Thursday, June 27, 1861
The Union troops who landed on the Virginia side of the Potomac at Mathias Point were greeted with a warm welcome from the waiting Confederates encamped there. The USS Pawnee and Thomas Freeborn saw their last notable action at Aquia Creek in the beginning of June. The Freeborn was anchored five miles south of Mathias Point (roughly fifty miles down river from Washington) when the Pawnee caught up with her.
Two days prior, the Pawnee landed men at Mathias Point, discovered a company of Rebels and burned down the house of a doctor. On this date, to clear out the Rebels, Captain J.H. Ward of the Thomas Freeborn ordered the Pawnee and several other vessels to his aide.
As the Freeborn and a few other ships approached the Point, they fired solid shot and exploding shell from their artillery. Captain Ward and Lt. J.C. Chaplin of the Pawnee safely landed under this covering fire. Chaplin ordered them to spread out as skirmishers and advance away from the river. After a few minutes, they met the Rebel pickets who fired upon them and ran towards the rest of their comrades.
Expecting only a company or so of Confederates, Chaplin ordered an advance, but in a short time saw an entire regiment of 500 Rebels cresting a brow of a hill to his front. After a quick meeting with Ward, Chaplin and his men hurried back to the boats while Ward ordered more artillery fire to be aimed in the direction of the Rebels.
After a fifteen minute bombardment, Ward ordered Chaplain to once again land his men, but to also throw up breastworks of sandbags, which, when completed, was covered with sticks and leaves in an attempt to fool the Rebels. As he was leaving, the Rebels again advanced, firing from a distance of 250 yards. Two of his men were wounded, as were two others on board the ships. Captain Ward was shot in the abdomen and died almost instantly.
The Rebels lost not a man during the engagement. Confederate Major Robert Mayo, commanding the troops at Mathias Point got word to General Lee that if they had had even a single piece of artillery, they could have sunk the Freeborn.
For his part, Lee had always intended to place a battery at the Point. In fact, there were three nine-inch Columbiads waiting in Richmond with Mathias Point’s name on them. It had been considered too risky to install them.1
Not Martial Law in Baltimore
Union Major-General Nathaniel Banks had taken command of the Department of Annapolis after General Cadwalader was sent to Hagerstown with General Patterson. Banks had been ordered by General Scott to arrest Baltimore’s chief of police, George P. Kane as well as four other police commissioners, all of whom were known pro-secessionists.
Early in the morning, Kane was arrested in his home by a force of 1,800 Union soldiers and immediately taken to Fort McHenry. The four commissioners, however, were not arrested. The 400 policemen, until recently, under Kane were placed under Col. John R. Kenly of the 1st Maryland Regiment.2
The Baltimore police commissioners were meeting to decide what to do when Col. Kenly dropped by to inform them that he was the new provost-marshal and that the authority of the police had been superseded. The commissioners then declared that “the suspension of their functions suspended at the same time the operations of the police law, and puts the officers and men off duty for the present.” The police force had been disbanded in protest. Kenly was ordered by Banks to somehow fill the empty ranks and reminded that the laws of the city should be enforced. This was not (quite) martial law.3
Staying in Pennsylvania, Staying in Maryland
The day after the sharp and nearly unbelievable skirmishes near Cumberland, Maryland, Union General McClellan requested that the two regiments of Pennsylvania Reserves encamped near the border be brought to Cumberland and Piedmont to aid Col. Wallace’s 11th Indiana Zouaves. McClellan wanted to supply the troops himself (since Wallace was under his command), but could not spare the force.4
The Pennsylvania Reserve troops, commanded by General McCall, were state troops. Crossing the line into Maryland would be, quite literally, crossing the line. It was said that the troops so badly wished to move into Maryland that their commander “planted his guns so that the wheels were in Pennsylvania and the muzzles in Maryland.”5
One of the reasons that McClellen couldn’t spare the men was that he began to move on this date. A single brigade under Brigadier-General William Rosencrans stepped off from Clarksburg on their way to Buckhannon, nearly 30 miles south. The going was slow since McClellen wanted a telegraph line constructed along the way. Following the Buckhannon Pike [modern WV Route 20, mostly], it would take several days to reach their destination.6
Meanwhile, General Scott had expected Patterson in Hagerstown to have crossed the Potomac into Virginia by this date. No crossing was made and the General-in-Chief was left wondering why. Patterson did take some action, however. He sent a scout to General Cadwalader in Williamsport to be used in making a reconnaissance into Virginia to see if the fords could be forded and the Rebels routed. Patterson needed only this information (and some harnesses for a battery of artillery) to move.7
A Meeting of the Anti-Lincoln Press
Also on this date, the Association of the Democratic Editors of the State of New York met to discuss their future under the Lincoln Administration. Benjamin Wood of the New York Daily News, an anti-Lincoln paper, presided. They were concerned mostly about the possible usurpation of the right to freedom of the press.
Though Lincoln had assured the nation that he would respect all of the Constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms, the editors of the Democratic paper were not convinced. After all, just two months prior, Lincoln suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus.
The editors passed several resolutions. The present state of the nation was due to Lincoln’s “exercise of unconstitutional powers.” He “has not hesitated to inaugurate a war.” In fact, the Republican Party as a whole “has proved that all its pretension of devotion to freedom, free speech, and free discussions were simply cloaks to conceal their real enmity to liberty and the constitutional guarantees of citizens, and that the attempt to muzzle the Democratic Press by mobs and terrorism… calls for and deserves the earnest condemnation of every true friend of law, order and liberty.”
Lastly, they resolved that it was the “duty of the Democratic Press and of all friends of free institutions, to unite in resisting these alarming strides towards a despotic consolidated system of government.”8
- Official Records of the Navy, Series 1, Vol 4, p535-537, 539-540. Also Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p137, 959. [↩]
- Pretense of Glory: The Life of General Nathaniel P. Banks by James G. Hollandsworth, LSU Press, 2005. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p142-143, 144. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, 726-727. [↩]
- Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America, Volume 1 by Benson John Lossing. [↩]
- The Baltimore and Ohio in the Civil War by Summers. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, 727. [↩]
- Political History of New York State During the Period of the Civil War by Sidney David Brummer, Columbia University, 1911. [↩]