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  • Ted Ladd and Jay Williams

The History of Beltsville (4 of 4)

Emack House - Locust Grove image courtesy - DeMarr Library Historian Prince George's County Historical Society

Beltsville and the Civil War

Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States on November 6, 1860. In all of Prince George’s County, Lincoln received just one vote. Even before he moved into the White House, his election prompted seven southern states to form the Confederate States of America. Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861. The Civil War was about to begin.

On April 12, 1861, Confederate armed forces shelled Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, and the fort was forced to surrender the next day. President Lincoln assumed Confederates would soon attack Washington, D.C., and he requested 75,000 troops from northern state militias to come to protect the capital.

Among others, the 6th Massachusetts Regiment answered the call and headed for Washington by train from Lowell, Massachusetts. When arriving in Baltimore on April 19, 1861, they were met by an angry mob, and as the troops marched from one train station to another, they were pelted with bricks and debris. A shot rang out, and the first casualty of the Civil War fell on Pratt Street in Baltimore. He was 17-year-old private Luther Crawford Ladd. As his fellow soldiers gathered around him, he uttered his last words, “All hail the stars and stripes.” The Civil War had come to Maryland.

In those days, Prince George’s County was largely agricultural, and the main crop of tobacco was grown on large plantations. The population was 50 percent slaves. Maryland did not secede from the union, but many citizens joined Confederate military forces. Two who did this were brothers James and George Emack, who lived in Beltsville in a home on Locust Grove plantation across from St. John’s Episcopal Church. James was a 2nd lieutenant in Company F, 7th North Carolina Infantry (CSA) at the battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, in May 1863. Confederate forces were commanded by Lt. Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson, who on May 2, 1863, was mortally wounded by friendly fire. Earlier that same day, Lieutenant Emack and four of his men were ordered to investigate the report of a Union officer waving a white handkerchief. In the confusion of battle, the officer, Lt. Col. Levi Smith of the 128th Pennsylvania Regiment, asked passing soldiers what side they were on. Emack and his men came across the officer and 200 members of the 128th Regiment. Emack suggested they drop their weapons and surrender because they were surrounded by Gen. Jackson’s forces. The Union soldiers capitulated and were taken prisoner. The next day, Emack was killed in action. He had served six months. He is buried in the family plot at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

George Emack rose to the rank of major and was involved in several notable battles including one that involved his hometown, Beltsville. The date was July 12, 1864, about one year after the battle of Gettysburg. In the morning, Union cavalry forces were at the Brown farm, location of Brown’s tavern, watering horses. As the soldiers commandeered supplies, the widow Brown saw a large dust cloud and many horsemen riding toward them. They were elements of Company B, 1st Maryland Cavalry (CSA), under the command of George Emack. She alerted the Union commander by calling him upstairs in Brown’s tavern to see for himself. He immediately rounded up his troops and retreated across the Paint Branch. One Union cavalryman was wounded and taken to Major Emack’s house.

The raid on Beltsville was part of an unsuccessful attempt by forces under the command of Confederate General Jubal Early to attack the capital. In Beltsville, telegraph wires were cut, B&O railroad cars were set afire, and railroad tracks were torn up, presumably to prevent Union reinforcements from embarking from the north. Several hundred federal mules were confiscated. The commander of this part of the strategy was Maryland-born Brigadier General Bradley Johnson. One element of the strategy was to move Confederate forces south to the prisoner of war camp at Point Lookout in St. Mary’s County. Johnson’s troops were to free and arm Confederate prisoners, many of whom had been captured at Gettysburg. Union intelligence sources learned of this objective. When the compromise became known to Confederate authorities, they abandoned the plan.

The war would last another 10 months, ending with the surrender of Confederate forces at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. President Lincoln was assassinated just 6 days later.

Life in Prince George’s County would change drastically. The “Emancipation Proclamation” had been issued on January 1, 1863. The economy would no longer depend on slave labor, and large plantations became things of the past.

(References: The Civil War in Maryland, Daniel Carroll Toomey, pp126-127; Battles Lines, Prince George’s County in the Civil War; “The ‘Battle’ Raid on Beltsville - July 12, 1864,”; “Prince George’s County: Over 300 Years of History,” Prince George’s County Historical Society, 1996; “The Wounding of Stonewall-American Civil War Home,” )

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