Tuesday, May 3, 2011
The sesquicentennial of the Civil War kicked into high gear in Baltimore on April 15th with a weekend of activities that included a symposium and an observance of the riots of April, 1861.
The weekend began on Friday with a symposium aptly titled “Land of the Free? Civil Liberties in Baltimore, 1861." Organized by Fort McHenry and park partners Maryland Historical Society and the University of Maryland Baltimore County, the symposium featured Pulitzer Prize-Winning historian Mark Neely and Professor Frank Towers, author of the book The Urban South and the Coming of the Civil War.
A panel of law and history professors from the University of Maryland Law School and Johns Hopkins University joined ranger James Bailey in debating the impact and legality of Lincoln’s suspension of civil liberties before a capacity crowd at the Maryland Historical Society.
“The war was fought beyond the battlefields” says Vincent Vaise, the park’s chief of interpretation. “Arguably, the suspension of civil liberties early in the conflict was the true first casualty of the Civil War. Ironically, many of the people who criticized Lincoln’s suspension of civil liberties were slaveholders themselves and had few reservations in denying basic civil rights to their enslaved workforce.”
A second symposium sponsored by Hampton National Historic Site and Goucher College a week later focused on African-American Marylanders who fought for the Union.
On Saturday, April 16th, a solemn observance was held of the Pratt Street riots of April 19, 1861, where the first Americans fell in armed conflict. A procession of over 150 diehard VIPs marched in the pouring rain through the Baltimore National Heritage Area along the original route of the riot, commemorating the four northern soldiers and eleven Baltimore citizens who were killed. Local and national press coverage was extensive.
“The NPS comes through even in the rain,” said Sam Rogers, executive vice president of Visit Baltimore. “This represents a strong partnership between Visit Baltimore, the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, the other museums and the National Park Service.”
Interpretive programming at Fort McHenry continued, with many soggy junior rangers interviewing both “soldiers” and civilian “prisoners of state.” A terrific thunderstorm cut evening candlelight tours short, but a few brave visitors enjoyed their unique experience.
“It was nice to be a fly on the wall and have a glimpse of life at Ft McHenry in 1861,” said visitor Missy Thorseth, “I pretty much fell in love with Ft McHenry all over again.”
Gorgeous weather on Sunday brought thousands of visitors, who enjoyed the official NPS Sesquicentennial Fifes & Drums led by ranger and music coordinator Tim Ertel. Portraying the 2nd US Artillery, Company I, volunteers and Youth Mentor Rangers of the Fort McHenry Guard demonstrated the power of music in telling the park’s story.
“Fifes and drums instantly transport visitors back in time,” said Ertel, “and music is central to the story of Fort McHenry and the birth of the national anthem, as well as the Civil War."
The Sesquicentennial Corps will travel to Manassas NB in July and is looking forward to the rest of the 150th events throughout the NPS.
“It’s going to be a great four years,” said Ertel, “and what better way to engage youth in this incredible story than through music?”