The Civil War at "old Fort Frederick"

Picketing the Potomac

"Old Fort Frederick" in the Civil War

1857 to 1860: 

Sometime between these dates Nathan William's a free African American purchased the Fort and established a farm.  During the war Union officers made headquarters in their home and his wife Ammy cooked for them.  Nathan also sold food stuffs to both Union and Confederate troops.  When he sold to the Confederates he would return to Maryland and give information to the Union. 

1857, June 25th: "...we stopped to visit the remains of Fort Frederick, erected by the Colonial government of Maryland in 1775. The ruins lie north of the river beyond the canal; so that it was necessary to descend the steep sides of the mountain glen, still covered with the original forest, and cross a lake-like reach of the Potomac in batteaux to the opposite shore, where we found the military wreck on the upper levels of the river bank, about a quarter of a mile from its embowered margin. The fort stands in the midst of cultivated fields, while a wholesome-looking barn nestles under its dismantled walls. The fortification is a square, with salient angles or bastions at the four corners, and rises to the height of about fifteen feet. There are no embrasures for cannon, nor is the structure massive enough to resist artillery; but as it was built for frontier defense, it was probably rather a garrison for riflemen than a regular fortress capable of sustaining an attack of disciplined troops. The four substantial walls have been little harmed in the lapse of a hundred years. Their interior is overgrown with weeds and bushes; the magazine is a heap of stones; the barracks have disappeared altogether; the gates are gone; large trees flourish in the corner bastions; ivy grows over portions of the wall; but, with all these evidences of decay, we were glad to hear that the farmer on whose land it stands does not allow a stone to be removed, and is determined to preserve it as a historical relic of our Maryland forefathers. The only inhabitant we found in the abandoned fort was a black snake of considerable size; but as he was speedily slain by some of our followers, I suppose the last emblem of hostility has been destroyed within the walls, and the gray ruin left to the innumerable thrushes that were singing in its solitude." Brantz Mayer Harpers Monthly

1860, May 5:  " A short time before reaching Martinsburg we left the train to see the ruins of Fort Frederick, now occupied as a sheep pen." 



24th: at 2:00 am Confederates from Virginia attempted to steal the McCoy’s Ferry boat while the Union Home Guard from Clear Spring were away.   When the Virginian’s had the boat in mid-stream the “Clear Spring Home Guards” returned and opened fired on the almost helpless Confederates.  The Virginians returned fire and a “sharp skirmish occurred”.  The Confederates eventually   abandoned the ferry for a small skiff, and fled to the Virginia shore.  The home guard retrieved the ferry boat after daylight.


10th: A Skirmish took place at Dam Number 5 near Clear Spring, when Confederate troops attempted to breach the dam but were easily repulsed by Union troops “the Clear Spring Home Guard”. “...who, after considerable skirmishing, succeeded in repulsing them, killing one of their men. The rebels endeavored to blow up the dam by means of a blast, for which purpose they had procured four kegs of powder, but were driven off before they were able to injure it.”  The  Confederates did no serious damage to the structure.


21st: The Hagerstown Herald of Freedom and Torch Light reported that  there are no Federal troops in the area of Fort Frederick.  They wrote, “it is believed that there is an "underground railroad" in operation higher up on the Potomac river. Persons of suspected loyalty are believed to have passed through this town from Virginia, who crossed at Cherry Run, Hancock or some other unguarded point along the river. Perhaps it would be well to keep an eye upon these crossing places."


7th: "The Potomac River is guarded on the other side (Maryland) by what they call Home Guard (Possibly units of the Potomac Home Brigade, USA).They were raised to protect the Canal and Rail Road.  They will no let anyone come from that side."


Union troops are in the area of Fort Frederick


22nd: reports of Federal crossing from Maryland to Cherry Run (W) VA. 

28th: there were reports of pickets firing across the river at each other for the previous "several days".

30th: Virginia Militia occupy Hedgesville, Bath, and the surrounding area in (W) Virginia.


During the first week of the month the Confederate Militia began falling back towards Martinsburg, and eventually back to Winchester, VA.  They destroy to the railroad from Back Creek Bridge to Martinsburg. 

6th: Co. D 1st VA Infantry (USA) was involved in a skirmish at "Back Creek".  Federal troops were opposite the mouth of the creek on the Maryland Shore.  they were fired on by confederate Infantry.  No Union troops were injured.

