Washington In The Sixties
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, April 9, 1911 [p. 12]
In the first two months of 1861 the counting of the electoral votes to fulfill the constitutional requirement and the inauguration of President Lincoln on March 4 were the principal subjects discussed in the District. To say the least it was a debatable question if either event would occur. While it ws conceded that two-thirds of the people of the District were loyal an favored carrying out the requirements of the Constitution, there was a general disposition to give the incoming administration an opportunity to show its purposes. Whether it would become necessary to use force or simply make a show, the military companies were making active preparations for the celebration of Washington’s birthday and for the inauguration, and, indeed, some of them were preparing for balls on the evening of that day.
In view of the existing conditions none knew how soon they would be called on for serious purposes.
On the evening of January 15 President Buchanan held a levee at the White House, and it was a brilliant and enjoyable affair, notwithstanding the ominous signs of the times. While there were many officers of the army and navy present in uniform, members of Congress and others, it was remarked that there were few of his political faith from the House and Senate present, while perhaps three-fourths of the attendance were of the opposition, many being of the most radical trend. Some were attracted by curiosity to see how the President was standing the ordeal through which he was passing and to see who were paying their respects.
There was news from all points received daily, presaging the approach of trouble and the authorities were quietly preparing to meet it. Orders had been given o the assembling of a small force of troops here to relieve the marines at Fort Washington. January 20 the first of these troops arrived here, a detachment of engineers, or sappers and miners, from Willets Point, N.Y., and they were quartered at Columbian Armory, near 6th and B streets southwest. The officers were Capt. J.A. Doane and Lieut. Godfrey Wetzel, each of whom attained the rank of major general soon afterward. Col. Tait’s Battalion of the National Guard occupied the army and there were other district companies meeting there. In fact, it was the headquarters of the District of Columbia Militia. These fraternized with the regulars and many of the companies received instruction in the military at from Sergt. Pierce and others of the engineers. Temperance Hall on E street, where the National Rifles had an armory, also was occupied by other companies; Odd Fellows’ Hall, on 8th street southeast, contained the armories of several companies, as did Island Hall, at 6th street and Virginia avenue southwest, and Forest Hall in Georgetown.
Nor was the military spirit confined to those determined on the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln, for in some companies were men who placed state loyalty above allegiance to the United States. It was currently reported that one company in the city and another in Georgetown and individual members of other companies would follow the course of their states. The National Volunteers, a political association, was regarded as disloyal to a man. It was claimed that the meetings were open to reporters, but The Star reporter was excluded, and it was generally believed that some of the meetings were held behind closed doors. About the middle of the month, when some defection occurred in the ranks, owing to the adoption of a paper which was construed as an attack on President Buchanan, several officers and members resigned or were expelled.
A notice of this action appeared in The Star of January 17, 1861, and occasioned much comment and the withdrawal of the members was applauded by the loyal and deprecated by the states’ right people. They declared that there was no intention of interfering with the inauguration, styled the assemblage of troops and the militia preparation s a menace to Congress and reflection on the District military companies, the municipal authorities and police, leading to alarm and insecurity, and expressed the belief that the purpose was to arm the Wide-Awakes and other sympathizers with John Brown at public expense, that they might make assault on life and property in this city.
They asserted their fealty to the south and declared that they would not affiliate with any military company which was prompted by partisan spirit to subserve the aim of the black republican party, and the reign of terror attempted called for rebuke, that they would give their aid against abolition violence and, in the event of Maryland and Virginia withdrawing from the Union, they would act in such a manner as to best secure themselves and those states from the evils of a foreign or hostile government within and near the border.
This association, started during the campaign, once ha nearly 300 members, comprising some of the most influential men in the city, and also included half a dozen r more of the local police. But they had dwindled down to 100, and after the action above started their number became less. A military organization without arms was maintained by those loyal to the south and a number cast their fortunes on that side. An officer of the company and a few other espoused the Union cause and served with the District militia.
Jefferson Davis Resigns
There were then many mechanics and other employes in the Washington navy yard, which contained stores of arms and ammunition, and there were rumors that an attempt would be made to capture the yard and contents for use in preventing the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln. Capt. Franklin Buchanan, the commandant, said: “This yard shall not be surrendered to any person or persons except by an order of the honorable Secretary of the Navy, and in the event of an attack I shall require all the officers and others under my command to defend it to the last extremity, and if we be overpowered by numbers, the armory and magazine must be blown up.”
The execution of this order was intrusted to Commander Dahlgren, who subsequently reported that he had secretly removed the contents of the magazine and prepared to wet any explosives in the yard at short notice. On February 1 Commander Buchanan issued another order that in case the yard should be attacked by a mob the defense was to be made with howitzers and the men of the yard, under command of five lieutenants and three warrant officers, and Capt. William McBlair was placed in charge subsequently.
