Tag Archives: Secession

The Western Virginia Secession

June 17, 1861 – Delegates to a Unionist meeting at Wheeling in western Virginia unanimously approved declaring their independence from the Confederacy.

The delegation representing 39 northwestern counties assembled at Wheeling’s Washington Hall on June 11, in accordance with last month’s convention resolution to come together if Virginia seceded from the U.S. Western Virginia, largely mountainous, contained few slaves and was economically linked more to northern states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania than the South. Western Virginians had voted against secession in the May election by a margin of 10-to-1, and their delegates met to decide how best to secede from Virginia and return to the U.S.

Arthur I. Boreman, Parkersburg lawyer and state legislator, was elected convention president. The delegates formed a Committee of Business “to make the requisite preparatory arrangements for the separation from Virginia, and the formation into a new State.” On the 13th, members presented the “Declaration of the People of Virginia Represented in Convention at Wheeling,” which charged that last month’s Virginia state convention had “abused the powers nominally entrusted to it,” and “usurped and exercised other powers, to the manifest injury of the people, which, if permitted, will inevitably subject them to a military despotism.”

Declaring that Virginia’s separation from the U.S. was “without authority and void,” the delegates called not for forming their own separate government, but for a “reorganization of the government of the Commonwealth” of all Virginia. To do this, the delegates proclaimed that “the offices of all who adhere to the said Convention and Executive, whether legislative, executive or judicial, are vacated.” They had no legal or military authority to execute this decree, but it was proclaimed nonetheless.

Two days after voting to declare independence, delegates overwhelmingly approved an Ordinance for the Reorganization of the State Government of Virginia. On that afternoon, the delegates proposed “the immediate organization of volunteer companies in every county represented in the Convention, to support the State government as organized by this Convention.”

A portion of a state seceding from the rest of the state violated Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing that states shall not change their borders without legislative consent. The pro-Confederate Virginia legislature at Richmond would not consent, so to bypass this, the Wheeling delegates declared that the Virginia government had rendered itself illegitimate by seceding from the U.S.; therefore the new western Virginia regime was now the rightful “restored government” of all Virginia.

Francis H. Pierpont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Francis H. Pierpont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Establishing this “restored government” was approved on June 20, when delegates elected Francis H. Pierpont of Marion County the new governor of “restored” Virginia. Pierpont had gained wealth as a lawyer for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and from coal mine investments. He had never held an elected office before, but he strongly supported the Union, abolition, and the Lincoln administration.

Pierpont delivered a speech railing against the southern aristocracy that western Virginians so resented:

“A new doctrine has been introduced by those who are at the head of the revolution in our Southern States–that the people are not the source of all power. Those promulgating this doctrine have tried to divide the people into two classes; one they call the laboring class, the other the capital class. They have for several years been industriously propagating the idea that the capital of the country ought to represent the legislation of the country, and guide it and direct it; maintaining that it is dangerous for the labor of the country to enter into the legislation of the country. This, gentlemen, is the principle that has characterized the revolution that has been inaugurated in the South; they maintaining that those who are to have the privilege of voting ought to be of the educated class, and that the legislation ought not to be represented by the laboring classes.”

Pierpont asserted that his government was for all of Virginia, not just the counties that joined to elect him. He and his new regime petitioned the Lincoln administration, which supported this new entity, for official recognition. Meanwhile, delegates elected Daniel Polsey as the new lieutenant governor, and they named W.T. Willie and John S. Carlile, two men who had opposed secession at last month’s Virginia Convention in Richmond, as U.S. senators.

On June 21, delegates to the Wheeling Convention elected various state officials, including a new auditor, treasurer, and state legislature. The Merchants’ and Mechanics’ Bank of Wheeling would finance the new treasury. By proclaiming this new government to be the legitimate government of all Virginia, the delegates hoped to garner support from Unionists in the eastern part of the state.

However, most Virginians opposed this new western Virginia puppet government, and many argued that it had been unconstitutionally formed. Others cited the inconsistency in President Lincoln’s policy by supporting the secession of western Virginia from the rest of the state while opposing the secession of southern states from the U.S.

