Aficionados of American history -- especially Civil War buffs -- owe it to themselves to visit the current exhibit at the B&O; Railroad Station Museum in Ellicott City.
The "living history" recreation of local involvement in the War Between the States opened July 9 and continues through October. Museum director Ed Williams describes it as "a complete, historical hands-on exhibit" illustrating "what it meant to be here" during the four-year conflict that has been called the central event in the history of our nation.
Furniture, recruitment posters, drums, muskets and other mementos from the 1860s are part of the exhibit. So are reproductions of how various offices inside the railroad station looked at the time of the war, when the station was used as a processing center for wounded soldiers and prisoners.
But perhaps the show's grandest achievement is the re-formation of the Patapsco Guards, Independent Company of Infantry, Maryland Volunteers, the 100-man unit organized 132 summers ago from among Irish and German immigrants who worked in the local mills and supported the federal government. Initially, their primary duty was to protect their own community. Later they were summoned to guard Union hospitals and prisons. They also saw action in fighting at Wrightsville, Pa., in 1863 and a year later in Chambersburg, Pa.
To date, about 40 men have volunteered to re-enact the parts of the original Guards. Besides participating in the museum exhibit, they will also serve as goodwill ambassadors for Howard County at Civil War battle re-enactments along the Eastern seaboard. They're expected to continue in that role even after the exhibit closes on Oct. 31.
Already, in its first month, the show has engendered further testimony about the war's impact on Howard County and its residents. Exhibit visitors related to members of the Guards continually offer fresh information to museum officials, who then add it to their files. Among the visitors has been a descendant of the noted Confederate cavalry general, Nathan Bedford Forrest. According to Mr. Williams, the Forrest relative heard about the exhibit and traveled all the way from Florida to see it.
Happily for Howard County residents, they don't have to go so far to make this particular trip through history.