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Fort McHenry Commemorates Aftermath Of Gettysburg

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

National Park News

Four weeks after visitors commemorated the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg, thousands came to Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine to learn about the aftermath of that titanic struggle.  

“Many people are aware of the carnage of that battle and how the town of Gettysburg itself was transformed into a vast hospital, but far fewer know that thousands of Confederate prisoners and wounded on both sides were sent by rail to Baltimore with many winding up at Fort McHenry” says Timothy Ertel, park ranger at Fort McHenry. 

During the course of a long weekend, visitors interacted with living history interpreters to learn about the role of surgeons, the fate of prisoners and how the results of the battlefield affected the civilian population miles away.

The park wanted to engage youth in this event. “We wanted an interactive experience so we gave Scout troops the option of marching along with Confederate prisoners under guard” says Tyler Mink, seasonal visitor use assistant.  “Once they got to the campsite, they learned about what life was like as a prisoner through the reading of first person accounts and then we freed them once we issued them a parole.”

The park chose the August 3rd weekend because in 1863 that was the time that the fort experienced the high water mark of Confederate prisoners.  The number of Confederate POWs fluctuated during the war, but in early August the fort held approximately 5,000 prisoners, severely straining its capacity. 

Other ways of engaging youth came through music. The Fort McHenry Guard Fife and Drum Corps, donning Union blue instead of their normal War of 1812 uniform, played numerous concerts and following each program, invited young visitors to try out the drum and fife.

Baltimore was a dynamic place during the summer of 1863. Although President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to enslaved African-Americans in Maryland, many chose to liberate themselves and join the Union Army.  At the same time, Colonel Birney of the Union Army liberated slave pens in the city and conducted widespread recruiting for African-American Union regiments.

Author Daniel Toomey spoke about the role of African-Americans and the crucial role of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at special presentations during the weekend. The author of the books Baltimore in the Civil War and The War Came by Train, Toomey said that the B & O Railroad proved instrumental in transporting goods, men and materiel for the Union cause during that crucial summer.

During the summer of 1863, Fort McHenry served as an important training camp for federal soldiers.  Regiments came and went.  Like their historic counterparts, the interpretive staffs of Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park and Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine trained together.  The team from Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania instructed the fort’s staff in the loading and firing of the 12-pound Napoleon, the most commonly used artillery piece in the Civil War. The first 12-pound Napoleon was first test-fired for the U.S. Army at Fort McHenry in 1857.  The fort staff showed the Fredericksburg staff the organizational structure of their living history program and both sides traded interpretive techniques.

The aftermath of the cataclysmic battle 150 years ago was brought home to new audiences using 21sr Century technology. Ranger Jason Martz and Seasonal Visitor Use Assistant Elizabeth White spend the days photographing, posting to Facebook, and Tweeting the program in “real time.” 

“I am really glad we did this program, as what happened after the battle at places like Fort McHenry and Baltimore is a big part of the story of the Civil War” says Tina Cappetta, superintendent of Fort McHenry NM&HS.


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