Dennis Frye Lecture in Hagerstown
We here in the Washington County area these days prior to the 150th Anniversary of Antietam and the Maryland Campaign are much in anticipation of this pending event. Every day the local paper contains articles about events both then and now.
Among these events was a presentation at my local Hagerstown Rotary Club by Harpers Ferry Park Historian Dennis Frye, speaking about all that is anticipated, along with his new book entitled “September Surprise: Lincoln’s Union in Peril.”
Dennis Frye spoke to our Club on Wednesday of last week – so that was on September 5th. He began by holding up a rock and asking if anyone knew what it was. It was a river stone that he had picked up that very morning from White’s Ford on the Potomac at the very spot and time when Robert E. Lee crossed into Maryland, with the bands playing the song “Maryland, My Maryland.”
Frye said, “Lee is proving that Lincoln and the Republicans don’t know how to execute this war – a conflict that was supposed to last but 90 days. Lee knows that the mid-term elections will result in the Congress likely going to the Democrats. The key to winning the Civil War was not going to happen on the battlefield; it was going to be decided in an election. On this week in 1862 in Maine, voting has already started. November was the LAST day one could vote. The Democrats would control appropriations in the House, cut off war spending, etc.”
“So this was Lincoln’s most difficult time. Lincoln would probably say his worst day – apart from letting his wife drag him to the theatre on 4/14/1865 – was 9/11/1862. Lee’s arrival in Hagerstown made our city became prominent in the halls of the White House and in the mind of Abraham Lincoln. The worst was about to happen. Lee had arrived with an invading army … they are not stopping here, but going to PA… using Hagerstown as a launch pad to end the Union. Lee is undefeated; he is poised to pounce over the Mason-Dixon line. Lincoln has no troops to stop Lee. There are none in PA.”
“The Governor of Pennsylvania would send this message to Lincoln on 9/11 … ‘I have information this evening of a private character, which I deem entirely reliable, that the whole of the rebel army has been moved from Frederick, and their destination is Harrisburg and Philadelphia. You should order a strong guard placed upon the railway lines from Washington to Harrisburg to-night, and send here not less than 80,000 disciplined forces … It is our only hope to save the North and crush the rebel army. Do not suppose for one instant that I am unnecessarily alarmed … The enemy will bring against us not less than 120,000, with large amount of artillery. The time for decided action by the National Government has arrived. What may we expect?’”
“So this was another 9/11 full of emotion. We FEEL this date, and they then FELT the same sorts of emotions.”
“Hagerstown is the focus not only of the nation, but of the world (England and France) … We were unwilling hosts … We did not ask 135,000 to come … They did not bring economic benefit … They brought us death and graves.”
Frye spoke of his book, saying that having lived here he wanted to write something very different … and that he did so using the last great untapped source for Civil War research – newspapers.
If you ever have a chance to hear Frye speak – do it, as he is very engaging and presents material in a passionate style.