War hit close to home


April 20, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Frederick F. Reese was born in Baltimore in 1854, the son of a prosperous owner of a fertilizer business. In those pre-Civil War years, the national debate over slavery and states' rights raged, and Maryland was not immune from those tensions. The winds of war were fanned by "Bloody Kansas," the Dred-Scott case of 1857, and John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859.

"In Baltimore schisms ran deep. As war approached, tensions mounted between factions that held allegiance to the North and the South. Families that had interacted harmoniously as members of churches, partners in business, with children in schools together, were now polarized over the issues of the day," writes Holly Maddux of Towson, who is writing the 160th anniversary history of the Boys' Latin School.

Frederick Reese was a graduate of the Carey School, a forerunner of Boys' Latin. Maddux's history cites his unpublished memoir, written near the end of his life, that recalls the coming of the war to Baltimore. For Reese's family, Southern sympathizers, the war years were difficult ones.

Confederate forces had bombed Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.

On April 18, Pennsylvania troops moving through Baltimore were greeted by a mob that threw bricks as they moved through Bolton Station. The next day, the 6th Massachusetts regiment was attacked on Pratt Street - 21 soldiers and civilians lost their lives in the melee.

Reese, who later graduated from the University of Virginia, attended seminary and eventually became the Episcopal Bishop of Georgia, recalls the almost constant passage of Union troops, horses and cattle that passed his Lanvale Street home. He tells of his father's account of the riot, seen from his office in the old Corn & Flower Exchange on South Street.

"While in this office in 1861, occurred the riot in Baltimore when the mob attacked the 6th Massachusetts Regiment on its way to Washington, marching along Pratt Street from the old President Street Station of the P.W. & B.R.R. to the Camden Station of the B&O, and during the fighting, as my father was standing in his office door, a citizen on the opposite side of the street was killed by a stray shot," he wrote.

He writes of an uncle, Gideon Reese, an injured Confederate soldier, who was carefully hidden in the attic. "He was an inmate of our house for many weary months, while virtually a prisoner. ... As he was well-known in Baltimore, he could not go out of doors in the day time. He made several efforts to get through the lines to the Confederacy, but for reasons I never knew, did not succeed," writes Reese.

Baltimore was placed under martial law by Abraham Lincoln, and the Reese home was subjected to frequent searches by authorities. Each time, the uncle was away from the house.

"If Uncle Gid had been discovered, he would no doubt have been hung as a spy and father would have been confined to the old Capitol prison in Washington, and possibly the whole family sent south within the Confederacy," Reese writes.

The Reese family seemed to typify the split in Maryland families. Another uncle, a supporter of the Union, hung a huge U.S. flag from the eaves of his East Baltimore home and demanded that all visitors to his home should walk beneath it. Reese's father refused to visit.

In 1865, the Reese family moved to a new home on Hoffman Street, near Dolphin, and it was here that they learned of the fall of Richmond that spring. Federal authorities ordered all houses in the city to be illuminated to celebrate the victory of the Union forces over the Confederacy. But the Reese house, like many others, remained "dark as a tomb."

A second order was given, and this time the Reeses reluctantly complied.

"And there being no choice in the matter, the gas lights in the parlor were lighted and the shades up, and the family retired to the nursery on the second story back, where we all sat in gloom and misery," Reese writes. "Sad hearts cannot be lightened by gas or electricity. What good it could do to compel people to pretend to be glad when in fact they were sad, I do not know."

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