by James Rada, Jr.
The Mount During the Civil War
In the years leading up to the Civil War, Mount St. Mary’s College enjoyed prosperity. The college celebrated its golden anniversary in 1858, and student enrollment was around 200 young men.
“The Mount was thriving, as was most of the South thriving before the Civil War,” Father Michael Roach, said on the DVD Mount St. Mary’s: The Spirit Continues…
This changed with the outbreak of war in 1860. The school lost student and faculty who were sympathetic to the southern cause. The college had to support southern students who stayed behind because funds from their parents could not make it north. The college’s expenses increased while its income fell. In the 1859-1860 school year, Mount St. Mary’s had 173 students, not including the seminarians. Two years later, the enrollment had fallen to 67 students, its lowest number in 50 years.
Mount President John McCaffrey was known for his Confederate sympathies and refused to let the U.S. flag fly. “When Lincoln was shot, Federal orders were issued ‘for every house to display some sign of mourning. An officer visited the college, but there was no sign visible,’ until Dr. McCaffrey produced ‘a small piece of crepe’ on a door which had been opened back so that it would not be visible until closed,” according to the Emmitsburg Chronicle.
McCaffrey may have represented both the prevailing sentiment of the campus and the county. Steve Whitman, associate professor of history at the Mount, said on the DVD. “McCaffrey eventually, and some of his professors, were monitored, observed, by President Lincoln’s loyalty police. These were men appointed all over the country to keep an eye on folks who might be or were suspected of being Confederate sympathizers.”
It should not be surprising that the prevailing sympathies on campus were predominantly southern, since more than half of the students before the war had been from the South.
Though Confederate in his sympathies, McCaffrey was not hostile to the Union. A Pennsylvania officer wrote, “Two miles from Emmitsburg we passed Mount Saint Mary’s and taking advantage of a moment’s halt a party of three or four rode up to the main entrance… We were cordially received by the president and with characteristic hospitality a collation was in preparation for us.”
After the battle of Antietam in September 1862, six of the seven seniors remaining in the school slipped away to visit the battlefield. When they returned three days later, McCaffrey expelled them. However, within a month, he changed his mind and reinstated them.
In the spring of 1863, Union soldiers arrested Mount student Maurice Burn for sedition. Burn, who was from Louisiana, had written his father and expressed his southern sympathies. Burn was jailed when he refused to sign an oath of loyalty to the Union. McCaffrey wrote Lincoln pleading Burn’s case, and the youth was released to McCaffrey’s custody.
That year, the college also held an early graduation in order to get the students away from the area. A troop build-up had been seen, and the faculty believed the students would be safer with their families. The battle turned out to be Gettysburg.
Three students were killed during the war, according to Mount St. Mary’s: The Spirit Continues… One of those young men was Maurice Burn. Those young men were buried at the college cemetery on the mountain.
Picture shows the student body at the Mount in July 1863.