RIDING THE RAILS TO HISTORY Civil War enthusiasts to re-create encampment, troop-staging scenes GLEN BURNIE


A Civil War encampment on Memorial Day weekend will reunite original sites and equipment for the first time in 130 years.

For Walter F. Mathers of Glen Burnie, the event joins two of his great loves: railroads and the War Between the States.

More than 300 soldiers, sutlers and horses will make camp Saturday and Sunday at Baltimore's Carroll Park, known during the war as Camp Carroll. A mile away, the B&O; Railroad Museum will act as a troop staging area, just as it did in May 1863. Camp Carroll was a camp of instruction -- boot camp -- and chapel. And the B&O; yard was where many men reported.

"It means a whole lot to re-enactors to be on an original site," said Mr. Mathers, 44, who spent two years sweating the details.

To re-create the scene, Mr. Mathers, a brakeman for CSX Transportation Co., started calling a few re-enactment and living-history groups to determine whether there would be enough interest in an encampment on the holiday weekend that grew out of the Civil War.

About 25 groups, including his own Glen Burnie-based Headquarters Signal Detachment Inc., signed on.

Railroads played a crucial role during the Civil War, moving men, equipment and food, Mr. Mathers said. And the old cars will be doing the same this weekend.

Visitors who take the train from the museum to the encampment will ride with Civil War soldiers. The museum will have 20 pieces of equipment and lay 600 feet of siding at the encampment.

The Lafayette, which will operate between the staging area and the encampment, is a replica of the 1837 locomotive used during the Civil War and retired in 1863, the year of the events the encampment will re-create.

Two other B&O; locomotives at the encampment will be Civil War-era originals, the 1856 William Mason and the 1863 Thatcher Perkins.

Museum officials say the logistics of the event require the touch of a man such as Mr. Mathers, who has a reputation for making the trains run on time.

"This is a difficult event because it is coordinating so many people -- essentially volunteers from all over the place -- bringing them here for one weekend, trying to impose some order and discipline, while at the same time these fellows are here to have some fun," said John P. Hankey of Arnold, curator of the B&O; Railroad Museum.

Mr. Mathers' attention to detail caught the eye of museum officials after he helped map out the 1991 festivities for the 200th birthday of Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph.

As a young man, Mr. Mathers quit art school to join the B&O;/C&O; Railroad in 1973.

And he became so enchanted by the 18th- and 19th-century music that he took part in re-enactments and other living history events of the Civil War in the late 1970s.

The first commemoration he planned was in 1981 at the Monocacy Battlefield in Frederick County.

"Since 1981, I've learned how to delegate," he said.

This time, about 50 people helped him with the planning -- countless other volunteers with polishing locomotives and rebuilding platforms in the train yard. His own signal group will be on hand to help make sure things go smoothly.

Mr. Mathers, who will be clad in mid-19th-century civilian garb, is likely to play the whistle or harmonica.

He also has learned the stylized handwriting of the era, does Scottish dancing and plays bass drum in the Eastern Colonials Fife and Drum Corps.

Mr. Mathers said he is a signal man -- they were called signallists a century ago -- because "I don't like to point guns at people."

The divorced father of a teen-ager lives along Marley Creek.

Mr. Mathers, who grew up in Southwest Baltimore playing on old trains, said his grandmother used to play in Carroll Park before World War I: "She used to tell me about young lads picking bullets out of the park."

But none of the demonstrations, which will take place between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, will use live ammunition, he said.

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