Letters of Charles H. Russell, 1st Maryland Cavalry
Charles H. Russell, born in Connecticut in 1827, was the Presbyterian minister in Williamsport, Maryland at the outbreak of the Civil War. He raised a cavalry company, and was commissioned as a Captain in the 1st Cavalry Regiment Virginia (Union) on 5 August 1861. “Russell’s cavalry” was mentioned often in the Hagerstown Herald of Freedom and Torch Light at the time of the skirmishes at Dam 5 and the bombardment of Hancock.
On January 28, 1862 the company was transferred into Company I, 1st Maryland Cavalry Regiment. Several of the letters in this collection addressed to Ward Lamon are pleas for Lamon to use his influence with President Lincoln to move the company back to the Virginia regiment. He complained that Lieut. Col Miller, who was in command, was a “miserable drunkard.” Russell was to remain with the Maryland Regiment for the next two years.
Russell was active in the local arena of the war. He was at Harpers Ferry in September 1862 when Stonewall Jackson was threatening to take the town. Colonel Dixon Miles’ federal troops were surrounded by Jackson’s men on September 13. The Confederate infantry had seized the crests of Maryland and Loudoun Heights, but Miles felt he could hold out for 48 hours. He wanted someone to alert the federal forces in Frederick. On the night of the 13th, he ordered Captain Charles H. Russell, 1st Maryland Cavalry, to pass through the Confederate noose and “try to reach somebody that had ever heard of the United States Army, or any general of the United States Army, or anybody that knew anything about the United States Army, and report the condition of Harpers Ferry.” Russell was selected because he knew the area. He and nine men from his company made their way to Frederick County and found McClellan (Frye).
Russell Memorial, Rose Hill Cemetery
Shortly after the fighting began at Antietam, General McClellan dispatched Captain Russell with his company of the 1st Maryland Cavalry to Williamsport to burn the pivot bridge across the canal at Lock No. 44 and to destroy the Conococheague Aqueduct in an effort to cut one of Lee’s avenues of retreat. With the aid of some Pennsylvania militiamen who were holding the town, Russell’s men destroyed the pivot bridge, organized demolition teams, and burned eleven boats, nine of which were loaded with coal, that had been forced to tie up at Williamsport. Unable to materially damage the sturdy masonry of the aqueduct, Russell’s troops returned to the battlefield and the Pennsylvanians withdrew to Hagerstown (Unrau).
Following these actions in the Maryland Campaign Russell was promoted to full Major on 9 October 1862. He was active at Gettysburg and Brandy Station and other encounters. For further details see Dick Ebersole’s essay.
With the imminent death of his first wife, Russell resigned in December 1863 and returned to Connecticut. His second wife was also from Hagerstown. Both wives, Annie E. Russell who died 2 February 1864 and Anna S. Russell who died 24 October 1888
were named on a monument in Rose Hill Cemetery, Hagerstown. Russell did not act as a minister in Connecticut but was a grocer. When he died in Bridgeport, Connecticut on February 26 1895 he too was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, Hagerstown.
Frye, Dennis. Stonewall Jackson's Triumph at Harpers Ferry, Civil War Trust.
Unrau, H. D., & Gray, K. M. (2007). Historic resource study: Chesapeake & Ohio Canal , Hagerstown, Md: U.S. Dept. of Interior, National Park Service, Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park
|Western Maryland Regional Library is most grateful to Dick Ebersole for his research on Charles H. Russell and to Tim Snyder for making available the letters on microfilm. The original letters are part of the Ward H. Lamon Papers (mssLN1-2470) housed at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California, and are used with permission. Thanks too to Peter Traskey, who assisted with transcription and notes on the named officers.
The illustration at the top of the page is Alfred Waud's Shenandoah Valley from Maryland Heights, courtesy of the Library of Congress.