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Maryland's Part in Saving the Union

By William L. W. Seabrook, Ex-Commissioner of the Land Office

Copyrighted 1913 William L. W. Seabrook

Part One

"The only motive that Prompted the preparation of this little volume has been a desire to correct a false impression, almost universally prevalent, in relation to the causes and influence by which the State of Maryland was prevented from joining in the attempt to dissolve the Union and establish a Southern Confederacy, in 1861-1865. It seems to be generally understood that but for the military interference of the Federal Government the State would have seceded and united in the effort to establish a separate Republic from Mason and Dixon's line to the Gulf of Mexico. This impression has gone abroad and become, in a large measure, accepted history, and has even been taught in the schools of the State. But it is false history, though middle-aged and young people have, as a rule, never heard anything to contradict it. This little volume, its author believes, will correct the error and demonstrate that a large majority of Maryland people adhered to the Union cause and yielded voluntary support to the Federal Government in it; .efforts to prevent the triumph of secession." 

William L. W. Seabrook

Left to Right: William L. W. Seabrook in 1861  & age of 77

On page 710, Vol. 1, of a work entitled a "History of the World, with all its Great Sensations, together with its Decisive Battles, and the Rise and Fall of Nations from the Earliest Times to the Present Day," compiled by Nugent Robinson and published by Peter Fenelon Cooper, New York, in 1887, appears the following statement:

"Troops were brought down from the North for the defense of Washington. The feeling of the Marylanders was shown by the conduct of a mob, who attacked the soldiers during their passage through Baltimore, and killed some of them. THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THESE TROOPS AT WASHINGTON CUT OFF MARYLAND FROM THE OTHER SOUTHERN STATES AND WITHHELD HER FROM FOLLOWING HER NATURAL BENT AND JOINING THE NEW CONFEDERACY."

This quotation plainly refers to the secession movement, begun soon after the Presidential election in 1860, and to the attack of a mob upon the Sixth Regiment Massachusetts Infantry, which was only partially armed, as it was marching on Pratt street. Baltimore, from President Street Station, P. W. and B. Railroad to Camden Station, B. and O. Railroad, April 19, 1861. That much is true history. But the inference drawn from the action of the mob that the "bent" of Maryland was to join the new Confederacy, will be found untenable and unjust to the loyal people of the State, upon full consideration of their attitude toward the Government from the beginning to the end of the great crisis.

Mr. Robinson, however, is not the only historian who has expressed the opinion that Maryland was disloyal to the Union cause, and, unless refuted, this opinion is liable to become established history. Many Marylanders. no doubt, hold it at this day and it is accepted, perhaps generally, by the people of other States, who have been misled by publications such as the history quoted.

Few persons are living at this time who possess such, knowledge, from persona! participation in events of the secession period, as would enable them to successfully controvert this judgment of Maryland's "natural bent," in the crisis which culminated in the terrific conflict between the States,' usually denominated the Civil War. I am, however, one of that small number and have often felt the imperative need of a true history of events in Maryland immediately preceding and during the war, if the State is ever to take her rightful place in the ranks of those which voluntarily resisted the attempt to overthrow the Union. Others more capable than I, who possessed much knowledge bearing upon the subject, have passed away without having contributed that knowledge to the pages of history. Many things occurred that did not become matters of record, which would demonstrate that a decided majority of the people of Maryland held tenaciously to the Union cause. I have grown to be an old man, waiting to hear from others the word that would set Maryland in her rightful position among the loyal States. Perhaps reluctance to make themselves conspicuous as actors in the great drama deterred others, as it has prevented me, until this time, from making known facts, within my personal knowledge, which should weigh strongly against the presumption that the "natural bent" of the people of the State inclined them to join the new Southern Confederacy.

'And, now, in relating the facts and incidents upon which I base my judgment of Maryland's loyalty to the Union, I will do so at the risk of being regarded as guilty of egotism, as I must tell the story of my own share in the events to be narrated. I shall do this with some reluctance, because, as far as my knowledge extends, I am the only survivor of those who, then resident at the State Capital, had a prominent part in the action which held Maryland in the Union and true to the Government in the great conflict.

