When an Apple Falls Far from the Tree: Part Three

“Koogle said that leaving Myersville that night, he passed a young man about his height, dressed in dark clothes and wearing a slouch hat, like his own.”

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The former George W. Bittle store in 1992. The shooting took place directly under the awning.

Continued from Part II.

During the months before the jury trial of George H. Koogle, merchant George Waters Biddle fully recovered. According to the Baltimore Sun, the gunshot wound to his thigh had nearly proven fatal but the newspaper did not elaborate whether it was from the onset of sepsis or another cause.

Perhaps tellingly, further robberies in Myersville were not reported by the press in the last quarter of that year. This did not mean the little town saw no excitement. On Election Day, 8 November, as President Teddy Roosevelt was reelected, “Some dynamite was exploded [in Myersville] and the shock shattered glass in the Flook, Gaver, Leatherman Bank and in the residence of Mr. George W. Wachtel,” the Hagerstown Daily Mail stated.

A little more than a week later, work was freshly completed on the electric railway between Myersville and Hagerstown. “The railroad runs the full length of the main street of Myersville, the track being laid in the center of the street. The poles and wires are all up and work cars have been running into Myersville from Hagerstown since Tuesday,” reported the Frederick News on 18 November.

This march of progress nearly trampled Myersville resident Martin Wachtel, who made “a narrow escape from being killed by electricity while the wires for the new road were being stretched,” the News noted. A wire fell across the street and Wachtel tried to lead a wagon across it, believing it not live. “When the horses stepped upon the wire, they were violently thrown to the ground. Mr. Wachtel … was also severely shocked. The horses were unhitched from the wagon and assisted to their feet when the one horse accidentally touched the wire a second and third time and was thrown each time. The horses were uninjured, excepting a few burns.”

Continue reading “When an Apple Falls Far from the Tree: Part Three”

When an Apple Falls Far From the Tree: Part Two

When it was Koogle’s chance to defend himself, he told the judge and state’s attorney that he had not committed the shooting nor any of the burglaries.

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The scene of the attempted robbery and shooting.

Continued from Part One.

Amazingly—almost miraculously—on 8 August, just four days after the shooting, George Waters Bittle was able to give testimony to Justice of the Peace Christian H. Eckstein whilst propped up in a chair in the bedroom of his Main Street home. Also present during the testimony was State’s Attorney for Frederick County Arthur D. Willard (1872-1959), the counsels for the defense, the accused, Captain Jacob Koogle, Dr. Ralph Browning, Rev. Otto E. Bregenzer (abt. 1877-1920) of  St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, and Mrs. Bittle, the former Mary Elizabeth Routzahn (1865-1936.)

Bittle told Willard and Eckstein that on the night of the attempted burglary,  “He had seen the burglar around his place early in the evening [and] though he recognized his walk,” the Frederick News noted.The party wore a  dark slouch hat, dark coat, and trousers. He did not see the face of the man at the door sufficiently well to say it was George Koogle, but he could say from what he had seen of Koogle earlier in the evening and what he could say of the man at the door he thought it was George Koogle, although he was sorry to say so.” The dolorous look Bittle may have given Captain Koogle as he spoke can well be imagined.

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Justice of the Peace Christian H. Eckstein heard Bittle’s testimony.

Bittle, like his fellow citizens, probably saw Koogle as somewhat of a superhero. For example, the merchant would surely have heard this wartime anecdote from Myersville veteran Daniel Mowen, Koogle’s brother-in-law, who included it in a series of articles he wrote for the newspaper, The Globe: “At the assault of Petersburg, on the 17th of June, 1864, and while the Seventh [Maryland Regiment] was in line, Jacob Koogle, first sergeant of company, saw a shell bounding toward them. He called to the men to ‘look out!’ Watching its course, he attempted to step out of its way when it lodged against his breast. Its force being about spent, he threw it off with his arm without injury to himself and, as it didn’t explode, it injured no one else.” This was before the affair of stealing of the Confederate colors and returning with the secessionist banner and a uniform full of bullet holes. Those twin events could make anyone wonder whether Koogle was divinely blessed.

