In early September, 1862, Robert E. Lee wrote a letter to Confederate President Jefferson Davis announcing that the strategic and tactical situation was such that it was "the most propitious time since the commencement of the war to enter Maryland". With that announcemt to Davis, Lee officially put on paper what he had already started. For the first time in its history, the Army of Northern Virginia was moving across the Potomac. But therein lay a dilemma: Maryland, while north of the Potomac, was also south of the Mason-Dixon line. Therefore, she was a Southern state, at least in name.
Lee's ragged veterans crossing the Potomac those days of early September did so with joyous hearts, even though their general had marched them out of their uniforms and during the previous weeks of campaigning and beyond quick reach of their commissary wagons. They crossed the Potomac near Leesburg, Va., at White's Ford and at other fordable points. Most columns either sang "Maryland, My Maryland" until they were hoarse or had the tune blared at them by their regimental bands as they crossed.
One of the first large-scale Confederate units to cross the Potomac was the division commanded by Major General Daniel Harvey Hill of North Carolina. Hill's division, a combination of North Carolina, Alabama and Georgia troops, crossed into Maryland on September 4-5. The troops commanded by Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson followed the lead of Hill's men into Maryland, with the lovely "many-spired" town of Frederick as the first main objective of the Confederates in the state. However, in the movement, one of Hill's brigades was "lost". But was it?
Dr. Joe Harsh, in his masterful book "Taken at the Flood: Robert E Lee and Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862", points out the North Carolina brigade commanded by Brig. General George Burgwyn Anderson had remained behind while their comrades crossed the river. They had a mission to harass Federal outposts across the river in what is now Brunswick, but then known as Berlin, Maryland. Their goal was to disrupt the B & O Railway, the C & O Canal and in general alarm any Federal forces which might be present. Hill's other brigades crossed the river at three or four different points and, in addition to the railroad and canal work, were instructed to try to destroy the aqueduct carrying the C & O Canal over the Monocacy River.
Anderson's brigade's orders to march to the river but not cross and harass the Federals in Berlin with artillery fire is borne out by an eyewitness account from Sgt. J. W. Shinn of Company B, Fourth Regiment, Volunteer Infantry, North Carolina State Troops. In the excerpt below, Shinn had just written about the regiment tramping through Lovettsville, also known as "The German Settlement", and which was a Union area:
"In the centre of the place was a tall pole from which floated the "Stars & Stripes" a few hours before but which was torn down on our approach. The place is union -- we marched down near the river opposite Berlin, MD & camped for the night on a high hill near a splendid orchard of pears & apples & we had plenty of fruit. Put out a picket guard & lay down to sleep, but about 10 oclock as we all expected we were ordered to cook a days rations. The orderlies of each Co were ordered to report the men present & draw rations, we reported the fact that most of the men refused to cook preparing to live on what they had, for another day. This was reported to Gen Anderson & no flour was issued & we prepared to sleep again. We had been marching all day & cooking all night until we were worn out so the word was sent to the Gen that we would soon have to quit marching or eating & that we could not afford to quit either. We drew bacon & carried it raw in our haversacks. Sept 6th -- A beautiful Morning! From the pickets we learned that the Yanks were busy all night just across the river at Berlin. We could hear the cars on the Balto & Ohio Ry. & our object being gained in morning up the river (namely, to once the Yanks across if they had not already crossed). The only force that moved on the Va side of the river was Anderson's Brigade, our artillery Co a few cavalry. By an hour by sun we were on the march retracing our steps. We marched as far back as Lovestville. Thence down the river to Cheats Ford where we expected to cross. All our baggage &C & men left at Leesburg were ordered to meet us there we were halted in a beautiful grove about half hour, by sun, pretty tired for we had marched along a very rough mountainous road…. We were truely grateful to the "mountain lasses" for these attentions when we passed through Lovetsville this morn we cut their union pole down but disturbed the people in no other way, except that our excellent band played 'Dixie.' Sept 7th -- Early this morning we took up the line of march for the river. At the banks of the beautiful Potomac we halted & prepared to wade to the Maryland side. By the time the "4th" had set foot in the water the sun had risen & was shining upon the by lympid waters as it gently rolled on towards its ocean home causing its nappled surface to sparkle with the brillancey of a sea of silver, studded with diamonds, set in dancing beds of burnished gold. Our band had preceded us & soon we heard the moving melting notes of "My Maryland" sounding upon the still air & sending a thrill of emotion through every heart. The scene was one of grand & magnificent interest. By 10 our brigade was in Md. for weal or for woe to us. We would soon know what Maryland would do. Whether she was so thoroughly tired of Lincoln's rule, as many would have us believe. Our forces were near Frederick City & we marched in that direction through a fine thickly settled country splendid farms & houses were plenty, but we saw little symptoms of "secesh". We crossed the Balto & O Ry. camped in a fine grove for the night, near a very large spring of good water. Before we came to the Ry we marched through a very small town on the Map of Md. called Buckeystown, no signs of secesh there - in fact the houses were all shut up & nearly all the people we saw looked as if they had last a dear friend. All the signs we saw of secesh were two ladies that hurrahed for "Jeff Davis". Soon after we halted, 1 days rations of flour was issued or rather what was meant for flour, nothing but shot full of worms, but we were hungry & shut our eyes & pitched in. The boys only laughed & said the big worms only helped to shorten the biscuits. We got bacon which helped some. Some of the boys were cooking all night again. All appeared to be in a good humor & were very cheerful."
And so, for the boys of the Fourth North Carolina—a regiment which would, in less than a fortnight, be plunged into some of the most horrific fighting it had ever experienced (or would experience) during the War—the adventure began.