Hello, and welcome to Wildfulness Episode #31, I’m Lisa Cole, your guide and host, and today we’re exploring the sights, the sounds, and the sympathies of Western Maryland during the Civil War. As we draw close to April, we remember the Jones-Imboden Raid that took place in Oakland on April 23, 1863, and what it meant to the citizens of the town.
And, today is your lucky day, because I have a very special treat for you when it comes exactly who will be telling you that story.
The Civil War still haunts us. We are still to this day, baffled by the enormity of the human loss, and the extent to which man can be so inhuman towards his fellow man. We are individually and collectively, morbidly fascinated by it. I recently watched the movie Lincoln, with Daniel Day-Lewis, and it reinforced this, really brought it home all over again.
So, as you know, Maryland was a slave-holding border state, and was deeply divided over the antebellum arguments over states rights and the future of slavery in the Union. Every which way you can imagine, and I mean culturally, geographically and economically, Maryland found itself neither one thing nor another, a unique blend of Southern agrarianism and Northern mercantilism. The well-known tragedy of brother turning against brother was happening all over Maryland, and it got really bad. It’s hard for us to imagine, but in a way, since we live in very divisive times these days, maybe it’s not as hard to imagine as we think. What did we learn from the horrible Civil War, about how to manage our differences and find that which unites us?
So, let’s get down to brass tacks here. As you also no doubt are aware, the railroads played a huge part in the strategic plans of both the North and the South during the civil war, and we already know how important the railroad was to Western Maryland back in the day, providing transportation for the Gateway to the West movement of people and building supplies (and if you are not sure about that, go back listen to Episode #29 about the Western MD Scenic Railroad, for some background and context on that. Very important!)
The Federal offensives of 1863-1864 were designed to take advantage of the rail lines under its control and to disrupt and destroy the Confederate rail system as part of the overall Anaconda Plan. Conversely, the Confederates needed to threaten the ever lengthening supply lines of the Federals, and fiercely protect their own rail lines in order to survive. As the war dragged on, the South was gradually, literally starving to death.
Besides its strategic possession of important rail lines, there was something else about Western Maryland that figured prominently in the war, and that was the fact that it was a skinny little arm of land at several key points, separating slave-holding Virginia, from the free state of Pennsylvania, and as such, became an important part of the Underground Railroad. And finally, just to add to the drama, the secession of West Virginia from the rest of the state of Virginia, became entangled in the Raid also, as things came unraveled. And I have posted some very interesting youtube videos about that on the show notes, at http://www.wildful.wordpress.com.
[Two brave men and countless parishioners at the Emmanuel church in Cumberland, MD are believed to have saved thousands of slaves’ lives as the church served as a hub for the Underground Railroad.]
While Oakland and its citizens tried to remain relatively neutral during the War, the Jones-Imboden raid made doing that pretty difficult. Because the southern forces came up just south of Oakland, intending to blow up the important B&O Railroad bridge over the Youghiogheny River, that’s just south of the town.
The Raid and How We See it in 2018
A small group of Union soldiers from Company O of West Virginia were tasked with protecting the bridge, an invaluable portion of the B&O Railroad that helped provide much-needed supplies. These soldiers were in no way prepared for the more than 600 Confederates headed their way. Members of the 12th Virginia Cavalry, the First Maryland Battalion and John H. McNeill’s Partisan Rangers took the Union soldiers by surprise, as well as the residents of Oakland.
The Confederate soldiers quickly subdued the opposition and burned the railroad bridge. While violence was avoided, the Confederates pillaged homes and businesses for supplies and food. The Union forces stayed only briefly in the area, as they moved toward their other targets, but the impact of that raid was not soon forgotten.
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Accounts of those difficult days have been preserved and were featured during Oakland Civil War Days in 2013, organized and hosted by the Garrett County Historical Society to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the raid.
Up Close & Personal: How the Raid Really Happened
And now, without any further ado, here is the up close and personal account of the Jones Imboden Raid, with all its legend and lore, written and spoken by award-winning historical author, Jim Rada. Jim has authored several historical books related to Western Maryland and writes a column for the Cumberland Times-News.
Sunday morning, April 26, 1863, was a beautiful spring morning in Oakland. For the Union detachment of 57 enlisted men and two officers stationed in town to guard the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, it was another day in paradise. No one was shooting at them. They weren’t living in squalid conditions or eating field rations. The citizens of Oakland had welcomed them as guests.
And the young ladies! Well, they loved a man in uniform.
While many of the soldiers spent the morning accompanying their sweethearts to church, Private Cornelius Johnson with the Sixth West Virginia Infantry had picket duty along the southern road leading into Oakland about a mile south of town. It was a lonely job, especially when he thought of his friends with the pretty girls in town.
Then he saw a large group of mounted Confederate soldiers riding towards town, and he began to wish that he was lonely.
“He was scared, but scared or not he had a duty to perform before his trembling legs got him away from there,” Ruth and Iret Ashby wrote in The Glades Star. “He must warn the soldiers in Oakland that something was wrong. He raised his gun and fired a warning shot over the heads of the approaching riders before taking to his heels across the nearby field, towards the shelter of the woods.”
One of the Confederate soldiers chased him and shot at him knocking the heel off one of his boots. The Confederate soldier captured Johnson and then rejoined the group heading toward Oakland.
“Not until they were in Oakland did he learn why he had heard no gunfire,” the Ashby wrote. “The raid had been carried out so quickly that his comrades had had no chance to rally against such overpowering numbers.”
