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150 Years Ago: Friday, April 19, 1861

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President Lincoln, Secretary of State William Seward and Secretary of War Simon Cameron visit Capitol Hill early in the morning to meet the Pennsylvania militia volunteers that arrived from Baltimore the evening before. Many of the troops call for Lincoln to give a speech, but he declines. Instead, he says “Officers and soldiers of the Washington Artillery: I did not come here to make a speech. The time for speech making has gone by, the time for action is at hand. I have come here to give you a warm welcome to the city of Washington, and to shake hands with every officer and soldier in your company providing you grant me the privilege.” Not a single soldier denies Lincoln this request.

As Lincoln makes his way through, he notices that several of the soldiers are bruised and bloodied from the events the prior day. Lincoln is particularly struck by Nick Biddle, whose head was wrapped in blood soaked bandages. The 65-year old African American stood proudly in his uniform, while Lincoln expresses concern over his injury and urges him to seek medical assistance. Biddle refuses, saying that he prefers to stay with his Company. 

In Baltimore, the mob from the day before now turned into a full blown riot. Baltimore was a unique city, as many of the new militia troops had to go through there by train to get to Washington City. To complicate matters, the rails coming from the north/west stopped on the north side of the city; it did not pass through Baltimore and to Camden Station, where the rails led south to Washington. This meant that train cars had to be separated and then pulled individually by horses to transport the men to Camden Station.

Today the Massachusetts 6th Regiment has to go through the mob. Baltimore citizens were strong secessionist supporters, though Maryland was still a part of the Union. Things become out of control and led to a full blown riot. Citizens do whatever they can to prevent the troops from reaching their destination by blocking the transport cars and breaking windows, which eventually forces the militia to march through the streets in double-time. Once again bricks and stones are thrown at the volunteers. A few citizens fire shots at the troops, killing one. The order to “fire” back is eventually given, hitting a few citizens in the mob. Baltimore police try to hold the citizens back so that the regiment can pass and exit the city. 

Baltimore Riot Illustration
April 19, 1861

Unfortunately the situation is so severe that most of the equipment and baggage – and even the marching band – is left behind in the escape. The Colonel of the regiment, once on the train, realizes that 130 volunteers are unaccounted for. In total, four soldiers and twelve civilians were killed, and countless others were injured. While the first blood was shed the day before, this was considered the first real day of bloodshed due to the number of victims. The troops that were killed are offered a prominent lot in the Congressional burial ground if the regiment is not able to send them back home to be buried in Boston.

Baltimore officials demand that President Lincoln send no more Union troops through their city. The Mayor and Police Chief authorize the destruction of several key rail bridges outside of town to prevent troops from entering the city. Other citizens tear down telegraph wires, effectively cutting off communication between Baltimore and Washington City. Union citizens are upset; Horace Greeley, a famous writer for the New York Tribune, calls for Baltimore to be burned to the ground.

In Washington City, President Lincoln issues a blockade against Southern ports, seeking to cripple the South’s ability to bring in supplies to help their war efforts. This would also affect exports out of the South, including cotton, which would cripple the South financially and also had the potential to affect U.S. relations with countries like England and France.

In Montgomery, Alabama, CSA President Jefferson Davis issues a proclamation with the purpose of establishing friendly relations with Virginia, who had seceded from the Union on April 17 but had not officially joined the Confederate States of America. This proclamation was the first step at establishing such a bond.

Late that evening from his plantation home in Arlington, Virginia, Robert E. Lee could clearly see the unfinished capitol dome representing the country he had vowed to protect. But Virginia, his true home, had left the Union. His loyalties were now split. After a lot of thought and consideration, Lee followed his heart and trusted in God that he made the right choice. Between the hours of 8pm and midnight, he wrote an official letter resigning his position in the U.S. military. He loved his country, but loved Virginia more. He broke the vow. He would stand with his fellow Virginians. The letter would be delivered the next day.

Daily Civil War Calendar

April 2011

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