This Saturday, the upcoming 150th Anniversary of the Pratt Street Riot will be remembered with what the city of Baltimore is calling "a grand procession." Union re-enactors, fife and drum corps, contemporary military units and representative color guards will "step off" from President Street Station at 11 a.m. and march up Pratt Street to Camden Yards.
On that bloody Friday a century and a half ago, members of the Sixth Massachusetts, on their way to defend Washington, detrained at President Street Station and started up Pratt Street to continue their journey south, only to confront an agitated, pro-secessionist crowd of civilians. Hurling first epithets, then stones, both sides soon resorted to guns. In the aftermath, at least four soldiers and nine civilians lay dead, in what is generally regarded as the first real bloodshed of the Civil War (the deaths at Fort Sumter a week earlier were the result of an accident, not hostilities). This tragedy demands commemoration. Yet, sectional divisiveness haunts us still — uniformed Confederate re-enactors have been banned by Baltimore City officials from Saturday's grand procession.
To be sure, the case can be made that this exclusion is historically accurate; there were no uniformed Confederate soldiers along Pratt Street on April 19, 1861. But might including the rebels this time around serve a higher purpose?
On Sunday's op-ed page, Leonard Pitts rightly weighed in on slavery as a primary cause of the war, but he then lost his focus when he equated secession with treason and wrongly vilified the state of South Carolina for hosting a secession ball in December when it was really a small group in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and League of the South.
Yet what Mr. Pitts really does is to reinforce the unfortunate stereotype of African-Americans being more interested in their originations than their destinations. His typical references to Confederate flags flapping "from truck grills," "pigeon-stained statues of dead rebels," and the obligatory mention of Dixie and the Ku Klux Klan are backward-looking at best — the very practice he condemns in neo-Confederates. Mr. Pitts concludes by warning all to avoid "telling lies of omission about yesterday."
Fair enough. But Mr. Pitts makes no mention of the 99 percent of ex-Confederate veterans who never joined the KKK. Could it be they returned to the Union with higher allegiances — to their God and to America? Were they not primarily concerned with returning to their families after the war to rebuild their farms, businesses, churches and communities? Such citizens looked to the future, and to their sons and daughters who would answer when their country called.
Need an example? We rarely hear of the Army's 29th Division, the aptly named Blue and Gray Division whose members came from Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia — and in particular, the 116th Regiment of that Division who in World War II went ashore in the first wave at Omaha Beach on D-Day, suffering frightful losses (Company A was decimated, with 96 percent casualties). Yet it is the 116th that heralds directly from another command — a Confederate command, Thomas Jonathan Jackson's legendary Stonewall Brigade.
As Baltimore solemnly prepares to commemorate the first blood shed in "the late unpleasantness," most of us do not realize that the city that gave America its national anthem is now uniquely situated to bequeath the nation another gift.
It is not too late to invite the Boys in Gray to join the Boys in Blue for the Grand Procession up Pratt Street on Saturday. Make your own bit of history, Baltimore. Show the world in this moving, poignant example that America is indeed one, commemorating our tragic past but at the same time demonstrating that despite our differences and diversities, we have indeed "bound up the nation's wounds."
Gregg Clemmer lives in North Potomac and is the author of two works on the civil war, "Valor in Gray: The Recipients of the Confederate Medal of Honor" and "Old Alleghany: The Life and Wars of General Ed Johnson." His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun