The Civil War was brought to a quiet valley when Gen. Robert E. Lee crossed into Maryland in an attempt to influence Maryland to secede and to demonstrate to the Federal Government the South’s ability to move an army and threaten Washington. Lee crossed the Potomac and moved into Frederick City looking for local support.
Realizing Lee’s move into Maryland, McClellan, who had been put back in charge of the army, moved from Washington to Frederick to confront Lee. Lee moved west into the Middletown Valley and McClellan followed. Lee blocked the South Mountain Passes, Turners, Foxes and Crampton’s Gap. Crampton’s Gap is just above the Town of Burkittsville and the road to the pass runs through Burkittsville.
The first full engagement of the Confederate and Federal armies took place in the Middletown Valley. Burkittsville had to play its role as it lay between the opposing armies. Nearly 2000 Confederates led by Howell Cobb and nearly 13,000 Federal soldiers under the command of Gen. Wm. B. Franklin fought in Burkittsville and the surrounding area.
The commandeered buildings, some used as surgeries, saw substantial damage as did many private residences. Gen. William. B. Franklin commandeered the Hamilton Willard Shafer farm to view the progress of his army in taking Crampton’s Gap, but due to the delay in taking that Gap and not having provided relief in Harper’s Ferry from an attack by Stonewall Jackson, he was sent to Sharpsburg along the Antietam Creek. This set up the bloodiest single day in the Civil War, Antietam.
Excerpts from Sealed With Their Lives, Tim Reese
Dazzled by the spectacle, a gunner in the 1st Massachusetts Battery strained the limits of language to paint a more eloquent portrait: What a panorama of autumn landscape, grandeur and loveliness, lay before us! There was the broad valley stretching up from the Potomac…miles of undulating curves…miles of intervale, over the face of all, almost perfect pictures of thrift and plenty, orchards groaning with fruit of many varieties; broad acres golden with the ripened grain; groves of timber clean of underbrush; snug farm cottages and capacious barns, giving just the necessary variety to the scene; there were sheep on the hillsides, and herds of cows in the meadows; there were fine horses feeding in pastures….All this, bathed by a healthy, stimulating atmosphere, and gilded by the rays of the September sun, was presented to our view. We seemed by some mental process, without conscious analysis, to grasp each of the elements of this wonderful picture at the moment the whole was presented to view when we came over the summit. A deep voice behind us exclaimed: ‘Is this not superb!’ We turned and beheld the speaker, Lieut. Col [Edward R.] Platt [Inspector General, Sixth Corps], riding with Gen. Franklin and his staff. The eyes of the General and all of his suite were bent in admiration upon the scene before us.
General Smith’s Division headed the column across the Catoctin range, and as we filed down the opposite side of the mountain we could occasionally get a view of the troops in front of us – infantry, artillery and cavalry – with the morning sun shining brightly upon their arms and accoutrements, winding down and stretching far out in the beautiful valley toward the Blue Ridge. Such scenes, which look tame upon canvas, are glorious to the young and enthusiastic soldier, who feels a thrill of pride as he looks upon the magnificent and real picture of war his comrades are presenting, and recalls to his mind the many battles they have already fought together, and is touched again with admiration and love for them as he sees how willingly and eagerly they are marching to hurl themselves against their old enemy in one more struggle for victory before that glorious sun shall fall below the mountain ranges that surround them.
Excerpt from The Battle of South Mountain (Civil War Series), John Hoptak, 2011, p. 138
Shortly after noon, as the cannon fire began to intensify, William Franklin established his headquarters at the stately home of Martin Shafer – one mile east of Burkittsville – and then sat down to enjoy a bite to eat. He granted his footsore soldiers a reprieve, as they had covered the six miles from Jefferson in just over two hours. … Generals Henry Slocum, Baldy Smith, Winfield Hancock, William Brooks, and John Newton soon joined Franklin at headquarters, and together the officers – essentially the entire Sixth Corps brass, excepting only Colonels Bartlett, Torbert and Irwin – enjoyed a round of cigars.