As the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War approaches, people across the country are remembering the sacrifices Americans—both black and white—made to end slavery and pave the way for racial equality in the United States. The Civil War Sesquicentennial commemorates the individuals and organizations that fought for justice and equality and encourages us to remember and apply history’s lessons to today. It is a time to reflect on the progress our country has made and the obstacles we are still working to overcome. For a dynamic experience, see Heritage Montgomery's 60-minute documentary film Life in a War Zone: Montgomery County during the Civil War.
A county in a state caught between the North and the South, Montgomery County, Maryland played an interesting and important role in the American Civil War. Prior to the Civil War, escaped slaves traveled through Montgomery County. Historians suggest that as many as 15 stops ran through Montgomery County on the Underground Railroad. Enjoy a beautiful hike and learn about the Montgomery County’s involvement in the Underground Railroad on the Underground Railroad Experience Trail in Sandy Spring, Maryland.
Josiah Henson, a slave from Montgomery County, served as Harriet Beacher Stowe’s inspiration for her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Henson was born in Charles County, Maryland in 1789 but was sold to Isaac and Matilda Riley of Northern Bethesda, Maryland in 1795. Henson spent the next 30 years of his life on the Riley farm, until he escaped to Canada and became aMethodist minister. Today, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is still standing. Visit the Josiah Henson Historic Site in Bethesda, Maryland to learn more about Henson and slavery in Montgomery County.
Many of Montgomery County’s soldiers enlisted in the Confederate Army, and many more joined the Union troops and helped to protect Washington, D.C during the Civil War. While none of the battles of the Civil War took place within Montgomery County, Union and Confederate troops traversed through the county on their way to other battles. One of the bloodiest battles of the war, the Battle of Antietam, occurred just west of Montgomery County. Moreover, federal troops camped for extended periods of time at forts throughout Montgomery County. Union troops were assigned to watch over the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Potomac River in Montgomery County (The Smithsonian Associates Civil War Guide to Montgomery County, Maryland). To follow the footsteps of Union soldiers in the Civil War, travel to Blockhouse Point Conservation Park Trails in Darnestown, Maryland for a self-guided tour. Learn about the camp for Union soldiers and how they transported goods and supplies to their troops, and observe artifacts soldiers left behind.
Women from Montgomery County, Maryland also played a significant role in the Civil War. Rose O’Neal Greenhow, born in Montgomery County in 1817, was a passionate secessionist that spied on the Union forces for the Confederacy. Though her actual effect on the outcome of various Civil War battles remains disputed by historians today, President Jefferson Davis acknowledged Greenhow in the Confederate victory at the battle of Manassas. While Greenhow was imprisoned in the Old Capitol Prison, she continued to gather secrets from the Union to pass on to the Confederacy by hiding them in the bun of her hair. Click here to learn more about "Rebel Rose" at americancivilwar.com.
In comparison to neighboring counties, especially those in Virginia, Montgomery County recovered from the Civil War fairly well, and began blossoming as a suburb of Washington, D.C. Following the warand emancipation, around 5,500 slaves were freed in Montgomery County. From 1895 to 1936, the Boyds Negro School in Boyds, Maryland, educated African American children, the first public school for African Americans in the area. Today, you can visit this one-room school house in Boyds, Maryland.