ONE HUNDRED AND thirty-two years have erased all direct Maryland recollections of the Civil War and slavery. Starting tomorrow, though, those memories will be rekindled with the opening of Baltimore's President Street Station as the first museum documenting the city's life during the Civil War and slavery years.
Although Maryland resisted secessionist pressures, it was a slave-holding state where a considerable segment of the VTC population sympathized with the Confederacy. This became evident on April 19, 1861.
Troops of the Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, departing President Street Station for Camden Station, were attacked by a mob of Southern sympathizers. After several hours of skirmishes, four soldiers and 12 civilians were dead and 36 soldiers and an untold number of civilians wounded. They were the first casualties of a war that would divide the nation for the next four years and more.
The attack led to the occupation of Baltimore by Union troops. Many of the city's key officials were detained. The constitutional rights of Baltimoreans were suspended. In "Maryland, My Maryland" -- since 1939 the state song -- a secessionist poet warned that "The Despot's Heel is on thy shore/His torch is at thy temple's door."
Before the Civil War, the President Street terminus of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad had been part of the Underground Railroad escape route of slaves to the North. In 1838, Frederick Douglass had fled on a train from there. Countless others followed, including a slave who was shipped to Philadelphia inside a startlingly small box.
Many reminders of those painful times are gone without a trace, such as Baltimore's main slave market district. It was roughly where the Convention Center stands today.
The $1.5 million President Street Station museum restoration preserves the remnants of an architecturally significant railroad landmark. It also focuses on a troubled chapter in Baltimore's past that helps today's generation more fully understand the city's history.