The Maryland Agricultural College (MAC), the forerunner of the University of Maryland at College Park, had been in actual operation for only two years when the Civil War broke out. Chartered in 1856 by the Maryland Legislature, it was one of the first agricultural research colleges in the country. Diminished agricultural yields led the southern Maryland planter class to push for a college to advance "scientific agriculture." The college began operations in 1859 on 428 acres of land near Bladensburg owned by Charles Benedict Calvert, the leader of a group of Maryland planters who had helped secure a state charter for the school. The school's initial student body consisted of 34 students.
Sandwiched in between Washington and the the North, this slave holding border state would have to be forcibly held into the Union. While some parts of the state were strongly pro-Union, particularly the northwestern areas, Prince George's County and other southern counties had a number of slaveholders, most of whom harbored sympathy for the Southern cause. At least 16 of the college's first 24 trustees were slave owners. Furthermore, at least five of these trustees were arrested for disloyalty or had to flee the state to avoid detention.
|Maj Joseph Hart Chenoworth|
(Lemuel Chenoworth House)
Although many of the students and faculty of the agricultural college were southern sympathizers, the college continued to operate during the war despite the turmoil engulfing Maryland and the nation. It graduated its first class in July 1862. The federal government did consider commandeering the college for a 500 bed military hospital, but this never came to pass. Due to its proximity to Washington and a key B&O railroad route, there was a significant Union army presence near the campus. For example, an editorial in the Washington National Republican in September 1861 complained of drunken soldiers in nearby Bladensburg and the need for the Provost Marshal to enforce the prohibition of alcohol sales to soldiers.
Samuel Boyer Davis, a student in the college's starting class and nephew of Confederate Major General Isaac Trimble, briefly served as the acting commander of the notorious Andersonville POW camp in Georgia. Late in the war, he couriered Confederate messages to Canada, but was arrested in Ohio as a spy when recognized by former Union POWs. Only high-level intervention and a last minute presidential commutation of his sentence saved him from the scaffolds.
John Merryman, a college trustee and prominent Baltimore County farmer, was arrested in May 1861 by military authorities for allegedly burning railroad bridges north of Baltimore. With the suspension of habeas corpus in Maryland, Merryman was detained at Ft. McHenry by the military despite the lack of a warrant. His case, Ex Parte Merryman, would lead to a critical constitutional challenge when Union authorities ignored Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney's writ ordering them to bring Merryman before him. Merryman was released later that summer. In the 1870s, he served as state treasurer and a a term in the House of Delegates.
Just as the war pitted the proverbial "brother versus brother," there were at least nine Maryland Agricultural College students who answered Lincoln's call to save the Union. Rudolph B. Hitz attended the school from 1861 to 1863 before dropping out to receive medical training and serve as a Union Army surgeon.
(Archives of Saint James School)
|Charles B. Calvert. (Library of Congress)|
After the war, the Maryland Agricultural College had to overcome significant financial hurdles and a reputation, whether justified or not, as having welcomed Confederate raiders with open arms. A lasting Civil War legacy for the University of Maryland was the 1862 Morrill Land-Grant College Act. Despite this government support and the sale of some of campus property, the college faced financial difficulties and briefly shut down in 1866 before receiving further state assistance.
The Maryland legislature stipulated that it may withhold funds from the school "in case of the occupancy of the professorship or presidency of said college by any man who has been in the confederate army." Despite this admonition, the college's Board of trustees hired a series of presidents who had served the Confederacy. They even went as far as offering the position to George Washington Custis Lee, the son of Robert E. Lee, who declined it following public outcry. Through this period, the university suffered from "frequent changes in leadership, fluctuating enrollment, financial problems and curricular change."
Franklin Buchanan, the senior most Confederate naval officer, served as the college's president from 1868-69. Buchanan brought higher-ed administrative experience with him, having served as the first superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy before the Mexican War.(Library of Congress)
A College Divided: Maryland Agricultural College and the Civil War
Audrey Armistead Ruckert Reception Foyer, Hornbake Library, First Floor,University of Maryland, College Park, MD
August 31, 2011 – July 15, 2012
Regular foyer hours: Mon-Thurs 8am-10pm, Fri 8am-6pm, Sat 12noon-5pm, Sun 1pm-10pm
Baltimore Sun, August 20, 1862.
Callcott, George H. A History of the University of Maryland. Baltimore, MD: Maryland Historical Society, 1966.
"Calvert, Charles Benedict," Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
Davis, Samuel B, Escape of a Confederate Officer From Prison, What He Saw at Andersonville. Norfolk, Virginia: The Landmark Publishing Company,. 1892.
Knowing Our History: African American Slavery & The University of Maryland, 2009.