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The Interrupted Studies of Lt. Arthur Markell

By Austin Williams, 5th Virginia Co. A

History, including that of the Civil War, has a tendency to focus on the extremes of human behavior. Battle histories are filled with accounts of heroes leading the charge and cowards shirking in the rear. Often lost, however, are the stories of those who just wanted to get by, survive the war, and return to their life as it once was.

Entry for Lt. Markell on the Muster Roll of 5th Virginia, Co. A

When war came to Virginia in early 1861, nineteen-year-old Arthur Senseny Markell left behind his studies at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia and returned to his home in Winchester. There, on April 18, he enlisted in a local militia unit, the Marion Rifles. Within days Markell and his company marched to Harper’s Ferry, where they were enrolled for active service and soon became Company A of the Fifth Virginia Infantry. Markell, finding himself elected a First Lieutenant, moved east in July with his regiment to Manassas, where they won immortal fame standing like a stone wall.1

Markell’s military career, however, was to be short-lived. He was placed under arrest near the end of 1861 and cashiered by a court martial on January 29, 1862, although his service record does not detail the charges against him. He had been granted a sick furlough and was absent from the regiment as of late October, so it is possible he overstayed his furlough.2

Expelled from military service, Markell spent the next month in Winchester in disgrace while his former comrades camped nearby. On March 5, 1862, he fled north to Charlestown where he presented himself as a deserter to the Union forces under General Banks. Markell was sent to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, DC, where he freely provided all the information he had on the state of Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley. On or around March 21, he swore an oath of allegiance to the United States and was released from custody.3

Markell made his way further north, stopping for a time in Baltimore before making his way to Pennsylvania. There, he enrolled at a small college, seeking to complete his education. The school was a Lutheran institution like his former Roanoke College, making it a natural choice for Markell to complete his interrupted studies. Markell settled down once again to the quiet life of a student, confident that he could pass the rest of the war in safety in the sleepy college town of Gettysburg.4

Markell’s academic pursuits were again interrupted in June 1863 as Confederate forces marched north into Maryland. Classes at Gettysburg College were cancelled on June 17 and all but nineteen of the students left to join militia groups or return to their homes. With nowhere else to go, Markell remained at the school, likely hoping that the Confederate army would pass him by. On June 26, as General Jubal Early’s gray-clad column approached Gettysburg, several Gettysburg citizens acquitted with Markell urged him to flee lest he be seized by the Confederates as a deserter and executed.5

Markell’s Letter to General Schenck

He fled south towards Emmitsburg but as soon overtaken by a Union lieutenant. Suspicious of this Virginian’s dubious story claiming to be a local student who just happened to be in the path of the rebel invasion, the lieutenant arrested Markell and marched him to the rear under guard. The hapless Markell soon found himself back in Baltimore, where he was imprisoned at Fort McHenry. Once there, he tried desperately to explain his situation to military authorities, protesting that he had remained within Union lines since his desertion and had done nothing to break his oath of loyalty to the United States.6

The luckless former lieutenant, however, had a problem. His interrogators asked him to produce a copy of his signed oath of allegiance from the previous year. Unfortunately for Markell, however, he had never received a copy of his oath and was unable to prove his questionable story. In desperation he wrote a letter to General Robert Schenck, the Union Commander of the Middle Military District, to explain his situation and to request his release. Having learned of Markell’s plight, several prominent Gettysburg citizens drafted their own letter to General Schenck, vouching for the former student’s loyalty and calling for his release from prison. The letters ultimately proved effective, as Markell was permitted to sign another oath of allegiance and was released in early August.7

Markell never returned to Gettysburg College. He died on July 11, 1912, at Parish Farm in Frederick County, Maryland.8


Endnotes

  1. Complied Service Records of Arthur S. Markell – Fifth Infantry, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of Virginia, Record Group 109; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  2. Complied Service Records of Arthur S. Markell.
  3. Complied Service Records of Arthur S. Markell.
  4. Rudy, John. “Confederates in the Dorm: Hidden In Plain Sight,” March 8, 2012. http://www.civilwarconnect.com/2012/03/confederates-in-dorm-hidden-in-plain.html.
  5. Rudy, “Confederates in the Dorm.”
  6. Complied Service Records of Arthur S. Markell.
  7. Complied Service Records of Arthur S. Markell; Rudy, “Confederates in the Dorm.”
  8. Rudy, “Confederates in the Dorm.”

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