South Mountain by Rick Reeve

South Mountain by Rick Reeve
South Mountain by Rick Reeve depicting the wounding of General Garland

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Boonsboro's Washington Monument: A Witness to War

On a clear July morning, Independence Day to be exact, citizens of Boonsboro, Maryland and other nearby communities gathered in the town square to embark on an endeavor only reserved for those with a means to create. To the rolling of the drum and patriotic music, they marched up the to a rocky knoll where they would build a free-standing stone monument to the one of the founding fathers of the United States, George Washington. Built to a height of 30 feet, half on July 4th and half later in the fall, this stone monument would be the first of its kind completed in honor our first president and ,unlike the monuments of the grand architect's, this one was built by the hands of private citizens who felt it was their duty to do so.

Fast forward to 1861, the monument that these patriotic citizens built had fallen into ruin from neglect and vandalism. And as the monument went, so did the country. The country that George Washington and other revolutionaries had fought to establish had begun destroying itself and the patriotism that had built this monument had turn from a local sense of pride in one's country to a regional hatred for their countrymen.

For the better part of a year, the monument lay in ruin among the quiet countryside of western Maryland. That would all change in September 1862 when Robert E. Lee pushed his Army of Northern Virginia, fresh off a summer of victories, across the Potomac River and into Maryland as part of a massive Confederate offensive in both the Eastern and Western Theatres of the war. Only days after entering Maryland, Confederate forces began marching up the National Pike and crossed South Mountain just a mile from the monument. Some of these Confederates, the division of Major General Daniel H. Hill, would be encamped nearby at Boonsboro and on the 13th, Confederate cavalry is being pushed back from the Catoctin's Mountain gaps and Confederate infantry support is moving up to hold the vital gap Turner's Gap on South Mountain. The stage for the Battle of South Mountain had been set.

Throughout the next day, tides of men and the rain of hot lead and shrapnel poured across the mountainside, first at Fox's Gap, then Frostown, Turner's, and eventually Crampton's Gap near Burkittsville. The fight that would have the most impact on the monument would occur just below at the Frostown Gap where the Pennsylvania Reserves would do battle with the tenacious Alabamian's of Robert Rodes' brigade. When Confederate reinforcements under James Longstreet arrived, a most peculiar incident occurred involving the monument. Confederate artillery commander E. Porter Alexander recalled:

"I was riding with Gen. Lee when we came within a mile or two of the fight & some one 
discovered a small party of people on what seemed to be a sort old tower on the mountain
about a mile north of the pass. There were some indications that it might be a signal party of 
the enemy sending messages of our approach,&, itching to have some personal part in a fight,
I suggested to Gen. Lee that I might take a few men and go recapture it. He approved & had 
eight men sent with me from some brigade, I forgot whose. I got in cover of some woods &
then struck up the mountain side &, after a hard, hot climb, at last got up & around the
tower (which seemed to have been built originally for a windmill) before the party on it
knew of my approach. But they were plainly all natives of the vicinity attracted by the firing & 
up here to see the battle. I quite disgusted at the peaceful character of my capture & left
them seeing that the position gave no valuable view of the enemy's ground..."

View from monument. Antietam Battlefield is to the left. 
Reminiscent of US congressmen and other dignitaries following the Union Army to the battlefield at Bull Run, these endeavoring citizens of possibly Zittlestown and Boonsboro had climbed up to the monument to watch the coming battle. With night falling over the battlefield, the monument had witnessed the first great battle of Northern soil. The following day, with Confederate infantry pulling out of the area, Union signal corpsmen were sent to the monument to establish a signal station. This was an excellent position as the movement of the Confederates towards the town of Sharpsburg was easily visible. This is pointed out in the official report of Major Albert J. Myer, the chief signal officer for the Union Army, "From this point, the forces of the enemy were visible near Sharpsburg and thence to Shepherdstown. The line of battle beyond Antietam, then just beginning to form, was seen and a full report of this . . . sent to General McClellan."

Signal station similar to the one that would be constructed around the monument.
Following the 1862 Maryland Campaign, the signal station at the monument was broken down as the armies moved back into Virginia. The monument would again be utilized during the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign when another signal station was erected atop its ruins to observe the movements of the Confederate Army during its retreat. The station was established on July 9th and immediately began reporting on troop movements and strengths. The station reported on the construction of earthworks near Hagerstown and the fighting that took place outside of Funkstown on July 10th. It remained in use until after Lee pulled his army back across the Potomac. The following year, in 1864, the monument again witnessed a Confederate invasion when Jubal Early took the 2nd Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia on an invasion that reached the gates of Washington, D.C. Following this final invasion, the monument would sink back into the quiet country side. 

