Friday, July 11, 2008

Brothers in Arms

Left: Confederate artillery battery, 1863.

On the bright spring morning of May 18, 1863, a group of Marylanders, far from home, stood watchfully at a bend in the Mississippi River. It was a carefully-chosen spot where the rapid current would draw steamboats close to shore, and where a clump of thick brush at the water's edge hid the men and their four powerful cannons that sat loaded and aimed across the water, packed with canister shot and explosive shells. The artillerymen picked ripe blackberries among the brambles while they waited.

They did not have to wait long. A sidewheeler steamboat soon hove into view. She was the Crescent City, a big vessel that in peacetime plied the route between Memphis and New Orleans. Now pressed into service as a troop transport, her tiered decks were blue with soldiers of the U.S. Army - packed as thickly as daytrippers on a pleasure outing, eyewitnesses later recalled. As the Crescent City, followed closely by five more vessels, rounded the bend, the Confederate gunners opened fire. The effects of their close-range canister shot - deadly fragments of metal designed to kill and maim in as wide a swath as possible - on the crowded, unsuspecting men can probably be better imagined than described.

One of the Marylanders manning the Confederate guns that morning was Albert T. Emory, born and raised at Poplar Grove, Queen Anne's County.

That morning, 300 miles or so down the same river, Albert's older brother, William H. Emory, was commanding some of the Union soldiers struggling for control of the Mississippi. For all that Albert knew, he could have been firing canister shot against his brother's own troops - or even against his brother himself.

In the Emory family, as we are gradually discovering, the Civil War cliché of "brother against brother" is neither a cliché nor even a metaphor. It is quite literally true.

The discovery that William H. Emory, the famous Union commander, had a brother fighting on the Confederate side came to light just this week. It is not mentioned in William's biographies. Oddly, the official family genealogies state that Albert Troup Emory, born in 1821 (ten years younger than William), died in 1854. But this week, thanks to some wonderful new Readex newspaper databases that Washington College has just acquired, I found Albert's obituary from the Baltimore Sun (right) dated almost half a century later - March 27, 1896. The article's biographical details made it clear that this was the same man - and also mentioned his active service in the Confederate Army.

That reference, in turn, quickly led me to a postwar memoir by the captain of the Third Maryland Artillery, CSA (also known as Ritter's Battery). It noted that one of the unit's sergeants was "Albert T. Emory, of Queen Anne's county, Md." By way of further confirmation, the captain mentioned that Sgt. Emory was "a relative of General Emory, of the United States army." Far from being a secret, Albert's close family tie to a prominent Union officer seems to have been a matter of interest, perhaps even a source of pride, among his rebel comrades.

The Third Maryland Artillery, histories note, was one of the few Maryland Confederate units to serve in the Western theatre of the war. It was also "one of the most traveled units in the Civil War, seeing action in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee." The 90-odd Marylanders participated in the battles of Vicksburg, Resaca, Atlanta, and Nashville, along with many lesser clashes.

Albert and William - among eleven siblings who lived to adulthood - had at least two other brothers with Confederate leanings. John Register Emory (1818-1880) served as a delegate to the States Rights' Convention in Baltimore in 1861, a gathering that pushed unsuccessfully for Maryland to secede. Frederick Emory (1829-1901?), the family's black sheep (more on him later) was a "Border Ruffian" in Kansas shortly before the war, terrorizing and even murdering abolitionist settlers. At the end of his life, he lived in a Confederate veterans' home; further research may confirm his wartime service.

Moreover, William, the Union general, experienced another family division that struck even closer to home.

In 1861, William had two sons of military age, Campbell and Thomas. Campbell, a freshly-minted West Point graduate, joined the Union Army and was brevetted for gallantry at Petersburg. Thomas, a medical student in Richmond, was commissioned an assistant surgeon in the Confederate Navy and served aboard one of the most famous rebel raiders of the war, the CSS Florida. After his ship's capture, in 1864, he was marched as a prisoner through the streets of his own hometown, Washington, D.C. In the Emory family, then, it was not just brother against brother, but also son against father.

Present-day historians are sometimes all-too-fond of reducing people from the past into neat categories defined rigidly by class, race, region, and the like. But family stories like this one restore their individuality and free will. What motivated some of the Emory men - despite their similar backgrounds and upbringings - to fight for the North, while others went South? Did it have to do with their particular political leanings, their temperaments, their friendships and enmities, their ambitions and opportunities? What made some Americans turn weapons of death against their own flesh and blood?

We hope that the documents may continue to provide clues.

(The description of the Third Maryland Battery and its ambush of the steamer Crescent City is based on William W. Goldsborough, The Maryland Line in the Confederate Army, 1861-1865 [Baltimore, 1900]; also W.H. Ritter, "Sketch of the Third Battery of Maryland Artillery," Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. X [July, 1882]. The divisions within the Emory family go wholly unmentioned in the recent scholarly biography by L. David Norris et al., William H. Emory, Soldier-Scientist [University of Arizona Press, 1998], as well as in other accounts of Gen. Emory's life.)


Anonymous said...

Have you noticed that Jefferson Davis's grand mother is a Maria Emory, from Philidelphia?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

try again:
Evan DAVIS, Jr.
Husband: Evan DAVIS, Jr.
Birth: 1729, prob. Philadelphia, Philadelphia Co., PA
Death: 1756-62, prob. GA
Transhumance: ca. 1750, to SC
Transhumance: bef. 1755/6, to GA
Father: Evan DAVIS, Sr.
Mother: Mary __?__
Marriage: ca. 1754/5
Wife: Mary EMORY
Other spouse: m1. Mr. WILLIAMS

Adam Goodheart said...

Yes, I've wondered about that. Jefferson Davis was certainly close to William H. Emory and well acquainted with others in the family, too (more on that soon).

Were they cousins? Maybe. The original immigrant Emory in the 17th century had three wives and at least seven surviving children, therefore *many* descendants ... and the family’s early genealogy is very hard to unravel. However, by the time you get to the generation of JD and WHE the kinship would have had to be distant. And if it existed, the two may not have been aware of it (Davis's grandmother Emory died 40 years before he was born) so it might not be significant to history (as opposed to genealogy) in any case.

Ann said...

I show a death date of Frederick Emory as 5/20/1901. He died in Higginsville, MO.

Dolle said...

As a 1964 graduate of Washington College, it will be interesting to see how the recently located documents connect with my ancestrial family, Francis Sellers of Hillsboro Maryland. His home dates from 1790 and several of his children married Emorys from Queen Anne's County and are buried in the "family" cementery in Hillsboro. There is a strong Sellers connection with the very early Methodist Church circuit riders. Jessie Lee became ill and died at the family home during the typhoid epidemic that also killed several family members at the beginning of the 19th century.

Elizabeth Dolle Sellers Brown '64

Jim Schelberg said...


I am almost positive I've ran across a few letters that mention the Sellers. Whether it was to, from or just referring to your family, I don't remember. And actually, this is probably of little help because I can't even remember in which Emory's papers I was saw them in!

Anonymous said...

A Captain Frederick Emory was one of 10 escorts of the Confederate Treasury. All had ties to Jefferson Davis. I wonder was this the same Frederick Emory the border ruffian? Was the Author Frederick Emory the same person?

Anonymous said...

could not figure out the idenity part. The anonymous was the result. Concerning Capt Fred Emory contact Jeff Sarvey