Lincoln Suspends Writ of Habeas Corpus; Jackson to the Valley

Saturday, April 27, 1861

After Lincoln considered shutting down the Maryland legislature, he got word that the railroads between Washington and Philadelphia were under threat of attack by Rebels in Maryland. With this in mind, he wrote to General Scott. The President had already promised not to send troops through Baltimore, opting to bring troops from Philadelphia to Perryville, then by boat to Annapolis, and, from there, by rail to Washington (as the Seventh New York and Eight Massachusetts arrived).

“If at any point on or in the vicinity of the military line,” wrote Lincoln to Scott, “which is now or which shall be used between the City of Philadelphia and the City of Washington, via Perryville, Annapolis City, and Annapolis Junction, you find resistance which renders it necessary to suspend the writ of Habeas Corpus for the public safety, you, personally or through the officer in command at the point where the at which resistance occurs, are authorized to suspend that writ.”1

The writ of habeas corpus guarantees that when one is arrested they must be charged with a specific crime. The United States Constitution doesn’t exactly protect this right, but prohibits Congress from restricting it. Nevertheless, this was a controversial move, urged, in large part, by Secretary of State William Seward.2

This, of course, wasn’t a blank check given to General Scott. It was a specific order for a specific place; along railroads from Washington to Annapolis and then from Perryville (Maryland) to Philadelphia. Also, Lincoln had given Scott this allowance two days prior, though that mainly dealt with Maryland congressmen, not the general public.

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Two New Departments

With more troops in Washington every day, the protection of these vital rail lines was becoming easier. Five regiments had already found their way to the capital and more were en route.3

Since troops were coming through Annapolis, Harrisburg and Philadelphia, Lincoln (or more accurately, the War Department) established the Department of Annapolis and the Department of Pennsylvania. The Department of Annapolis, under the command of General Benjamin Butler, like the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, dealt with only the area surrounding the railroads to Washington. The Department of Pennsylvania, commanded by General Robert Patterson consisted of all of that state, all of Delaware and the bits of Maryland not included in the Department of Annapolis.4

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Jackson Takes Command of Harpers Ferry

Confederate Major Thomas Jackson was unhappy with his desk job promotion to General Johnston’s assistant. With Governor Letcher as his advocate, it was suggested to the Virginia Convention that Jackson’s talents might be deserving of a higher rank and higher responsibility.

The members of the Convention had never heard of Jackson before. “Who is this Major Jackson,” someone in the Convention was to have asked, “that we are asked to commit him so responsible a post?”

“He is one,” replied another member of the Convention, “who, if you order him to hold a post, will never leave it alive to be occupied by the enemy.”

Colonel Thomas Jackson was then given a field command. He was put in charge of all forces in and around Harpers Ferry, the key to his beloved Shenandoah Valley.5

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Maryland: It’s Not Our Fault

With his state now under two different military departments, Maryland’s Governor Hicks spoke to his legislature, officially bringing them up to speed with recent events. He spoke of the Baltimore riots and of Lincoln’s promise to not bring more troops through Baltimore. Though he protested, troops were allowed to go through Annapolis and across the state.

It may have seemed a bit early for this, but Hicks told Congress not to “discuss the causes which have induced our troubles,” but rather to “strike hands in the bold cause of restoring peace to our State and to our country.” This didn’t actually mean much. He then called for Maryland to remain neutral. “The unhappy contest between the two sections has not been commenced or encouraged by us, although we have suffered from it in the past,” said Hicks. “The impending war has not come by any act or any wish of ours.”

Though hardly a neutral position, Hicks would allow the further traffic of Federal troops through Maryland and then counseled, “we shall array ourselves for Union and peace, and thus preserve our soil from being polluted with the blood of brethren.”6

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Blockading Union States

The same day that Baltimore erupted in bloody riots, Lincoln issued an order calling for the blockading of ports for all major Southern cities. On this date, he extended this order to include Virginia and North Carolina (even though the latter had not yet seceded from the Union).7

The blockade would be, for now, in name only. The United States Navy did not yet have the ships to even begin to impose a true blockade upon the South.



  1. Abraham Lincoln; A History, Volume 4 by John G. Nicolay and John M. Hay. []
  2. Team of Rivals by Dorris Kearns Goodwin. []
  3. Official Records Series 1, Vol. 51, Part 1, p344 has a lovely chart that was written up on April 30 showing which regiments were in Washington and where they were being housed. I’ll post that in a few days. []
  4. The Encyclopedia of the American Civil War by David Stephen Heidler and others, W. W. Norton & Company, 2002, has a great article about the departments of the war. Also Hay and Nicolay similarly describe these two departments. []
  5. Life and Campaigns of Lieut. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson by Robert Lewis Dabney, Blelock & Co., 1866. []
  6. Message of Governor Hicks, April 27, 1861 as recorded in The Rebellion Record, Vol 1. []
  7. A Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln, April 27. 1861. []
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