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Group takes walking tour of areas where the Battle of Hagerstown was fought

July 11, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • A tour group interested in the 1863 Civil War battle in Hagerstown marches through downtown Hagerstown Wednesday evening.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

Three days after Confederate forces were defeated at the Battle of Gettysburg, retreating troops were chased by the Union army and a lesser-known battle took place in the streets of Hagerstown on July 6, 1863.

“The Battle of Hagerstown was probably the largest urban cavalry battle of the Civil War, meaning a battle fought by horse soldiers in the middle of a city, which was very, very rare,” local historian Stephen Bockmiller said Wednesday night.

Joined by a group of close to 50 people, many of them from The Battle of Sharpsburg Camp #1582, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Bockmiller led a walking tour along about eight blocks of downtown Hagerstown, all with significance centered around a largely unknown battle of the Civil War.

Confederate troops trying to retreat into Virginia to elude Union advances were thwarted by substantial flooding of the Potomac River, Bockmiller said.

The ensuing clash “literally right here on our streets” involved hundreds of mounted cavalry troops that bought time for the Confederates to retreat into Williamsport and wait for the flooding to subside, almost trapping the retreating soldiers, he said.

“A lot of people don’t realize how much history there truly is here in Hagerstown, and that history is important from a community pride standpoint and also from a tourism and marketing standpoint,” Bockmiller said. “There’s a lot of tourism dollars to be brought into your local economy through capitalizing on these types of social resources.”

Starting at the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the walking tour took visitors to East Baltimore Street, to the former Washington County Hospital site and back to Zion Reformed United Church of Christ on North Potomac Street.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans is a nonprofit group of men who can trace their ancestors back to when they were soldiers in the Confederate army during the Civil War, Bockmiller said. The group typically meets once a month, but decided to take a trip as part of its public programming and requested the tour around the city to learn about the battle, he said.

Hagerstown’s battle has been overshadowed due to its proximity to battles at Harpers Ferry, Antietam and South Mountain, all of which received much more publicity, the historian said.

“Hagerstown was a very important location during the Civil War,” Bockmiller said. “There was a constant military presence here due to the rail lines and the road systems here. It was just a very strategic location. But because we didn’t have a huge battle here like we did a few miles south of town in Sharpsburg, it flies under the radar.

“The idea is to bring that out for public consumption.”

Bockmiller, who is a City of Hagerstown planning official, wrote a book titled “Hagerstown in the Civil War,” which contributed to a documentary produced by the city last year called “Valor in the Streets: The Battle of Hagerstown.”

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