When the Bow Breaks

“She sleeps in peace, dear sister sleeps—
Art thou forever gone?
No, we will see thee soon again,
Where parting is unknown”— In Memory of Mary Frey by Her Sister CMB

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Edyth Miriam Embery, gelatin silver bromide print, 1909 or 1910. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This angelic child, pictured at the start of what should have been a long life, was Edyth Embery, born 5 March, 1909, in Frankford, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of Dr. Francis Patrick Embery (1867-1939), a Philadelphia otorhinolaryngologist, and his wife Miriam Fairbairn Wilson (1875-1948), whom he wed in early 1899.  (The 12 February Philadelphia Inquirer described Miriam as wearing “heavy corded white silk, trimmed with chiffon and lace and carried bride roses. The flower girl, maid of honor, and bridesmaids wore white organdie and carried white carnations.”)

Francis Embery, known as Frank, was born at Foxchase, Philadelphia County, to William Henry Embery (1840-1914). Frank’s father was, by 1872, head of the Assay Laboratory of the United States Mint. Previously, he’d served as a sergeant in Co. A, 1st New Jersey Cavalry, during the Civil War. Frank’s mother was Annie Elizabeth Manning (1841-1921), who was of Irish descent.

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A Union Soldier Remembers

“About this time, we were visited by heavy thunderstorms. Having shelter, we were obliged to hunt high places upon the ground to spread our blanket, and with knapsack for a pillow, lay down wet and shivering with our gum blanket over us for the rain to beat upon.”

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Courtesy Library of Congress.

Daniel H. Mowen was born 28 November, 1839. Both his parents were dead by the time he was 12. By August 1862, Mowen had relocated from his native Pennsylvania to Frederick County, Maryland, where he enlisted in C. F. Anderson’s Company I of the 7th Maryland Regiment for a three-year term. During the course of his service, he was wounded at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, heard the last speech of Abraham Lincoln at the White House, did guard duty at the Old Capital Prison on the night of the president’s assassination, and was present during the trial of the conspirators.

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Catoctin Clarion, 23 August, 1906.

This account was written for the Hagerstown Globe newspaper late in Mowen’s life but does not appear to have been published elsewhere. It is preserved in the archives of the Middletown Valley Historical Society. The reenactment group, the 7th Maryland Reg’t Volunteer Infantry,  published a transcribed PDF version of this manuscript on their site. I feel it is valuable to digitally publish this account again here for increased access by researchers and to further document the rich history and experiences of the people of Myersville and Wolfsville for that area’s historical society. This version has been lightly edited for spelling and punctuation to increase readability.

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1863. Like all organizations, we had men that were not true to the colors. On the night of the 5th of February, the sentinel on duty at the stables deserted, appropriating Major Dallam’s horse to help him on his way. On February 24th a mule took offense at me passing somewhere within fifty feet of his rear, kicked me on the leg, but missed his mark so far as to not break any bones. Considering the source from which it came, all that we could do was to pass on the best we could. We were not in a very moveable condition for several days.

On the 28th of February, we had the pleasure of witnessing the presentation of a flag from California to the brave boys of the First Maryland Regiment, who had already gained considerable distinction.

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After the Civil War, Daniel H. Mowen lived in both Myersville and Wolfsville, Frederick County, Maryland.

The 4th of April was cloudy and cold. We broke camp on Maryland Heights and moved our camp to Bolivar Heights, on the Virginia side of the Potomac. We pitched our tents upon the wet ground. It began to snow in the evening and the next morning there was wet snow of about eight inches. We had nothing but a narrow board to lie upon the wet ground for a [bed] with wet ground below, wet snow above. I lay down cold and shivered to sleep. But that sleep was of short duration. I awoke with the most severe pains through my shoulder and breast that I thought a mortal could experience. But fortunately, by calling upon the surgeon, I got relief.

Owing to raids by Imboden and Jones, on April 27th we left Harpers Ferry, on the B&O Railroad, reaching Cumberland in the evening and Oakland the next morning. We left Oakland on the morning of the 29th on foot through rain and mud for Cranberry Summit. Here the auctioneer of Company I, Joseph Boward, put up at public auction one of the Sixth Virginia home guards. He was reported to have aided the enemy at plunder, and killed a citizen’s cow, was arrested and afterward turned over to the civil authorities.

