“Melancholy Casualty” – The Civil War in Downtown Frederick

During hours spent poring through the records placed online by the excellent Crossroads of War website, I’ve come across numerous stories that have resonated with me.

Recently, however, a different set of stories have stood out. I’ve lived in Downtown Frederick for a little over a year know and spend a significant amount of time along the mix of residential and religious buildings of 2nd Street. In my occasional jaunts through the newspapers records of the Frederick Examiner, I’ve come to realize that this small stretch of downtown experienced the American Civil War’s wide array of horrors and intrigues in miniature.

Its buildings were used as hospitals. Many of its residents supported the Union, while others went south and took up arms for the Confederacy. It witnessed horrific, intimate violence and political intrigue. It also saw scenes of love, mercy, and healing –  intense emotional moments and searing images that imprinted themselves upon resident and visitor alike.

In “The Civil War in Downtown Frederick” posts, I’ll be briefly shining a light on a few of these events that highlight an element of the experience endured by those who lived through our country’s bloodiest moments.

Our first post takes us to the northwest corner of the intersection of North Market and 2nd streets on a cold winter evening. There’s a scuffle among men, all wearing the blue uniforms of Union soldiers.


The loud report of a pistol fired in the valley created by rows of two and three-story buildings.

A body falls in the street.

From the Frederick Examiner, February 19, 1862:



As Private Doyle, of the Third Wisconsin Regiment, whilst in discharge of his duty as one of the Provost Guard, on last Friday night [February 14, 1862], was taking two soldiers, whom he had arrested, to the Guard House, an attempt to rescue them was made by Private Thompson of the First Potomac Home Brigade.

Thompson was very violent and threatening, and finally drew his pistol upon Doyle, when the latter fired his revolver, the ball taking effect in Thompson’s right breast.

The affair took place on the N.W. Corner of Market and Second Streets – Thompson instantly turned to run up the sidewalk, but after proceeding a few paces, reeled into the street, where he fell and expired.

In the melee, Doyle’s prisoners escaped and he went to the Guard House, and reported the circumstances. A squad of men was detailed to bring in the dead body, and an investigation was had by the Court-martial on the following day, which fully exculpated Doyle.

No arrest or requisition for Doyle has been made by the civil authorities, as far as we can learn. The above are the circumstances of this melancholy affair, as far as we have been able to gather them; but we do not know all the particulars.

The 3rd Wisconsin had the unenviable task of keeping order in a city occupied by more than 10,000 citizen-soldiers experiencing their first winter away from home. In the army camps that surrounded the 8,000 residents of Frederick, drinking became an occupation of many. It masked the boredom of camp life, the homesickness, and the uncertainty for the future.

General Orders #76 was issued in late January 1862 by General Nathaniel P. Banks. It banned the sale of “intoxicating liquors” to Union soldiers. (Crossroads of War)

In these first months at war, a soldier need not look far to find a source of booze. While nominally illegal under the martial law upheld by the Wisconsin soldiers under Colonel Thomas Ruger, Fredericktonians continually proffered up whiskey or lager to soldiers with money in their pockets and time to kill.

Provost Marshal of Frederick, Maryland – Colonel Thomas Ruger, 3rd Wisconsin Volunteers (Library of Congress)

Fights. Arrests. Murder.

These were the inevitable results in a city surrounded by young, well-armed men with too much time on their hands. The death of Private Thompson was to be one of many that occurred in a city on the border of a war zone. He would be far from the last to die in Downtown Frederick, far from the battlefields of the Blue and Gray.

Stay tuned for more stories from Frederick, Maryland’s Civil War experiences. 

Photo at Top: Intersection of Second and Market streets in Downtown Frederick. Photo courtesy of Frederick Tour.

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