New book reveals state, city during Civil War

November 07, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

Just when you think that there's not much more to be written about the War Between the States, comes a new attractive volume.

"Maryland in the Civil War: A House Divided," by Robert I. Cottom Jr. and Mary Ellen Hayward, has just been published by the Maryland Historical Society and distributed by Johns Hopkins University Press.

The $25 book is a what-not curiosity cabinet of Maryland Civil War history, its 128 pages shoe-horned with excellent photos and engravings. The authors deliver buckets of the small detail, those interesting sidelights that animate this turbulent and emotional period.

The book seeks to catch the spirit of the times. Those who, for example, want to read longer accounts of the battle of Antietam will have to search elsewhere. The authors have succeeded in locating the apt quote and the right pictures to flesh out the years that ripped the state apart.

Cottom and Hayward have pulled together dozens of illustrations and numerous quotations from letters and diaries of the period. Consider this one by Christopher Columbus Shriver, June 6, 1861:

"I just now saw up on Lombard St, a company from Maine. They are passing . . . at double quick time, as though they are needed down in Va. You ought to see a big Company like 1000 men make -- they fill the streets for about four squares and the clatter of their feet and the noise of the crowd following is quite exciting. This company had a pretty good band with them and played as they marched poor fellows a good many of them will never return I am sure. Tis by George an awful sight to see so many men with muskets, marching down to kill a fellows best friend."

The work is especially good when it describes conditions in Baltimore, a city whose self-esteem was deeply wounded by the federal government. Lincoln needed to secure the city, its harbor and rail lines. Baltimoreans, however, hated the indignity of being occupied by his troops. Nor did many of our prominent citizens tolerate being treated like traitors. So Maryland became a "prisoner of geography."

No wonder so many Maryland families could barely discuss the events of the 1860s for decades after this period without pitched verbal battles erupting. The conflict deeply divided the state and its families. Baltimore, for example, has four large public monuments to the Confederacy and one to the Union.

Perhaps the most moving section of the volume is a spread on facing pages of daguerreotypes and other photos of the young men who went off to fight. Some of these warriors look like high school boys.

This is a book that looks at the Civil War, its causes and aftermath, from some different viewpoints. There is an account by Georgianna Morris, 16, who watched a female slave being whipped in Lutherville; a vivid picture of a hanging at the Fort McHenry gallows; and there are descriptive passages about the aged Confederate veterans living out their last days in Pikesville.

Along the way are many Civil War personages: Harriet Tubman, Fr. John B. Tabb, Gen. Felix Agnus, James Ryder Randall, Richard Snowden Andrews, Frederick Douglass and the Buchanan brothers, Franklin and McKean, who fought on opposite sides in a naval battle off Hampton Roads in 1862.

The authors show that John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's assassin, was not necessarily a national disgrace in some quarters of Baltimore, "where Southern feelings ran high."

To illustrate this, they point out that in 1862 the actor had a photo made of himself. That same image was copied and put on wanted posters after Booth's attack at Ford's Theatre. In Baltimore, however, entrepreneurs mounted the photo in fancy gold frame and offered it as a souvenir of a celebrity.

This book is designed to accompany the excellent permanent exhibit at the Maryland Historical Society on the Civil War. It is filled with hundreds of telling artifacts. Read the book and visit the show and you'll have a strong feel for this divisive period.

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