Talk to focus on black woman who rode with Civil War cavalry

February 12, 2003

Maria Lewis, an African-American woman, disguised herself as a cavalryman and rode with the Union Army in the Civil War. Dr. Anita Henderson will appear in Civil War costume at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the central library to describe her search for Lewis.

Henderson's talk will focus on the methodology of her research, "how I'm doing it, what I'm looking for, what clues I get from the diary," she said.

Lewis herself is a mystery. "The problem that's stymieing me now is I don't have her alias. I have documentation based on a Quaker woman's diary," Henderson said.

The diary, which was written by Julia Wilbur, a Quaker abolitionist from Rochester, N.Y., mentions that Lewis rode with the Ace New York Volunteer Cavalry.

"She rode with a white regiment, which makes it sort of interesting because it means she was probably light-skinned enough to pass as a Native American or a white male," Henderson said.

Medical examinations were perfunctory then at best, said Henderson, a dermatologist. Doctors looked into conscripts' mouth because they were required to have at least three teeth to tear open paper cartridges, then signed them up, she said.

A history buff since childhood, Henderson is a member of the Atlantic Guard Soldiers' Aid Society, a civilian re-enactment group, and is bugler for the 4th U.S. Cavalry.

"I bugle because I don't want the guys cutting up my hands," she said. "They do saber fights, and of course there are rules of engagement - we do it in a fashion to minimize injury - but occasionally someone does get nicked a little bit." Surgery is part of her practice as a dermatologist.

Henderson grew up in Chicago and moved east to attend Wellesley College (missing Hillary Rodham Clinton by two years, she said) and earned her medical degree at Howard University, College of Medicine. Her practice is in west Columbia, and her home is in Woodbine.

"This [area] has history and horses, and I'm into both," she said. "And you don't have six months of winter. I have a little farmette. Keep horses and a goat and chickens. It's sort of a childhood dream.

"I've got great neighbors, and then I've got animal neighbors - a hawk, murder of crows that lives in the area, a couple of bluebirds. But you know, they're all neighbors."

"Meet Maria Lewis" is part of the library's celebration of Black History Month. The library is at 10375 Little Patuxent Parkway.

The celebration will continue with "The Legacy of Malcolm X," a talk by local journalist Wanda T. Williams, a contributor to The Malcolm X Encyclopedia, at 7 p.m. Feb. 19.

Harmony of the Sol will present a jazz tribute to jazz greats such as Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan at 7 p.m. Feb. 20.

Wylene Burch, director of Howard County Center of African American Culture Inc., will discuss the center's recently published book Seeking Freedom: A History of the Underground Railroad in Howard County, Maryland, at 7 p.m. Feb. 26.

Registration is requested.

Information: 410-313-7860.

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