Thursday, October 2, 2008


By Richard P. Cox

The History Press

156 pages, $19.99


There was no way that Maryland could not play a critical role in the Civil War.

The state was sharply divided in its loyalty, with Baltimore and the tobacco-growing counties of Southern Maryland strongly secessionist. The state surrounded Washington on three sides, and pro-Confederate sentiment in Maryland represented a continuing threat to the city.

Ultimately, the capital’s links with the North were never broken, but Lincoln could never rest easy about the state next door. In February 1861, riots in Baltimore triggered by Federal troops en route to Washington would bring the first bloodshed of the war.

Maryland historian Richard P. Cox has written a new book about wartime events and personalities in Maryland, portions of which first appeared in The Washington Times. Not all of the biographic sketches shed new light on his subjects, but others are illuminating.

Civil War buffs remember Capt. James Waddell as commander of the Confederate raider CSS Shenandoah, but Mr. Cox tells of his postwar career. In 1884, Waddell, a Maryland native, was placed in command of the state´s “oyster navy” - a force designed to protect the Chesapeake Bay oyster beds from poachers. Waddell took his responsibilities seriously; when he encountered a fleet of illegal dredgers, he opened fire, sinking one and capturing three others.

Mr. Cox notes that many Marylanders were torn in their allegiance, one of the more notable examples being Adm. Franklin Buchanan, one of the U.S. Navy´s senior officers. Buchanan wrote in early 1861, “I am as strong a Union man as any in the country. … I do not admit the right of secession, but at the same time I admit the right of revolution.”

At a time when Maryland appeared certain to secede, Buchanan submitted his resignation to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles. When his home state did not secede, Buchanan sought to withdraw his resignation, only to be told by Welles that his name had been stricken from the Navy list.

Perhaps the most edifying chapter of the book is that on “Camp Parole” - the pestilential site near Annapolis where prisoners eligible for parole were kept while arrangements were made for their exchange. The author cites the “equivalency table” employed by both sides. A brigadier general was considered equal to 20 privates, a colonel to 15 privates, and so on.

The exchange arrangement continued sporadically until August 1864, when Gen. Ulysses S. Grant suspended it on the grounds that it tended to favor the manpower-starved Confederacy.

Mr. Cox points out that Maryland suffered mightily during the war, writing, “Military occupation, martial law, the arrest and confinement of many leading citizens, and the ‘taking’ of millions of dollars worth of ‘property’ in the form of slaves … rendered Maryland a ‘victim’ of the war every bit as much as they had the seceding states.”

• Historian and biographer John M. Taylor lives in McLean.

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