“Governor” Pierpont wrote to Lincoln, contending that “large numbers of evil-minded persons have banded together in military organizations with intent to overthrow the government of the State, and for that purpose have called to their aid like-minded persons from other States, who, in pursuance of such call, have invaded this commonwealth.” Pierpont accused the Confederate Armies of the Northwest and the Kanawha of “pressing citizens against their consent into their military organizations, and seizing and appropriating their property to aid in the rebellion.”

Acknowledging that he lacked “sufficient military force to suppress this rebellion and violence,” Pierpont was compelled, “as governor of this commonwealth, to call on the Government of the United States for aid to suppress such rebellion and violence.” Lincoln quickly recognized Pierpont’s administration as the de jure government of Virginia, and he authorized Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal troops to invade the region to protect the predominantly Unionist sentiment there.

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Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 16894; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 50, 52; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6303; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 128; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 37-39; Guelzo, Allen C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 633; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 84, 87; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 298; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 96; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 185, 816-17

Lyon Replaces Harney in Missouri

May 31, 1861 – Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon replaced Brigadier General William S. Harney as commander of the Federal Department of the West. Lyon quickly began working to destroy secessionism in Missouri.

The Lincoln administration worked hard to keep the border state of Missouri in the Union, despite Governor Claiborne F. Jackson’s support for secession. Jackson declared that President Lincoln had provoked civil war and tended toward despotism by issuing his militia proclamation. Jackson asserted that Missourians sympathized with the Confederacy, and state forces seized Federal ordnance in Kansas City.

Federal Cpt. Nathaniel Lyon | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Federal Cpt. Nathaniel Lyon | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

While William S. Harney was in Washington to discuss strategy, his second in command, Nathaniel Lyon, seized the allegedly pro-secessionist Camp Jackson, sparking a riot in St. Louis. Harney returned and helped restore order.

Secessionist members of the Missouri legislature hurriedly assembled at midnight on May 13 at the Jefferson City State House. Fearing that Lyon’s Federals would soon drive west from St. Louis to attack the town, they quickly approved a measure giving the state government absolute power to raise an army and defend Missouri against Federal aggression.

Harney, still trying to maintain order, issued a proclamation the next day calling on Missourians to ignore the bill. The St. Louis Republican denounced Harney for encouraging the people to disregard their popularly elected legislators: “We are bound hand and foot; chained down by a merciless tyranny; are subjugated and shackled.” Federal troops soon closed the newspaper’s offices.

Although Missourians condemned Harney for overriding their state government, Lincoln administration officials began souring on Harney because he seemed reluctant to back his proclamations with action. Lyon showed no such reluctance as he deployed Federal troops to protect Unionists at Potosi. The troops seized several alleged Confederate sympathizers.

Francis P. Blair, Jr. | Image Credit: Wikisource.org

Francis P. Blair, Jr. | Image Credit: Wikisource.org

Influential Republican politician Francis P. Blair, Jr. was one of Lyon’s biggest supporters. Blair’s brother-in-law, Franklin Dick, met with President Lincoln on the 16th to argue on Blair’s behalf that Lyon needed to replace Harney. Dick noted that Harney had a southern background, and “a number of his St. Louis relatives had become avowed secessionists.”

The next day, Lincoln issued an order promoting Lyon from captain to brigadier general, and giving Blair the authority to replace Harney with Lyon. But then Lincoln reconsidered and wrote to Blair that he may have issued the order prematurely. He gave Blair discretion to observe the situation and decide whether Harney should be removed. Blair waited for the time being.

On May 18, former Missouri Governor Sterling Price became a major-general of the State Guard. By that day, “more than 1,000 volunteers had gathered at Jefferson City” to oppose the Federal occupiers. Three days later, Harney and Price negotiated an agreement to hopefully end the animosity between Federal troops and state militia:

“The undersigned, officers of the United States Government and of the government of the State of Missouri, for the purpose of removing misapprehension and of allaying public excitement, deem it proper to declare publicly that they have this day had a personal interview in this city, in which it has been mutually understood, without the semblance of dissent on either part, that each of them has no other than a common object, equally interesting and important to every citizen of Missouri–that of restoring peace and good order to the people of the State in subordination to the laws of the General and State governments.”

