|In the fall of 1869, President Grant visited the Antietam battlefield.|
On the morning of Oct. 15, 1869, President Ulysses Grant and his party traveled in carriages from Frederick, Md., to Sharpsburg to visit the Antietam battlefield. For the former Union commander, this would be his first publicly-known visit to the place where seven years earlier George McClellan had defeated Robert E. Lee, Grant’s fierce war-time rival.
The president's close friend, 49-year-old William Sherman, was along for the ride, as was Jacob Cox, Grant's Secretary of Interior. The former Union general had great military knowledge of the area, having led troops at South Mountain and Antietam in 1862. Grant's group -- which included "several ladies" and state politicians, according to an account -- had been in Frederick for the county agricultural fair and political events.
The 20-mile trip through the beautiful western Maryland countryside was eventful.
|Correspondent George Townsend's story on|
President Grant's journey through western Maryland
to Sharpsburg was published in
Chicago Tribune on Oct. 23, 1869.
In those days, presidential security was not nearly as tight as it is today, so Grant's constituents had little trouble getting an up-close look at their leader.
“At Middletown large crowds surrounded the open carriage of the President, greeting the visitors with cheers,” the Times reported. “Handkerchiefs and miniature flags were waved by the ladies, and the bells of the village rung.” Grant received an “equally enthusiastic” reception in Boonsboro and then in Keedysville, just a few miles from Sharpsburg. The 47-year-old president's caravan arrived at its destination about 2:30 p.m..
Cheered by a large crowd and swarmed by "a number of ladies and children," Grant and Sherman, according to another account, "engaged in handshaking, which evidently afforded them much pleasure." Clearly, the men who were instrumental in vanquishing the Confederacy were popular figures in Sharpsburg. Short on time, the president made a few brief remarks before he caught a 3:30 p.m. train from Keedysville back to Washington. The Times report made no mention whether the president visited such notable Antietam sites as Burnside Bridge or Bloody Lane.
Tagging behind Grant's party en route to battlefield was intrepid newspaper reporter George Albert Townsend, then employed by the Chicago Tribune. During the war, Townsend was a stellar correspondent for Philadelphia Inquirer and New York Herald. In April 1865, he covered President Lincoln's assassination for the New York World.
Unfortunately, Townsend -- who wrote under the pen name "Gath" -- lagged behind Grant's group and never caught up with the president in Sharpsburg. But he did file to the Tribune a lengthy, and often rambling, report about his trip to the battlefield and visit to Antietam. Let's join the 28-year-old newspaperman for his long-ago trip through western Maryland:
|George Townsend, a newspaper correspondent during|
the Civil War, followed President Grant's caravan
to Antietam in 1869.
WASHINGTON, Oct. 17 --Thanks to Mrs. Stowe, while I was reading again the preface to Childs Harold, on Friday, I saw the words: "Travel, except ambition the most powerful of all excitements;" and this made me remember that General Grant had gone up to Frederick City. I took the first train that presented a chance, and was speedily in the midst of the most graceful sceneries and thickest clustering recollections of the midlands of the Atlantic slope. I was on the former city of the frontier, in the heart of the "Little West.":
Here, fifty miles west of Baltimore, was a capital of the Great West one hundred years ago. What are now stations of Chicago, St. Louis, and Cincinnati, then drew the attention of capital and industry to Utica, Winchester, and Frederick. West of Frederick, not many miles, stands an old fort, which was one of the last defences toward the Mississippi. In 1796 Frederick had 700 houses, and four thousand people, while Winchester, its rival, was half as large. The National Road, which Mrs. Trollope called "the Simplon of America," drew off the frontiersmen to Hagerstown, Cumberland, and Wheeling.
But I am sure that one hundred years hence Chicago will not look half so old as Frederick now. They built here in the proportions of humility, and the houses went up old, because the people were oldish, the manners quaint, and the time demure. The founders of the town were German Palatines, precisely the same people who settled the Mohawk Valley and the valleys of East Pennsylvania. Frederick City is now about 160 years old, and it contains ten thousand people. It is one of the most exquisite country towns to be found in any nation, and is also remarkable for the beauty of its women, and the thrift and fertility of the neighboring country. Very many of its people are directly descended from Hessian prisoners who were confined near by this place during the Revolutionary war, as are numerous Winchestrians from the English and Germans captured at Yorktown and elsewhere.
The country between and adjoining to Frederick and Winchester is the Belguim, the cockpit of America. At Winchester the rebel army of the Flank made its rendezvous for every new campaign; at Frederick, the corresponding Union army. It was to look at some of the battle-fields by Frederick that General Grant, with a part of his cabinet, came up to the agricultural fair on Friday, and on Saturday he took a noble carriage drive across the Catoctin and South Mountains to Antietam, returning thence by a new railroad which descends by the valley of the Antietam to the railway for Baltimore and Washington.
President Grant and correspondent George Townsend may have seen it in 1869.
