150 Years Ago: Thursday, April 18, 1861

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Major Robert Anderson, after his defeat at Fort Sumter, finally arrives in New York City. His first order of business was to send a telegram to Secretary of War Simon Cameron. It was a brief message, outlining what newspapers had already reported: The Union had defended the Fort for 34 hours until the quarters were destroyed and the Fort was severely damaged. He only had three cartridges of powder and the only food left was some pork. Anderson accepted the terms of the evacuation from CSA General Beauregard. They were allowed to leave the Fort with colors flying and drums beating, along with a salute of 50 guns to the U.S. flag. What he did not report at this time was that he had brought the tattered U.S. flag back with him, something that would make him the first hero of the Civil War for the North.

Robert E. Lee went to Washington City to meet with Francis Preston Blair. Blair had requested a meeting with Lee, which was arranged by Lee’s cousin, John Lee. The meeting was confidential, and later there would be conflicting reports as to what occurred. President Lincoln and Secretary of War Simon Cameron had expressed interest in offering Robert E. Lee the top military leadership position to oversee the Union army. Knowing that Lee was very attached to Virginia and that his home state had recently agreed to put secession to a vote of the people, it was a very delicate subject that they felt someone only with Blair’s long standing reputation could handle. They spoke for several hours, and at that time Blair asked Lee if he would be willing to accept such a position if it was offered to him. Lee is famously said to have responded “How can I draw my sword upon Virginia, my native State?” He was unable to provide an answer to Blair at this time; he asked to talk to General Winfield Scott, who was his superior and someone he respected. General Scott was also from Virginia, and Lee was likely looking for personal guidance; was his loyalty to the Union or to his home in Virginia? After his meetings, Lee went back to his home in Arlington to make his decision.
Later that day, 475 volunteer militia troops from Pennsylvania (who had started out in Harrisburg that morning) were now making their way through the streets of Baltimore to Camden Station to board a train for Washington City. Many residents in Baltimore were in support of secession, so when word of troops arriving spread through the city almost 2,000 showed up in protest. Police were brought in to help escort the volunteers, but they had a difficult time keeping things under control. Protesters yelled jeers and insults while hurrahing Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy.

The arrival of the militia at Camden Station was met with chaos and violence. At this point the protesters became a mob, throwing bricks, stones, bottles, and whatever else they could find. Some threw punches and clubbed the volunteers; a few actually drew knives and guns. Someone sprinkled gun powder on the floor of the train cars, hoping that someone would carelessly throw a match while lighting a cigar or attempting to better light the area so they could see better, which would result in blowing themselves to pieces.

What enraged the mob the most was the sight of Nick Biddle, a 65-year old black orderly to Captain James Wren. Biddle had been associated with the company since 1840 and was so well respected that he was allowed to wear a uniform even though blacks were not allowed to serve in the military at the time. Cries of “Nigger in uniform!” were yelled at Biddle, who was struck in the head by a brick so hard that it exposed bone. Though Biddle is often not spoken of, but at the time he was considered the first soldier to shed “first blood” in the bloodiest war in U.S. history. 

In Galena, Illinois, Ulysses S. Grant attended a town meeting that he had been asked to preside over. Though he was not a man of high standing in the community, he was a West Point graduate, had served in the military and fought in the Mexican War, thereby making him a man of experience in matters of war. The town had gathered to discuss President Lincoln’s proclamation asking for troops and what their town needed to do to support this effort. 
While Grant said little in the meeting, lawyer John A. Rawlins gave a moving and memorable speech to his fellow men encouraging them to serve their country and help in putting down this rebellion. Grant was chosen to help in recruiting a company of Volunteers, which he was then to take down to the Illinois capitol of Springfield. Rawlins would go with Grant as a volunteer “aide-de-camp” (personal assistant or secretary); the future had a lot in store for these two men.
At 7pm, the 475 Pennsylvania volunteers arrived in Washington City. They were the first to arrive after Lincoln’s call for troops, and were nicknamed the “First Defenders.” Major Irwin McDowell (USA) met them at the train station and escorted them to the U.S. Capitol, where they spent their first night.

About The Civil War Project

Like many others, I have a passion for the Civil War era, and for decades have chosen to spend my much of free time researching this topic - particularly the people, as the human component is what I find most fascinating. This site is not a source of revenue for me, nor is it tied in with a company or other individual behind the scenes. It is my own personal venture. It is because of this genuine bond of respect and affection I feel towards this period in our history that I created "The Civil War Project." If this is your first time visiting the site, I welcome you and thank you for your interest. If you have any feedback or questions, please feel free to contact me at thecivilwarproject@yahoo.com.


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April 2011

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