Harney agreed that he would not bring any more Federal troops into Missouri as long as Price’s State Guard maintained law and order. This agreement enraged Blair and Lyon, who denounced it as a treasonous surrender of Missouri to the secessionists. The St. Louis Republican Committee sent a message to Lincoln strongly condemning the Harney-Price agreement. Members urged Lincoln to place Missouri under military rule and assured the president that they had the troop strength to enforce that rule.

When Governor Jackson and General Price refused to disband the Missouri State Guard, Blair wrote to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, a political ally, calling Jackson a “traitor.” Unionists began sending letters to Washington describing alleged “outrages” committed by Jackson to justify Federal military rule over Missouri. In response, Lincoln ordered Harney to stop this alleged mistreatment. Lincoln also warned the commander to be suspicious of state officials claiming to be loyal to the U.S.

Finally on May 31, Blair exercised the authority Lincoln had given him and replaced Harney with Lyon. Blair asserted that Harney’s removal was necessary to annul the hated Harney-Price agreement that essentially granted Missouri neutrality. Harney had also faced criticism from administration officials for not acting decisively enough upon allegations that Unionists were being persecuted.

The tentative peace that Harney and Price had negotiated soon degenerated into internal warfare, as Lyon and his backers resolved to drive the secessionists out of Missouri.

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Sources

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 7309-20, 7343-55; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 41, 44-45, 47; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6292; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 89; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 28, 31-32, 35; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 388-89; Guelzo, Allen C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 45, 454; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 69-70, 72-80; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 290; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 15-16; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 814; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q261

Keeping Kentucky and Missouri Loyal

April 26, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln met with a Kentucky Unionist to keep that state loyal, while Federal troops in Missouri worked to keep weapons out of secessionist hands.

Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On April 17, Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin responded to Lincoln’s call for volunteers to destroy the Confederacy: “Your dispatch is received. I say emphatically, Kentucky will furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister Southern states.” Magoffin received support from both Unionists and secessionists in his state, largely because Kentuckians sought neutrality in any struggle between North and South.

Kentucky’s dominance of the Ohio River meant that if it joined the Confederacy, the state could threaten Ohio’s security and even the Great Lakes trade that furnished the material for northern factories, foundries, and furnaces. On the other hand, if Kentucky joined the U.S., it could threaten Tennessee’s security. Thus, both the Federals and Confederates handled Kentucky with caution out of fear it would join the opposing side.

Secessionists had the influential support of Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge, the former U.S. vice president under James Buchanan. Addressing a large crowd at Louisville, Breckinridge denounced Lincoln’s militia proclamation as illegal. Governor Magoffin also began leaning toward the Confederacy; on the 24th he called on militia to defend the state and scheduled the legislature to meet in special session on May 5. Magoffin sought to persuade legislators to abandon “neutrality” and follow Tennessee’s lead in aiding the Confederacy.

To combat the secessionist wave, Lincoln met with Garret Davis, a prime leader of Kentucky’s Union Party. Lincoln assured Davis that he did not intend to occupy Kentucky, even though “he had the unquestioned right at all times to march the United States troops into and over any and every state.” As long as the state “made no demonstration of force against the United States, he would not molest her.” This satisfied Davis that Lincoln would not invade Kentucky if the state maintained its neutrality.

Meanwhile another vital border state, Missouri, also began moving toward the Confederacy. Missouri Governor Claiborne F. Jackson strongly rejected Lincoln’s call for 3,123 men from his state:

“Your requisition, in my judgment, is illegal, unconstitutional, and revolutionary in its object, inhuman and diabolical, and cannot be complied with. Not one man will the State of Missouri furnish to carry on any such unholy crusade.”

Jackson then wrote to Confederate President Jefferson Davis requesting artillery to help Missourians seize the 60,000 stands of arms at the Federal arsenal in St. Louis.

Missouri State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

Missouri State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

Sensing that the situation in Missouri was more ominous than Kentucky, the Lincoln administration moved more aggressively against secessionism. On the 23rd the War Department recalled General William S. Harney, the renowned commander of the Department of the West, from his St. Louis headquarters to Washington to discuss strategy. Politician Francis P. Blair, Jr., representing Republican interests in Missouri, had persuaded the Lincoln administration to pull Harney out so command would pass to Captain Nathaniel Lyon, a fellow Republican. The command included the vital St. Louis arsenal.