Continue reading “When an Apple Falls Far From the Tree: Part Two”

When an Apple Falls Far From the Tree: Part One

The night was hot and sultry, but with a luminous Moon. George Bittle closed up shop but did not go to bed. As he had done on recent occasions, Bittle sat on his front porch, armed with a breech-loading gun, to watch over his store.

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George Waters Bittle General Store, Myersville, Maryland, circa 1905.

On 12 July, 1946, the Hagerstown (Maryland) Daily Mail printed the obituary of local notable George Waters Bittle, who died on 10 July in Frederick City Hospital, aged 79. Bittle was a long-standing board member of the Myersville Savings Bank and had operated a general merchandise store on Main Street for more than half a century. In hindsight, the newly deceased Bittle had likely enjoyed an extra 42 years of life. Against the odds, Bittle survived three bullets fired into him during an attempted burglary of his business in August 1904.

Bittle’s near murder was the byproduct of a series of break-ins in Myersville. Frankly, the town had a crime problem. The young man most likely responsible for these thieveries was the child of another notable citizen—a Civil War hero who’d won the Congressional Medal of Honor for exceptional battlefield bravery—Captain Joseph Koogle.

Continue reading “When an Apple Falls Far From the Tree: Part One”

Indelible Memories: Mid-Maryland Children and the Civil War

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Handpainted carte de visite of “Little Willie, Uncle George and Aunt Emma’s son,” likely taken between 1860-1863. Many Mid-Maryland children of this generation witnessed the war and carried these memories well into the 20th Century. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

When James Hard died on 12 March, 1953, in Rochester, New York, the final firsthand battle memories from U.S. Civil War were forever lost. Hard was the last verified soldier on either side of the conflict who actively fought—in his case, as a teenaged infantryman in the 37th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment—at First Bull Run, Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Fredericksburg.

There were others still alive, however, such as John Caleb Leatherman, who were children and teens during the war years. In Maryland’s Frederick and Washington Counties, and just across the Potomac in West Virginia’s Shepherdstown, these elders possessed indelible memories of South Mountain, Antietam, or Monocacy lain down through civilian, juvenile lenses.

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Twelve-year-old Edward Black (1853–1872) had his hand and arm shattered by an exploding shell whilst serving as a Union drummer boy. Courtesy Library of Congress.

One example was Jacob E. Eavey. On 15 August, 1948, he died in the Guildford Nursing Home in Boonsboro at age 97 after a professional life spent running a grocery shop at 29 North Main Street, Keedysville. Eavey was the son of Samuel Eavey (1828-1911) and Catherine Ecker (1828-1868) and was born in Porterstown on 21 October, 1850. He would marry Clementine Eugenia Keedy (1850-1929) and father five daughters and one son.

Like John Leatherman, Eavey kept vivid memories of 16 September, 1862. Whilst John spent the 16th in Middletown, helping his mother nurse wounded soldiers from the previous day’s fighting, 12-year-old Jacob spent it “sitting on a fence beside the road, watching the soldiers striding down South Mountain” on their way to meet their individual destinies at the Battle of Antietam, reported the Hagerstown Daily Herald of 16 August, 1948When fighting kicked off at Sharpsburg on the 17th, Eavey stood near his parent’s smokehouse in Porterstown, just to the east of Sharpsburg, as a Rebel shell tore through and wrecked the building but spared his life.

Continue reading “Indelible Memories: Mid-Maryland Children and the Civil War”

“This Old Patriot Stood His Ground”

In 1864, George Blessing, “Hero of Highland,” bravely battled Confederate raiders on his farm near Wolfsville, Frederick County, Maryland, but the real man and his deeds became almost unrecognizable in popular retellings.

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Still image courtesy of the History Channel.

John Caleb Leatherman (1852-1952), who was a child during the Civil War and a neighbor of the man who would earn the sobriquet “Hero of Highland,” told a Hagerstown Daily Mail reporter in 1950, ​”Boy, that ol’ George Blessing was a spunky one. Those Rebels were trying to get a hold of all the horses they could. When [my] Father heard about it, he took his horses up into Pennsylvania. Not George Blessing—he just stood pat on his own farm there.”

