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City to post plaques at Civil War sites

November 30, 1999|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN

George Armstrong Custer nearly died in Hagerstown 13 years before he met his fate during the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

The date was July 12, 1863.

Custer was standing in the bell tower of the Zion Reformed Church on North Potomac Street observing the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg when a sniper fired an errant shot that instead struck one of the tower's bells.

To preserve stories such as Custer's, city officials want to mark the church and other Hagerstown buildings that share Civil War history with interpretive plaques to commemorate what happened at each site, said Kathleen Maher, city planning director.

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A team of Civil War scholars helped identify the sites, she said.

The City Council will discuss the plaques this afternoon during a work session.

Maher said the plaques will spice up the downtown by showing Hagerstown's rich history.

Ideally, the city would like to hang about 12 to 14 of the historic markers, including spots where some buildings no longer stand, she said.

The project will cost about $6,000, Maher said. The city and the Maryland Heritage Area Authority will split the expense, she said.

The Maryland Heritage Area Authority is a state program that helps municipalities pay for the restoration of historic sites.

John Howard, superintendent of Antietam National Battlefield, said the plaques are a terrific way to remind people that Hagerstown played a significant part in the Civil War.

"Although most people think (only) of Antietam ... this area was covered by troop movement on both sides," he said.

Western Maryland was the Union's first line of defense when the Confederates invaded on separate occasions in 1862 and 1863, he said.

"(People today are) walking on ground that was contested and fought over," Howard said. "It was critical."

In addition to the plaques, Maher said the city will hang banners and "directory signs" downtown.

The signs will help people find buildings, like the library, by posting arrows that point in the general direction, she said. The banners will feature topics that are unique to Hagerstown and "jazz up the (Arts) and Entertainment District."

The banners and signs will cost a combined $19,000, she said. The city and the Maryland Heritage Area Authority will split the cost.

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