A second order, orchestrated by Blair, granted Lyon extraordinary powers in Harney’s absence to “muster into the service the 4 regiments which the Governor had refused to furnish” according to President Lincoln’s militia proclamation. Lyon was to raise as many as 10,000 recruits to maintain Federal control of St. Louis; he had already been secretly arming a force of primarily German immigrants called the Republican Home Guards.

Meanwhile, President Davis wrote to Governor Jackson confirming that Jackson’s envoys had arrived in Montgomery and declaring that the Confederate government would support Missouri secessionists if they seized the St. Louis arsenal. Davis hoped that such support would entice Missouri into joining the Confederacy.

Lyon soon learned that Jackson was organizing 700 secessionist militiamen in western St. Louis. He and Blair responded by enlisting militia Captain James H. Stokes of Chicago into Federal service by transferring muskets from the arsenal across the Mississippi River to Illinois.

Rumors of Lyon’s order to Stokes spread throughout St. Louis, and a crowd of secessionists gathered at the arsenal on the night of the 25th. Lyon decoyed them by positioning several thousand troops on hills around the city while sending boxes of obsolete flintlock muskets to a docked steamboat. As the crowd seized these boxes, Stokes and his Illinois troops docked another steamboat near midnight. They made off with over 10,000 modern muskets and other supplies.

The arms were safely transferred to Alton, Illinois, where they were distributed to Illinois militia. On April 30, Secretary of War Simon Cameron expanded Lyon’s authority even further by authorizing him to declare martial law and enforce it with his rapidly increasing force. Granting Lyon these sweeping powers while depriving Missourians of weapons proved a serious detriment to secessionist aspirations.

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Sources

  • Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 41-42, 43
  • Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 86
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 7238
  • Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 13-15
  • Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 35-38
  • Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 389
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 25-26
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 63-66
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 290-91
  • Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 11-15
  • White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q261

North Carolina and Tennessee Lean South

April 26, 1861 – North Carolina Governor John Ellis joined Tennessee in rejecting President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers to destroy the Confederacy.

The 1st Confederate National Flag | Image Credit: RussellHarrison.com

The 1st Confederate National Flag | Image Credit: RussellHarrison.com

Soon after Lincoln issued his proclamation, North Carolina militia seized Forts Macon, Caswell, and Johnston, as well as the Federal arsenal at Fayetteville. William Howard Russell, a correspondent for the London Times touring the South, was in Greensborough when news arrived that the Confederates captured Fort Sumter. Although North Carolina had not yet seceded, Russell wrote that celebrations exploded with “flush faces, wild eyes, screaming mouths hurrahing for ‘Jeff Davis’ and ‘the Southern Confederacy,’ so that the yells overpowered the discordant bands which were busy with ‘Dixie’s Land’… Here was the true revolutionary furor in full sway.”

Governor Ellis called for a special legislative session to assemble and consider secession after responding to Lincoln:

“Your dispatch is received, and, if genuine–which its extraordinary character leads me to doubt–I have to say, in reply, that I regard the levy of troops made by the Administration, for the purpose of subjugating the States of the South, as in violation of the Constitution, and a usurpation of power. I can be no party to this wicked violation of the laws of the country, and to this war upon the liberties of a free people. You can get no troops from North Carolina.”

Ellis joined fellow Governor Isham Harris of Tennessee, who responded to Lincoln’s call in similar fashion: “Tennessee will not furnish a single man for the purpose of coercion, but 50,000 if necessary for the defense of our rights and those of our Southern brothers.”

Harris also protested to Republican Governor Richard Yates of Illinois for posting Illinois militia at Cairo, where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers met, and imposing “a rather tight blockade of the rivers.” Harris asserted that Tennessee still belonged to the Union, and the “obstruction of the navigation of the Mississippi River and the seizure of public and private property by an armed force are violations of the comity of States and a palpable infringement of the Constitution.” This helped move Tennessee closer to secession.

The Nashville Patriot reported that the “community of interest existing in all the slaveholding States” must serve to unite them to defend “justice and liberty.”

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Sources

  • Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 41-42, 43
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 7238-49
  • Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 10, 59-60
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 52
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 25
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 60-61, 64, 66
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 284
  • Robbins, Peggy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 535-36
  • White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q261

The Baltimore Riot

April 19, 1861 – Troops of the 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment traveling through Baltimore fired on a jeering mob of citizens, sparking mass unrest.

