Most of us know the “greater story” of the Civil War—the battles, the politics, the leaders. We’ve heard of Grant and Lee, Gettysburg and Antietam, Abe Lincoln and Jeff Davis.
But it’s the “little stories”—the quirky ones about people and events–that make this time period so fascinating even today. Some of these tales of Civil War legend and lore are funny, some sad, but they all bring a very human side to the war 150 years later.
These stories will be the focus of “Civil War Legends and Lore” talk I’ll be giving at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 10, at the Chesapeake City Branch Library in Maryland. We’ll classify these stories as “legends and lore” because local tradition and folklore have filled in the blanks between the known facts.
Our region has no shortage of Civil War legends and lore, much of it spiced up by the fact that Maryland residents had divided loyalties. Maryland was a border state, even though it is located south of the Mason-Dixon Line. In Cecil County and the rest of Maryland some residents were fiercely pro-Union; others were pro-Confederate to the point that they fled South to take up arms against the United States. Once war was declared, Cecil Countians, for the most part, supported the Union and its new president, even if they hadn’t necessarily voted for him.
- How “mule skinners” took over the mansion and grounds at Perry Point, where the owners were pro-southern. The owners complained that Yankee officers banged up the elegant staircase with their swords.
- The C&D Canal played a huge role in the early days of the war, enabling Lincoln to bring loyal troops from “up north” to occupy Maryland after Federal troops traveling by train were attacked in Baltimore. The nervous canal superintendent in Chesapeake City constantly feared attacks by Confederate raiders.
- George Alfred Townsend spent his boyhood summers along the Bohemia River. The war made him famous as the newsman of his day who went on to be friends with Mark Twain. We’ll take a look at a story he wrote with a touch of dark humor about the topic of undertakers making their fortune after the battle of Antietam.
- A newspaper editor whose pro-Southern editorial got him marched out of town at bayonet point by Union troops and locked up in Fort McHenry.
- A Civil War romance that started when a Chesapeake City girl met a captured Confederate officer on his way to the prisoner of war camp at Fort Delaware.
As divided and cantankerous as the two sides could be here in Cecil County, one of the impressions that stands out is how people seemed to have put aside their differences after the war. It’s a lesson that shouldn’t be lost on us today as we struggle through sometimes divisive times of our own.