FREDERICK, Md. —In May 1862, Robert Ford was captured by Confederate soldiers and sent to the officers’ jail in Richmond, Va., known as Libby Prison.
A black resident of Frederick in his early 30s, Ford had been working as a teamster for the Union Army’s quartermaster.
Ford became a stableman for the prison’s second-in-command and was given more freedom than other prisoners to move about the prison.
He became a critical informant for Union loyalists who were operating in Richmond to aid Union prisoners at Libby. He was instrumental in planning the escape of 109 prisoners, more than half of whom were able to flee across Union lines.
Ford stayed behind and was nearly beaten to death as punishment. He eventually escaped to Washington and secured a job at the Treasury Department, where he worked until he died in 1868. His death was in part due to injuries he suffered in the beating.
Congress passed a bill in 1868 to pay Ford $814 for his services as a teamster, and an Indiana congressman wrote a tribute to his heroism in the Libby jail break.
Robert Ford is one of more than 400 African-Americans, either born in or at some point residents of Frederick County, who are listed on a new Civil War website, the brainchild of historian Dean Herrin and his colleague, Barbara Powell.
Ford’s saga is one of Herrin’s favorites.
“It’s an inspiring story,” he said.
When Herrin and Powell set out about six years ago to chronicle how the Civil War played out in western Maryland, they wanted to go beyond the well-worn accounts of battles and military history.
Herrin was interested in the issues that led to and followed the broader conflict — including the impact on African-Americans.
Fortunately, he said, those issues were played out in microcosm inside the homes, on the streets and across the battlefields of the region that includes Frederick County.
The fruits of Herrin and Powell’s efforts led to www.crossroadsofwar.org, launched this month.
The two are co-coordinators at the Catoctin Center for Regional Studies, a collaborative project of the National Park Service and Frederick Community College. A couple dozen FCC students also put in countless hours on the project, Herrin said.
The grant-funded site has information about important battles, including animated, interactive maps that highlight the progression of events at Antietam, Gettysburg and Monocacy.
But issues related to slavery, civil liberties and how the war affected women, children and African-Americans are also given their due, Herrin said.
The site contains three databases and a trove of primary documents, including scans of more than 7,000 articles from area newspapers about the Civil War, many containing images from the articles, he said.
The searchable database with information on some 5,000 Civil War soldiers from the area includes 410 African-Americans with ties to Frederick County — the largest such collection of which Herrin is aware.
Frederick Fowler was a resident of New Market who escaped slavery in 1858 and enlisted in the Union Army in Hartford, Conn., in 1863. After the war, he took a job in Washington.