1860s exhibit recalls time hostile troops dotted city


Baltimore in the 1860s was an armed camp, a city where Union soldiers slept on many a corner and hill. They were garrisoned here to keep Maryland from joining the Confederacy.

"Occupied Baltimore," the title of a new exhibition at the Maryland Historical Society, details the extent that martial law gripped Baltimore during the Civil War.

It was our fate to be the only large city in the Union to be placed under military rule throughout the war. By the summer of 1861, there were 4,600 troops scattered in camps that ringed most every neighborhood in Baltimore.

Baltimoreans accused of having too much sympathy for the South were locked up at Fort McHenry, which was condemned by locals as "an American Bastille."

The historical society exhibit contains 40 rare lithographs, color prints primarily made by master local printers E. Sachse and Co. For one dollar, a Northern soldier could buy a keepsake print of the camp where he was stationed. The Sachse artisans were experts at drawing these highly detailed city views that tucked in every steeple, tent, chimney pot and backyard fence.

These souvenirs did not show the more realistic parts of war -- the rats at Fort McHenry, the blood in military hospitals, the typhoid fever that spread among the soldiers.

"The views show the Northern army to be confident, in control, with no tension in Baltimore. There is no disease or hardship or mud in these scenes," says Laura Rice, the society's print librarian, who organized the exhibit.

In order to round out the picture of an occupied city, Rice collected descriptive passages from letters, diaries and newspapers of that tense time in Baltimore's history.

Samuel A. Harrison, who was living here during the conflict, wrote in his diary on Aug. 25, 1861: "The Sun news paper has been warned by the government, and in consequence the tone of that paper has very much changed within the few days past."

Federal Hill, which overlooks today's Inner Harbor, was the best known urban fort. A member of a unit stationed there boasted: "The earthworks would be half a mile in length if extended in a single line, thus affording shelter to a large body of men, who could keep up a fearful fire of musketry in perfect security, while the Columbiads and other siege guns were admirably planted for dealing out death and destruction."

Soldiers erected miniature cities at Stuart's Hill in West Baltimore, near Fayette and Monroe streets. A building erected there by soldiers became the Jarvis Military Hospital. There were other installations: Camp Hoffman at Lafayette Square (Arlington Avenue and Lanvale Street); Camp Carroll Park (Southwest Baltimore, near the Montgomery Ward building); Camp Millington (on Frederick Road at the Gwynns Falls); and Camp Melvale (Cold Spring Lane at Jones Falls).

Camp Bradford was erected at Charles and 26th streets; Camp Belger at North and Madison avenues; Camp Chapin at Druid Hill Park; Camp Washburn at Patterson Park; Fort Marshall in Highlandtown; and a camp -- later a military hospital -- at the old McKim Mansion, south of Green Mount Cemetery near the old St. John the Evangelist Church.

It was this part of Baltimore, near the same city jail that exists even now, that one authority considered the "most disloyal."

Troops, civilians and commerce flowed through Baltimore by rail. Camden Station, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad depot, must have been one of the most bustling districts. A fine color lithograph shows the station and the facing block of Camden Street lined with hotels and taverns. Weary travelers could spend the night at such vanished hostelries as the Washington Hotel, the Clayton House and the Park Hotel.

E.T. Joyce ran the Niagara House in the Camden Station area alongside liquor merchant John Wilson's establishment, which dispensed "old rye, bourbon and Holland gin."

The lithograph artists painstakingly included a train chugging north on Howard Street, where it connected with the Northern Central Railroad at Bolton Depot.

After the war's end, the forts disappeared. "The city wanted to erase all reminders of the war," Rice says. Fort Federal Hill became a public park, as did Lafayette Square and the spacious Camp Carroll tract, which is now Carroll Park.

But the old forts, tent fields and drilling grounds remained locked in local memory. Evening Sun columnist H.L. Mencken spent many a boyhood morning charging the Steuart's Hill earthworks in his neighborhood, then years later recording this in his memoirs.

The exhibit is at the Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument St., until March 30.

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