The Seventh Regiment is Not a Myth! Dire Happenings in Illinois & St. Louis

Thursday, April 25, 1861

With the dawn, the militiamen of the Seventh New York and Eighth Massachusetts picked their way along the ripped up tracks of the Annapolis and Elk Ridge Railroad, finally arriving at the depot in Annapolis Junction. This small settlement was on the Baltimore & Ohio spur to Washington from Baltimore. The men had no idea what awaited them. It could be Rebels or more torn up tracks (which would mean either fighting or at least marching their way to the capital).

Much to everyone’s happy surprise, a B&O train, now under the control of the Federal government, was waiting for them. The Massachusetts boys stayed at Annapolis Junction to secure the station, while the Seventh New York packed into the almost empty train (200 District of Columbia militiamen were there to escort them back to Washington) and rode it the remaining 25 miles to the capital.1

They arrived around noon to a very relieved city. Along with their band, they marched down Pennsylvania Avenue as the citizens flocked to the streets and waved handkerchiefs from windows. It was proven to a grateful President Lincoln, who admired them as they marched to the White House, that the Seventh Regiment was not a myth. The Seventh took up residence in the Representatives’ Chamber of the Capitol.2

As the Seventh passed, Lincoln turned to John Hay, the President’s assistant, and said that he would eventually “go down to Charleston and pay her the little debt we are owing her.” Delighted, Hay “felt like letting off an Illinois yell.”3

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Stephen Douglas, Lincoln Supporter

Stephen Douglas, the Illinois senator who had lost the Presidential election to Lincoln, the Illinois rail-splitter, had returned to their common state not as a beaten man, but now held onto the hope that he could help Lincoln hold the Union together. On this date, he stood before the Illinois legislature in Springfield and urged Republicans and Democrats alike to come together for the Union.

He had tried for peaceful solutions as much as he could, Douglas told the assembly. These proposals had failed and thus there was only one course left for the patriot: “to rally under the flag which has waved over the capital since the days of Washington.”4

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Securing Arms from Secessionists in St. Louis

Farther south (about as far south as one could go in Illinois), the Federal militiamen in Cairo, a small town on a peninsula between Missouri and Kentucky, were manning a few small artillery pieces and stopping southbound traffic along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Their position was tenuous at best. Finding volunteers to reinforce them was easy, but finding weapons was another thing.

Illinois Governor Richard Yates knew that there were ample stockpiles of arms at the St. Louis arsenal in Missouri (60,000 muskets, 90,000 lbs of gun powder, 40 pieces of field artillery a few siege guns and the machinery to make more of them all). He also knew that if he didn’t seize them, the secessionists soon would. He sent Captain James H. Stokes to St. Louis to try to secure the weapons.

The arsenal was surrounded by secessionists, but an incognito Stokes slipped through the crowd and met with Captain Nathaniel Lyon, the arsenal commander. Lyon promptly refused to hand over the arms to Stokes for fear that the Rebels massing around St. Louis, waiting for the order of secession to be adopted by Missouri, would seize them.

Stokes, however, had a plan. At 2am, he dispersed the Rebel crowd around the arsenal by getting them to follow a few decoy shipments of old muskets to the railroad depot. The few that remained near the arsenal were arrested as Stokes, Lyon and their men loaded up a steamer with 23,000 guns and a battery of artillery just for good measure. This was for the benefit of the Unionists in Missouri as much as Illinois as it kept the arms from falling into Rebel hands.

With the boat at capacity, they steamed to the Illinois side of the river, and before dawn, the boat was being unloaded. Not only would the boys at Cairo be resupplied, but the entire first wave of Illinois troops, plus some from Indiana and Wisconsin could be armed.5

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Lincoln Takes Precautions Against Maryland

Lincoln feared that with the Maryland legislature would soon conclude that the time for a peaceful solution was gone. He wrote to General-in-Chief Winfield Scott that he believed the state of Maryland may arm their population against the United States. For a time, Lincoln had considered sending the army to Maryland’s capital to arrest the entire legislature. Before writing to Scott, he reconsidered.

They had a right to assemble, there was nothing anybody could do about that. Besides, wrote Lincoln, “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.”

If held as prisoners, the Federal government couldn’t hold them for very long. Once they were released, they would reassemble and potentially arm their population against the Union.

It was then that Lincoln left it up to the mind of the old General, “which, if it shall be to arm their people against the United States, he is to adopt the most prompt, and efficient means to counteract, even, if necessary, to the bombardment of their cities – and in the extremest necessity, the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.”6



  1. Our March to Washington by Theodore Winthrop. []
  2. Cry Havoc! by Nelson Lankford. []
  3. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. []
  4. Speech by Stephen Douglas to the Illinois Legislature, April 25, 1861. []
  5. Rally ’round the flag: Chicago and the Civil War by Theodore J. Karamanski, Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. []
  6. Lincoln to Scott, April 25, 1861. []
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The Seventh Regiment is Not a Myth! Dire Happenings in Illinois & St. Louis by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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