It was April 1861, and there was a problem in Charleston, South Carolina. Though the state had formally been part of the Confederacy for nearly four months, Confederate soldiers still didn’t have complete control over Charleston, for Fort Sumter, a hulking stone fortress that sat in the harbor, was occupied by eighty Federal soldiers under the command of Major Robert Anderson.
The Confederate commander in Charleston, Brigadier General Pierre G. T. Beauregard, decided that something had to be done. He sought a peaceful resolution at first, offering Anderson a chance to surrender. Anderson refused, so in the early morning hours of April 12, the Confederate artillery overlooking the harbor opened fire on the fort. Throughout the day, the besieged Federals returned the bombardment before finally surrendering the following day. The secession issue had finally come to civil war.
Word of the conflict raced northward, speeding along telegraph wires and door-to-door gossip. Within hours, it reached the stoops and spires of Frederick, Maryland, a city of roughly 8,000 residents. There, the citizens soon had their own thoughts to offer.
Margaret Scholl, the twenty-seven-year-old daughter of wealthy landowner Daniel Scholl, was keeping a diary at the time. On April 12 and 13, she tersely wrote, “Bombardment of Ft. Sumpter [sic].” Brevity was common in her entries, so it’s hard to say exactly how she viewed the event. Did she feel the detached aloofness that would have fit her high-society status, or did she ruminate on or feel burdened by the news?
People in the county certainly felt something, evidenced on Sunday, April 14. Catherine Susannah Thomas Markell, an upper-class resident of Frederick and a staunch Southern supporter, recorded that, on that day, she “attended service at Saint Matthew’s (Manor) Church. Mr. Douglas preached—church crowded.” In such a time of uncertainty, it’s understandable that people would have sought solace from faith. It’s worth wondering, though, what type of sermon it was; “Mr. Douglas,” was the Reverend Robert Douglas, a pro-South slave owner and the father of Henry Kyd Douglas (who is famously remembered as “Stonewall” Jackson’s aide-de-camp).
Jacob Engelbrecht, a tailor and outspoken supporter of the Union and Northern rights, wrote in his diary on April 15 that “Fort Sumter surrendered to the Sambo Confederacy on Saturday afternoon April 13, 1861. Fort Sumter under the command of Colonel [sic—Anderson was a major] Robert Anderson surrendered to General Beauregard of Southern Sambo Confederation, after about 2 days of bombarding or cannonading.”¹ While Engelbrecht’s entry sticks to the “facts” as best he knew them, his derisive tone clearly shows his utter disappointment in the incident’s outcome.
Some of the more creative local businessmen felt opportunity instead of disappointment, capitalizing on the conflict to advertise their services. In the April 17 edition of the Frederick Examiner, the city’s pro-North newspaper, Smith’s News Depot debuted an ad that loudly declared, “War, War, War! HIGHLY IMPORTANT! . . . Daily Newspapers from Baltimore & New York at Smith’s News Depot. THE ONLY place in Frederick, where you can get the News from the South and the North, in these exciting times.” It was a bold tactic but not without precedent. Six months earlier, a pair of local merchants had tastelessly used the secession crisis to advertise shoes.
A few days later, the city also received news of the Pratt Street Riot in Baltimore, a clash between pro-South Baltimoreans and Federal troops as the Federals attempted to travel through the city.
Of course, the spirited Engelbrecht chimed in on the new development. On April 20, he wrote, “Northern & Southern War – The blow or attack was commenced yesterday in Baltimore. . . . Martial Law was declared by Governor Hicks (who was there at the time) and also by the Mayor (George William Brown). Everything there is in commotion today. The telegraphs says [sic] that all the bridges on the railroad leading to the city were destroyed. ‘Hail Columbia. Happy Land’.” This pro-North perspective would characterize much of his early wartime writing.
Margaret Scholl, in her typical reserved style, simply recorded, “April 19th. Not in Balt.” While this seems as detached as her usual writing, the editors of her diary note that she had close friends living in Baltimore; therefore, “Not in Balt” indicates that she wasn’t visiting them (as she might have planned to), and it could further imply that her thoughts were very much with them at the time.
Catherine Markell was slightly more animated in her observations. On the same day as Scholl’s diary entry, Markell wrote, “Aunt Charlotte came to stay with us. Northern troops in attempting to pass through Baltimore were mobbed. The Rebellion as it is called has now commenced in earnest. Virginia seceded.” It’s likely she felt some excitement at the South’s assertions (feelings more evident in a few entries following this one), but the arrival of her aunt likely tempered those feelings. As the transcriber of her diary points out, Charlotte was likely fleeing from what she believed would become an area of heavy conflict.
Little did Charlotte, Markell, Engelbrecht, Scholl, or any of their fellow Fredericktonians realize, their observations would be more up-close in little over a year, as their city would quarter and care for thousands of wounded soldiers following the Battle of Antietam in 1862.
But in April 1861, they merely recorded their thoughts and waited to see how the fledgling war would transpire.
¹ “Sambo” was a derogatory term that referred to African Americans. Here, Engelbrecht uses the term to characterize the Confederacy by its “blackness,” i.e. slavery.
- Jacob Engelbrecht. The Diary of Jacob Engelbrecht, volume 2. The Historical Society of Frederick County, n.d.
- Frederick Examiner, available through Crossroads of War’s historical newspaper archive. The newspaper image used here has been retrieved from there.
- Margaret Scholl Hood. The Diaries of Margaret Scholl Hood, 1851–1861. Ed. Rose Barquist, Mary Frear Keeler, and Ann Lebherz. Camden, ME: Picton Press, 1992.
- Catherine Susannah Thomas Markell. Frederick Maryland in Peace and War, 1856–1864: The Diary of Catherine Susannah Thomas Markell. Trans. David H. Wallace. The Historical Society of Frederick County, 2006.