Page images
PDF
EPUB

lars and marines, the only troops in Washington during this anxious and critical week were: the Pennsylvania companies, which arrived on Tuesday evening; another battalion, with a battery, from the same State, which came on the 18th, passing through Baltimore that day; and the Massachusetts Sixth, which forced its way through on the 19th. From that day until the 25th communication with the outer world was almost wholly cut off.

Directly after the secret vote for secession in the convention at Richmond, a committee of Virginians demanded of the authorities of the Baltimore and Ohio railway a pledge that no Federal soldiers should be transported over their main line, or any of the munitions of war from Harper's Ferry, threatening, if this were refused, to blow up their Potomac bridge at that place. Lieutenant Jones, in charge of the armory and arsenal there, with a command of only forty-five men, was apprised of the near approach of Virginia militia, about twenty-five hundred strong, on Thursday evening (the 18th), and, after prompt measures to burn the Goyernment works and to destroy the property stored there, including fifteen thousand Springfield muskets (which were not rendered completely useless to their captors), he started with his little force at 10 o'clock that night, by the shortest route, to Chambersburg, in Pennsylvania. He reached Hagerstown next morning, having traveled thirty miles; and news of the taking of Harper's Ferry fanned the excitement in Baltimore, where, for a week following, the mob, swelled by large numbers of desperate men from other places, swayed the city — Secessionists cowing Union men, and finally coercing Governor Hicks into protesting against the passage of Federal troops through the city, or even through Maryland at all, to the national capital, surrounded though it was on every side by either Maryland or Virginia. He also yielded to the demand for an extra session of the Legislature — which he had hitherto resolutely refused to call — fixing the 26th of May for its assembling.

Matters were to be hurried at the utmost speed; the ardor was at its height, the hour auspicious; not a moment must be lost. The Confederate chief dreamed that his Maryland and Virginia braves were already leaping in wild death dance around the fast-bound and doomed victim.

On the day after the Massachusetts soldiers were attacked in Baltimore, a committee visited the President on behalf of Governor Hicks and Mayor Brown, with representations sufficiently indicated in the following response, addressed to those officials:

Gentlemen: Your letter by Messrs. Bond, Dobbin and Brune is received. I tender you both my sincere thanks for your efforts to keep the peace in the trying situation in which you are placed. For the future, troops must be brought here, but I make no point of bringing them through Baltimore. Without any military knowledge myself, of course I must leave details to General Scott. He hastily said this morning, in the presence of these gentlemen, “March them around Baltimore, and not through it.” I sincerely hope the General, on further reflection, will consider this practicable and proper, and that you will not object to it. By this a collision of the people of Baltimore with the troops will be avoided, unless they go out of the way to seek it. I hope you will exert your influence to prevent this. Now and ever, I shall do all in my power for peace, consistently with the maintenance of the Government.

On the night of the 20th the President telegraphed to Governor Hicks:

I desire to consult with you and the Mayor of Baltimore relative to preserving the peace in Maryland. Please come immediately by special train, which you can take at Baltimore, or, if necessary, one can be sent from hence. Answer forthwith.

Both the Governor and the Mayor had issued proclamations two days before — the former counseling against any“ rash step,” calling on the people “to obey the laws and to aid the constituted authorities in their endeavors to preserve the fair fame of our State untarnished,” and assuring them “that no troops will be sent from Maryland unless it be for the defense of the national capital.” On the very next day (the 19th) came the outbreak deprecated by these manifestoes. All seemed to be changed as in a moment; even the Governor and the Mayor were at least getting uncertain. The Governor not being in the city on the morning of the 21st, when the above dispatch was received, the Mayor went without him, and had a protracted interview with the President, at which the Cabinet and the Lieutenant-General were present. Mr. Brown, as reported by himself immediately after, told the President that “the excitement was great ” in Baltimore; that “ the people of all classes were fully aroused, and it was impossible for any one to answer for the consequences of the presence of Northern troops anywhere within our borders.” The President “frankly acknowledged this difficulty, and said that the Government would only ask the city authorities to use their best efforts with respect to those under their jurisdiction. The interview ter

minated with the distinct assurance on the part of the President that no more troops would be sent through Baltimore unless obstructed in their transit in other directions, and with the understanding that the city authorities should do their best to restrain their own people.”

This, it is to be remembered, is the version of Mr. Brown, and the alleged promise of the President manifestly could have related only to the existing emergency. But the Mayor had not yet left Washington when news came of such an excitement in Baltimore over the approach of troops by the Northern Central Railway (from the Harrisburg direction), which were intended to be marched from Cockeysville across the country to the Relay House, that for the time they were ordered back to Harrisburg. Even“ in other directions,” any transit through Maryland, it appeared, was to be “ obstructed.”

Although during all this dark week the President had with him but a few hundred soldiers, entirely inadequate even for the protection of Washington, to say nothing of subjugating rebellious Baltimore and opening communications northward and westward, there began to be mutterings of discontent in New York and elsewhere because all these things had not been done at once by the Government. There came to be talk, too, with distortions and misconceptions enough, as to the interview with Mayor Brown, about “negotiations” between the Government and “Maryland traitors.” How restive many people were becoming in the later of these dubious days is well illustrated by the letter of a loyal New York millionaire then prominent (George Law), written to the President on the 25th:

The people of the free States (said Mr. Law) have now been for some time cut off from communication with the capital of their country by a mob in the city of Baltimore. ... All facilities by mail and telegraph have been cut off by the same unlawful assemblage in Baltimore and other points of Maryland, at a time when free communication is so much required between the free States and Washington. The public mind is already excited to the highest point that this state of things has been so long tolerated; ... it is demanded of the Government that they at once take measures to open and establish those lines of communication, and that they protect and preserve them from any further interruption. Unless this is done, the people will be compelled to take it into their own hands, let the consequences be what they may, and let them fall where they will.

The great commercial city was not alone in feeling that something must be speedily done. Elsewhere, and not least in the West, it was a common sentiment: “ The troops must go through Baltimore, even if they have to march over the ashes of the city."

While the people of New York City were astir, and the veteran General Wool had come down from his post at Troy to do anything needed of him, even without orders, the authorities at Washington had been using effective methods to relieve the situation. Secretary Cameron had managed to get a trusted agent through to New York, clothed with some extraordinary powers, which he did not fail to use (for which the Secretary was censured afterward by Congress), and General Scott was contriving to open up a way from the North to the capital. In fact, the very day Mr. Law was writing so vigorously, communication was successfully restored, and new troops were arriving in Washington.

The Eighth Regiment of Massachusetts militia, accompanied by General B. F. Butler, and the New York

« PreviousContinue »