I had been living in Annapolis nearly three years when the secession movement began, soon after the Presidential election in I860, having moved to that city from Frederick, Md., upon my election as Commissioner of the Land Office of the State in 1857. The other State candidates chosen at that election were: Thomas Holliday Hicks, Governor; William H. Purnell, Comptroller of the Treasury; Daniel H. McPhail, Commissioner of Lotteries. I was then but twenty-four years old. During this campaign preceding the election I had traveled with the other candidates in their tour through the State and was then and subsequently thrown into close contact and intimate relations with Governor Hicks and gained ample knowledge of his views concerning secession, and from that knowledge can testify unreservedly to his unswerving loyalty, from the moment the integrity of the Union was threatened by the secession of South Carolina.

In narrating the evidences upon which I base this assertion I cannot believe the story in regular sequence, as some of the incidents had complements from which they were disconnected by other occurrences not strictly of the same character. The narrative may therefore have a desultory appearance but will, I am sure, present facts which will fully demonstrate the truth of my contention that Maryland and her governor were uncompromisingly loyal to the Union, and that loyalty was voluntary and not constrained by the presence of United States troops at Annapolis and at the National Capital. I am not contending that all Maryland people were loyal; far from it. They were widely divided in sentiment; and the same may be said of the people of every loyal State in the Union. But that a majority of them, and a large majority at that, including the governor and many of the most prominent men in the State, were devoted to the maintenance of the Union will, I am sure, fully appear upon the most searching analysis of the story I shall tell.

Left to Right: Governor Thomas H. Hicks & William H. Purnell LL.D. Comptroller of the Treasury, 1856-1861

Those who oppose or doubt the validity of this contention will probably cite the majority cast for Breckinridge in the State at the Presidential election in 1860; Gen. Benjamin F. Butler's experience with Governor Hicks at Annapolis in 1861, and the overwhelming defeat of the Republicans in the State less than two years after the close of the war, as evidences of its inaccuracy. Each of these propositions will be considered and answered in its proper place and relation to the subject.

The Breckinridge victory in the State had little significance as an index to the extent of secession sentiment among the people at that time. The American or Know-Nothing party, as it was derisively called, had been overwhelmingly defeated by the vote of the counties in 1859. It had become thoroughly discredited through its course of violence and fraudulent elections in Baltimore during the administration of Mayor Thomas Swann, and these outrages were rebuked by the action of the counties. The seats of those elected to the House of Delegates from Baltimore were contested and they were unseated: but the contestants were not admitted, the House having; decided that because of the frauds perpetrated, no election had been held in the city. This condition and probably the John Brown raid, had operated to make Maryland a heavily Democratic State. The acceptance by Judge Douglas of the nomination for the Presidency by less than a two-third vote was resented by the Democrats of the State, generally, and he received but about 5000 votes. Breckinridge's plurality over Bell, who was supported by the Know-Nothings, was about 2000, making the combined Democratic majority in the State about 7,000. which at the time was normal. The supporters of Bell and the Douglas Democrats contended, in a mild way, during the campaign, that Breckinridge was a secessionist, but the contention was hotly denied by most of his supporters. In fact there were few secessionists per se in the State at that time, the people generally having desired the perpetuity of the Union. I believe that thousands of those who voted for Breckinridge would have done otherwise if they had supposed their ballots in his favor would have been construed as an exhibition of hostility to the Union. I have some evidence to substantiate this opinion in the consequences of a discussion I had with Hon. James L. Pugh, then a member of the House of Representatives and after the war a United States Senator from Alabama. I met Col. Pugh in the latter part of July, or early in August, 1860. while I was on my way to Baltimore on the Annapolis and Elkridge Railroad. He was accompanied by Coleman Yellott, then representing Baltimore, as a member of the American party, in the State Senate, to which he had been elected in 1857. In introducing me to Col. Pugh Mr. Yellott said: "Mr. Seabrook is a Maryland unionist." I did not object to the term, and, though I was averse to a discussion with the Alabama Congressman, frankly avowed my devotion to the Union. Col. Pugh at once challenged my judgment as a Marylander, and the discussion referred to followed. It covered a wide range of course though most of it was on the side of the Congressman. I contented myself with such replies as served to lead him to the most emphatic utterances in favor of secession. In this I had a purpose. I wished to show to those who were overhearing us, that the charge of secessionist! against Breckinridge was based upon just and sufficient ground, and that the secession of the far Southern States had been determined upon in the event of the election of Mr. Lincoln to the Presidency. The testimony of Col. Pugh to that fact was not wanting. I said to him: "Colonel, we Maryland unionists charge that you Southern Democrats desire the election of Mr. Lincoln in order that you may have a pretext to dissolve the Union by seceding from it. What have you to say concerning that proposition?"

