BIRTH OF A NATION; the U.S. Civil War Trail Makes for a Mesmerising Road Trip, Says MEERA DATTANI
Byline: MEERA DATTANI
'HE SHOT President Lincoln in the head inside this building. Mission accomplished for John Wilkes Booth.' I'm outside Ford's Theatre, Washington DC, on an Abraham 'Abe' Lincoln assassination tour with British-born guide and historian Anthony Pitch.
It's timely. Next month -- April 12 -- marks 150 years since the start of the American Civil War. Four years of North-versus-South warfare, 600,000 dead, the ending of slavery and the death of a much-loved president.
Anthony tells me grown men have wept during his Lincoln lectures. I understand why. He brings alive Lincoln's last night -- April 14, 1865, five days after the war ended -- so movingly. Imagine Nelson Mandela shot five days after his release.
Inside Ford's is the flag-draped theatre box where Lincoln was assassinated and there are exhibits such as Wilkes Booth's derringer gun.
I'd always had a fascination for the U.S. Civil War, often cited as America's defining moment, and I hoped my road trip around the Capital Region -- DC, Maryland and Virginia -- would answer some questions.
When Lincoln became President in 1861, his anti-slavery stance didn't go down well with some Southern states.
SOUTH Carolina opted out of the Union, followed by ten others, forming the Confederacy. War started when troops fired on government-owned Fort Sumter in South Carolina.
You get a full and frank explanation about the hostilities at the Spirit of Freedom memorial and the African-American Civil War Museum. In fact, I find it hard to pull myself away from Washington, with its excellent restaurants and the free Smithsonian museums.
But I want a sense of the magnitude of war, so we drive to Maryland's Antietam battlefield, where 23,000 soldiers died on September 17, 1862, the greatest number of single-day losses in U.S. military history.
I meet state park manager Dan Spedden, who is touchingly passionate about the subject.
It's hard to picture the bloodshed as we walk around this peaceful 3,200-plus-acre park in the Appalachian foothills -- though the hundreds of cannons are a reminder. Dan tells us about Lincoln's postbattle visit in 1862, during which he said: 'If I had my way, this war would never have commenced.'
Antietam is commemorated each September with re-enactments and cannon-firing, and at December's Memorial Illumination, 23,000 candles, one for each casualty, light up the battlefield.
My travelling companions insist on moving on to Baltimore. It's a citylover's city, with skyline views from Federal Hill Park and water taxis zipping across Inner Harbour.
We fit in a trip to Baltimore's B&O Railroad Museum, which has the largest collection of Civil War-era railroad trains in the U. …