Maryland Heights marker unveiled in southern Washington County

September 13, 2012|By CALEB CALHOUN |
  • Aliene Shields displays a marker made for her ancestor David Andrew Shields who was lost at the Battle of Maryland Heights. Aliene participated in the unveiling of the new marker to commemorate the battle at the Brownsville Church of the Brethren on Thursday. The family marker for David will be placed at the foot of the mountain near the battle site.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

Aliene Shields of Columbia, S.C., has an ancestor whom she believes died in the Battle of Maryland Heights and whose remains are buried in the mountain ridge that runs parallel to Rohrersville Road in southern Washington County.

“My great grandfather and five other brothers fought for the Confederacy,” she said. “They left Virginia and came to Maryland, and my great-grandfather and one of his brothers were in the same unit.”

Shields, 66, was at Brownsville Church of the Brethren on Thursday to commemorate her great-grandfather, Thomas Marion Shields, and his brother, David Andrew Shields. They served in Kershaw’s Brigade in Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army, and both were wounded in the Battle of Maryland Heights. David Andrew Shields never made it home.

“I am here to pay my respects for me and my family for the life of David Andrew Shields,” Aliene Shields said. “He was born in 1828, and received his fatal wound on Sept. 13, 1862.”

Thursday marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Maryland Heights, and to commemorate it, a new Civil War Trails marker was unveiled on the property of Brownsville Church of the Brethren.

The battle, which was the first Civil War battle in the state of Maryland, was part of the Battle of Harpers Ferry, according to Dennis Frye, chief historian for Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

“This battle until now has gotten virtually no attention; I like to refer to it as the unknown battle of the Maryland Campaign,” he said. “The reason we’re placing this marker here today is to make certain that people understand that the first casualties of the American Civil War here in Maryland occurred on this mountaintop.”

The battle lasted nine hours, beginning at 6:30 a.m. on Sept. 13, 1862, and ended with the Confederacy forcing the troops to abandon Maryland Heights, Frye said.

“Later that afternoon, Yankees in Harpers Ferry could see their own troops coming down off the mountain,” Frye said. “They knew at that moment they were in big trouble.”

Other Shields family members showed up to see the marker unveiled. Monroe Hutchins, 63, of Spartanburg, S.C., is Shields’ cousin, and he said David Andrew Shields was his great-grandfather.

“We don’t know what happened to the body but he never came home, and he never showed up in a hospital, so we presume he died on the mountain that day,” he said. “We’ve been to a lot of the Civil War battlefields, but we didn’t know until recently that this is the place (David Andrew Shields) disappeared or got killed at.”

Aliene Shields, who is widowed and has two sons, said was able to trace her history through transcribing 34 letters written by her great-grandfather during the Civil War, and she used the content to publish a book, “The Legacy of a Common Civil War Soldier: Private Thomas Marion Shields.”

She showed up Thursday in a 19th-century mourning dress, which she wears for living history presentations. 

“This is my passion,” she said. “I would like people to take out of this the encouragement to seek and find their own story, their own history, and to embrace their heritage.”

Church members and area residents also attended the unveiling of the marker.

Yarrowsburg resident Jackie Snoots, 68, is a member of the church and said that people need to remember what residents of the community were going through during the battle.

“They need to know that our 9/11 was held on Sept. 13, 1862,” she said. “It’s wonderful for our children to realize this because they can see we were a part of the history of the Civil War. I’d like to see it recognized.”

The marker has two maps and details some of the history of the fighting in that area.

Bruce Warrenfeltz of Boonsboro is a member of the church and he said he showed up because, having grown up in Gapland, less than 3 miles north of the marker, the history of the area is part of his heritage.

“It’s important to be recognized as the pinpoint of the beginning of the war in Maryland,” Warrenfeltz, 63, said. “This always amazed me. Growing up as a kid, we’d always decide if we were Yankees or Rebels, and we’re real thankful to be living in an area of history.”

The Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau bought the marker for $2,500 and it will $200 a year to maintain it, according to CVB President Tom Riford.

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