A final Civil War campaign with tourism as the prize


Civil War battlefields mean big -- and growing -- tourism bucks in parts of Pennsylvania and Virginia, but by comparison Maryland's capitalization on its few war sites has been generally low-key and understated.

That's not supposed to continue, though, given an array of projects moving forward in Frederick and Washington counties and in neighboring areas on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.

Picture this: a comprehensive tour of key Civil War sites, all within about an hour's drive of a central location, with hotels, restaurants and related services all convenient to several interstate highways.

Sharpsburg could become that central place -- just outside Antietam National Battlefield, the best known of Maryland's sites.

From there, you could easily get to Frederick and a new Civil War medicine museum, Hagerstown and its proposed national museum of the Civil War, not to mention Harpers Ferry, Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, and key sites in Virginia, such as Bull Run (or Manassas), The Wilderness, Cedar Creek and the Shenandoah Valley.

"We're playing up the Civil War because it's our strength," said state Del. D. Bruce Poole, a Washington County Democrat. "What we want to do is make this area a destination instead of a place to drive through. We were a crossroads during the Civil War."

Having a Civil War tourism center in Sharpsburg is the brainchild of officials from a strip of four counties in Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland who meet periodically to discuss regional issues.

"One of the things that ties these four states together is the Civil War," said Bob O'Connor, director of the Washington County Convention and Visitor Bureau. "It is the thread that can bring people to one state and get them to visit the surrounding area, too."

Sharpsburg hub

Its central location makes Sharpsburg ideal for such a venture, which is under study by a group of state and federal lawmakers. The center would feature interactive displays and other exhibits. The town is nine miles south of Interstate 70 and 12 miles from Interstate 81, which runs through the Shenandoah Valley, site of a key campaign during the war as well as a route followed by troops of both sides.

"We've got it all here -- the Union, the Confederacy, a border state -- all the passion and drama of the war," Mr. Poole said. "And it's all within an hour or so drive of Sharpsburg."

It also would mean playing up Maryland battles and attractions.

Besides Antietam, the other two significant battles fought here were South Mountain, in which Confederates tried to delay pursuing Union troops, setting the stage for Antietam; and Monocacy, an 1864 battle in which Union troops defeated the Confederates and thwarted their plans to attack Washington.

The area also was the scene of skirmishes, fleeting Confederate invasions, shelling and military camps, and today remains the final resting place of Confederate and Union soldiers. Some 4,776 Union soldiers are buried at Antietam National Cemetery and 2,500 Confederate soldiers are buried at cemeteries in Frederick and Hagerstown.

Beyond battlefields

The fact that Maryland has been chosen for a tourism center doesn't bother officials in the other states.

"We want to promote the area as a region and not just as separate counties," said Terry Punt, a Republican Pennsylvania senator whose district includes Gettysburg. "The area has a lot to offer, and all within an hour and 15 minutes' drive."

Susan Stone, director of the Jefferson County (W. Va.) Visitors Bureau, agreed: "A tourism center there would open up this whole area. It would be tremendously beneficial to all of us. I always mention Antietam in my brochures. We have to be regional."

These counties are looking for a piece of the lucrative Civil War tourism market. They're hoping to entice vacationers to expand their visits beyond one battlefield to spend a night or two in local motels and inns and money in restaurants and shops.

It's a growing market.

About 1.5 million visitors toured the highly publicized Gettysburg battlefield last year. The number of visitors this year is 20 percent higher than at this time last year.

At Antietam, site of the war's bloodiest battle, 180,000 visitors came last year. The number of visitors this year is 10 percent higher than at this time last year. At Monocacy Battlefield, a new National Park Service area near Frederick, attendance is up about 5 percent, too, but the park still draws lightly.

Virginia tourism officials estimate that 3.9 million people have visited Civil War attractions in the state this year -- up about 8 percent over this time last year.