"You don't put it right," he replied. "We desire to have the issue between the North and the South settled, and we believe the election of Lincoln will lead to that result by the withdrawal of the Southern States from the Union."

Col. Pugh and Mr. Yellott were on their way to Washington and it was necessary to change trains at Annapolis Junction. The discussion was continued on the platform at that place. A considerable number of the passengers and railroad men gathered about us as listeners. I continued ray purpose of eliciting the real views of Col. Pugh upon the subject of secession and he did not cloak his sentiments. He said it would afford him great pleasure to have an opportunity to address 5000 Marylanders, particularly planters, in the beautiful grove surrounding the junction, and that he was confident he could convince them that the General Government could be overthrown and a better one erected in its stead in sixty days.

Among the auditors was an officer of the train from Annapolis, an excellent and worthy citizen, who had always been a pronounced Democrat and was up to that time a supporter of the Breckinridge wing of the party. Like many other Breckinridge men in the State he considered the stories about the secession proclivities of the extreme South as greatly exaggerated if not absolutely false. But he was undeceived by the frank admissions of Col. Pugh and, when the latter made an exceedingly contemptuous expression about the Union, he exclaimed: "Well, if that is Democracy I am done with it forever."

Murmurs of approval by the people gathered about us greeted this remark, while the exclamation put an end to the discussion. The subsequent conduct of the officer referred to proved the sincerity of his declaration, as he remained a staunch unionist throughout the Civil War. Senator Yellott refrained entirely from participation in the discussion, but it subsequently transpired that his sympathies were with the South.

The incident narrated may be regarded as meagre evidence of the ignorance of Maryland supporters of Breckinridge concerning his sentiment and the purpose of his followers in the Cotton States, but there is not the slightest doubt that this ignorance was generally prevalent throughout the State, and the incident is not without some bearing upon the subject in that respect. But it was more than that. It was indicative in some degree of the union sentiment of the masses of the people of the State the toilers and wage earners a decided majority of whom adhered to the union cause, as will appear upon further evidence. The incident was, to be sure, only a straw in itself, but it showed the direction of the current of popular sentiment, even in the slaveholding section of the State, at that time. Afterwards I had abundant opportunity, especially in Annapolis, to verify this judgment concerning the attitude of the masses, the so-called common people, toward the government in its effort to prevent the dissolution of the Union. I mingled with them freely and courted their views after the secession movement began in the South, and I found many of them thoroughly devoted to the Union and bitterly hostile to its disruption. They resented every suggestion that the rightful place of Maryland was with the seceding States.

This was forcibly demonstrated at a town meeting held in the hall of the Assembly rooms on Duke of Gloucester street, Annapolis, sometime in February, 1861. It was a general citizens' meeting, called to give the people an opportunity to express their sentiments concerning the momentous questions then confronting the government. I was chosen its presiding officer and made a short address, reciting the dangers which threatened the government; taking decided ground in favor of maintaining the Union, and counseling such action as might be necessary to that end. Of the large audience present more than half were working people. Addresses were made by Honorable Alexander Randall and others, all expressing hostility to secession, but differing in their views of the course to be pursued to prevent the overthrow of the Union. War was deprecated and only to be thought of as a dernier resort, and some of the speakers intimated that force should not be invoked whatever the consequences might be. Mr. Randall, however, was emphatic in declaring his opinion that the Union should be preserved at all hazards, and his stirring words met with a hearty response from the assemblage.

