General Benjamin Butler Occupies Baltimore
The State of Maryland had divided loyalties in the Civil War. There were regiments of Maryland soldiers in the armies of both sides. Though Maryland never seceded and joined the Confederacy, it was a slave state with a large number of Confederate sympathizers.
The City of Baltimore, in particular, had a significant portion of its population that was openly hostile to the Federal government and Union army. In February 1861, assassination threats considered credible forced president elect Abraham Lincoln to alter his travel plans and pass through Baltimore incognito on his way to the inauguration in Washington. On April 19th, shortly after the firing on Fort Sumter and the start of hostilities, the Washington bound 6th Massachusetts Regiment was attacked by a pro Confederate mob that did not want Federal troops passing through town on their way to suppressing the rebellion. There was rock throwing which led to gunfire, and when it was over four soldiers had been killed and 36 injured, while 12 Baltimore citizens were killed and an unknown number injured.
Convinced that further Federal troop movements through Baltimore would trigger even more violence, civilian authorities and the Governor of Maryland decided to burn the railroad bridges leading in to Baltimore from the east. In the interest of preventing more violence, Lincoln agreed to try and avoid having troops travel through Baltimore, but insisted they would still have to pass through Maryland and would use force to ensure safe passage. Complicating matters was the fact that Confederate sympathizers had cut the telegraph lines from Maryland into Washington, cutting off that communication with the North. Few troops were in Washington at this point, and with the most direct route from the northern population centers unavailable and communications severely disrupted, the Federal capital was essentially isolated and vulnerable to attack.
The situation looked bleak, but help was on the way. On April 20th, a steamship transporting the 8th Massachusetts Infantry, under the command of Brigadier General Benjamin Butler, reached Annapolis, Maryland. Maryland governor Thomas H. Hicks feared that Union troops anywhere in his state would spark violence and asked Butler to not put his regiment ashore. Butler would have none of it and landed his troops on April 22nd. The same day, the 7th New York Militia arrived via steamer and went ashore also.
The two regiments were about 40 miles from Washington via railroad. A rail line from Annapolis intersected the main line from Baltimore to Washington at a point about 20 miles west of Annapolis but south of Baltimore. The Union troops could travel by rail to Washington from Annapolis without passing through Baltimore. However, the bridges had been burned and tracks damaged by southern sympathizers, and the only available locomotive was inoperable. But Butler had plenty of railroad men in his command, and the train engine was soon fixed and the tracks and bridges repaired. The 7th New York arrived in Washington on April 25th, and others soon followed.
With a route open from the north, Lincoln moved to make it secure. On April 27th, he suspended the writ of habeas corpus along the military supply line from Philadelphia to Washington, meaning that anyone suspected of aiding the
Confederacy could be arrested and held indefinitely without recourse through the courts. Many were arrested and held in this way despite legal protests that fell on deaf ears.
Meanwhile, Butler decided to take action on his own. On May 5th, he sent soldiers to occupy Relay House, a vital rail junction near Baltimore. Then on May 13th, Butler moved troops into Baltimore itself and occupied the high ground of Federal Hill, which commanded the entire city. Butler had acted without orders and incurred the wrath of General Winfield Scott, general in chief of the Union Army. Nonetheless, the occupation, along with the arrests of Confederate sympathizers or suspected sympathizers, was effective. Baltimore remained under control. The Maryland legislature voted not to secede from the Union and northern troops moved through the state on their way to the war without major incident.
Butler, a politician turned general explained his actions to Scott, the professional soldier:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF ANNAPOLIS,
Federal Hill, Baltimore, May 15, 1861.
I received your telegram this morning, and hasten to reply in detail. In obedience to verbal directions, received from the War Department through Mr. Harriman at 1½ o’clock on Monday [12th instant], at the Relay Station, I caused a portion of the force there situated–that is to say, 500 men of the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment, under Colonel Jones; 450 men of the Eighth New York Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Waterbury; and a section of Cook’s battery, with Major Cook–to march for Baltimore at 6 o’clock.
We disembarked from the cars without difficulty, and took possession of Federal Hill amid the plaudits of many of the people and a violent thunder-storm. We were disturbed during the night by a report of a riot, in which the United States recruiting regiment was being attacked. This called us to arms about midnight, and the men so remained until morning in a drenching rain with the utmost patience. It turned out upon investigation that this was only a feint of the secessionists to cover a plundering of a quantity of arms between 1 and 2 o’clock from those stored by the city nearly opposite the custom-house.
