One hundred and fifty years ago today, when the untested and hastily trained men of the Fourteenth Connecticut set foot upon Chain Bridge to cross the Potomac into Maryland, they knew their mission was to pursue the Rebel forces under Gen. Robert E. Lee, and probably fight their first battle. But death would not wait for them to close with the Confederate Army. The very next day near Rockville, MD, James McVay, an older soldier in Company K, died of heat exhaustion. Two of his sons also marched in the same company, and both would serve faithfully, without major injury, until the end of the war.
The order of march placed the new recruits of the Fourteenth alongside the hardened veterans of the Irish Brigade, and the Irish were merciless in their taunting of the Connecticut men, dressed as they were in new, unfaded uniforms. The veterans “called them blue-legged devils and assured them they would not be seen for the dust they would kick up getting away from Bobbie Lee once he got after them.” (Charles Page)
On September 11, they passed through Clarksburg, MD, and camped on the same ground Lee”s men had occupied just two nights before. As they marched on the signs of their foe grew more numerous and more sobering—homes burned and ruined, crop fields looted and trampled, broken down military equipment, dead and unburied horses and mules.
While marching through Frederick, MD on Saturday, September 13, they passed a building where some Rebel prisoners were being held. “What regiment is that?” one of the Rebels asked. “The 14th Wooden Nutmeg,” one of the Connecticut boys answered. “You”ll soon get your heads grated,” the Rebel replied. (Charles Page)
As the men encamped that evening just west of Frederick, they may have seen the sun set behind the Blue Ridge, which in Maryland north of the Potomac was known as South Mountain. But what they couldn’t see or know as they closed their eyes in exhausted sleep was that Gen. Lee had devised a hot reception for the boys in blue atop that ridge.