The fair at Frederick, like every agricultural fair of the East in our days, was less a collection of huge and curious products of the soil and the stock-yards than a place of advertisement and exhibition for the numerous machineries which have stripped husbandry of its picturesqueness, while they have added to its comfort. I was much more interested in going through the agreeable streets of the place, reading the signs of old inns, peeping into stable yards, looking at the numerous priests, and at their large convent and seminary. Some of the residences are large and imposing; the streets are lined with shade-trees, and Barbara Freitchie's old house is torn down. These were the chief matters of the moment. President Grant was received with manifest respect, and by the folks of German descent particularly, while the traditional hospitality of Maryland was not evaded or grudged by the political opponents of Republicanism.
The Republican party of Maryland is divided into two bitter factions -- one led by Creswell and Fulton, and the other by Judge Bond. The former section is represented by the leading daily paper of Baltimore, and by a seat in the Cabinet, so that Bond's party may be said to be in disfavor at present. Yet one section is ostensibly as radical as the other; the Bond folks claim Creswell was an original rebel who was cozzened to loyalty by Winter Davis with the gift of Senatorship; the Creswell people have read Bond out of the party as a malcontent. I guess they both are right, and both politicians. Bond is the best talker I ever listened to, and he has the reddest nose, while Creswell quotes Latin elegantly, and is getting round in the belly.
I do not suppose that Grant cares anything about this feud of the caucuses, After the Fifteenth Amendment is passes, both these parties will find that merely blind Radicalism and the indiscriminate federalization of every issue and interest will be losing stakes. Not what they were, but what they know, and what judgment they show will be indices of their political standing. Both of them are progressive and talented men who would probably be in accord if it were not for tattlers and hangers-on who keep the flame of discord alive and prejudice the cause of toleration and charity in the important State of the city of Baltimore.
RIDE TO ANTIETAM BATTLEFIELD
|George McClellan and Ulysses Grant: "Him and Micklillin is great boys," an Irishman who served|
under them said of the generals during Grant's 1869 journey to Antietam.
The first stream of this region, the Monocacy, separating Frederick and the Baltimore plains, had interposed in 1864 between Jubal Early and Washington, so that, as it is alleged, the battle of Monocacy, fought a little south of Frederick, saved the capital. On the Pennsylvania headwaters of the Monacacy the battle of Gettysburg had been fought the previous year. Nearly opposite the mouth of the Monacacy the battle of Ball's Buff occurred, in 1861. And in 1862 the struggles of South Mountain and Antietam formed another group of great actions in this historic district. It has been so long since these battles happened that any mere reproduction of them would weary your readers. At the present time they are interesting only as they lead to some comparative remarks upon McClellan and Grant, the idol of the early part of the war and the hero of its termination, one of who is now visiting the best contested battle-field of the other.
|Former Union General Jacob Cox traveled with|
President Grant from Frederick, Md., to Antietam.
He was Grant's Secretary of Interior.
“What do you think of him?” said my companion to an Irishman.
“Will! He just looks like a murthern’ little feller. But he don’t say much, while he look at you mighty hard.”
“You think he’s game, don’t you?”
“Yes! Him and Micklillin is great boys. I fought wid ‘em both.”
Here is the old superstition of McClellan again, and we left the Irishman in the road protesting that the “government wouldn’t give Mack troops because, gorrah! They were afraid of him.”
The Germans, interrogated in a like manner, always roused a little from their stolidity, and pointed after the Magistrate’s carriage. “He’s there. He spoke to me and other men. You’re bout d right.”
Not only were there cheerful indications of that undertone of personal loyalty which shows the citizen beneath the partisan, but in this part of Maryland the bulk of well-to-do partisanship seemed to be Republican. Wherever Saxon blood grows the purest the principle of liberty is most universal; it is more conspicuous in the Swede and German than in the Englishman, and with these, besides, it is idealized by some fine show of confidence in the ruler. I had talked at Frederick with a group of Germans who stoutly protested that Barbara Freitchie did shake the American flag in Stonewall Jackson’s face, notwithstanding the decisive evidence that this alleged incident was merely an exaggerated form of another episode in which the old lady figured; the German faith was based upon the German wish.
I also noted along the way, and even at Sharpsburg, the acrimonious remembrances of the war are nearly exaggerated. The eternal hate of which poets and town orators tell is soon overgrown like the graves all round about. It would serve a politician’s purpose to keep one set of the people from father to great-grandson at dagger’s points, but war, being one, is a practical issue in America and can survive as a handle to office-getting no longer than the question undetermined by it. The Maryland rebels who hid their faces at the time of danger are much bitterer at this safe distance than the poor devil of a Virginia rebel who looked to them for comfort in vain.
|During Grant's trip to Sharpsburg, Joseph Hooker's|
name was "mentioned with sad respect,"
George Townsend wrote.
