Lincoln on Trial: Southern Civilians and the Law of War

By Burrus M. Carnahan | Go to book overview

Introduction
Crisis at Baltimore

Fort Sumter fell on April 14, 1861. Five days later, pro-Confederate mobs attacked Massachusetts infantry traveling through Baltimore en route to Washington, D.C., and the troops returned fire. To prevent further movement of U.S. troops through Baltimore, railroad bridges connecting that city to Washington and the North had been burned, not by saboteurs or guerrillas, but by organized members of the Maryland state militia acting with the approval of the mayor of Baltimore and the governor of the state. The Maryland legislature would soon assemble, perhaps to vote to secede and join the Confederacy, cutting the capital off from the rest of the United States.

On April 25, President Abraham Lincoln signed an order to General Winfield Scott, commander of the U.S. Army. If the Maryland legislature voted “to arm their people against the United States,” Scott was “to adopt the most prompt, and efficient means to counteract, even, if necessary, to the bombardment of their cities.”1 The war was less than a month old, and already the president had authorized the army to turn artillery on American cities filled with unarmed men, women, and children. It was not a decision he made easily. His secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay, recalled that the president’s initial reaction was to seek conciliation. In the early morning of April 20, he assured a delegation from Baltimore that he would move future reinforcements around Baltimore, not through it. Attempting to lighten the situation with humor, Lincoln remarked: “If I grant you this, you shall come to-morrow demanding that no troops shall pass around.”

The joke became a prophecy. Later that day one of Maryland’s congressmen demanded that no U.S. troops travel through his state at all. The next day another delegation, led by the mayor of Baltimore, demanded that a body of Pennsylvania troops, who had reached a point fifteen miles north of Baltimore, be ordered to leave the state. “Fear-

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