Federal troops heeding President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers needed to pass through Baltimore, a major railroad hub, to get to Washington, D.C. Some Pennsylvania units had made the trip on April 18 and informed capital officials of the poor reception they received from secessionists and city gangs such as the “plug uglies” in predominately pro-Confederate Baltimore. The Massachusetts men came through the next day.

The train carrying the soldiers arrived at the President Street Station at 10:30 a.m. Baltimore Mayor George W. Brown asserted that neither he nor city police had been notified that Federal troops would be arriving that day. To complete their journey to the capital, the Massachusetts men had to have their 10 rail cars drawn by horses along a connecting line to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, a mile across town at the Camden Street Station.

Resentful crowds gathered in the streets to curse and jeer the troops as they passed. The first eight cars went through with no incident, but the mob pelted the ninth car with paving stones and bricks, shattering windows and injuring some troops. Debris on the tracks prevented the 10th car from passing. The men had to detrain and march the remaining distance to Camden Street. Officers instructed their men to load their rifles but not to fire unless ordered to do so.

As the mob cursed and pelted the scared, inexperienced soldiers with brickbats and paving stones, shots rang out. When the smoke cleared, Colonel Edward Jones reported that the 6th had lost three killed (later amended to four) and 39 wounded. Mayor Brown reported that 12 civilians had been killed and dozens of others wounded, though the total figure was unknown.

Massachusetts Soldiers Firing into a Baltimore Crowd | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Massachusetts Soldiers Firing into a Baltimore Crowd | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

These marked the first combat casualties of the war. Prominent journalist George Templeton Strong wrote, “It’s a notable coincidence that the first blood in this great struggle is drawn by Massachusetts men on the anniversary” of the Battles of Lexington and Concord that sparked the War for Independence 86 years before.

Mayor Brown and Police Marshal George Kane tried protecting the soldiers by getting them to the station and hustling them onto rail cars as soon as possible. The train left the Camden Street Station around 12:45 p.m. The soldiers left their dead, some of their wounded, and their regimental band. City police returned baggage and equipment that had been seized by the mob. Some 17 wounded soldiers were carried into the capital on stretchers. Those killed were packed with ice and returned to Massachusetts for honorable interment.

The 6th Massachusetts took up quarters in the Senate chamber of the U.S. Capitol. Baltimore authorities restored order by evening, after rioters had caused thousands of dollars’ worth of property damage.

When a rumor spread that more Federal troops were approaching the city via the northern railroads, Governor Thomas H. Hicks reluctantly approved the recommendation of Mayor Brown and Police Marshal Kane to destroy four railroad bridges leading from Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Secessionists also cut telegraph lines.

Cutting rail and telegraph lines prevented Washington from receiving reinforcements or communications, thus isolating the capital from the North for nearly a week. Many capital visitors quickly fled town, while residents closed their businesses and barricaded their homes. Mayor Brown dispatched three representatives to deliver a letter to President Lincoln warning about Baltimore’s volatility:

“The people are exasperated to the highest degree by the passage of troops, and the citizens are universally decided in the opinion that no more should be ordered to come… It is my solemn duty to inform you that it is not possible for more soldiers to pass through Baltimore unless they fight their way at every step.”

A demonstration took place on the night of the 19th at Baltimore’s Monument Square, where speakers denounced the Lincoln administration and called for Maryland to secede. Governor Hicks, who had straddled both sides of the secession question, now joined the secessionists in declaring to the crowd: “I will suffer my right arm to be torn from my body before I will raise it to strike a sister State.” The next day, Hicks further emboldened the secessionists by informing the Lincoln administration that order could only be maintained by prohibiting the entry of Federal troops.

President Lincoln conferred with General-in-Chief Winfield Scott and then responded by temporarily closing the Baltimore line of transport: “For the future, troops must be brought here (Washington), but I make no point of bringing them through Baltimore.”

The Federals created an alternate route through Maryland via water to Annapolis. Brigadier General Benjamin F. Butler’s 8th Massachusetts paraded his men through that town before they rebuilt damaged railroad tracks on their march to the capital on foot. The Annapolis route, though slower, bypassed the Baltimore problem for now.