16th: Colonel Leonard sent two cannon up to old Fort Frederick,  "in order to give the force [Confederates]  returning by railroad a raking."  Three shots were fired hitting the Engine. "The train however, had no [Confederate] troops on board, but those in charge of the train betook themselves to a secure place in hot haste.  It has been  ascertained that the train  was bound to Paxton’s Cut for railroad iron…”, Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser  December 17, 1861.

17th: Stonewall Jackson attacks Dam no.5 between the fort and Williamsport. 

18th: Company “H” First Maryland Infantry marched to “Old Fort Frederick”. Other companies of the First Maryland were stationed along the river at Four Locks, Dam No.5, Cherry Run, and Fogal’s (McCoy’s) Ferry.

25th:  Company H was involved in a skirmish “at Fort Frederick, Md.  There were also skirmishes at Cherry Run, and Dam No. 5. 

Reverend Samuel Bookman who preached a New Years Day service at Fort Frederick wrote an account of the affair  on December 25.   Bookman wrote, “A short time after their [First Maryland] arrival they encountered a body of Rebel cavalry on the opposite side of the river—a brisk fire was kept up for some time which resulted in killing and wounding some five or six of the enemy, leaving our men unhurt.” 

Local civilian Elisha Manor wrote in his diary on December 26, 1861, “Our men (Confederates) fired at the Yankees yesterday at Cherry Run”.  Elisha Manor wrote this on December 25, 1861, “30 Confederate Cavalry go to Cherry Run.  Ashby has 160 troopers in Hedgesville.”  Cherry Run, WV is located about one mile west of Fort Frederick across the river from Big Pool.  Hedgesville, WV is about four miles to the southeast.  Based on this and other information it appears that Colonel Turner Ashby’s 7th Virginia Cavalry and local Virginia Militia were involved in the skirmish at Fort.

 28th:  Skirmish at Cherry Run between Confederates and Co. A of the 1st Maryland.  Then the next day Elisha manor wrote in his journal, “The cannonading we heard [Yesterday]  was the  Yankees shelling our men at work taking up the railroad track; they were, of course, on the other side of the river.  Our men have taken it up within a few hundred yards of the deep –cut; once there, they are safe."

30th:  Berkeley County (Virginia) Militia are encamped between Paxton's Cut and Hancock, and have destroyed the B&O from Martinsburg to Back Creek Bridge


January: Stonewall Jackson begins his Bath-Romney Campaign.

1st:  Rev. Samuel Bookman report from Fort Frederick, “ ...a group of Rebels were discovered on the railroad track in the mouth of Paxton’s Cut, one mile and a half distant [apparently directly across the river from the fort], when a shell [from a Union Parrot gun] was discharged which fell on the tracks and exploded, creating quite a panic amongst them and causing them to retrace their steps more rapidly than they advanced.”  The Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser reported on this incident January 2, 1862, “A private dispatch from Williamsport last night states that about 3 P.M. yesterday a Confederate force (number not given), with one gun attacked the railroad workmen between Paxton’s Cut and Cherry Run, eleven miles east of Hancock.  They were repulsed and routed by the Federal protective force with a loss of twenty killed.  The assailants were protecting Confederate laborers who were engaging in tearing up the track.”  The Maryland News Sheet added to the story on January 3rd.  “Detachments of the 13th Massachusetts and the First Maryland participated in the repulse and rout of the Confederate forces.  Our men killed and buried 29 of the enemy, and it is supposed many afterwards died of their wounds.  Our loss is reported by private sources to have been five wounded—none killed.”

3rd: Virginia Militiamen were tearing up the railroad tracks opposite Fort Frederick in Virginia.

4th: The Southerners had captured Berkeley Springs, WV and were laying siege to Hancock, MD 10 miles to the west. 

7th: Company “H”of the First Maryland (US) made a forced marched from Fort Frederick to Hancock.  A few days later the 1st Maryland returns, but company D is at Fort Frederick.  The other companies were stationed near by. Company A, B, C, and G at Millstone Point, “F” at Four Locks, “H” at Cherry Run, “I” at Bevan’s Hill, “K” at Licking Creek Bridge, and “C” at Baer’s School House. 

21st & 22nd: Elisha Manor reported there was firing between pickets not far from Fort Frederick. 


