Herald-Mail re-examines Civil War history and connections to a painful era

April 09, 2011|Jake Womer

Tuesday marks 150 years since the Confederate States of America fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

Those shots led to four years of war that redefined the nation.

The Tri-State area is steeped in Civil War history — from the major battles at Gettysburg and Antietam, to the other battles at South Mountain and troop action at Monterey Pass, to the abolitionist raid on Harpers Ferry, which ratcheted tensions to a new high.

With that in mind, The Herald-Mail is publishing a package of stories to re-examine that history and our modern connections to a painful era. The series begins on page A1 today and will culminate with a special section in Tuesday's edition.

We're looking back not to celebrate this history, but to remember the time that changed the United States.

Both sides fought to preserve a way of life, and ultimately a horrid system was abolished when slavery was outlawed in our country.

As residents of the Tri-State area, we can pay our respects to the past anytime by visiting Antietam National Battlefield or Gettysburg National Military Park. We can remember that only two lifetimes ago, violence engulfed the area and thousands died where we now live. Union and Confederate generals — George Meade, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, George McClellan and Jubal Early — led forces through the area.

Hagerstown was captured by rebel forces. Chambersburg, Pa., was burned. Homes were occupied. Farms were raided.

In The Herald-Mail's series and special section, reporters interview local residents with ancestral ties and recall details of the historic battles. In Tuesday's edition, a two-page map outlines several of these events in geographical and chronological perspectives.

Stories in today's edition look at the looming 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. What was the war's impact on medical care, and what weapons were used to inflict the damage? Those questions are answered.

In Monday's edition: The action surrounded College of St. James, as St. James School was known. The school's headmaster was taken hostage by Confederate forces.

In Tuesday's edition, read the tale of one man's escape from slavery before the war. Read old newspaper accounts of the war.

We know how the war divided families and communities, but as these stories illustrate, it's not some far-away tale for history class. The stories of the Civil War defined our nation, our ancestors and us.

Jake Womer is executive editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7594 or by email at

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