Meanwhile, Washington remained in chaos since Federals took more time coming to the city’s defense. Many feared that secessionists would invade at any time. Cut off from reinforcements or communications, wild rumors spreading throughout the capital were taken as fact. 

Northerners were outraged by Maryland’s defiance of Federal authority. Massachusetts soon provided double its quota of troops for the war effort. New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley declared that Baltimore should “be burned with fire and leveled to the earth and made an abode for owls and satyrs and a place for fishermen to dry their nets.”

Marylanders responded differently. School teacher James Randall, a native Marylander reading about the Baltimore riot from New Orleans, composed the poem “My Maryland.” This denounced the Federal invasion of Maryland, and its circulation increased when Baltimore socialite sisters Jennie and Hettie Cary began singing it to audiences to the tune of the Yale song “Lauriger Horatius.” A publisher later changed the song accompaniment to “O Tannenbaum,” a 1799 German song also known as “Oh Christmas Tree.”

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Sources

  • Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 42-43
  • Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 63, 85
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 5818-29
  • Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24-26
  • Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 36
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 24
  • Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 352
  • Hall, James O., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 37
  • Kelly, Dennis P., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 478
  • Klein, Frederic S., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 479
  • Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 29
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 61-63
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 285
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 70
  • Time-Life Editors, Spies, Scouts and Raiders: Irregular Operations (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 12-13
  • Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 62
  • Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 359-60
  • White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q261

Robert E. Lee Goes South

April 18, 1861 – U.S. Colonel Robert E. Lee met with influential statesman Francis P. Blair and received an offer to command the Federal army.

Blair, former editor of The Congressional Globe, traveled from his plantation at Silver Spring, Maryland to Washington on the 16th to meet with President Abraham Lincoln. According to Lincoln’s secretary, the men discussed potential commanders for the Federal forces.

U.S. General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War, was too old for active field command, and his strategy for defeating the Confederacy lacked aggression. Lincoln agreed with Blair’s idea to promote Colonel Lee, whom Scott called “the very best soldier I ever saw in the field.”

Through Secretary of War Simon Cameron, Lincoln directed Blair to “ascertain Lee’s intentions and feelings,” and make him an offer. Scott sent Lee a letter requesting an interview on the 18th. The letter included a message from Lee’s cousin, John Lee, stating that Blair also requested a meeting with Lee on the same day.

U.S. Colonel Robert E. Lee | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

U.S. Colonel Robert E. Lee | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

On the afternoon of the 18th, Lee left his home at Arlington to meet with Blair at the statesman’s townhouse across the street from the White House. Blair explained that the Lincoln administration would field an army of 75 to 100,000 troops, and he had been authorized by Lincoln to offer Lee overall command. This was the highest rank a president could bestow upon a military officer.

Lee told Blair, “I look upon secession as anarchy,” and if he had power over every slave, he would “sacrifice them all to the Union.” However, Lee later recalled telling Blair “as candidly and courteously as I could that though opposed to secession and deprecating war, I could take no part in an invasion of the Southern states.” Moreover, considering that the Virginia Convention had just voted to secede (pending a popular vote), Lee asked, “How can I draw my sword upon Virginia, my native state?”

After the meeting, Lee went to Scott’s office to visit with the general-in-chief. Lee described his meeting with Blair and Lee’s decision. Scott said, “Lee, you have made the greatest mistake of your life; but I feared it would be so.” Lee hoped to stay in the army until the referendum on Virginia’s secession took place on May 23, but Scott advised, “If you propose to resign, it is proper that you should do so at once; your present attitude is equivocal.”

With that, Lee returned to Arlington House, where he would “share the miseries of my people and save in defense will draw my sword on none.”

The next day, delegates to the Virginia Convention approved authorizing appointment of a “commander of the military and naval forces of Virginia.” The commander would have the rank of major-general and authority to lead military operations and troop organization under the governor’s overall authority. The convention committee in charge of the decision recommended Colonel Robert E. Lee for the position.