A barnyard shootout at Blessing’s Highland Farm took place on 9 July, 1864, the same day that the Battle of Monocacy was fought only a few miles away on the outskirts of Frederick City. At the end of that month, the Frederick Examiner ran a letter to the editor, suggesting “the raising of a sum, by the contributions of Union men … for the purpose of procuring a medal, with the appropriate device and inscription, to commemorate [Blessing’s] noble feats of that occasion.”

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Frederick Examiner, 27 July, 1864.

In the years that followed, the grandiosity of the tale and the pious nature of the hero was escalated by his niece, the writer Nellie Blessing Eyster, who published grandiose versions in both a noted ladies magazine and in her 1867 novel  Chincapin CharlieIn the latter, she called him “one of Nature’s noblemen,” wrote that he was possessed of a “strange power” from “living so close to Jesus,” and that as he was “thoroughly imbued with the spirit of ’76, loving the government for which his fathers died, next to the God whom he so devoutly worshipped … he defended his home from what he sacredly believed an unrighteous invasion.”

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Is the Past More Than Prologue?

In a cornfield by the old Pry House in Keedysville, Maryland, the walls between September 1862 and today can sometimes grow thin.

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Sean Byrne at Pry House Field Hospital Museum, Keedysville, Maryland, June 2018.

On Tuesday, 16 September, 1862, farmer Phillip Pry, Jr., and his wife Elizabeth, née Cost, found that the Civil War was standing on their doorstep. Since the summer of 1844, the couple had dwelt happily in their imposing home, high on a hill, which Phillip and his brother Samuel had built on their father’s land. The road between Boonsboro and Sharpsburg ran along the foot of the hill, and as Philip and Elizabeth could see from their front porch, it had become an artery for the Confederate war machine. Soldiers in grey, wagons, armaments, ambulances, horses—for a day and night they moved past the Prys’ house in a kaleidoscope of pending misadventure.

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Philip and Elizabeth Cost Pry, circa 1868. Courtesy Pry House Field Hospital Museum.

The next day, the road was crammed with soldiers in blue trundling along with the Union Army’s horses, vehicles, and ordnance. They were headed to attack the Confederacy at Sharpsburg—a bloodbath now known as the Battle of Antietam. Shortly, the Prys’ home would be commandeered as a headquarters and a field hospital by no less than the flamboyant George Armstrong Custer. From that moment, the Prys’ bucolic life on the hill was over.

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“There Lived an Old Man in Our Little Place”

Every village has its quirky characters. My own, Myersville, Maryland, was once home to a cantankerous teacher, reverend, and still-breaker nicknamed “Buffalo Bill.”

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Main Street and Wolfsville Road, Myersville, Maryland, circa 1905. Courtesy Myersville and Wolfsville Area Historical Society.

Myersville—Emphasizing the need for lights in the streets of Myersville, there was a stoning encounter on Saturday night, when Robert J. Ridgely, a school teacher at Burkittsville and a resident of Myersville, was stoned by four or five young men of the town. Reports have it that Mr. Ridgely stoned back, but as the teacher could not be located this morning, this could not be verified.

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Frederick News, 6 October, 1915

Mr. Ridgley has an ugly cut over one eye, which bled profusely, and Wilber Shepley, one of those in the in the party stoning Mr. Ridgley, also has a cut, probably inflicted by a stone, although one report has it that Mr. Shepley sustained the cut by striking a telephone pole, while running.

“The stoning incident has aroused a number of people in the town, and it is stated that there is a stronger sentiment for electric lights, many residents claiming the affair would not have happened had the town been well lighted.”

The victim in this article, Robert Johnson Ridgley was born in Myersville in January 1867 to William Worth Ridgley (1822-1901) and his wife Martha Matilda Johnson (1834-1920). (Note: The family name is spelled variously as Ridgely, Ridgeley, and Ridgley. For consistency only, I am using the latter.) William Ridgley was well-known in the area for his success as a farmer although he was blind. His tenacity and determination were inherited by his son.

As an adult, Robert Ridgley received a scholarship from the Maryland State Normal School in Baltimore, later rechristened Towson University, starting his studies in September 1895. Before that, he was a teacher at Loys Public School. After his father’s death, he lived with his mother and a servant, Susan Shank, the latter of whom worked for Ridgley until at least until 1940. Keeping a long-term, live-in servant of this type is a positive testimony to Ridgely’s character, which was sometimes maligned by his fellow Myersvillians.

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