Thus the carrying off of some four or five hundred stand of arms was accomplished by the police under the direction of the board of police. I found certain other arms being shipped, apparently for improper purposes, to a place called Snow
Hill. I have sent out and brought in forty minie rifles. The remaining arms stored opposite the customhouse, amounting to twenty-seven hundred stand, I have caused to be seized and sent to Fort McHenry. I have caused Mr. Ross Winans to be arrested and sent to Annapolis; but for greater safety, as I have no place of confinement save a jail, I shall cause him to be removed to Fort McHenry, there to await the action of the civil authorities, unless otherwise ordered. I have found several manufactories of arms, supplies, and munitions of war for the rebels, who are being constantly supplied from the city.
A specimen of an explosive minie rifle-ball, the experiments with which, under Crosby, at Woolwich, were so satisfactory, I herewith inclose for your inspection. This manufactory (carried on, I am ashamed to say, by a Massachusetts man) I shall cause to be stopped. I propose this morning to seize a quantity of powder stored in Greenmount Cemetery, of which I will report to you. I had an interview with the mayor and some other gentlemen. He informed me that he did not consider it the duty of the city authorities actively to co-operate in preventing the forwarding of arms and munitions of war to the rebels.
I have issued a proclamation, a copy of which I inclose, and which I trust you will approve. It became necessary, in my judgment, in order to set right the thousand conflicting stories and rumors of the intentions of the Government as to Baltimore, which were taken advantage of by the mob to incite insubordination and encourage a spirit of insurrection, and which showed itself upon our taking possession of the Government arms, but was instantly suppressed upon a show of force.
I have not assumed to order re-enforcements from General Patterson. I have no need of either them or him, and can get along very well without either, with accustomed deliberation. I have had no report of the arrival of his troops early this morning. I have received no letter from the Lieutenant-General for many days, and the first telegram this morning, to which I have replied with some degree of promptness. General Shriver, at Frederick, has telegraphed me frequently for aid to protect Monocacy Bridge. I sent his telegram to the Lieutenant-General, asking for instructions, and that is the telegram misunderstood. I have provided for the safety of my camp at the Relay. I have asked for and obtained the Eighth Massachusetts Regiment from General Mansfield, on the promise that he should receive in their stead the Eighth New York.
From some unexplained reason General Mansfield retained from the Eighth Massachusetts their camp equipage, which is the property of the State of Massachusetts, which retention has somewhat disordered my plans. But the Eighth Massachusetts are at the camp at the Relay House, and unless I have entirely mistaken my men, they, together with the balance of Jones’ Sixth Regiment and that part of the New York Eighth (consisting of about five hundred men) which I have left there, together with two sections of Cook’s battery, will be able to hold that point against all comers, if not in safety, with success. I should be deeply grieved if in any of my acts I should exceed propriety of action by going either too fast or too far. I shall await and obey instructions implicitly, and keep the General-in-Chief advised of every movement so far as possible, so that I may have the instructions and directions to which the country looks for control and safety in the peril of the hour.
I have the honor to announce further the completion of the railroad connection between Washington and tide-water at Annapolis. With the means of transportation now provided, we can move 5,000 troops daily between Washington and Annapolis. As soon as I receive further communication I will send a more detailed report. I have also the honor to communicate the capture of the steam gun, and the fact that I have found men in the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment who have been able to put it in operation, and it is now in full working order.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
BENJ. F. BUTLER,
Butler also issued this proclamation to the citizens of Baltimore:
DEPARTMENT OF ANNAPOLIS,
Federal Hill, Baltimore, May 14, 1861.
