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Frederick merchants use Civil War ties to draw business

FREDERICK — A century and a half ago many of Frederick’s downtown buildings served as hospitals to care for wounded soldiers from both sides of the Civil War.

Tourists walk through the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick on Wednesday, July 12, 2006. (AP file photo)

Downtown merchants were urged last week to use that historic connection to bring in tourists.

“Profit From the Past” was presented by George Wunderlich, executive director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, and Amy Benton of Want 2 Dish, a marketing business.

Wunderlich, a historian who has appeared on television and at national conferences about the Civil War, said the museum on East Patrick Street has more than 35,000 visitors a year.

He expects that number to soar with the anniversary of various battles in the area and the overall interest in the Civil War. Wunderlich said that most people don’t think of a museum as a business, but it has a gift shop.

“We are a business and want to be a business partner,” Wunderlich told the audience at the Delaplaine Visual Arts Education Center.

Local restaurants and shops could work with the museum to, for example, pass out discount coupons for the fee to see the museum, and the museum could pass out discount coupons for a meal or gift purchase at a local shop, he said.

About 96 percent of visitors to the museum are from 50 miles or more away, Wunderlich said. He gets visitors from across the U.S. and more than 40 countries, especially England and Germany.

Frederick’s German heritage, from the Hessians in the Revolutionary War to those through the following decades, is also a drawing point for visitors.

“Civil War enthusiasts spend more time than a typical visitor to Frederick,” Wunderlich said.

At the museum, he said, visitors say they are interested in dining and shopping while they are here. “Many come to visit the battlefields and don’t know anything about Frederick.”

One of the key points at the presentation was the story of Special Order 191. Wunderlich explained that Gen. Robert E. Lee planned to move his troops into Pennsylvania to capture Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

At the same time, the Confederate leader wanted to keep some troops near Harpers Ferry to protect supply lines. The order written in 1862 — a detailed list of the units, where they were to go and when — was accidentally dropped at the Best Farm, wrapped around some cigars, and found by a Union soldier.

The order was given to Gen. George McClellan, who moved his troops to meet the Confederates, and the Battle of Antietam in Sharpsburg was the result. The Best Farm would end up as a key point in the Battle of Monocacy two years later.

The original order will be on display at the Battle of Monocacy visitors center later this year.

Benton said businesses could use the Special Order 191 as a name for a dinner menu item, drink or otherwise blend it into their marketing.

“History can be cool if you spin it the right way,” Benton said. She suggested having a Special Order 191 night at Harry Grove Stadium.

Benton also suggested merchants check with Wunderlich to find out if their building was used as a hospital during the Civil War, or at the time it may have been a private home where officers were guests. Benton said there could be “scavenger hunts” for visitors to find those locations to enhance their time in the county.

Wunderlich said the typical Civil War enthusiast can be any age and includes many women.

“There will be lots of families because the parents want the children to learn a lot about the war that isn’t taught in schools,” Wunderlich said.

An experienced maker and player of 19th-century-style banjos, Wunderlich will work to bring musical groups to the city to coincide with the Civil War anniversary.

Frederick was considered a “tourism destination” by Gen. William T. Sherman, who visited the city as a cadet at West Point and wrote how welcoming the people were and how picturesque it was.

“Once you visit Frederick, you will come back,” Wunderlich said. “It is not like any other place.” Merchants can make a “customer for life,” he said.

Wunderlich will offer to provide information on popular drink recipes from the era and games favored by soldiers at the time.