Left to Right: Judge Nicholas Brewer & Hon. Alexander Randall

Toward the close of the meeting Hon. John Thompson Mason, an ex-judge, and at that time collector of customs at the port of Baltimore, under the administration of President Buchanan, mounted the bench on which he had been sitting in the audience, and began a violent harangue, in which he denounced the unionists and declared himself in favor of the prompt secession of the State. His speech was cut short by a spontaneous and violent protest by the audience against his views. He was threatened with personal violence and men rushed toward him crying: "Throw him out!" "lynch him," and kindred exclamations. He seemed to be in so much danger of bodily injury that I left the chair and went to his side for the purpose of protecting him. Others, like minded, joined me and we were finally able to quell the tumult. When this had been accomplished, Hon. Nicholas Brewer, judge of the circuit court of the county, who was in the audience, made an earnest appeal for fidelity to the Union. He called upon the People to bear testimony to the fact that during his incumbency of. the judicial office he had entirely abstained from participation in all ordinary political affairs, but declared that he considered the crisis then upon the nation and the questions at issue above all mere partisan politics, and claimed the right to take an open public stand on the side of his country in an issue that threatened its very existence. His emphatic declaration in favor of Maryland's retention of her place in the Union was greeted with applause and enthusiastic signs of approval by the audience, which was restored to good humor by his patriotic remarks.

I consider this incident as furnishing important evidence of the temper of the masses of the people at the State Capital concerning the serious questions with which they were then confronted.. It shows that they were hotly devoted to the maintenance of the Union. Let it be borne in mind, too, that this was almost in the center of the slaveholding Sixth Congressional District and it will be readily seen that their temper was shared, generally, throughout the State, by men of the same standing. The truth of this conclusion was forcibly demonstrated by the result of a special election for members of Congress held June 13, 1861. Other important events preceding this election will be considered later on. At that time members of Congress were chosen in Maryland at Fall elections in odd years, and the State was without representatives in the Lower House of Congress from the end of one Congress to the beginning of another that is to the beginning of the first session of a new Congress. This made it necessary, upon the call of President Lincoln for a special session to begin July 4, 1861, to hold the election referred to. With a single exception every successful candidate at that election was an unconditional unionist and in favor of maintaining the Union by force of arms. The exception was Hon. Henry May of the Fourth District, who defeated Hon. Henry Winter Davis. Mr. May was classed as an independent unionist and was opposed to secession and received the votes of .many Union men.

In three of the districts the 1st, 3rd and 6th the majorities were small. The First and Sixth were the heavy slaveholding districts of the State and there were many slaves also in the Third. More than three-fourths of the 100,00 slaves in the State were held within their boundaries. The First District was then composed of all the counties lying south of Kent on the Eastern Shore Queen Anne's, Talbott, Caroline, Dorchester, Somerset and Worcester. The Third District was composed of the first eight wards of Baltimore city, and the Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Districts of Baltimore county. The Sixth District embraced the counties of Montgomery Howard, Anne Arundel, Prince George's, Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's, known as Southern Maryland. Not one of these districts bordered on a Free State, yet each returned a pronounced unionist to Congress. John W. Crisfield, of Somerset county, one of the ablest and most eminent lawyers in the State, was elected from the First District; Cornelius L. L. Leary, father of the late Gen. Peter Leary, U. S. A., from the Third, and Charles B. Calvert, a direct descendant of one of the Lords Proprietary of the Province of Maryland, from the Sixth District. Neither had a majority in excess of 500 The .Fourth District, in which Mr. May was elected by a majority exceeding 2000, was composed of the last twelve wards of Baltimore. The vote polled In these four districts was normal. The union sentiment in the Second and Fifth districts was so overwhelming that the Union candidates were elected without opposition. But both polled a large vote. Edwin H. Webster, of Harford county, was elected from the Second District, which was composed of Carroll, part of Baltimore, Harford, Cecil and Kent counties. Francis Thomas, who had been the Democratic governor of the State twenty years before, was elected from the Fifth District, which was composed of the counties of Allegheny, Washington and Frederick. Every county in these two districts, except Kent, lies along Mason and Dixon's line, which separates Maryland from Pennsylvania.

The defeat of Henry Winter Davis in the Fourth District was not regarded by many unionists as an unmixed evil.