An estimated 800 Confederate cavalrymen commanded by Col. Asher Harman of the 12th Virginia Cavalry rode into Oakland around 11 a.m. The soldiers moved quickly to capture the Union detachment.
Many of the soldiers were still attending church services and were arrested as they left church. While the Union soldiers seemed resigned to their arrest, their sweethearts weren’t so willing to let their men go.
One Confederate soldier approached a Union soldier to arrest him. He tipped his hat to the girl accompanying the Yankee and informed the soldier that he was under arrest. The woman berated the Rebel, beginning with, “You baldheaded son of a …”
When the Rebel returned with his prisoners, he said, “Please God, I never heard a woman talk that way before.”
Southern sympathizers had apparently told Capt. John McNeill, who led a company of Rangers, that an officer was recovering from battle wounds at the Glades Hotel. A group of Confederates demanded that the hotel owner turn over the officer.
“To enforce their demand, they parked a small cannon on the railroad’s Second Street crossing,” John Grant wrote in 150 Years of Oakland. “The owner denied that a Union officer was in the hotel, so the soldiers fired a shot down the railroad tracks.”
It was a warning shot because the Rebels then turned the cannon to face toward the hotel. The owner insisted that there was no soldier inside, and he invited the Confederates into the hotel to inspect it themselves.
“Legend says that the soldiers abruptly ended their search when they reached the hotel’s bar,” Grant wrote.
While the citizens weren’t molested, generally, the Confederates did seize food and horses for themselves.
The raid was a smaller part of a larger Confederate action meant to disrupt the newly formed West Virginia government. The action involved 7,000 men split between Brig. Gen. William (Grumble) Jones and Gen. John Imboden. Harman’s men were part of Gen. Jones’s command. They were to follow the Northwestern Turnpike and move north through Moorefield, W. Va., and Petersburg, W. Va., burn the bridges at Oakland and Rowlesburg, W. Va., and destroy the railroad trestle over the Cheat River. Then they would join with Gen. Imboden at Buckhannon, W. Va.
The night before the Oakland raid, Gen. Jones’s men had fought Union troops in Greenland Gap in Grant County and forced them to surrender. Col. Harman’s men had then traveled through the night and reached Oakland before word of the previous day’s fighting reached the town, which is one of the reasons the Union troops had been caught off guard.
The Rebels had seized the railroad station and cut the telegraph lines. Another group of men burned the No. 88 railroad bridge over the Youghiogheny River. A group of cavalrymen captured a freight train in Altamont, W. Va., uncoupled the engine and sent it west in the direction of the Youghiogheny River. The Rebels thought the bridge would be destroyed by then and the engine would topple into the river. However, because there was no engineer aboard, the boiler overflowed, and the engine stopped before it reached the river.
Meanwhile, in Oakland, the Union weapons were destroyed, and the Yankees were paroled. Then the Confederate infantry left town heading toward what is now Terra Alta, W. Va.
The raid, while successful, had only a minimal impact. The No. 88 bridge was rebuilt within five days. Some of the other bridges, including the one over the Cheat River, weren’t destroyed.
Gen. Jones summarized his action for Gen. Robert E. Lee, wrote, “In thirty days we marched nearly 700 miles; we killed from 25 to 30 of the enemy; wounded probably three times as man; captured nearly 700 prisoners, 2 trains of cars; burned 16 railroad bridges and one tunnel, 150,000 barrels of oil, many engines and a large number of boats, tanks, and barrels; bringing home with us about 1,000 cattle and probably 1,200 horses. Our entire loss was ten killed and 42 wounded; the missing not exceeding fifteen.
“My orders were in all cases to respect private property, irrespective of the politics and part taker, in the war by owners. Horses and supplies were to be taken indiscriminately. One or two stores were plundered.”
While inconvenienced, the government of West Virginia did not waver, however.
So again, thanks to Jim Rada for his writing and reading of this account of the Raid. You can purchase his books by the way on his website at http://www.jamesrada.com and subscribe to his blog, Time Will Tell, which is quite good.
To wrap this all up, I’d like to quote Oakland Mayor Peggy Jamison, from some remarks she made during the commemoration of the Raid in 2013:
“While the Jones-Imboden Raid of the Civil War, which took place in Oakland, may not have the notoriety of the Battle of Gettysburg, the railroad in Oakland was important enough that when it was burned by the Confederate Calvary, John Garrett, president of the B&O Railroad, at the time, ordered it to be rebuilt, and it was done in five days,” said Oakland Mayor Peggy Jamison. “The railroad has always played an important role in the history and heritage of Oakland . . .”
As we keep the lore and legend of the Jones Imboden Raid alive for future generations, and hopefully, the lessons from the great War Between the States, so do we keep alive the legacy of the people of Oakland who rallied and recovered from the raid in just five days following the exit of the Confederate soldiers. It’s about remembering and celebrating their determination and their fortitude.
Many thanks once again, to Jim Rada for his wonderful story writing and telling; to the Western Maryland Historical Library and Garrett County Historical Society, for their rigorous curating of the history of the area and generous sharing of their resources; to my history-major son, Alex, for his encouragement and expertise. Sources include The Glades Star,Garrett County: A History of Maryland’s Tableland by Stephen Schlosnagle, and 150 Years of Oakland by the Garrett County Historical Society. All of these publications can be purchased at the Garrett County Historical Society. Music Credits: You heard part of Ashokan Farewell, by Jay Unger and Molly Mason, and part of My Ain True Love, written and performed by Alison Krauss and Sting for the movie Cold Mountain, and recorded here by me, due to copyright issues.
Oh yes, and don’t forget, as always:
Stay Wild, my Friends