Washington In The Sixties

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, April 9, 1911 [pt. 2, p. 4]

The dawn of January, 1861, saw the country in such precarious condition that an air of seriousness rested upon the people of the National capital. Partisan politics, patriotism, penitence and preparation permeated the population. A day of humiliation and prayer had been set by the authorities for January 4. The usual presidential reception was held January 1, and it was attended by a throng, but there was a tense feeling apparent. On the following day preparations were made by Gen. Winfield Scott, commanding the army, to maintain order and insure the safety of the capital.

There were then no regular troops stationed here. There was a small force at Fort McHenry, Baltimore. Fort Washington, down the river, was in a state of disuse, unmanned. The Unite States forces in this city consisted of a detachment of ordnance men at the arsenal and the sailors and marines in the navy yard and at the barracks. One of the first acts of Gen. Scott was to occupy Fort Washington. Having none of the regular army convenient, a detachment of 250 marines, under Capt. Wainwright, was sent to the fort and remained there until relieved by regular artillerymen January 26.

The principal observance of the day of humiliation and prayer was held in the hall of the House of Representatives, and it was attended by a large number of persons, among whom were few senators or members of the House. The sermon was preached by Rev. Thomas H. Stockton, the chaplain of the House, who for an hour kept the audience spellbound. At one time when he referred to the fear that the Stats and stripes would be replaced by a flag emblazoned with a palmetto tree the audience was raised to the highest pitch of excitement, In a number of the churches services were also held.

The District Militia
Gen. Scott had appointed, January 1, Capt. Charles P. Stone inspector general with the rank of colonel. He was deputized to supervise the militia of the District of Columbia. Gen. Roger C. Weightman was the commanding general and there were two divisions under Gens. Peter Force and George C. Thomas. Regimental districts were laid off under Cols. James A. Tait, Peter F. Bacon, M.K. Bright, James E. Morgan, J.D. Hoover, T. Blackstone and R.S. Cox. Company officers were then selected and commissioned. These met frequently for drill and consultation as to placing their commands to an effective footing.

It was unnecessary to enforce this law for the calls on the commanding general were met by the uniformed volunteer companies, old and new. One of the older organizations was the Washington Light Infantry battalion. Lieut. Col. James Y. Davis. It was composed of two companies then and a third was in process of formation. The armory was located over H.C. Purdy’s grocery on the south side of Pennsylvania avenue, west of 4-1/2 street. At 3 o’clock on the morning of January 2 a fire put the command temporarily out of service. The camp equipage was taken to the Columbian armory and the arms and accouterments were removed to the Coombs building, known as the Chesapeake saloon, on the south side of Pennsylvania avenue east of 10th street. It is now occupied by the Salvation Army. The National Guard, Lieut. Col. James A. Tait, at the Columbian Armory, on the Mall, near 6th and B streets southwest, like the Light Infantry, had two full companies and a third forming, made up of temperance men in the eastern part of the city. The National Rifles ha more than 100 men, under the command of Capt. G.F. Schafer, and wee keeping up the regular drills at Temperance Hall. They also had a howitzer corps. The President’s Mounted Guard of this city and the Potomac Light Infantry and the Georgetown Mounted Guard and one or two other companies were also in existence and were having frequent drills.

Raising a Union Regiment
Gen. E.C. Carrington, a Mexican veteran, onc commander of the Light Infantry, began about this time a campaign among the republican clubs to form a Union regiment to assist in the inauguration of the President. After a spirited speech at the Third Ward Republican Club, in temperance Hall, January 7, a company was enrolled which took the name of Company A, Union Regiment.

Gen. Carrington visited several clubs, making speeches, and other companies formed – Company B, on 17th street opposite the War Department, of which Lieut. James Kelly of the Light Infantry was chosen captain, and Company C, at Odd Fellows’ Hall, near the navy yard, of which S.E. Arnold was made captain. The Carrington Home Guard was organized in Georgetown, with James Goddard as captain. Many other companies were formed, scarcely a neighborhood of Washington or Georgetown or the county being unrepresented by a company or men. Almost daily some persons were arrested for disloyalty,, and occasionally reports of the secretion of arms were made. In some cases searches were made by detachments of the militia. There was so much disorder and so many fires that it was thought incendiaries were at work. The necessity for a lager police force was apparent, and citizen patrols were organized in some sections, while in Georgetown the Potomac Light Infantry and Companies A and B of Anderson Rifles patrolled the streets.

A number of United States officers, clerks and others in the departments an employes of the navy yard and arsenal came under suspicion of being disloyal, and not a few of them were arrested and forced to take the oath of allegiance.

Excitement of the Times
The seizure of the United States arsenals and arms in the south, the refusal of Delaware to receive a commissioner from Mississippi and President Buchanan’s action in refusing to receive R.Y. Hayne as commissioner of South Carolina caused much excitement. Mr. Hayne left this city just in time to escape a monster callithumpian serenade by the wide-awakes and others.

In the midst of these preparations efforts were being made in Congress looking to a peaceful settlement, including the compromise measures proposed by Senator Crittenden of Kentucky, which were the theme at numerous dinner parties where advocates and opponents met. A peace congress had been called, which, after the defeat of the Crittenden measure, it was hoped, would present a plan to preserve the Union and restore amity between the sections. President Tyler, as a commissioner from Virginia, came to consult the President, and remained over for the peace congress called for February 4. A levee at the White House was given January 15, which was unlike previous receptions, as Mr. Buchanan’s political friends formed but a minority, his former opponents being present in force. Other receptions, particularly “hops,” were rarely given. Dinners were popular, the object being to bring about goo feeling by affording opportunity for a quiet discussion of affairs. “Rabid republicans,” “southern fire-eaters” and conservatives feasted and talked and sometimes quarreled. The dinners given by Senators Seward and Crittenden did not have the executed salutary effect. Though it was conceded that a compromise had to be made to avert civil war o an independent confederacy, the opposition to compromise increased. When that proposed by Mr. Crittenden was defeated, the most conservative regarded he “jig as up,” and believed that the country should prepare for the worst. Others were hopeful that the peace congress in the following month would recommend plans that would lead to an amicable adjustment that would avert civil war.