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Forest Glen

July 18, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

Talk to any serious student of Civil War history and the chances are good they can tell you what happened at the cornfield at the Battle of Antietam or whose troops stormed Little Round Top at Gettysburg.

But as you review the literature of the Civil War and the specialty magazines, much less has been said about what happened after all these battles. How did the wounded get home and heal their wounds? How did amputees cope with the loss of a limb in the 1860s?

These and other questions are what occupy the members of the Forest Glen Commonwealth, a Kensington, Md.-based organization that is bringing its "Roads to Recovery" project to Washington County.

If the group's name sounds familiar, it's because its members partnered with the Washington County school system last year to help Ann Stickler's Advanced Placement U.S. history class at North Hagerstown High do a documentary on the effect one bullet fired in battle can have on many lives.

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This week the group announced it would be purchasing the old Cearfoss School for use as a heritage education center. According to Rebecca Rush, chairman of the group, the school's location is key to the group's educational mission.

That's because the school is on the Greencastle Pike, used as the evacuation route for 13,000 Confederate soldiers wounded in the battle of Gettsyburg in July 1863.

Under the command of Gen. John Imboden, the wounded were carried in wagons, in a column that was 20 miles long, all while being pursued by Union troops, Rush said.

About 700 were captured and became prisoners of war, Rush said, but most of the group made it to Williamsport, where heavy rains made it impossible to cross the river for three days.

What happened during those three days is of interest to Rush and Richard Lank, president of the group, who feel that studying the issues of medical care, transportation and the like can inspire students to take up careers in medicine, mechanical engineering and research.

While they hope to make the old school a heritage center for such lessons and perhaps open a book store and gift shop in a separate house on the site, the group's interests aren't confined to Civil War history.

Working with the Library of Congress, they also hope to get students involved in living history, by interviewing veterans of World War II.

Rush explained that under the guidelines, a veteran who consents to being interviewed agrees to provide a short biography, so that if the veteran served with the Navy in the South Pacific, the student can do research on that area prior to the interview.

And while the Library of Congress asks that students use certain pre-set questions, Rush said they're not limited to those.

"The goal is to actually have kids get face-to-face time with these people," she said.

The interview process is interesting, Rush said, because those being interviewed don't just talk. They bring pictures that show what they looked like at a younger age and memorabilia.

"The students may be looking into the face of an 80-year-old, but they're also seeing how that person looked at 18, when they were probably scared and away from home for the first time," she said.

I've written about a similar program organized by Donna Pile Allen, a Washington County school teacher who now teaches in Jefferson County, W.Va. Her project was an attempt, successful in my view, to connect students today with the people who defended the U.S. more than 50 years ago.

But that's not all. The Forest Glen people are also interested in the herbs used in time past for healing and in the role geographic features have in helping people heal.

In August, they'll put on a program at the outdoor gardens at the Western Maryland Hospital Center, which have been made wheelchair-accessible through the efforts of Hagerstown Councilman Linn Hendershot and others.

Rush and Link have looked into the series of convalescent homes created by President Lincoln for wounded Union soldiers and have found that some places of great natural beauty were used for that purpose."

"We're looking at what it is about such properties that creates a healing environment," Link said.

When I remark that the group seems to be going in a lot of different directions at once, Rush and Link say that they're all related really to how the nation healed itself and its people and how those lessons can help us even today.

If their efforts make us appreciate the historic character of Washington County, that's good, because all too often in recent years, historic properties have been treated as obstacles to development.

I told Rush and Link that there's a need to create an endowment fund here to would enable preservationists to purchase historic properties, add deed restrictions, then market them to people who would appreciate them.

Will it happen? Maybe not. But someone should think about it before someone decided to demolish the next structure like the Kammerer House, the 1774 home that was flattened in 1999.

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