Commander Dahlgren was ordered to prepare for the defense of the yard all the howitzers available in the ordnance department with as much secrecy as possible. Promptly preparations were made to repel an attack and soon, in addition to the ordinary work, the men were drilled in the use of howitzers. Included in the force were many members of the local military companies, the loyalty of most being unquestioned, but there were suspicions s to some, who afterward proved these suspicions correct by going south, as did Commander Buchanan.
In the early part of February other troops of the regular army had been brought here, which included three light batteries, and with the marines at the navy yard and the ordnance men at the arsenal, made a force of about 1,000. The local troops at this time numbered nearly 2,000.
Threats to prevent the counting of the electoral vote February 18, with the news of the spreading of the secession sentiment in the south and the border states, of the election of Jefferson Davis and Alexander H. Stevens, president and vice president of the Confederacy, at Montgomery, Ala., caused the authorities to be vigilant.
The morning of the 13th, known only to those interested, batteries with infantry support were posted near the Capitol, post office and President’s house, and remained there until the adjournment of Congress and the dispersion of the crowd that had witnessed the ceremony of counting the electoral votes. Gen. Weightman, commanding the District militia, was notified that he might be called on and a signal was agreed upon and communicated t the proper officers, but happily there was no necessity to call out the militia.
The ceremony of counting the votes took place in the hall of the House, the galleries of which were crowded, and the spectators were entirely ignorant of the preparations outside to keep order.
The Vice President, Mr. Breckinridge, who announced the result of the count, was himself a defeated candidate, as was also Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, Senators Joseph Lane of Oregon and H.V. Johnson of Georgia had been defeated for second place. Andrew Johnson, afterward Vice President, who succeed Lincoln in the presidency; Senator Seward of New York, who became Secretary of State; Senator Simon Cameron, and the Secretary of War were present. The announcement of the vote was received quietly and no attempt was made to cheer or applaud. There was a feeling of relief when the constitutional requirement had been consummated and there was some hope that the peace congress, then in session at Willard’s Hall, would find a satisfactory plan or settlement.
By this time the word “secesh” had become the popular name for those whose loyalty was doubted, and few were the southern or state emblems displayed, while the friends of the Union were taking to wearing the tri-colors. There was some disorder in the streets, particularly at night, and an assault committed on Representative Van Wyck of New York near the north end of the Capitol was followed by an effort to enlarge the police force and a bill to that end was introduced in Congress.
The work of recruiting and organizing companies had progressed so satisfactorily that a parade in honor of Washington’s birthday was decided on. It was by far the most imposing parade of the volunteer militia of the District which had taken place up to that time. Brig. Gen. Peter F Bacon was in command, assisted by Col Charles P. Stone, inspector general, and in the line were the following: Washington Light Infantry Battalion, Col. James Y. Davis; three companies under the command of Capt. Lem. Towers, P.M. Dubant and R.C. Stevens; National Guard Battalion, Lieut. Col. James A. Tait; two companies commanded by Lieut. Thomas E. Lloyd and Capt. H King President’s Mounted Guard, Capt. S.W. Owen; National Rifles, Capt. F.B. Schafer; Henderson Guards, Capt. G.J.L. Foxwell; Washington Rifles, Capt. P.H. Balbach; Metropolitan Rifles, Capt A.R. Allen; Turner Rifles, Capt. Joseph Gerhart, all of this city; Potomac Light Infantry, Capt. LJ McKenny; Anderson Rifles, two companies, Capts. C.H. Rodier and F.W. Jones; Georgetown Mounted Guard, Capt. WE. Stewart; Carrington Home Guard, Capt. James Goddard; Scott Rifles of Georgetown, Capt. J.O. Berry, and District of Columbia Rifles, Capt H.W. Blunt of the country.
There were many other companies in various state of preparation for service, among them Company D, Howitzer Corps, Capt. Jeremiah Cross; Company E, Zouaves, Capt. J. Tyler Powell of the Washington Light Infantry Battalion; the Washington Life Guards, Capt. S.A.H. Marks; City Guards, Capt. Robert Clarke, and Company C, National Guard, Capt. S.A.H. McKim, from the navy yard section; Slemmer Guards, Capt. H.M. Knight; Constitutional Guards, Capt. John McClellan; Company B, Washington Rifles, Capt. A. Loeffler; Company F, Union Regiment, Capt. Joseph Fletcher; Cameron Guards, Capt. James Elder; Jackson Guards (sappers and miners), Capt. John McDermott; Federal Rifles, Capt. J.H. Duvall, and the Andrew Jackson Guards, Capt J..H. McBlair; Mechanics Union Rifles, composed of stone cutters, Capt. A. Rutherford.