"The poor fellows looked half-starved, lank as herrings, and barefoot. The Sisters were . . . giving them bread to eat as fast as they came for it. I was afraid there would be no bread left for the Sisters' supper. . . . Then I went to see . . . . The baking of the day was there. I did not see it multiplied, but I saw it there!"
Sister Mary Jane Stokes's tale of a miracle while feeding Union soldiers in Emmitsburg is just one of the Civil War stories coming out of the archives and into a new series of Civil War trails in Maryland.
The June 26 opening of "Gettysburg: Invasion and Retreat," a 90-mile, 80-site historical driving tour, marks a new era in Civil War tourism, organizers say, and a milestone in the effort by Maryland and Virginia authorities to combine hundreds of Civil War sites into unified yet flexible tours. The tours aim to make historical sightseeing less grueling, more fun and, officials hope, more profitable for both states.
"The interstate cooperation and the quality of the product is exceptional," said Marci Ross, resources development manager for the Maryland Office of Tourism Development, the agency that produced the tour, which is paid for by a combination of state tourism development and federal transportation enhancement funds. "We go right to the people and communities that have kept the history . . . the stories that have been hidden in the landscape for 140 years."
Maryland's Gettysburg trail follows the routes Union and Confederate armies took through Maryland to Gettysburg, Pa., and the Confederates' retreat -- with their foes in hot pursuit -- after the pivotal battle. The trail is rich with scenic lookout points and sites where lively accounts evoke the drumbeat of the campaign and the immense misery afterward.
Maryland's trails are a northward extension of the Virginia trails, which have existed for nine years. The Gettysburg trail continues through a sliver of West Virginia into Gettysburg and its opening is timed to coincide with the 140th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, to be reenacted July 4-6.
The tour is the second for Maryland after September's opening of the Antietam Campaign driving tour, which covers Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's incursion into Maryland and the Sept. 17, 1862, clash with Gen. George McClellan's Union forces along Antietam Creek, the bloodiest day of the Civil War.
The tours are a far cry from the iron roadside plaques whose dry accounts children once yawned over. The trails follow in the boot steps of the armies that crisscrossed the states, with markers whose vivid participant accounts, graphics and battle descriptions bring events to life.
Covering 350 Civil War-era sites in both states, the tours can be viewed individually or in segments of varying lengths. Some segments offer additional explorations on foot, bicycle or by canoe, such as the Potomac River crossings in Montgomery County at White's Ferry, Edward's Ferry and Rowser's Ford, which were all major Maryland crossings in the Gettysburg campaign.
One site on the Potomac explains what it was like for a Marylander to gaze across at Virginia, a neighboring state turned foreign country. Others highlight little-known aspects of the war. Gathland State Park, near Burkittsville, is a mountain pass dominated today by the Civil War Correspondents Arch, where visitors learn the story of famed Civil War correspondent George Alfred Townsend, whose pen name was Gath, and who developed the park and monument. Markers and maps interpret the fighting there and in other passes during the 1862 Antietam Campaign.
"The magic of this program is that it's based in the landscape," said John Fieseler, executive director of the Tourism Council of Frederick County, who wrote some of the plaques. "People automatically look up and place themselves there."
Historic, too, is the cooperation between the two states on the project, unusual during an economic downturn that has tourist sites fighting for visitor dollars. But by cooperating, Maryland and Virginia hope to capitalize on a surge of interest in Civil War-era sites, fueled by post-Sept. 11, 2001, patriotism and the appearance in recent years of several films and books about the war, bringing more visitors to both states.
By 2004, organizers aim to bring the District into the act, with "John Wilkes Booth: Escape of an Assassin," following the trail of President Abraham Lincoln's killer from the scene of the crime at Ford's Theatre to a farm a few miles from Port Royal, Va., where he was shot and killed by Union cavalry.
"We decided not to reinvent the wheel but to take advantage of the momentum," Ross said. "We had the same goals and objectives, and it just clicked."
Like many Civil War books and films, the tours target vacationers, not historians.
"We're trying to engage normal people who may not know anything about the Civil War -- we're going for thousands [of visitors], rather than tens or twenties," said Mitch Bowman, executive director of Virginia Civil War Trails, a nonprofit group funded by local jurisdictions and by fees for consulting work on similar projects. He was hired by the Maryland Office of Tourism Development to build the Maryland Civil War Trails into a two-state program.
Tourist spending in Maryland reached $8.5 billion in 2001, an increase of 1.5 percent, according to the most recent figures available from the Travel Industry Association of America, an industry trade group.
"Heritage travelers," tourists in search of a little history with their fun, account for most of the increase because they spend more on lodging, restaurants and shopping than leisure tourists, studies say. Civil War tours are particularly well-suited to heritage travelers, and interest in the war is surging.
In addition, the tours dovetail with the increased patriotism and interest in U.S. military history that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. That interest has helped offset slumps in weekday business travel resulting from the attacks and the economic downturn, particularly in counties close to the District, which some tourists avoided after the attacks.
Montgomery County comes in third in the state on the Travel Industry Association list, with $1 billion in tourism-related expenditures, about the same as in 2000. Frederick County, with its collection of historical sites, antique shops and restaurants, is 10th on the association's statewide list, with $148 million in tourism spending in 2001. That's a decrease from 2000 of 1.4 percent, mostly because of a slump in weekday business travel, Fieseler said.
Although it's difficult to measure the economic impact of the Civil War trails exclusively, Ross said that the Antietam National Battlefield has traced 1,100 hotel room reservations to tourists following the Antietam trail since it opened in September. Potential visitors requested 80,000 Antietam trail maps between September and January, exhausting the Maryland Tourism Development Department's supply.
County tourism bureaus have been busy repackaging tours and refurbishing long-standing sites to lure heritage travelers.
Frederick has stepped up promotion of its South Mountain battlefield site on the Antietam trail, which represents Lee's first incursion into Maryland, a battle that took place three days before the better-known clash at Antietam. The state tourism bureau printed new guides explaining the South Mountain battle's significance to tourists on the Antietam tour.
Recognizing that heritage travel isn't all about the Civil War, the Tourism Council of Frederick County is hawking another popular new tour, "Saints and Sinners," an unlikely combination of visits to the shrine to Elizabeth Ann Seton, America's first native-born saint -- a site on the Gettysburg tour -- the Lourdes Shrine in Emmitsburg and a Catoctin Mountain moonshine still.
"We want as broad an audience as possible," Fieseler said. "We want more than just dad and the dog to get out of the car."