A. Wilson Greene, president of the Association for Preservation of Civil War Sites, said he doesn't expect interest in the Civil War to wane soon. Hollywood movies and the 1990 Public Broadcasting Service series on the Civil War, as well as a plethora of good history books, have heightened interest in the conflict, he said.

"I don't think there has been as much interest in the Civil War since the veterans were alive in the 1890s, when the first %J [battlefield] parks were established and the first monuments went up," Mr. Greene said.

"The interest now far exceeds the interest during the Civil War centennials."

A Frederick museum

The push to promote Civil War tourism is visible in Frederick County, where officials scored what some war students consider to be a coup with the landing of the new National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

The museum will open in Frederick in 1996 and, if its backers are correct, could attract about 100,000 visitors yearly.

The city also has been host to a couple of Civil War-related conferences, including the Maryland Civil War Preservation Conference, sponsored by the Maryland Civil War Heritage Commission -- at Hood College last weekend.

Frederick tourism officials are reevaluating how they market the county's Civil War history and are working to develop a Civil War walking tour of downtown Frederick.

"We're right at the crossroads of a lot of Civil War sites," said Jeanne Vasold, executive director of the Tourism Council of Frederick County Inc. "We can really capitalize on that and get [tourists] to stop over here and stay a night and look at our sites."

Hagerstown officials, too, see tourism and Civil War heritage as part of a broader effort to revitalize the city's downtown district. Recently, the city staged a re-enactment of the 1864 ransom of Hagerstown -- Confederate cavalry threatened to burn the town that summer unless citizens came up with $20,000 and clothing. It was the first time the event had been commemorated, officials said.

"The Civil War is what our area has been known for [for] years, but it's just coming to light now," said Karen Giffin, the city's downtown coordinator. "I don't believe we've done the best job in the past of promoting the Civil War history, and I think we're looking to change that now." But Mr. O'Connor points out that marketing only the Civil War would be a mistake. He estimates that 98 percent of Washington County's visitors come for other reasons, including minor league baseball games, the Hagerstown Speedway and outdoor activities.

"I think it's difficult to promote ourselves as just a Civil War site," Mr. O'Connor said. "People that go to the Speedway are very loyal and spend a lot of money here at restaurants and hotels. Most of these people have not been to Antietam and have no interest."


Tourism officials in Maryland and adjoining states are trying to pull together joint promotion of many key Civil War battle sites and related attractions, all centered on Sharpsburg. Among those places:


* South Mountain -- Prelude to Antietam, Confederates delayed Union attack, September 1862.

* Antietam (or Sharpsburg) -- Bloodiest day of the war. Sept. 17, 1862. National Park Service.

* Monocacy -- Just south of Frederick, little-noted battle that some say saved Washington, D.C., from Confederate attack. July 1864. National Park Service.

* Frederick -- Known best for the Barbara Fritchie House, commemorating a fictional confrontation between Fritchie and Confederate Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson during an actual march made famous by poet John Greenleaf Whittier. A major museum dedicated to Civil War medicine is being built.

* Hagerstown -- Just north of Sharpsburg, site of proposed major museum dedicated to the entire Civil War, not just a specific battle.


* Gettysburg -- Storied, much-studied, best-known single site in Mid-Atlantic region. Decisive battle, July 1863. National Park Service.


* Harpers Ferry -- Site of John Brown's raid. Captured by the Confederates during Maryland invasion, 1862; retaken by Union after Antietam. National Park Service.


* Manassas (or Bull Run) -- Two well-known battles, July 1861 and August 1862, both Confederate victories. National Park Service.

* New Market -- Part of the Shenandoah Valley campaign. Spring 1864.

* Cedar Creek, Middletown -- Union victory that put end to Confederate threat in the Shenandoah Valley. October 1864.

* Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania and The Wilderness -- Sites of bloody clashes in 1862, 1863 and 1864. Confederate victories at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, RTC but Union Gen. U. S. Grant turned the tide of the war during The Wilderness campaign.

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