Tag Archives: Civil War

The Lincoln Connection

I realized as returned home tonight that it is not only the first day of Passover, not only a full lunar eclipse, but also the anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The connection to Montgomery County lies not with Lincoln himself (how I wish we could have had a story about his ghost in ISOMG), but one of the conspirators. So as John Wilkes Booth and others tried escaping to the south, one of the conspirators went north  and it’s his story, George Atzerodt’s story, that I am at liberty to tell.

George Atzerodt. Image from the Library of Congress

George Atzerodt. Image from the Library of Congress

Richter-King House and George Atzerodt

There is a somewhat new house in Germantown where mysterious things have happened.The owner, a policeman, feels the house shake every time he puts on his dress blues. Heavy footsteps are frequently heard going up the stairs. What could have happened to haunt this house?

The answer lies not in the house, but in where the house stands. It is on the foundation of an older house; a house with a history and fear. It was the Richter-King House in Germantown and it was host to George Atzerodt, one of the Lincoln conspirators.

The story actually begins on Friday, April 14th in Washington, DC. George Atzerodt met with John Wilkes Booth , Lewis Paine and Davy Herold to plan President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Booth’s plan was not just to murder Lincoln, but also Secretary of State William Seward and Vice-President Andrew Johnson. Each member of the group was given a task to do. The task of killing Vice President Johnson fell to Atzerodt.

Until that moment, Atzerodt thought he had agreed to be part of a plot to kidnap the President. He knew couldn’t go through with an assassination. He decided the best thing to do was to get out of town! His cousin, Ernest Hartman Richter had a farm in upper Montgomery County and Atzerodt thought Richter might take him in while he figured out what he should do next.

The next day was Easter Sunday. As Atzerodt traveled north he stopped for lunch. The subject of Lincoln’s assassination came up among the diners and he was drawn into the conversation. His contribution to the conversation seemed unusually knowledgeable to his fellow diners. So much so that it aroused the suspicions of everyone at the table. Without realizing he may have said too much, he continued on to his cousin’s where he hung out and helped with the farm chores.

Richter-King House. Image from the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission

Richter-King House. Image from the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission

On the morning of Wednesday, April 19 at 5:00 AM, Atzerodt was roughly awakened by a blue-clad soldier sticking a pistol in his face. His conversations about the assassination three days earlier at the farmhouse had come back to haunt him. Through a network of spies, the information had worked its way to the 1st Cavalry stationed at Monocacy Junction. Once under arrest, the military moved him to the Old Capitol Prison where he was eventually hung.

So those heavy footsteps are, no doubt, the soldiers coming to arrest Atzerodt. And it is Atzerodt’s spirit that shakes with fear knowing that the soldiers in blue are coming to get him.



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Filed under Civil War, Germantown

Headless Horseman of Game Preserve Road

2012-11-07_15-43-09_240Dorothy and I are frequently asked if the stories in our book are scary. By and large, we have pretty tame ghosts in Montgomery County: Lily who leaves the scent of lilacs and lip prints, Nanny who helped rock the babies, and Boo who was a playmate for the children of the house; these are just some of the friendly spirits that haunt the County. But there are a few stories that are scary. The Headless Horseman of Game Preserve Road is one such spirit.

Today, the Horseman haunts the stretch of track by the railroad bridge across Game Preserve Road. The ghost presumably predates the bridge, and the railroad, as it is attributed to a Civil War soldier who met an unfortunate end. (The Metropolitan Branch of the B & O Railroad didn’t come through Montgomery County until 1873.) He is also one of the few ghosts with a long, documented history. And so, while I won’t take the time here to tell you all the things that have happened on that unfortunate stretch of track (you can read the book for that), I will excerpt the 1876 article from the Montgomery Sentinel that first introduce me to this fearsome spirit:

2012-11-07_15-42-29_520Montgomery County Sentinel, 17 March 1876

The people in the neighborhood of Clopper’s Mill in this county have been very much excited for several weeks past by a mysterious occurrence which transpires nightly about 9½ o’clock upon the railroad bridge over Big Seneca Creek. It is reported by those who have witnessed the strange scene that about the hour named a lantern which is upon a post planted at the bridge is suddenly darkened, the light being entirely shut off and a flame like a flash of lightening shoots straight up into the air while another of a similar character flashes directly across the bridge.

We have not witnessed it as we know not whether it ‘be a spirit of health or goblin damned’ and do not care to trust yourself in the presence of such ‘questionable shapes’ but you who are not afraid of ghosts would doubtless be repaid for a visit to it. We hope that a solution of this affair will soon be discovered and a cause of terror be removed from the superstitions of that vicinity.

Postscript: Reader and local historian Jack Toomey sent more clarification regarding the viaduct seen in the picture above:

The photo used in the story is the viaduct or tunnel that allows Game Preserve Road to pass under the railroad tracks. It is not a “bridge”.

The bridge that is referred to in the Sentinel story was a long rickety wooden bridge that allowed the railroad to pass over the Seneca Creek valley. It was later replaced by a steel bridge and finally a viaduct that exists today. The foundations of the earlier bridges can be found in the woods along the creek.


