The Civil War in Montgomery County, Maryland

As the Civil War unfolded across our nation in the 1860s, the residents of Montgomery County lived in a war zone. Strategically located next to the District of Columbia, Montgomery County and the State of Maryland were vitally important to the security of our nation’s capital. Residents of the county were impacted in many ways, with thousands of soldiers from both sides passing through the area, raids by small Confederate bands, missing young men gone to fight, spying and smuggling that made trusting your neighbor difficult, a lack of staples as the war progressed, and the sound of cannon fire from across the river that created a tension felt by all.

In the midst of this, martial law was imposed throughout Maryland. This meant checkpoints to pass through, curfews, passes required for travel to certain places, seemingly random arrests of citizens, seizures of property, and citizens required to obey the orders of soldiers rather than civil law.

Maryland was a slave-holding state until November 1, 1864, when the Maryland Constitution was amended to outlaw slavery. Of Montgomery County’s approximately 18,000 residents in 1860, 10,500 were whites, 5,421 were enslaved, and 1,552 were free blacks. The state and county debated secession throughout 1861 but never reached consensus on the issue.

For four long years, from 1861-1865, Americans fought Americans, struggling to define the meaning of freedom for this country. As a result, America became one nation dedicated to the proposition of freedom and equal opportunity for all—a challenge we still strive to meet today.