Meanwhile Lee learned of Virginia’s secession, and while friends and family gathered at the Arlington House to discuss the matter, Lee retired alone to the garden to consider what he would do. He later returned home and paced in his room for several hours. Early next morning, Lee wrote his letter of resignation to General-in-Chief Scott, after 32 years of service in the U.S. army: “Sir–I have the honour to tender the resignation of my Commission as Colonel of the 1st Regt of Cavalry.” Lee explained:

“Since my interview with you on the 18th instant I have felt that I ought not longer retain my commission in the Army. I therefore tender my resignation, which I request you will recommend for acceptance. It would have been presented at once, but for the struggle it has cost me to separate myself from a service to which I have devoted all the best years of my life & all the ability I possessed…”

The decision had to be made quickly before Lee received orders from his superiors in the Federal government to act against the Confederacy. Lee’s decision was made not because he supported either slavery or secession, but because he believed his first duty was to his home state of Virginia, which had opted for secession.

Virginia Governor John Letcher dispatched Judge John Robertson to formally offer a major-general commission to Robert E. Lee in accordance with the ordinance passed on the 19th. Lee accepted and left Arlington on the morning of April 22. He took a train from Alexandria to Gordonsville and then completed his journey to the state capital on the Virginia Central Railroad.

After checking into the Spotswood Hotel, Lee met with Letcher and officially accepted the governor’s appointment. That evening, delegates to the Virginia Convention unanimously approved Letcher’s choice of Lee as “Commander-in-Chief of the military and naval forces of the Commonwealth” of Virginia.

Major General Lee opened a temporary office in Richmond on the 23rd. Before he could assemble a staff, he issued General Order No. 1 announcing that he now commanded all Virginia forces. A committee from the Virginia Convention escorted Lee to the convention hall, where Marmaduke Johnson introduced him: “Mr. President, I have the honor to present to you, and to the Convention, Major General Lee.”

Lee was welcomed into the hall, “in which we may almost yet hear the echo of the voices of the statesmen, the soldiers and sages of by-gone days, who have borne your name, and whose blood now flows in your veins.” Convention President John Janney delivered a speech:

“Sir, we have, by this unanimous vote, expressed our conviction that you are at this day, among the living citizens of Virginia, ‘first in war.’ We pray God most fervently that you may so conduct the operations committed to your charge, that it will soon be said of you, that you are ‘first in peace,’ and when that time comes you will have earned the still prouder distinction of being ‘first in the hearts of your countrymen…'”

Lee rose and addressed the delegation: “Profoundly impressed with the solemnity of the occasion, for which I must say I was not prepared, I accept the position assigned me by your partiality… Trusting in Almighty God, an approving conscience, and the aid of my fellow-citizens, I devote myself to the service of my native State, in whose behalf alone will I ever again draw my sword.”

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Sources

  • Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 224-25, 231-32
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 5759
  • Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 27-28
  • Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 36-37
  • Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2214-38, 2282, 2367-78, 2390
  • Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 349-50
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 61, 63-65
  • Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20
  • Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 50-52, 283
  • White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q261

The Virginia Secession

April 17, 1861 – Delegates to the Virginia Convention at Richmond approved an ordinance of secession in a secret ballot, 88 to 55.

Virginia State Flag | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Virginia State Flag | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

President Abraham Lincoln had been quietly working to keep Virginia in the Union since early April. On the 3rd, Lincoln dispatched agent Allan B. Magruder to Richmond to explore the potential for negotiations between the Lincoln administration and Virginia Unionists.

The next day Secretary of State William H. Seward, hoping to salvage his credibility after breaking his pledge to the Confederate envoys to evacuate Fort Sumter, persuaded Lincoln to meet with John B. Baldwin, a Unionist delegate to the Virginia Convention debating secession. Knowing the convention would approve secession if a clash occurred over Fort Sumter, Lincoln and Seward hoped to negotiate a deal through Baldwin.

In a long, secret conference, Lincoln reportedly discussed possibly evacuating Sumter in exchange for Virginia’s guarantee not to secede by adjourning the convention sine die. Lincoln said, “If you will guarantee to me the State of Virginia I shall remove the troops. A state for a fort is no bad business.”

Baldwin replied that he had no authority to tell the other convention delegates how to vote. Nevertheless, on that same day the delegates rejected a secession ordinance by a vote of 89 to 45. But the delegates also resolved to stay in session in case the Lincoln administration showed aggression toward the Confederacy or infringed on states’ rights. Lincoln also met with former U.S. congressman and Virginia Unionist John M. Botts to discuss keeping in Virginia in the Union, but apparently nothing came of this meeting. Lincoln soon grew more pessimistic about keeping Virginia in the Union.