After pleading for a bid, he was knocked off to Jeff Davis for three cents. Thinking it was too good of a bargain to let his uniform go with the man, his clothes were put up, soon reaching twenty-five dollars. They were knocked off to Uncle Sam. It was rather humiliating, but he had to stand it.

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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.

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John Leatherman’s Civil War Memories

“Young John sat fascinated all day, watching the trajectories of shells above the trees of the mountain, followed by the little puffs of smoke that marked their targets.”

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John C. Leatherman (1852-1952) and his first wife Susan Rebecca Grossnickle Leatherman (1852-1909).

Just short of his 97th birthday, in May 1950, John Caleb Leatherman spoke to reporter Betty Sullivan from the Hagerstown Daily Mail about his life and boyhood memories of the Union blue and Confederate grey armies’ descent on Frederick County, Maryland. The interview he gave is a boon for historians, as firsthand accounts from the Jackson and Catoctin districts—including Myersville, Wolfsville, Ellerton, Harmony, Jerusalem, Pleasant Walk, Highland, and Church Hill—are almost nonexistent. I recounted two of these pertaining to George Blessing, “Hero of Highland,” in a previous article, and Leatherman’s secondhand testimony was also integral to that reportage, as the Leathermans and Blessings knew each other well.

John Leatherman was born 15 December, 1852, in Harmony (also known for a time as Beallsville)—a nascent town that never fully took root. Today, it is a series of farms and old buildings set along Harmony Road. John was the son of farmer George Leatherman (1827-1907) and his wife, Rebecca Elizabeth Johnson (1827-1908), who married 16 December, 1847. The 1860 Census records that George Leatherman’s farm was worth more than $8,500 and his personal estate more than $4,000—some $360,000 in today’s dollars. At that time, the family had six children, the oldest of whom, Mary (b. 1848) was enumerated as deaf and mute.

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John’s father, Elder George Leatherman.

Although he was listed in several Union draft registers of the Jackson District, it’s likely that Leatherman, who was in his 30s during the war, would have opposed serving. He was a devoted member of the Brethren, a pacifist German Baptist sect also known as the Dunkards, was elected to the clergy of the Grossnickle Meeting House in 1865, and would become a church elder in 1880. In an earlier article about Robert Ridgley, the longhaired still-breaker of Myersville, I wrote that Ridgley wanted to be buried near Leatherman, of whom he said, “I feel that I owe practically all from a spiritual standpoint to this Grand Good Man.”

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“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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Official Dark Boots

How the awesome power of highly caffeinated coffee may continue to shape Union soldiers’ Afterlives.

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A Union soldier with his hardtack, salted pork, gun, and coffee pot, known as a “mucket.” Courtesy Heritage Auctions.

On a chilly, drizzly day in March 2018, my lifelong boon companion Julie and her daughter, my honorary niece, joined me for a day trip to Gettysburg. My niece had never visited the town or battlefield before. In addition to seeing the historical sites, she was keen to undertake some EVP/ITC recording with her “Weird Aunt,” as I’m known to her circle. That day, we combined the driving tour and the ghost hunting, practicing what I call a “drive-by”—rolling the vehicle to a stop, lowering the window, turning on an iPad ghost box app and digital recorder, and inviting anyone present to speak.

(Electronic voice phenomenon, or EVPs, are recorded human voices that appear with no explanation across the spectrum of audiovisual technologies. The messages are often evidential, personal, and thought-provoking. Instrumental Transcommunication, or ITC, uses various forms of electronic devices, such as the so-called ghost box, to generate white noise or randomly generated phonemes from which it is theorized that spirits can shape speech.)

After purchasing an excellent driving tour CD with the marvelous Stephen Lang narrating, we set off, shortly reaching McPherson’s Ridge and the railway cut near the McPherson farmhouse, which saw heavy engagement during the first day of fighting. Before the battle, the area was excavated, but no rail tracks had been laid. This made a perfect spot for entrenchment by both sides as the battle lines shifted throughout the day.

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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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