeville.
The following is a letter, dated June 29, 1863, from Mrs. Sophia Dorothy (Dora) Barnard Higgins (wife of town commissioner John H. Higgins) to her mother, Mrs. Robert Barton Barnard, of Georgetown. The letter recounts the harrowing events of June 28, 1863 when the Confederate troops raided Rockville. Note: Mrs. Higgins refers several times in her letter to a man named Eblen. Eblen was a 17 year-old Union soldier who Mrs. Higgins rescued from the battlefield and nursed back to health in her home.
My Dear Mother,
I suppose news of our tribulation reached you today. First place Saturday morning I got up to find Maria, my cook, gone, and heard during the day that Basil and Charity at William Trent's also gone. Mr. Muncaster's servant cleared out. Well, I had been expecting for the last two years to find it so, but still it was a blow. I was very busy all day Saturday, and hardly got to bed, before I heard horsemen going by and the clanking of sabres and spurs. "Federal pickets," thought I, and laid me down and slept in peace. After breakfast, I was getting the children ready for Sabbath School. I saw a Federal guard with six hundred condemned horses going by to Washington. I told John to come by after school and stay with his sister, Dora, and little Frank whilst I went to church. As John came in at the front gate, I heard a terrific yell, and there appeared what I thought were six coloured men on horseback rushing up to our gate and drawing up in a line. Dora screamed, "Rebels, Ma!" I thought it impossible. The next moment I saw a whole column with the Rebel Flag charging furiously down past William Brewer's, and the next a discharge of musketry and cannon in the rear, and there was a demand to know where the man who lives here was. I could with truth say he was not in. "Where was he?" and tell I did not. Eblen came running in to get us into the cellar, when the men surrounded him, saying "You are the one we are looking for" and took him, calling him a "cursed Yankee." I followed on to beg for him, but no use. I have not seen or heard from him since.
I broke through the charging columns with the pistol balls flying, rushed through the backway to the Church just in time to warn Mr, Higgins, Mr. Bowie, Mr. Dawson and Williams to stay in the Vestry room, for they, the Secessionists, were vowing vengeance on them.
I came back bringing the children through the melee. I flew to get Mr. DeSellum (the Presbyterian minister) to put himself out of the way and give John Vinson time to prepare himself. They did at Mr. Prout's, but I was too late to save Mr. Moulden and Mr. Bailey.
I remember nothing but the thick rank and clanking of sabres, yells and furious charges. They were pouring in at every lane and road from the Falls.
On my return I was beset with applications for Mr. Higgins. "Where was he?—In the Village—Could not they get in the store?" "If I did not open that store, they would break it open." "Pull it down." "Had I the key?" "Well, now you have to be accommodating." I just told them if Gen. Wad Hampton or Gen. Jeb Stuart would send one of their aides with a guard and said I must open it, I would. "Now that is ladylike. We will pay you in Confederate script." I replied, "I will take no pay for what you take. Remember, if you go into that store, I go too, but I do not wish you to have anything out of it."
It ended in my finding a Rebel Captain Cissell of Maryland, who showed me Gen. Stuart. I sent Dr. Hodges to ask him if I was compelled to open the store. He sent an order back for me to stay in front of the store "and let one of them dare to resist you." I stayed there six hours, repelling their persistent endeavors and having a full view of their movements.
There had been no firing after the first assault. A brigade of Federals came up as far as the Poor House and though too feeble to oppose the whole force, yet skirmished on the outskirts of the village. There were three brigades of rebels in all, about 8,000. One brigade went charging down the turnpike, capturing an incoming Federal wagon train of 170 wagons. They skirmished down as far as the stone tavern (five miles from Washington), sweeping through the whole country of horses and servants. John, with bitter tears, declared his intention of taking Charlie's horse upstairs, but I took him and hid him in the bushes in the garden and saved him.
George Peters, Messrs. Miller, White and Brown (all secessionists) pleaded hard for the rescue of Eblen and that Union men should not be molested. Had it not been for their endeavors, every Union man would have been take and every store laid open, for Gen. Lee had ordered such to be done, but Gen. Stuart countermanded the order at the earnest protestations of the Secessionists, for they said to carry out such an order would be to their (Secessionists) entire ruin. At six the Rebels deployed out in the open fields below the village and came up a solid column, one-half under Gen. Lee, turning out towards Brookeville, and one half under Gen. Stuart, towards Frederick. They had a battery of six pieces. No infantry. They carried their prisoners off, compelling Capt. Vinson, tho' too ill to stand alone, to mount a horse, at the point of their sabres, and go with them.
