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Civil War

Ferry Hill Place

by Gary M. Petrichick

High on the Maryland bluff overlooking Shepherdstown, West Virginia, sits Ferry Hill Place, built by John Blackford around the end of the War of 1812 and named for the 1755 ferry that crossed the Potomac here prior to the building of a covered bridge in 1850. In 1848, ownership of Ferry Hill passed to Reverend Robert Douglas, husband of Blackford’s youngest daughter. In late 1859, nineteen year old Henry Kyd Douglas, eldest son of the Reverend, was crossing the bridge when he came upon "Isaac Smith," a newcomer to the area, who was having difficulty ascending the hill with his two horse wagon, supposedly carrying mining tools. Douglas got his father’s carriage horses and helped the man, only to learn a few months later that Smith was the infamous John Brown, and the wagon was carrying pikes to arm a planned slave insurrection.

Young Douglas was a newly practicing attorney in St. Louis in April 1861 when Virginia passed the Ordinance of Secession. He returned to enlist as a private in the 2nd Virginia at Harpers Ferry. When Harpers Ferry was evacuated in June, a regiment was sent to destroy the bridge at Shepherdstown. One of Douglas’s first actions as a Confederate soldier was to help in the burning of the bridge below Ferry Hill Place, owned by the Virginia & Maryland Bridge Company of which his father was a stockholder. He notes that not long after this, his father’s barn was burned by Union troops.

While camped near Harpers Ferry on September 13,1862, as Gen. Stonewall Jackson prepared to capture that town as part of Lee’s first excursion north, Douglas rode west to cross the Potomac at Botelers or Blackfords Ford below the dam and rode up the C&O Canal towpath to visit with his parents for a few hours. He rode past Ferry Hill again on the 16th on his way to join up with Gen. Jackson and the bulk of General Lee’s Confederate army in Sharpsburg. During the ensuing Battle of Antietam, Ferry Hill Place was used as a hospital for Confederate wounded and with the subsequent withdrawal of the Southern Army, the grounds were occupied by Union troops. The Confederate army crossed back into Virginia at Blackfords Ford and Douglas reported observing that the "farm was laid waste," with artillery and rifle pits in front of the house aimed at the rebel forces across the river.

In October, while camped at Martinsburg or Bunker Hill, Douglas decided to visit home again. When he reached the Virginia cliffs across the Potomac from Ferry Hill, he observed Union soldiers and artillery on the front lawn. Riding down to the river to water his horse, he was hailed by Union cavalrymen on the far shore. To make an interesting and long story short, the Union soldiers helped him across the river and brought his mother down to visit with him! The Union sergeant then promised to "keep an eye on your home and do what I can for your people." Unfortunately, those troops were replaced by less sympathetic men, and according to Douglas, on a stormy night shortly thereafter, a shutter blew open as his mother was passing by with a lit candle. The following morning the Reverend Douglas was arrested by Union forces on suspicion of signaling the enemy. He was taken to Berlin (Brunswick) and then to Ft. McHenry where he was held for six weeks before being released with no charges preferred against him. The Reverend Douglas died shortly after the end of the war.

Following Stonewall Jackson’s death at Chancellorsville in early May 1863, Maj. General Edward Johnson was given command of Jackson’s division for Lee’s second venture north. In mid June they crossed the Potomac en route to Gettysburg and camped for a night at Ferry Hill Place with Gen. Johnson being headquartered in the house. In July 1864, Douglas was with Gen. Jubal Early when he entered Maryland hoping to relieve Union pressure on General Lee at Petersburg. The Confederates visited Ferry Hill Place on their way to threaten Washington, with the Douglas family playing host to Generals Early, Breckenridge, Gordon, and Ramseur. In mid August during Early and Sheridan’s duel for control of the Shenandoah Valley, Douglas had his last wartime view of his home while riding with some cavalry into Shepherdstown.

During the course of the war, Henry Kyd Douglas rose from Private to Colonel. He was the youngest staff officer with Stonewall Jackson, and later served on the staffs of Generals Edward Johnson, John Gordon, Jubal Early, J. H. Pegram, and John Walker. He was wounded six times, the most severe being at Gettysburg where he was also captured and held at various Federal prisons until he was paroled in mid March 1864. His fascinating story is told in the book I Rode With Stonewall, drawn from the voluminous diary he kept during the conflict. Ferry Hill Place remained in the hands of Blackford descendants until 1951, and from 1980 until 2001 it served as Headquarters of our Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park.

(This article was published in the June 2009 issue of Along The Towpath, the newsletter of the C&O Canal Association.

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