The Chesapeake Bay was vitally important to both Union and Confederate forces during the Civil War because whoever controlled the waterways substantially controlled the war in the region. Although the Bay and its tributaries, which were sprinkled with forts and strongholds, offered protection from invaders, they also made excellent military targets. In addition, the combatants’ capitals were located on two of the Bay’s major rivers. The United States capital, Washington, D.C., is on the Potomac River directly across from Alexandria, Virginia, and the Confederate capital, Richmond, Virginia, was on the James River only 90 miles overland from Washington, D.C.
The Union used the Bay to transport material and men to ports along the Eastern Seaboard and to the Western Theater. These movements were completed in a grand, public manner that displayed all the power and splendor of an army and navy possessing almost unlimited resources. The Confederates, however, used a clandestine network of spies and sympathizers to smuggle goods and information via the many smaller and well-hidden rivers. Throughout the war, the Chesapeake Bay region was the scene of important events such as the Baltimore Riots, the Battle of the Ironclads, and the escape of John Wilkes Booth and David Herold after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
Civil War Trails has been working with communities since 1994 to share their stories and connect visitors with small towns and big stories across a network that now spans six states. Travelers look to Trails to put them in the footsteps of the generals, soldiers, citizens, and the enslaved who found themselves in the midst of this Civil War, said Drew Gruber, executive director for Civil War Trails.
Throughout the coronavirus state of emergency, Civil War Trails has continued to serve guests, Gruber said.
“As an open air museum, we quickly became a safe and responsible way to get outside, help parents with home school lessons and to connect residents to businesses offering curbside. As travel restrictions began to come down, we saw an immense uptick in travelers (RV specifically) from the Midwest and Canada asking for brochures, and within the last few weeks we have received requests from families who are looking for CWT signs which tell African American stories,” he said.
The average age of a history traveler today is somewhere between 25-34, Gruber noted. ”This is especially true when you look across the travel sectors for exampling comparing beer and adventure travelers and their interest in history to history travelers, etc.”
Local tourism offices have been encouraging of the CWT, and the Maryland Office of Tourism has been a great partner of the program, Gruber said.
Tom Riford, assistant secretary, Maryland Department of Commerce Division of Marketing, Tourism, Film and the Arts, said, “Maryland’s Civil War Trails inspire travelers from around the world to leave the interstates and take the state’s scenic and historic routes to battlefields and beyond. These travelers then visit our cities and towns where they shop, dine and spend the night thereby creating some of the economic impact which helps to save each Maryland household more than $1,140 per year.”