Restored monument 1880's.
Following the war, the monument was , again, left to neglect and vandals. The monument was not forgotten however. In the late 1870's, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows of Boonsboro funded and sponsored a preservation drive to restore the monument to it's former glory. Work was officially begun in 1882. The monument was deconstructed and built in the exact manner as the original builders did, using free-standing stone. To help "reinforce" the structure, the Odd Fellows had the outside of the monument stuccoed to help prevent any destructive forces from the exterior into the openings between the stones and weakening the interior. The monument was rebuilt to its original height of 30 feet, a road was cut to the monument to allow for easier access, and a steel observation platform was added. This platform added additional weight to the structure and increased its height by about 15 feet (as seen in photo at left).  The monument was re-dedicated on August 18, 1882 before a crowd of 3,000 people, including the governor of Maryland.

 Despite the best efforts of this preservation work, the monument would, again, become neglected and open to vandalism. Weather also took a toll. The steel observation deck was struck by lightning and created a crack down the side of the monument. As a result, the steel structure had to be removed. The stucco began to wear down, weakening the structure even more and as a result, the stones crumbled to the ground. It would remain in this condition for the better part of the next 30 years. 

Front view of monument 1910's
The next effort to restore the monument began in 1916. The Washington County Historical Society, lead by President and state Senator Harvey S. Bomberger, hatched plans to purchase the monument and the one acre of land surrounding it. To help build interest and show importance in the restoration of this monument, Bomberger published an article in The Patriotic Marylander entitled "Maryland's Mountain top monument to Washington" detailing the history of the monument and putting forth his justification for restoring the monument. It can be read here.  Bomberger's efforts caught the eye of the Daughters of the American Revolution and to help bolster more support for the monument, Isabel S. Mason wrote a poem dedicated to the monument entitled, "The First Washington Monument." In its entirety:
Of old thou stood, a watcher lone,
Upon the silent height;
Strong as the Heart of Valley Forge,
That watched in frozen night.
For in thee glowed the pulse that timed,
The march of Freedom's feet;
Fed by the flood of hero blood,
It ne'er shall cease to beat.

The hands, within whose sturdy veins
The patriot thrill coursed free;
Raised up thy sentinel form to him
Who wrought for liberty. 
Those hands are stilled, but, oh, the throb
Hath never ceased to rest;
It vibrates down the path of Time,
And echoes in each breast.

Though shattered once by storm and age,
Yet nature wove thee round,
A flowery, fragrant memory,
Embraced thee from the ground.
The fair, wild blossoms kissed thy form,
The birds sang o'er thy stone;
The star's in nights emblazoned flag
Kept watch with thee alone.

And now, once more thy form shall stand,
Grim Veteran of the past;
Like Liberty, though crushed to earth,
It must arise at last.
From when the thrill of grateful love,
Shall o'er us cease to steal;
'Twill be because our Soul is dead, 
And hearts have ceased to fell.

       Reportedly, Dynamite had been placed in this crack at one point.
This poem was also published in The Patriotic Marylander as well as local newspapers. With the local effort on track, the preservation effort was taken to the national level. At the behest of their constituents, a Maryland Congressman appealed for a $2,500 appropriation to assist in the restoration of the monument. The historical society managed to purchase the monument and land in 1920 but its preservation efforts became stalled. Following collapse of the stock market and the onset of the Great Depression, the historical society could not afford to preserve the monument on its own. With the help of Bomberger, using his position as a state senator, the Washington County Historical Society deeded the monument over to the State of Maryland in the early 1930's. With this move, the restoration of the monument could become a reality. 

The monument created a great opportunity for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to restore the monument and provide a park for the public to use. The CCC had been busy restoring the walls of Fort Frederick outside Big Pool, Maryland. As a result, several men from this camp were taken up to the monument and it was completely deconstructed. Plans were drawn up and called for the monument to be completely rebuilt from the ground up using all the modern tools to built it. Instead of building it of free-standing stone, the CCC would place mortar between the stones to keep the stones in place making the monument even more structurally sound then previous efforts. It would take nearly 2 years for the monument to be rebuilt but once it was finished, it was built to last.

Rebuilding the monument.

For 184 years, the monument has stood as a testament to the patriotic feelings that the everyday citizen has for their country. It also stands a simple monument built to the memory of George Washington and all the revolutionaries who sacrificed all so that freedom could be achieved. It survived the countries greatest trial despite already being in ruins. Today the monument serves as the focal point of Washington Monument State Park which is also the home of South Mountain State Battlefield.

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