President Abraham Lincoln faced numerous challenges in the White House, but his tenure could have been over before it began.
The month before his February 1861 inauguration, tipsters claimed there was a plot to burn down the Back River Bridge and attack the train Lincoln was to ride into Washington.
That didn't happen—Lincoln ended up riding a special train through Baltimore in the middle of the night to evade wrongdoers—but it's one of the fascinating stories in Howard L. Smith Jr.'s new book "Up the Line: The Union Army in Southeastern Baltimore County & Southern Harford County."
Smith, an Essex native who now lives in Howard County, will talk about his book Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Essex Library.
Smith was drawn to the topic 27 years ago, when he picked up a book by Fort McHenry historian Scott Sheads called "Baltimore During the Civil War." In an appendix, he saw a mention of the Civil War-era defense fort at Camp Stansbury, near the Back River bridge.
"It was a fortified camp and they list all those regiments that were there," he said. "Nobody ever told us about this stuff."
He has also spent 15 years as a Civil War reenactor with the Company E, 15th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry, which he enjoys just as much for the academics as for the excitement of mock skirmishes.
"I've been fortunate to be able to be involved in a lot of different battles over the years, which has always been a lot of fun. Smoke and guns and all that good stuff. It's also kind of a uniquely spirtual kind of thing," Smith said. "You can see for that brief moment you're back in time, and that happens throughout."
Smith even got to appear in the 2003 Civil War film "Gods and Generals," which was shot in Maryland.
Smith started researching his book after retiring from the Maryland Department of Corrections in 2006. His research took him from the library at Gettysburg College to the Library of Congress.
The "line" in his book's title is the railroad line, the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad which ran for 37 miles from President Street Station to Perryville and passed through Essex and southern Harford County. The Lincoln incident was not the only piece of Civil War history to touch the area. A Confederate schooner was once captured in Back River.
Johns Hopkins, America's richest man in 1860, called the area home. A powerful Lincoln supporter, Hopkins pushed the B&O Railroad away from supporting the confederacy and later urged Lincoln to keep federal troops in Baltimore and Maryland to prevent the state from seceding, Smith writes.
"The fact that he was living in our district. Johns Hopkins, the richest guy in the US, was living in our relatively lower middle-class election district, was an amazing thing. It made me kind of want to thumb my nose at the Towson people," Smith said.
At his talk on Wednesday, Smith plans to bring Civil War memorabilia and reenactor gear with him, and even clothing to dress kids up in period clothes.
"It's very much a show and tell, and there will be bits and pieces with me, because they need to know how the Civil War soldiers lived," he said. "I'm dyeing a pair of sheep cotton socks up now just so I can show how bad the equipment was that the guys were issued."