Civil War returns to Fort McHenry

April 25, 1996|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,SUN STAFF

Betcha didn't know this -- but it's the opening days of the Civil War, and Fort McHenry is a Union fort, surrounded by a city whose sentiments are openly sympathetic to the South.

And you thought this was 1996 with the Civil War far, far behind us. Well, on Saturday and Sunday, the 1861 Civil War Encampment takes over Fort McHenry. The park will be open to visitors who wish to experience that period in the life of Fort McHenry. About 7,000 people are expected to attend over the two days.

"There are 150 people involved," says Scott Sheads, the park historian at Fort McHenry. "What makes this different from other Civil War events is that it's not just an enactment or an encampment. We make it an educational event where families can come and have a good time and learn about the Civil War."

Victor Krasnokutsky has played the post sutler at the camp store. "It's the Civil War equivalent of the PX store," says Mr. Krasnokutsky, who has been involved with Civil War re-enactments or encampments for about 25 years.

"I am really interested in history, and this takes it one step beyond reading history. It is actually living it. Plus, I guess there is a little bit of the actor in all our blood. This combines the two," he says.

Mr. Krasnokutsky is known to be one of the more popular attractions at the event. "I provide luxury to the troops," says the resident of St. Mary's County. "They barter with me. It's the place to hang out and be seen."

There are several events scheduled for both days.

On Saturday, there will be a 10 a.m. flag raising with a morning dress parade and morning gun artillery firing drill.

Throughout the day, until the park closes at 5 p.m., there will be more drills, a medical inspection of the camp, music in the fort, an examination of recruits by the surgeon, an evening dress parade, the flag lowering and the evening gun.

Sunday will be similar to Saturday but includes 10: 30 a.m. camp worship services. At the encampment, there will be the infantry, cavalry, light and heavy artillery and civilian political prisoners.

"The Civil War has captured the imagination of our country. Mathew Brady's unforgettable photographs gave us the first visual images of the horrors of war. The names of Lee and Jackson, Meade and Grant invoke thoughts of heroism in battle, genius of leadership," according to a newsletter by "The Patriots of Fort McHenry," a nonprofit fund-raising organization that supports the fort.

"The battles of Gettysburg, Fredericksburg and Manassas live in our memories as the furnaces in which our forefathers forged the unity of our nation," it continues. "Not as well known or remembered is the crucial role played by the City of Baltimore and Fort McHenry in determining the outcome of the war."

In 1861, volunteers answered a call from President Abraham Lincoln to respond to the firing on Fort Sumter at Charleston, S.C. The 6th Massachusetts Infantry came into Baltimore and marched along Pratt Street on the way to Washington.

"On April 19, 1861, only five days after the surrender of Fort Sumter, the situation in Baltimore exploded into violence," the National Park Service says in its brochure. "The 6th Massachusetts Infantry arrived at the President Street Station and began the process of changing trains. The cars were disconnected and pulled by horses down Pratt Street to Camden Station.

"As the process continued, a crowd gathered and with each moment it became more and more unruly. All but two of the cars had been transferred when the crowd blocked the tracks with timbers and anchors. The two cars returned to the President Street Station and the soldiers disembarked to the howls and jeers of the mob."

Things got ugly. A mob gathered and some began ripping up paving stones from the street and throwing them at the soldiers. Some men were seen with pistols and muskets. The troops were ordered to fire into the crowd.

The police were called and put between the two groups. The troops were escorted back to the the train at Camden Station and left Baltimore.

The Pratt Street Riot resulted in the war's first casualties, according to park history. Eight rioters, a bystander and three soldiers were killed, while 24 soldiers and several civilians were wounded.

Marylander James Randall was inspired to write the words that became "Maryland, My Maryland," according to the newsletter. The defiant song was sung by Lee's invading army in 1862. It became Maryland's state song in 1939.

It was then that President Lincoln recognized the strategic importance of Baltimore and its protecting fort. Lincoln was wary that a vote in the Maryland legislature would result in the state joining the rebel Southern states. So President Lincoln halted the writ of Habeas Corpus, the constitutional right to have one's case heard. In May 1861, he imprisoned some prominent Maryland legislators in Fort McHenry.

The Supreme Court found the president in violation of the Constitution, but Lincoln ignored its writ, telling Congress: "Are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the Government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?" By war's end, nearly 2,000 civilians had been imprisoned at the fort.

There are no gallows, prison buildings and cemeteries at Fort McHenry. It is now a quiet place for visitors who want to stand on the ground where Union soldiers once kept vigil.

Pub Date: 4/25/96

THE FACTS

What: Fort McHenry 1861 Civil War Encampment

Where: Fort McHenry, East Fort Avenue off Key Highway

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday

Admission: $2; those under 17 admitted free

Call: (410) 962-4290

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