That pessimism proved well founded because news that Fort Sumter had been fired upon produced a wave of secessionism that swept Virginia. Citizens formed a separate “Spontaneous Southern Rights Convention” in a different Richmond hall and resolved to demand that the Virginia Convention approve secession. The firing on Fort Sumter, combined with Lincoln’s call for Virginia forces to oppose the Confederacy, prompted many Unionist delegates to change their sentiment.

In fact, Virginia took the lead among the states still considering secession when Governor John Letcher refused to comply with the Lincoln administration’s request for volunteers in an official message to Secretary of War Simon Cameron:

“Executive Department, Richmond, Va., April 15, 1861. Hon. Simon Cameron, Secretary of War: Sir: I have received your telegram of the 15th, the genuineness of which I doubted. Since that time I have received your communications mailed the same day, in which I am requested to detach from the militia of the State of Virginia ‘the quota assigned in a table,’ which you append, ‘to serve as infantry or rifleman for the period of three months, unless sooner discharged.’ In reply to this communication, I have only to say that the militia of Virginia will not be furnished to the powers at Washington for any such use or purpose as they have in view. Your object is to subjugate the Southern States, and a requisition made upon me for such an object–an object, in my judgment, not within the purview of the Constitution or the act of 1795–will not be complied with. You have chosen to inaugurate civil war, and, having done so, we will meet it in a spirit as determined as the administration has exhibited toward the South.”

Former Governor Henry Wise delivered an impassioned speech to the state convention delegates on the 17th. He announced that state militia had begun moving to secure the military bases at Harpers Ferry and the Gosport Navy Yard at Norfolk. Wise had planned the effort to defend Harpers Ferry without consulting with current Governor Letcher.

Calling on Virginians not to hesitate to defend themselves, Wise’s speech electrified the hall and helped the delegates to vote for secession. They also approved holding a popular vote to ratify the ordinance on the fourth Thursday in May (the 23rd), even though secession was essentially a foregone conclusion.

Former U.S. President John Tyler supported the ordinance, stating, “Generations yet unborn would bless those who had the high privilege of participation in the present struggle.” Thomas Gilmer, who had worked for Stephen A. Douglas in Virginia, now condemned the pro-Union senator: “The period for words is past. The time for war is at hand… God forbid that I may ever live to see the day, when Stephen Douglas can stoop so low as to take by the hand, such… as Abe Lincoln and his Cabinet.”

Of the 88 delegates who approved secession, only five came from Virginia’s northwestern counties. Few slaveholders lived in that mountainous region, and the people there had strong economic ties to the Ohio River Valley and the northern states. Thus residents there remained largely Unionist.

The delegation resolved to call upon Governor Letcher to raise a militia to defend the state. Declaring that “the people of this Commonwealth are free men, not slaves,” Letcher quickly began mobilizing forces. Meanwhile, celebrations took place throughout the Confederacy upon learning that the largest and most prosperous slaveholding state in the Union would soon be joining them.

Mass celebrations also took place in Richmond, including the largest torchlight procession in city history. Former President Tyler and former Governor Wise delivered inspiring speeches, and many compared this event to the rebellion against Great Britain led by Virginia’s first “rebel,” George Washington. Thousands of people paraded down Main, Franklin, and Marshall streets as bands played “Dixie” and “The Bonnie Blue Flag.”

Various orators gave speeches as lighted candles forming the Southern Cross appeared in surrounding windows. One speaker declared, “I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, yet I will predict that in less than 60 days the flag of the Confederacy will be waving over the White House.” A spectator replied, “In less than 30 days!” Meanwhile, militia carried out Letcher’s order to seize the U.S. custom-house and post office in Richmond, and President Jefferson Davis pledged Confederate aid to Virginia.

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Sources

  • Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 230-31
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 5270-82, 7226-38
  • Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 15-17
  • Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 32-33, 35-36
  • Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6109
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 46, 51-52
  • Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 349
  • Klein, Frederic S., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 479
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 53-54, 59-61
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 270, 278-79, 298
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 66
  • Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 50-52, 283
  • White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q161
  • Wikipedia: Virginia in the American Civil War