Lincoln on Trial: Southern Civilians and the Law of War

By Burrus M. Carnahan | Go to book overview

5
“Can You Get Near Enough
to Throw Shells into the City?”
Personal Injury to Civilians

When President Lincoln wrote the order of April 25, 1861, authorizing bombardment of Baltimore, he may not have realized the full implications of the power he was giving General Winfield Scott. Errors in the order that are apparent when the full text is read suggest that it was written in haste and excitement:

The Maryland Legislature assembles to-morrow at Anapolis;
and, not improbably, will take action to arm the people of that
State against the United States. The question has been submit-
ted to, and considered by me, whether it would not be justifiable,
upon the ground of necessary defence, for you, as commander
in Chief of the United States Army, to arrest, or disperse the
members of that body. I think it would not be justifiable; nor,
efficient for the desired object.

First, they have a clearly legal right to assemble; and, we
can not know in advance, that their action will not be lawful,
and peaceful. And if we wait until they shall have acted, their
arrest, or dispersion, will not lessen the effect of their action.

Secondly, we can not permanently prevent their action. If we
arrest them, we can not long hold them as prisoners; and when
liberated, they will immediately re-assemble, and take their ac-
tion. And, precisely the same if we simply disperse them. They
will immediately re-assemble in some other place.

I therefore conclude that it is only left to the Commanding

-101-

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