In early February Manor wrote, “The Yankees are still guarding the river and canal”.  These troops from the First Maryland Infantry (US) stayed around the fort until February 28, 1862, when they moved south to attack the Confederate army under Jackson near Winchester, VA.


9th:  Homer Plimpton of the 39th Illinois Infantry write in his journal from Back Creek Bridge (WV), "It has been a beautiful day; the atmosphere has been mild and balmy, inviting one forth to enjoy its soothing influence.  I have improved by rambling over the heights, viewing the beauties of nature.  From the elevation just at our right, I had a fair view of the surrounding country.  On the opposite of the river about half a mile down the river lies what is known as  "Old Fort Frederick".  When it was a built, or for what purpose, I have not been able to ascertain, though it is supposed to have been built just after Braddock's Defeat as a defense against the Indians."

15th:  The 1st WV Infantry encamps at Back Creek Bridge, "Just opposite our camp is Fort Frederick, a strong stone fortification built a century since to defend the frontiers against the Indians.  Our troops occupied this fort last spring when the rebels were at Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry." 


Union troops had moved to the Virginia shore. Two Union regiments guarded the railroad from Great Cacapon to Martinsburg, WV.  Company G of the 54th Pennsylvania Infantry was stationed across from Fort Frederick at Back Creek Bridge.


9th: Locals were reporting that the Confederates were in Maryland. 

11th: Confederate Cavalry were in Williamsport and Company "G" the 54th PA was involved in skirmish at Back Creek Bridge, (W) VA 

12th: Companies D and G 54th PA were involved in another skirmish and captured “20 or 30” Confederates from the command of  “Stonewall” Jackson.  This time it was at North Mountain Depot, WV about 3 miles from Fort Frederick. These confederates "were part of a rear guard that Colonel Campbell leading a small contingent of 60 officers and men attacked.  Two Rebels were killed, seven wounded, and 19 captured."

13th:  200 to 300 Confederates were reported to have made a scout towards Back Creek Bridge, but determined the Federals were too strong, and did not attack.  They did shell the area around North Mt

21st:  Following the battle of Antietam, there was another skirmish at Back Creek Bridge between Confederates from the 2nd Virginia Infantry who fought Company G of the 54th PA. The 54th withdrew to Hancock and the Confederates moved west burning the Cherry Run railroad bridge.  "the Southerns Attacked the Yankees at the bridge early this morning, and they [Federals] left, leaving their tents and everything; they had no cannons, but had some logs mounted in oil clothe wrapped around them; they [Confederates] got three of them[Federals] prisoner.


8th:  The 12th Illinois Cavalry arrived and picketed the Potomac River, “drawbridge, [and] the canal, immediately south of old Fort Frederick.”  Other companies were stationed at McCoy’s Ferry and Green Spring Furnace less than 2 miles east of Fort Frederick.  The 12th was stationed around the fort from October 10, until December 8, 1862. 

10th: Union Cavalry General William Averell wrote, “Major Linton reports from Cherry Run that the Rebels are crossing into Maryland at McCoy’s Ferry.”   Lieutenant Boyle stated, “He went to Fairview, and then to the (Green Spring) Furnace, within 1 mile of McCoy’s Ferry. … it appears that four regiments of Cavalry, with four pieces of artillery, crossed at McCoy’s Ferry this morning…” After the Confederate troops crossed on the 10th the 12th Illinois Cavalry attempted to stop the Confederate advance into Maryland at the crossroads near Green Spring Furnace.  This running skirmish lasted from 5:40 am until 9:00 am.  The Federal troops eventually retreated to Clear Spring in the early afternoon.  This was the beginning of Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart’s raid into Pennsylvania.

11th:  Co. B 2nd Maryland Potomac Home Brigade Cavalry Guarding Potomac River Fords From Dam No. 5 to Cherry Run (Present Day Big Pool, MD).  They appear to be on this duty until December. 

