Lincoln Calls for 75,000; Will Virginia Secede?

Monday, April 15, 1861

The proclamation calling for 75,000 militia troops, drawn up the previous evening by President Lincoln, was published on this morning. Aside from calling for the troops and an extra session of Congress, it ordered “treasonable combinations” to disperse within twenty days.

Each state would be asked for a specific quota of militia troops to fill in order to “repossess the forts and places seized from the Union.” So far, this would mostly focus on Charleston, South Carolina, some areas of Texas and bits of Florida.1

Secretary of War Simon Cameron wrote to the governors of each eastern state still true to the Union, even Arkansas, North Carolina and Virginia. Some states, like Maine, Wisconsin and Iowa, were charged with raising one regiment (described in Cameron’s letter as 743 men). Others, like Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, were to raise 13, 16 and 17, respectively.

Then there were the southern states. Knowing that raising Federal volunteers in places like Arkansas, North Carolina and Virginia would be difficult, the requirements were lessened to numbers much easier to fill (1, 2 and 3 regiments, respectively).

Some governors, like Indiana’s Governor Morton, promised 10,000 men (he would eventually muster in not quite half that many), while Governor Magoffin of Kentucky responded “emphatically” that “Kentucky will furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister Southern states.” North Carolina’s governor doubted that the request was genuine, and probably not even constitutional. He, like Kentucky, would be sending no troops.

The troops were expected in Washington by the 20th of May.2

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Where Might Virginia Fall?

Lincoln’s call for troops was probably the final nail in the coffin of any hope the Unionist-majority of Virginia’s secession convention had in remaining the majority. The fight at Fort Sumter was one thing, but raising an army to attack Southern states was something completely different.

Virginia’s former governor, Henry Wise, wished for the convention to work behind closed doors. He was in favor of secession and wished to attack Federal targets within the state prior to leaving the Union. The doors would remain open for the time being.3

Wise had three targets on his mind. Fortress Monroe, a fort similar to Sumter, near Norfolk, would be much more difficult to assail. Closer to Richmond was the Gosport Navy Yard, which held ships and thousands of cannon, both of which would be needed if Virginia severed ties with the United States.

Lastly, there was Harper’s Ferry and its arsenal, once coveted by the abolitionist John Brown. Not only could it outfit a small army, it had the machinery to produce an array of weaponry. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad also went through this little town. By rail, Baltimore and Washington DC were each two hours away. This might prove to be useful in the coming months.

As the convention closed early, Wise sent a telegram to John Daniel Imboden, a pro-secessionist from the Shenandoah Valley, asking him to come to Richmond at once. Imboden left before nightfall.4



  1. Abraham Lincoln: A History by John Nicolay and John Hay. []
  2. Official Records, Series III, Vol. 1, p69 – 72. []
  3. Cry Havoc! by Nelson D. Lankford, Penguin Books, 2007. []
  4. Dissonance by David Detzer, Harcourt Books, 2006. []
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Lincoln Calls for 75,000; Will Virginia Secede? by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International