Proclamations by Butler and Harney and the Suspension of the Writ

Tuesday, May 14, 1861

General Benjamin Butler had occupied Baltimore without order to do so, and without telling Washington he was doing it. During the night, Secessionists had moved arms from the city, hiding them in the suburbs. On the morning of this date, “desiring for it to be understood by the inhabitants of Baltimore” that he had “come to stay,” Butler wrote a proclamation.1

He informed Baltimore that his Federal troops were occupying the city to enforce the laws which were “being violated within its limits by some malignant and traitorous men.” Butler barred the flying of any “flag, banner, ensign, or device of the so-called Confederate States” in Baltimore. The display of such flags “by evil-disposed persons will be deemed, and taken to be, evidence of a design to afford aid and comfort to the enemies of the country.”

Butler asserted that all “rebellious acts must cease.” All property and weapons being used to aid the rebellion would be seized. He also ordered that all arms manufacturers “keep themselves in communication with the commissary-general, in order that their workshops may be employed for loyal purposes.”2

That afternoon, members of the Eight New York seized 2,900 muskets and 3,500 pikes. The weapons were transported in 60 wagons to Fort McHenry. These arms had been property of the City of Baltimore.

Ross Winans was a multi-millionaire Marylander. He was well-known as an inventor, builder of steam engines and a pro-States Rights advocate. He had been recently elected to the House of Delegates for their vote upon secession. As he was returning home through Frederick, he was arrested under Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. It was thought that one of Winans’s companies had made the pikes to be used by secessionists in Baltimore.

Winans was arrested by a detachment of the Sixth Massachusetts near Frederick. He was then conveyed to Fort McHenry.3

Word of Butler’s unauthorized capture of Baltimore quickly trickled into Washington. When General Scott caught its wind, he sent off a short, terse note to the errant commander:

Your hazardous occupation of Baltimore was made without my knowledge, and of course without my approbation. It is a God-send that it was without conflict of arms. It is also reported that you have sent a detachment to Frederick, but this is impossible. Not a word have I received from you as to either movement. Let me hear from you.

Butler, making a show of his control of Baltimore, took his dinner near Monument Square in the business district and then retired for the evening on Federal Hill. General Scott’s dispatch would not be received until the next morning.4

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Still No Rebels in Grafton

General Robert E. Lee had sent Col. George A. Porterfield to the important rail hub of Grafton, western Virginia, to take command of whatever troops had been raised by Major Boykin in that area.

As Col. Porterfield stepped off of the morning train from Harpers Ferry, there was not a soul there to greet him. The officers who were suppoed to meet him at the depot were no where to be seen. No militia troops, no Southern banners, nothing but “great disaffection” and “opposition to the lawful action of the State authorities.”5

Porterfield eventually found his small force (no more than a couple of companies) at Fetterman, two miles north of Grafton.

This same day saw General Lee write to Col. Thomas Jackson expressing his worry over the inability to raise militia troops near Grafton. He was sending 1,000 muskets to Porterfield and requested Jackson to furnish “some aid” to Grafton if it could be afforded.6

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Harney Defends the Union in Missouri

In St. Louis, William Tecumseh Sherman received a telegram from his brother, a United States Senator in Washington, summoning him to the capital. Sherman wanted a commission in the Army and was made the Colonel of the Thirteenth United States Regular Infantry. Sherman set off for Washington.7

While Sherman was reading of his appointment, General William Harney, commander of the Department of the West, was issuing a proclamation of his own. In it, he expressed “mortification” over the state of things in Missouri, but as a loyal citizen, he urged all residents to ignore a bill recently passed by the general assembly of the state calling for troops for the Confederacy. This bill, said Harney, could not be “regarded in any other light than an indirect secession order.”

“I shall exert my authority to protect their persons and property from violations of every kind,” wrote Harney in closing his proclamation, “and I shall deem it my duty to suppress all unlawful combinations of men, whether formed under pretext of military organizations or otherwise.”8



  1. Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences by Benjamin Franklin Butler. []
  2. “Proclamation by General Butler to the Citizens of Baltimore, May 14, 1861.” As printed in Private and Official Correspondence of Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, Volume 1 edited by Jessie Ames Marshall. []
  3. The Chronicles of Baltimore by John Thomas Scharf. []
  4. Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences by Benjamin Franklin Butler. – Butler has his days confused in his Memoirs, but it’s pretty easy to keep track of them using other sources. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p843. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p840. []
  7. Memoirs, Vol. 1 by William Tecumseh Sherman. []
  8. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p371-372. []
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