Relieved I thought they had all gone and I went to the Church to tell my prisoners to wait another hour and they would be safe. When Mr. Bowie said, "Here comes a squad," there was an ominous "Halt" outside and the door opened. The gentlemen never stirred, I never changed my position. Emma Holland gave a great sob. There was a dead silence, but in the growing dark I could see that Mr. Higgins and Mr. Bowie were deadly pale. Then, "Is Mr. Dawson here?" "Yes, sir." Rising, he walked out, Emma Holland with them. The guard looked first at me. It was Captain Cissel. He hesitated then looked at Higgins. "Lieut. Wilkes, come here. I have forgotten the name." "Mr. Higgins," replied the lieutenant. I went and threw my arms around Mr. Higgins. "Goodbye." "No leave-taking if you please," said the Lieut."There can be no objection to his leaving directions."
In solemn procession, we moved up the street as far as the square, when the Captain, said, "Ladies, you can go no farther." The Secessionists gathered around Mrs. Bowie and myself declaring they had nothing to do with it. Mrs. Bowie was rather short. I said, "I know positively that not one of you could have any influence today, as Gen. Stuart had a written list of all the Union men's names. But someone here furnished that list." They left me alone after that.
I broke down once only through the day and that was when the children knew their father was a prisoner. I went down and gathered all Mr. Higgins papers and money out of the safe. I buried the money. I sent for John and Eliza Martin (colored) to stay with me as I was alone with my children.
About one o'clock I heard the back gate slam and someone called, "Dora." It was Mr. Higgins! The Rebels took him out towards Laytonsville. They met the other columns filing in from Brookeville. Somehow, they seemed uneasy about Judge Bowie and, stopping to rest, concluded they had better let him go, and besides the Federal troops were passing through Rockville and as they has no horses for the three could not hope to retain them and move them rapidly.
I heard many say they were going to give Pennsylvania a taste of the war. Notwithstanding all, they behaved better than I expected, never entered the house. They had feasted on Uncle Abe's army rations. Had captures enough coffee, a rarity. "They did not fight for 13 dollars a month." "They were going to run all the Yankees off the face of the earth." "But we are gentlemen. We don't distress women and children and destroy dwellings."
Tuesday, the 30th
Eblen got home two o'clock this morning, so faint and exhausted that I had to help him to bed. The Rebels carried him to the confines of Carroll County. Mr. Bailey, the postmaster, and Mr. Moulden, the Provost, were offered their liberty unconditionally at Brookeville, but Mr. Bailey refused to leave Eblen, for he feared if he wearied, they would shoot him on the road, as they did several prisoners on the march. They concluded not to leave Eblen. Bailey carried him several miles on his back. Moulden helped. They both passed their arms under his shoulders and kept him from fainting. They had not one mouthful to eat from Sunday morning till they were released at 11 o'clock Monday night at Claggetsville, where they were ordered back five nights this way and released. The reason was soon apparent, for just then they came to the advanced guard of the 2nd Regular Cavalry, who were in hot pursuit. They were not permitted to stop for water, except as they crossed the streams, they dipped up a hatful. They had 300 colored men prisoners, whom they had gathered from the various farms. They had slashed at them if they attempted to drink at the streams. Eblen saw one shot because he was too weak to keep up with the others. The sergeant who had them in charge tried to beg food from the Rebels for his prisoners, but could get none. In all they marched nearly 70 miles.
What hurts me more than all is that Mr. Peter said he would go to Lee and see if he could get Eblen off. Told Lee that nothing but his being a weakly man (boy) had spared him from being clubbed to death by the Secessionists. Mr. Peter prevented me from going to Lee and Mrs. B revealed the fact that as the last Rebels were leaving the village, Judge Bowie heard them say, "Stuart's Cavalry are the elite of the Southern army."
I could, by what I know, justly get the punishment of many prominent Secessionists, but I shall never hurt a hair of their Heads. But I shall certainly tell George Peter of his Treachery.
I expect to send this across the country to Colesville, as we have no mail this week.
With love to all, I am
Your affectionate daughter,
Dora B. Higgins