Filed under Clopper, Gaithersburg

Wat Bowie and The Battle of Rickett’s Run

Shady Grove Metro Station

If an armed posse of Quakers seems a contradiction, then you have to hear the story of the Battle of Rickett’s Run.

When Dorothy and I were interviewed for the Gazette article, the reporter asked if any of the stories could have been a book all on its own. Of course, we thought of stories that told a good tale, those with more history. Now that I consider it, I think he might have meant stories with more haunting (you just can’t take the history out of an historian). One that I think is tailor made to become an adventure story is the Battle of Rickett’s Run. (Of course, in Montgomery County the term “battle,” is misleading.While we were the site of a number of small skirmishes, the closest thing to an actual battle was the Battle at Ft. Stevens, on the district line.)

Walter “Wat” Bowie

But I digress…So why do I have an image of the METRO Station at Shady Grove? This station was built over Rickett’s Run (a “run” is another name for a creek). It is here that Wat Bowie is said to walk, still perplexed at the events surrounding his death on October 7, 1864. And we are back to that odd posse of armed Quakers.

After an ill-planned attempt to kidnap the governor of Maryland, Bowie and his cohorts took a detour through Sandy Spring on their way to Poolesville. Thinking that a bunch of Quakers would do little to stop them, they decided to take a little time and loot Alpin Gilpin’s general store. How wrong they were! Gilpin, along with his friends and family went after the gang.

Catching up with Bowie, at the site of the Shady Grove METRO Station, the posse shot. but against experienced soldiers they broke and ran. The Confederates were too surprised by the Quakers to fight back effectively. When the smoke cleared, the only casualties were Bowie and a horse. To paraphrase the Annals of Sandy Spring, truth is stranger than fiction.

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The Battle of Ball’s Bluff and More on Baker – The Life of a Death

Death of Baker at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. Library of Congress.

Full-length portrait of Baker in uniform from the Library of Congress.

I hope you will excuse this longish post, but once started, I realized it needed to be a bit more than originally written. After my post on Col. Baker when I was in San Francisco, I began to wonder if there was a photographic record of his original gravestone. The current stone in the Military Cemetery at the Presidio was placed there in 1940, but he wasn’t originally buried there.  I was also intrigued with all the places where he has been memorialized. As often happens during a war, heroes emerge whose story is significant at the time, but eventually becomes an historical footnote. Their memory lives on mostly because of all the places that were named after them while their story was still fresh. (Montgomery County is one of many counties named after Richard Montgomery, a Revolutionary War hero, who is remembered mostly for all the places that were named for him after his death in 1775.) BUT then I realized that today, October 21, is the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, and so I had to say more.

Dorothy had the thankless task of writing the stories for Annington, the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, and the C & O Canal. These stories trip all over each other, and separating them into three distinct tales was a challenge. You see, while Baker died at Ball’s Bluff, he haunts Annington. The ghosts that were created out of the tragedy that was the Battle of Ball’s Bluff spilled over into the C & O Canal.

Ball’s Bluff Battlefield – stone marks where Baker died.

The Battle of Ball’s Bluff was a debacle. Ball’s Bluff is a steep cliff rising above the Potomac River in Loudon County, VA. The Confederates had the high ground. Baker should have called for a retreat, and was advised to do so by his subordinates. Perhaps it was being back on the battlefield after so many years, or hoping to take a decisive stand early in the war, but Baker pushed forward. It was a rout, with the Union wounded and dead clogging the Potomac. Baker, too, died, and was temporarily laid to rest at Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.. Then, after some negotiations, it was decided that California would get him even though he was a senator from Oregon. (He had been a lawyer in San Francisco before moving to Oregon.) After a lengthy train ride to San Francisco, with many stops for mourners to view him along the way, he reached Lone Mountain Cemetery (later renamed Laurel Hill Cemetery) in San Francisco. This was an appropriate place as Baker had given the dedication speech for the cemetery when it opened in 1854.

Baker Monument, Laurel Hill Cemetery. San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

In 1940, after it was decided to close Lone Mountain/Laurel Hill, Baker was moved to the Presidio, where his grave can be found at plot site OSD 488.

Meanwhile, how is Baker remembered? There are three forts named for him – a Fort Baker can be found in Washington, D.C., Nevada, and San Francisco.  In addition, San Francisco has Baker Beach and Baker Street. Also in California, Gray Eagle Creek was named for Baker – the “gray eagle of republicanism.” In Oregon, where Baker was senator, there is Baker County, Baker City, and Edward D. Baker Day (February 24). His likeness can be found in the U.S. Capitol and the Illinois State House, where he had practiced law.

With so many possible places to haunt, is it any wonder that Baker seems to have chosen Annington, the site of his last peaceful meal?

(A special thank you to Lorna Kirwan at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley who actually located the image for me.)

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Filed under Civil War, Poolesville

The James Trundle Farm / Huntview

This very haunted house is supposed to have been a hospital during the Civil War, a tale we researched diligently. It does, however, have a long history of ghostly activity with first-hand accounts going back more than sixty years. The horse stall pictured here was once the tack room, before the barn was enlarged, and where one of the sightings occurred. Is that an orb or a dust spot? You tell me!

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Filed under Poolesville