A detachment of the forces of the Federal Government under my command have occupied the city of Baltimore for the purpose, among other things, of enforcing respect and obedience to the laws, as well of the State–if requested thereto by the civil authorities–as of the United States laws, which are being violated within its limits by some malignant and traitorous men, and in order to testify the acceptance by the Federal Government of the fact that the city and all the well intentioned portion of its inhabitants are loyal to the Union and the Constitution, and are to be so regarded and treated by all. To the end, therefore, that all misunderstanding of the purpose of the Government may be prevented, and to set; at rest all unfounded, false, and seditious rumors; to relieve all apprehensions, if any are felt, by the well-disposed portion of the community, and to make it thoroughly understood by all traitors, their aiders and abettors, that rebellious acts must cease, I hereby, by the authority vested in me as commander of the Department of Annapolis, of which Baltimore forms a part, do now command and make known that no loyal and well-disposed citizen will be disturbed in his lawful occupation or business; that private property will not be interfered with by the men under my command, or allowed to be interfered with by others, except in so far as it may be used to afford aid and comfort to those in rebellion against the Government, whether here or elsewhere all of which property, munitions of war, and that fitted to aid and support the rebellion, will be seized and held subject to confiscation; and, therefore, all manufacturers of arms and munitions of war are hereby requested to report to me forthwith, so that the lawfulness of their occupation may be known and understood, and all misconstruction of their doings be avoided. No transportation from the city to the rebels of articles fitted to aid and support troops in the field will be permitted, and the fact of such transportation, after the publication of this proclamation, will be taken and received as proof of illegal intention on the part of the consignors, and will render the goods liable to seizure and confiscation.
The Government being ready to receive all such stores and supplies, arrangements will be made to contract for them immediately, and the owners and manufacturers of such articles of equipments and clothing and munitions of war and provisions are desired to keep themselves in communication with the Commissary-General, in order that their workshops may be employed for loyal purposes, and the artisans of the city resume and carry on their profitable occupations.
The acting assistant quartermaster and commissary of subsistence of the United States here stationed has been instructed to proceed and furnish at fair prices 40,000 rations for the use of the Army of the United States, and further supplies will be drawn from the city to the full extent of its capacity, if the patriotic and loyal men choose so to furnish supplies.
All assemblages, except the ordinary police, of armed bodies of men, other than those regularly organized and commissioned by the State of Maryland, and acting under the orders of the governor thereof, for drill and other purposes, are forbidden within the department.
All officers of the militia of Maryland having command within the limits of the department are requested to report through their officers forthwith to the general in command, so that he may be able to know and distinguish the regularly commissioned and loyal troops of Maryland from armed bodies who may claim to be such.
The ordinary operations of the corporate government of the city of Baltimore and of the civil authorities will not be interfered with, but, on the contrary, will be aided by all the power at the command of the general, upon proper call being made, and all such authorities are cordially invited to co-operate with the general in command to carry out the purposes set forth in the proclamation, so that the city of Baltimore may be shown to the country to be, what she is in fact, patriotic and loyal to the Union, the Constitution, and the laws.
No flag, banner, ensign, or device of the so-called Confederate States, or any of them, will be permitted to be raised or shown in this department, and the exhibition of either of them by evil-disposed persons will be deemed and taken to be evidence of a design to afford aid and comfort to the enemies of the country. To make it more apparent that the Government of the United States by far more relies upon the loyalty, patriotism, and zeal of the good citizens of Baltimore and vicinity than upon any exhibition of force calculated to intimidate them into that obedience to the laws which the Government doubts not will be paid from inherent respect and love of order, the commanding general has brought to the city with him, of the many thousand troops in the immediate neighborhood, which might be at once concentrated here, scarcely more than an ordinary guard, and until it fails him, he will continue to rely upon that loyalty and patriotism of the citizens of Maryland which have never yet been found wanting to the Government in time of need. The general in command desires to greet and treat in this part of his department all the citizens thereof as friends and brothers, having a common purpose, a common loyalty, and a common country. Any infractions of the law by the troops under his command, or any disorderly, unsoldierlike conduct, or any interference with private property, he desires to have immediately reported to him, and pledges himself that if any soldier so far forgets himself as to break those laws that he has sworn to defend and enforce, he Shall be most rigorously punished.
The general believes that if the suggestions and requests contained in this proclamation are faithfully carried out by the co-operation of all good and Union-loving citizens, and peace and quiet and certainty of future peace and quiet are thus restored, business will resume its accustomed channels, trade take the place of dullness and inactivity, efficient labor displace idleness, and Baltimore will be in fact, what she is entitled to be, in the front rank of the commercial cities of the nation.
Given at Baltimore the day and year herein first above written.
BENJ. F. BUTLER,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Department of Annapolis
E. C. PARKER,
Though Butler was soon reassigned to the command of Fort Monroe, Virginia, Federal occupation of Baltimore continued throughout the war.
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
by James McPherson
The Coming Fury
by Bruce Catton
Generals in Blue by Ezra J. Warner
“Going to the Front” by Warren Lee Goss. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume I, edited by Clarence C. Buel and Robert U. Johnson.
by David Herbert Donald
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I Volume 2.