Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Colossians 3:15

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cumberland's Confederate history sure to fascinate

Published in Cumberland Times-News Monday, July 27, 2009.

Opposition to education about the Confederate flag is misguided. Knowledge about our Confederate heritage is important, in classrooms and the community.

The Confederate flag flew over Cumberland only once, when Union occupiers briefly retreated, but Southern sympathies ran deep.

Slavery was the states’ rights issue that led to the Civil War. A turning point was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. It permitted the South to expand slavery into new territories. The Republican Party formed in opposition and soon was the voice and force of the North.

Abraham Lincoln enunciated the North’s position on “slavery agitation” in his 1858 debates with Stephen Douglas. Then between Lincoln’s November 1860 election and his March 1861 inauguration as president, seven states seceded. (Maryland planned to join them.) The following year, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Confederate activities in Cumberland and Maryland and oppression under Union occupation come home in The McKaig Journal.

Public interest surrounded the 1984 publication of this Civil War-era diary. Now just one generation past, the Journal is forgotten, and our Civil War heritage is maligned. Perhaps The McKaig Journal should be required reading in Allegany County schools.

Cumberland’s place in the Civil War is certain to fascinate any history teacher. Students might engage in thoughtful discussion about ancestors who could have been among the 800-or-so slaves in Allegany County, or who might have fought either with the North or South in the Battle between the States.

Published by the Allegany County Historical Society, with a grant from the 350th Maryland Birthday Committee, The McKaig Journal was penned between 1851 and 1866 by Priscilla Beall McKaig and her husband, Cumberland businessman William Wallace McKaig.

In the introduction, Michael Mudge recounts events that escalated, after the April 12, 1861 battle at Fort Sumter, to poise Maryland to secede in September. Leading the delegation in that direction (until his arrest by Union troops in Cumberland on August 26) was Mrs. McKaig’s brother-in-law, State Senator Thomas Jefferson McKaig.

President Lincoln squelched Maryland’s secession, because it endangered the federal capital. On September 11, he ordered all the legislators’ arrests.

Mudge elucidates President Lincoln’s decision to station up to 8,000 federal troops at Campobello (the site of Allegany High School) on June 8, 1861, and to put the entire state under martial law.

Mrs. McKaig, who had two sons Confederate officers and another a prisoner of war, was banished from town for three months. The “underground railroad” that passed through our countryside went above board, as slave catchers in Cumberland lost their jobs, and Negro house servants and farm workers fled freely to Pennsylvania.

Communications went underground, as “ladies whose hearts were with the South” operated a secret Confederate post office in the rear of a store on Baltimore Street. They also donated money and provisions to Confederate soldiers who were on their way to prison in Ohio.

Mudge mentions Constance Cary, who left Cumberland prior to the occupation to go to the estate of her grandmother, Lady Fairfax, in Alexandria. Her two cousins, who faced arrest in Baltimore, joined her there. The trio was popular in Richmond for singing “My Maryland,” which memorializes the first Confederate blood shed in the streets of Baltimore on April 19, 1861.

Mudge writes of the Cary cousins: “upon the (Confederate) War Department’s approval of the design by General Pierre G. T. Beauregard, these three Maryland belles completed the first three Confederate battle flags.” Beauregard was one of three Confederate generals to receive them.

While Allegany County filled Union ranks, as well, Mudge notes, its sympathies were Confederate. Let’s know and honor our heritage.