Human nature does wisely to imitate nature in aversion for keeping conspicuous the souvenirs of slaughter. The rebellion was the culmination of the crime of generations of a bloody blunder by the last generation, and its penalties reached from cotton mills of Manchester to Mexico, and to Nova Scotia, even more terribly than to the actual battle-fields. Maximilian died at Queretaro by the rebellion; Canada lost profitable reciprocity by the rebellion; and England acquired the Alabama debt by the rebellion. But whoever drives through Turner’s Gap to see the havoc of war will have little for his pains. In this gap, lifted sixteen hundred feet in the air, with cones of mountain rising four hundred feet higher on either side, with my horse’s head in a pleasant tavern water-bucket, and the landlord, well-pleased at having spoken a President of the United States, chattering at the wheel. I felt that there was no dead man so inconsistent as to get up from his grave to disturb this way-side scene. The dead are nuisances as the living in crying “Hate! hate!” You may put your ear to any soldier’s grave and hear nothing harsher than the blowing of the grass.
At this gap, Secretary Cox, a modest scholar and hero of South Mountain, entered into some description of the fight for Grant’s edification, Creswell listening. Joe Hooker’s name was mentioned with sad respect, for he was a beaked eagle here as elsewhere. I asked the landlord if anything was said about McClellan. Nothing had been expressed as to him; but I believe that Grant invariably mentions him respectfully, and says that he is an accomplished engineer.
ANTIETAM AND ITS JUDGMENTS
Keedysville, Md. Many buildings on the main street there date to the Civil War era.
In little better than an hour more we were in Keedysville, having beheld exquisite pictures of valley country on the descent. As we drove into the village a whistle sounded; it was Grant departing in a special train, and our only satisfaction was to hear the talk of the people assembled, none of whom expressed other than warm gratification at having looked at leisure upon the conqueror of Lee. The frequent remark was:
“Well! I’ve seen him, anywho!”
“What do you think of him, Squire?”
“Spry little fellow! He’ll do!”
Fifty years hence this recollection of Grant’s visit will be a thrilling reminiscence through all this country, fully as vivid as any stories of the battle, and much more cheerful. It is the best privilege of eminence that by its mere appearance it can commemorate places and rejoice society. I heard a woman say:
“Wel’, Hannah! I’ve heard my mother say that she expected she would die without seeing any President. I’ve seen one!”
Antietam Creek. The war-time bridge long ago was replaced by this modern span.
As an instance of the march of improvement in this country, observe that over the field of Antietam passes a railway, entirely built since the warfare. The stone bridge over the Antietam Creek, by which insufficient portions of our forces moved while the great battle raged on our extreme right wing, gave me passage to the Soldiers’ Cemetery, which stands on a ridge where Lee in person is said to have taken position, almost within the limits of the clean village of Sharpsburg. The Southerners call this battle after the village; we name it, more picturesquely, in honor of the valley and stream.
|An early post-war view of Antietam National Cemetery, probably|
much as it looked to George Townsend during his 1869 visit.
(Library of Congress)
“The State of Maryland will put Southern dead in here yet.”
If he wanted to get an angry answer he was disappointed,
“I hope they will be put here,” I replied, “if there’s room for them.”
This would be better than at Winchester where the rebel dead lie in a separate cemetery, near by ours, and the two cemeteries make as much contention in the community as a homeopathic and aliopathic doctor pitched side by side. The one is always covered with flowers, and the other scarcely with grass.
|"There is an old but juicy look about the region, pastoral and precipitous together," Townsend wrote |
about the Sharpsburg, Md., area. Here is a view of the 40-Acre Cornfield at Antietam.
There is an old but juicy look about the region, pastoral and precipitous together, and here the North and South struck their alternate flanks together, with centres immovable, like a couple of magnetic eels till one withdrew and the other was unwilling to follow. Here expired Mansfield; but here died McClellan and his little group of personal Generals. Mansfield was an old soldier of duty, who went down at his work. This battle put Burnside at the head of the army, disastrously, though Sprague does say the same thing. Quietly looked into after this interval, it is manifest that Burnside at Antietam was ineffective and dispirited, and no such prompt soldier as Joe Hooker, who opened the battle on the tick of time, prompt as the sun. If McClellan had advanced his centre that day, with Fitz-John Porter in command, and Porter had died on the field, it would have been better for his memory, because lying idle in this action the old due of Chantilly had to be settled by court-martial, to his disgrace.
|George Townsend was no fan of George McClellan, seen here in|
a cropped enlargement of his post-Antietam meeting
with President Lincoln. (Library of Congress)
Among the souvenirs of the battle-field of Antietam is an inscription, written in lead pencil by a visitor, upon one of the head-boards:
ONE UNKNOWN UNION SOLDIER
Here, where you boys shall come
On the tree trunks your names to indite,
I, one of “The Boys” at sound of the drum,
Carved my life into the fight,
I lost my name in the shout
That we litted into the rout
Of the rebs, as we beat ‘em;
My birthplace I lost in my death;
Into my fame leaped my breath;
Call the one and the other “Antietam!”
-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.
-- Chicago Tribune, Oct. 23, 1869.
-- Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, Oct. 16, 1869.
-- The New York Times, Oct. 16, 1869.