Troops To Washington, Harpers Ferry; North Carolina Gets Up To Leave

Wednesday, May 1, 1861

Things were getting better in Baltimore. Maryland had, so far, decided to remain in the Union and, somehow, General Benjamin Butler, commander of the Department of Annapolis, had figured out how to reinforce Fort McHenry, a star-shaped fort in Baltimore Harbor, originally built for the War of 1812. If Maryland seceded, McHenry could easily become another Sumter.

With Baltimore more or less secure, General-in-Chief Scott wished the same for Washington. He informed Butler that he may need eight or nine more regiments for the task. These men would have to be pulled from Baltimore to keep the capital safe.

John Garrett, president of the B&O Railroad, appealed to Secretary of War Simon Cameron, hoping to restore passenger rail service between Baltimore and Washington. The restoration of these lines, he assured the Secretary, would not interfere with government trains bringing troops to the capital.

Cameron wasn’t exactly in favor of such an act, at least not for the time being. It would only take four or five days to repair the lines into Baltimore, but that would require perhaps 1,000 armed militiamen. The men were there, but most were without guns and ammunition.

On the other hand, mused Cameron, if the rail line had to be repaired anyway, the sooner it was done, the better. The government stood to save a lot of money by transporting the troops directly through Baltimore.

“The North seems to be spoiling for a fight with Baltimore,” concluded Cameron, “and if there is to be one,… the sooner it comes off the better.”

Getting the troops camped around Baltimore prepared for such a task was another matter entirely. Central and eastern Pennsylvania was literally covered in militia regiments. There were six regiments in Harrisburg, York, Lancaster and Philadelphia, with an additional two in Chambersburg. These troops, however, were “not fully armed, and are very incompletely equipped, having but few cartridge-boxes, no canteens, tents or cooking utensils.”

Once these troops were equipped, a force of 12,000 could be brought to bear upon Baltimore. This would be no easy task, since the bridges that remained were guarded by 200 armed and well-entrenched secessionists.1

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Virginia Prepares for War

While Northern troops were trickling into Washington, Confederate General Robert E. Lee called for more Virginia troops to concentrate at Harpers Ferry under the command of Col. Thomas Jackson. A broader call was also put out for 50,000 Virginians to be dispersed near Norfolk, Richmond, Fredericksburg and Alexandria in northern and eastern Virginia; Harpers Ferry, Grafton, Kanawha, Parkersburg, and Moundsville in western Virginia. The latter towns all sat on the B&O main line. Confederate troops from Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas were to concentrate at Lynchburg, 110 miles west of Richmond.

At Harpers Ferry, Jackson was directed to recruit, organize and muster into Virginia’s service fully armed and uniformed militia units from the surrounding counties. He was also informed that 500 Louisiana troops would be directed to his command.

When the Federal troops evacuated Harpers Ferry, they set fire to as much of the arsenal and works as they could. Spared from the blaze, however, was the machinery used to produce firearms. Jackson was ordered to load this equipment upon rail cars and ship it south to Winchester and Strasburg so that it could be forwarded to safer locations and be put to use.2

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North Carolina Gets Up To Leave

North Carolina and Tennessee were both still technically in the Union. However, while Tennessee was furnishing troops to the Confederacy, North Carolina was just getting the secession ball rolling.

Right after Lincoln’s election, North Carolina called a secession convention which was decidedly pro-Union. It resolved to not meet about the issue again. Another convention, this time for “state’s rights” rather than secession, was called in March, during the build up at Fort Sumter. Nothing much came of that, either.

While Governor Ellis was pro-Secession, he had a difficult time convincing the people prior to the bombardment of Sumter. Afterwards, however, things had changed. Sensing this change, the Governor ordered a branch of the US Mint to be captured as well as an arsenal seized.

On this date, Ellis called the legislature in for an extra session, where they resolved to bring back the secession convention. A vote for delegates was to be held on the 13th and the convention itself would commence on the 20th. Also, North Carolina offered troops to both the Confederacy and Virginia (which, while seceded from the Union, had not officially joined the Confederacy).3



  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p614-616. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p792-793. []
  3. The American Conflict by Horace Greeley, O.D. Case & Company, 1864. Greely’s book is too early not to be biased, but I’m finding it good for dates and specifics. []
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Troops To Washington, Harpers Ferry; North Carolina Gets Up To Leave by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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