Half Century Ago
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, April 10, 1911 [p. 10]
President Lincoln, the 15th day of April, 1861, issued a proclamation for the dispersion of all persons in arms against the United States; called for 75,000 troops for government service and assembling an extra session of Congress to meet July 4 following. Five days before, April 10, the muster-in of the District militia for defense of the capital commenced by the War Department and it was carried on daily for two weeks. So well did the organization of the various military companies of the city succeed that the requisition on Maj. Gen. Roger C. Weightman, commanding the District militia, was more than filled. Thirty-five companies, many exceeding the maximum strength, were mustered into the service of the country and assigned to duty. There were many more companies in the District preparing to enter the service when the muster ceased, greatly to the regret of those omitted. To the call of April 15 the governors of various states quickly responded and ere long there were many regiments and other organizations of state troops here or on the way.
Col. Charles P. Stone, inspector general of the District militia, had been since the first of the year busily engaged in the organization of the companies as they were enlisted. The government then had, including the marines, a force of nearly a thousand men. The regular artillery had, April 2, been placed under the immediate charge of Maj. J.B. Magruder, who afterward became a noted Confederate general, and April 7 Brevet Col. C.F. Smith of the 10th Infantry was assigned to the command of the Department of Washington.
Government Property in Peril
April 9 the following requisition was received by Gen. Weightman from Simon Cameron, Secretary of War:
"Sir: Under the 24th section of the act approved March 3, 1803, the President desires you to call ten companies of militia, consisting preferably of the uniformed volunteer companies, Maj. McDowell will muster them into the service of the United States as soon as presented."
Col. Stone at once notified the commanding officers of the companies and arranged for inspection, etc., at their respective armories.
On the 9th and 10th these companies were visited by Col. Stone and he passed favorably on the condition of the men, arms and equipment, handing out, at the close of the inspection, orders to report to their companies at the War Department for service under the United States.
The companies appeared, each at the designated hour, in the north yard of the War Department, where Maj. McDowell, assistant adjutant general, was ready to receive them. The provisions of the oath were explained as well as the duties expected on the men in the protection of the capital of the nation. Those not willing to accept the conditions were told to step out of line, and the rolls being called, the remainder were sworn in by Gen. G.C. Thomas, a notary public.
Some Decline to Take the Oath
The muster continued daily until the 24th of April, and the companies as they were accepted, were marched back to the armories and instructed as to their duties. At first the men were allowed to continue to perform their civilian duties during the day, being subject to a call at any moment, and at night they guarded the public buildings, roads and bridges; but soon there was little time for other than military duty. April 16 Col. Stone was assigned to their command. On the same day four companies of Pennsylvania militia, including the Ringgold Flying Artillery of Reading, arrived here in response to the President’s call for 75,000 men, and news was received of other commands to follow. Reports of the firing on Fort Sumter and its surrender; of the refusal of North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and Missouri to furnish troops under the call; the uncertain attitude of Maryland; the threats to resist the passing of troops through that state and rumors of slave insurrection stirred the public mind.
Situation in Washington
The Mount Vernon was, in consequence of the scarcity of commissioned officers at the yard, placed under the command of a boatswain, George Willmuth, who was assisted by a gunner, Ellis, and the 23d she started down the Potomac on a reconnoisance, returning the 25th. There were a few seamen, marines and member of the Infantry aboard the boat. Among the latter were S.V. Stillings and E.W. Woodruff, who acted as assistant engineers. The first named, by reason of this service, became the first volunteer engineer in the navy, serving until after the close of the war. The steamer discovered the lightship at Lower Cedar point the morning of the 23d to be on fire, and they distinguished a boat with twenty men leaving her. A shell from the thirty-two-pounder and ten rounds of musket were fired at the boat, but it escaped and the men landed on the Virginia shore. This is believed to be the first cannon shot fired on the Potomac during the war. The other boats of the line were taken into the services of the navy.
On the 19th of April the 6th Massachusetts and part of a Philadelphia regiment en route to this city were attacked by a mob in Baltimore, several being killed and a number wounded; but the commands reached the city and were soon quartered at the Capitol. Communication was cut off north of Baltimore.
The 22d of April Gen. Robert Patterson assumed the command of the department, and under him it was ordered that in case of an attack the Massachusetts troops should defend the President’s house and District troops the Capitol. Battery E, 2d Artillery, Capt. J.H. Carlisle, planted its guns to command the long bridge. Besides the District troops, the Frontier Guards and the Cassius M. Clay Guards, composed of a number of members of Congress and other prominent personages, guarded the President’s house and other places until May 1, when they were relieved of the duty by Secretary Cameron with thanks for their services.
Organization of Battalions
Col. Charles P. Stone, commanding.
Assignments of Troops
Col. Towers' battalion was to guard at Chain bridge and vicinity and while there President Lincoln figured in an incident which demonstrated the watchfulness of the guard. The President was driving out to view the spring scenery and coming to the bridge, was stopped by the sentry. Corporal of the Guard J.W. Sheehan, appeared, and the President could not cross the bridge. The corporal suggested that the matter be referred to the colonel. Under his escort Mr. Lincoln proceeded to the colonel's tent, where it was explained that Virginia cavalry were a short distance off.
The records of the War Department show that these troops were mustered out July 10 and July 22, leading off with Company A, Washington Light Infantry, and Company A, Union Regiment. Some few officers and men continued with Col. Stone and participated in the skirmish at Edwards Ferry. Afterward Col. Towers and Col. Tait raised regiments in the District and Capt. Owen organized a troop of cavalry. During this campaign, President Lincoln, through the War Department, ordered Brig. Gen. William Hickey of the District militia to report to Gen. Patterson for command.
Gen. Hickey organized a staff, with A.P. Gorman as his adjutant general, and A.H. Ragan as an aid, and left for the field, but on reaching Rockville the orders were countermanded.
Col. Stone's Commendation
"They advanced the advance guard in the first movement into Virginia when Alexandria was captured. They captured the first uniformed prisoners taken from the enemy, and when the capital of the country had been rendered fully secure by the arrival of masses of troops from New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island, they followed me up the line of the Potomac to Harpers Ferry to keep watch and ward over the capital at a good distance from it. Later they followed me to the strengthening of Gen. Patterson's force, and although the term of service for which some of them had engaged expired while they were in the field and in face of the enemy, they remained without any question as to the time, although I did not insult them by so much as asking them if they were willing to so stay.
"I have commanded many troops in my time, but none more willing and anxious to do their whole duty as soldiers than were the majority of the District of Columbia Volunteers of April-July, 1861. I know that they deserve well of this country. I firmly believe that they saved the nation from the disgrace and calamity of an abandonment of the capital by the constituted authorities of the time."