Bus tour to retrace route of Civil War's Great Train Raid

Bus tour to retrace route of Civil War's Great Train Raid
Confederate Major Harry Gilmor led 126 soldiers through a northern Baltimore County raid during the Civil War. An upcoming bus tour will follow his route. (Photo courtesy Maryland Historical)

The 150th anniversary of Confederate Major Harry Gilmor's "Great Train Raid" of the Civil War will be remembered with a bus tour retracing his route of destruction through northern Baltimore County in the summer of 1864.

The tour, on Saturday, July 12, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., will take visitors through Civil War Baltimore County — emphasizing not only the raid and burning of the bridge over the Gunpowder River but the social history and the people on both sides of the war, according to Vince Vaise, who will lead the tour.


"It's not a strictly guns and military tour," said Vaise, a National Park Service ranger and chief of interpretation for both Hampton and Fort McHenry. "It's going to be a very Baltimore County type thing."

Although Gilmor had only 126 men accompanying him on the raid, they spread panic throughout the region. Gilmor's target was the railroad bridge over the Gunpowder River, which would effectively cut off Philadelphia and the Eastern Shore from Baltimore, Vaise pointed out. In the course of three days, July 10-12, 1864, they burned houses and two trains, took down important telegraph lines in Fork, had a beer on the site of what is now the Torrent night club and chased 75 inexperienced Union soldiers down York Road to Govans.

Because Gilmor's family estate, Glen Ellen, is now under the Loch Raven Reservoir, the tour will begin at the neighboring estate, Hampton. The tour is sponsored by Historic Hampton, Inc., (the friends of Hampton National Historic Site) in conjunction with the National Park Service, according to a Hampton press release.

.Participants will be introduced to characters on both sides of the war, including Gilmor, and George Humphries, an escaped slave from Hampton. The story of Ishmael Day, who killed a Confederate soldier for taking down a Union flag at his Kingsville house, will be related at Day's grave in Fork.

"That personalizes it a lot," Vaise said.

Vaise said fellow rangers will dress as Gilmor's contemporaries, including one man whose ancestor took part in the raid.

The tour will look at the importance of railroads, how Fork got its name and "how Baltimore Countians saw themselves," Vaise said. "Some saw themselves as Northern. Some saw themselves as Southern."

These deep divisions were evident in the raid itself, according to Vaise. Some of Gilmor's men were from the county and as they wreaked havoc against Union sympathizers, they spared the property of their own families and compatriots.

Vaise has a PowerPoint presentation prepared to show photos of some of the characters, as well as Gilmor's Glen Ellen, which was torn down in the 1920s, he said. Gilmor's father, who had visited Sir Walter Scott's home Abbotsford in Scotland, recreated the castle on his own property in Baltimore County.

Don't expect a dry history lesson. Vaise has on the itinerary a lunch break and wine tasting at Boordy Vineyards — once known as the Price Farm where Gilmor's raiders camped. They'll stop briefly for ice cream at the nearby Prigel Creamery — recalling the region's importance as an early ice cream manufacturer. Another Confederate battalion moving through the Owings Mills area at the same time seized a shipment of ice cream being loaded on wagons headed into Baltimore City, Vaise said.

The tour follows Gilmor's route that has changed little in 150 years. "When you look out, the vistas you see are the vistas of 150 years ago and the places you see look as they did 150 years ago," he said, emphasizing the value of historic preservation.

Although most Civil War history focuses on big campaigns, Vaise wanted to look at the war at home.

"A lot of the Civil War was fought in the background and on the homefront," he said.

The tour is $50 for adults, $40 for Hampton members. To register email or call 410-828-9480.