20th:  11 men from Co. B 2nd MD PHB Cavalry cross the Potomac and captured two mounted Confederate Pickets and six horses fully equipped. J. F. Breish wrote of the affair, "Early in the Fall of 1862...We now had an opportunity of visiting home and friends once more, and after a few days  we settled down to housekeeping at Big Springs, Washington county, Maryland.  This is not far from Fort Frederic, one of the most remarkable pieces of architecture in the United States.  It was built in early colonial times, by the British Government, to protect the settlers against the Indians, and many are the tales and legends told in connection with it.  It was capable of holding a garrison of 500 men.  The walls are 12 feet high, and four feet thick, and except the breach that was made by the ruthless hand of a few reckless persons, they are just as solid as when built, 150 years ago.  One night a small number of the company got into a canoe,and crossed over and dispersed them, capturing several prisoners and horses, and returned with safety."

21st:  General Deven's Union Brigade crosses into Virginia at Cherry Run Ford. A Brigade from General Couche's Division (Smith) is supporting him from the Maryland shore.  It is also reported that the confederates have destroyed the B&O in the vicinity of Fort Frederick.  Deven's appears to have artillery at or near Fort Frederick as he is reporting he could hit Paxton's cut with artillery by indirect fire.

29th: The 7th Maryland (USA) began guarding the Potomac River crossings "from about five miles from McCoy's Ferry to Dam No. 5."  Headquarters was at Four Locks.  "One of the most interesting points in the vicinity was "Old Fort Frederick," built as a defense against the Indians, and at the time one of the few remaining structures to be found in this country worthy to be called a "ruin". They would remain in this duty until December 12th.  From: A History and Roster of Maryland Volunteers

December:  Company B 15th WV Infantry took over guard duties in the area. they were encamped opposite Fort Frederick at Back Creek Bridge, until June 15th, 1863.

The 106th New York was also on duty in the area



15th: Confederate troops crossed the Potomac River at Williamsport and McCoy’s Ferry on their way to Pennsylvania.  On that same day Captain Hanse McNeil of the Confederate partisan unit McNeil’s Rangers were at Cherry Run and destroyed railroad bridges and canal boats. 

27th: The 62nd Virginia Infantry crossed the Potomac at Cherry Run which brought them to present day Big Pool.   


Following the Union victory at Gettysburg, the Confederate army retreated back to Virginia.  The middle of July was a busy time around “old Fort Frederick”. During this time the 12th PA Cavalry was near Clear Spring.

11th and 12th:  There were large numbers of Union troops in the Indian Springs and Fairview area, about 2 miles northwest of the fort.  These Union troops were repairing telegraph lines destroyed by Confederates about a month previous.  By the 11th the lines were repaired all the way to Cherry Run (Big Pool, MD) and a skirmish takes place there as well. 

15th: Union forces were still on the Maryland shore as Elisha Manor wrote, “…there are 500 Yankee cavalry on the other side of the river from Cherry Run- it being too high for them to cross.” General Kelley reported being at Indian Springs.

17th:  General B. F. Kelley's command Dept. of WV including 54th PA and 15th WV marched from Indian Springs and  crossed the rain swollen Potomac at Big Pool to Cherry Run. They marched on to Hedgesville.  There was a cavalry skirmish near Hedgesville with Hampton's Legion.

18th: Morning; Union Troopers captured a Confederate Forage detail near Back Creek, WV.  Evening; Cavalry skirmish between Averell's and Hampton's Troopers near Hedgesville.

19th: Kelley's command, "fell back from Hedgesville to the Maryland the side of the Potomac at Cherry Run." 

20th:  Averell's trooper skirmish again with Confederate near Hedgesville falling back so as not to bring on a general engagement.

21st:  Kelley's command recrossed the Potomac to Virginia at Cherry Run.

24th: Kelley's command advance from Cherry Run, VA to Hedgesville.

24th to 31st: Co. B 15th WV stationed at Back Creek Bridge 


1st: Federal troops under General Kelley are at Back Creek by the 5th these troops are rebuilding the Sleepy Creek Bridge. A company of the 15th West Virginia is at Cherry Run, WV

6th: Federal troops cross river into WV and steal horses from the locals.

8th: Fiery’s Cavalry Company (Potomac Home Brigade) is at North Mountain, WV

10th: Company I or G is at Manor’s Mill. Five Union Infantry and one Cavalry Company are at North Mountain.

11th: Confederate troops are at Little Georgetown, WV

12th: Fiery’s Cavalry to stay at Johnsonstown, WV

18th: Company C 12th WV is stationed at Back Creek Bridge Co. I of the 15th WV is to leave.

19th: Pennsylvania Militia (20th PA Cavalry 6 month troops) are guarding the railroad at Alpine Depot (opposite Hancock, MD)

25th: Two Confederate companies are at Little Georgetown, WV. There are no Federal troops stationed at Sleepy Creek, WV.

28th: Federals are still at Cherry Run, WV.


7th: Confederate troops are at Bath (Berkeley Springs, WV) skirmished with Union troops of the 20th PA Cav. and captured two Federal companies. After a sharp struggle, the Confederates were driven, with a loss to the regiment of twenty taken prisoners. A number of horses and some camp equipage were also lost. Major Comly, with the company at Hancock, pursued the party for twenty miles, but failed to overtake it.

10th: Confederates returned to Bath, WV


4th: Confederate troops are in the area. Federals are searching for them.  By the 6th seven Confederates surrender at Cherry Run, WV.

14th: 30 or 40 US troops (116th Ohio volunteer Infantry) from North Mountain went up Back Creek. Confederate (troopers from the 2nd MD Cavalry Battalion) troops are at Tomahawk Springs, WV and skirmish with Federal troops (116th OVI, 12th PA and 1st NY Cavalry) 23 Confederates were captured.

15th: 1st NY Cavalry is involved in a skirmish near Hedgesville, WV


11th: Federal troops are building a blockhouse at Back Creek Bridge, WV

17th: Reported that Federal troops do not have enough to eat. Ferries on the Potomac are all guarded.

25th: US Troops are building a fort at the village of Sleepy Creek, WV



In the beginning of July Union troops began pulling back across the Potomac as the Confederates move in. Elisha Manor wrote, “The Yankees are said to be at Cherry Run yet, or just across the River from it.”  During this campaign Confederate cavalry commander Colonel John D. Imboden spent time harassing Union forces along the B&O Railroad in the area of Fort Frederick. 

4th:  Imboden captured North Mountain Depot, WV. 

8th:  Lieutenant McClean of the U.S. Signal Corp, “…reported that there were only a few of the enemy in Hagerstown, but that Imboden with his entire force of about 3,000 was crossing at Cherry Run and coming in on the Clear Spring road.”  Not long after the Confederates moved north Union troops returned to the area but stayed on the Maryland side of the River.

8th: Charles H. Lynch of the 18th Connecticut Infantry reported his regiment was encamped at Cherry Run, MD, and is on picket duty.

9th:  Charles H. Lynch of the 18th Connecticut Infantry wrote in his diary, "This fine morning finds me on picket duty near Cherry run, Maryland.  Nothing Important occurred so far.  Late this afternoon relived from picket.  Ordered to join the regiment, it having left Cherry Run and advanced east along the railroad, towards Martinsburg."

27th:  General Averrell ordered Colonel Moore, “The general commanding directs me to say that your command will be required to watch the Potomac from Hancock to Dam Numbers 5. He wishes the fords and crossing places in the vicinity of McCoy's Ferry carefully guarded.”


1st:  Confederate troops were in Little Georgetown, WV opposite McCoy’s Ferry and Williamsport.  On this same day Confederates destroyed Back Creek Bridge, and crossed the Potomac near Fort Frederick.  

2nd:   Federal communications reported that Confederate General McCausland’s Cavalry was near McCoy’s Ferry, and were destroying the railroad and “Some picket-firing has occurred across the river at several points.”  After several days of demonstrations on the Virginia shore the Confederates moved into Maryland.  “Major Foley, Fourteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, reports from Clear Spring that enemy are crossing in considerable force at McCoy's Ferry with artillery.”  Some of those same Union troopers were captured by Confederates that day near Fort Frederick. 

4th:  General Averell reported, “Upon arrival at Bath I received a report from an officer commanding a patrol toward Hedgesville, that 3,000 infantry had crossed at Cherry Run, and were advancing up both sides of the canal toward Hancock; that our pickets at Millstone Point had been driven in.”

27th:   The last major alarm for Union troops guarding the upper Potomac River.  There were reports that the Confederates had crossed but they proved to be false.  There were Confederate troops in Cherry Run opposite Fort Frederick, and “made a slight demonstration this forenoon, but did not get across.” 


Union troops do not re-cross the Potomac.  Following the Confederate withdraw back to Virginia Union troops take control of the area around Fort Frederick until the wars end.