He had been several times elected to Congress during the Know Nothing reign of terror in Baltimore, and was held in some measure responsible for the frauds then perpetrated. His career in Congress, however, was not ended by his defeat in 1861. Two years later he was again elected to the House of Representatives and was a conspicuous figure in that body. He was a man of splendid ability and easily the foremost orator in the State. He was a very handsome man and when in Congress a commanding figure among the other representatives of the people. It was said of him, as it was said of Henry Clay, that the first sound of his voice whenever he arose to speak in Congress was the signal for the close attention of every member. Whatever was otherwise interesting or engaging the attention of any member, was put aside and all gave ear to the silvery tones and eloquent sentences that fell from his lips. His defeat in 1861 was deeply regretted by his admirers, many of whom were his closely attached personal friends; but it was not much of a surprise. He was extremely radical in his opinions and intolerant of the judgment of those who did not agree with him, and thousands of the members of his own party were alienated from his support on that account. Though I belonged to the same party of which he was regarded as the leader, I was never, until after the secession movement began, in full accord with his views. It happened, however, that at a conference of citizens from various parts of the State, held at Barnum's Hotel in Baltimore, the day before Fort Sumter was fired upon, I took a stand that won his unqualified approval. There was no division of sentiment among those present at the conference as to the absolute necessity of preventing the dissolution of the Union. There was, however, diversity of opinion as to the means to be employed to that end. General James Cooper, of Frederick, who was at one time a United States Senator from Pennsylvania, expressed the hope, rather than the belief, that some sort of compromise with the seceding States was still possible, and that force should only be employed when all other means should have been tried and failed. To this I replied, in substance, that the time for compromise was irrevocably past; that it was patent that the only means of preventing the success of the secession movement and of restoring the national authority in the seceding States, were to be found in war, persistent, unrelenting war.

Mr. Davis was not present at the conference, but had sent one of his close personal friends to represent his views. Up to that point that gentleman had remained silent, but he then turned to me and said: "Why that is exactly the opinion of Henry Winter Davis. He will be surprised and gratified to learn that you, whom he has not regarded as his friend, are in such perfect accord with his views."

Two years later, however, I antagonized Mr. Davis in a matter, which I feared, with good reason, would destroy the harmony that was so desirable among the unionists. He had espoused a movement which, in its outcome, did divide .them and caused the disruption of the Union party. Up to that time, as was customary, the State Central Committee was at the head of party affairs, but in the Spring of 1863 the Union League, which had then been organized in the State, called a convention to nominate candidates for Comptroller of the Treasury and Commissioner of the Land Office. Following this action the State Central Committee also called a convention for the same purpose, but to meet at a later date than the League body. Whether Mr. Davis was the originator of the League project, or not, I am unable to say, but he be­came its zealous advocate.

Before either convention was held I had the good fortune to meet him on a steamer running from Baltimore to Annapolis, and he very promptly interrogated me as to my views in relation to the rival conventions. I frankly told him that I regarded the action of the League as irregular and calculated to work injury to the party organization, a result very much to be deprecated, as the Government needed the united support of those who were friendly to the Union cause. The question of the abolition of slavery in the State by State action was being agitated and there was division among the unionists concerning it. Mr. Davis questioned the genuine loyalty of those who did not regard it with unmixed favor, and was impatient with those who were content with what he called halfway measures, but earnestly asserted his confidence in my devotion to the Union. "You have so thoroughly proven your sincerity in that respect." he said, " that it is not open to question." But referring to the question of the rival conventions again he inquired what I and others who agreed with me proposed to do about it. I notified him then that we had already conferred with leading members of the League and had their assurance that they would discourage nominations by its convention, and would endeavor to have it appoint a committee to confer with a similar committee, which we hoped to have appointed by the Central Committee convention for the purpose of bringing about harmonious action. After considerable discussion he consented to refrain from opposing that course, but asked: "Suppose the other convention shall reject our overture what shall then be done?" "That," I replied, "must be left to the convention. I presume, however, that in that case both conventions will nominate candidates and the party will be divided."

And that was what actually occurred. When the league convention held its first session, a committee to confer with the Central Committee body was appointed and it adjourned to meet again on the date fixed for the other convention. The latter refused to consider any proposition for compromise and demanded the unconditional dissolution of the convention. That was, of course, declined and both bodies nominated candidates for State officers. The League body named Henry H. Goldsborough, of Talbott county, as its candidate for Comptroller of the Treasury and the Central Committee people re-nominated Samuel S. Maffit, of Cecil county, for the same office. I was re-nominated for Commissioner of the Land Office by both conventions and by acclamation in each. I was re-elected without opposition but, while the convention called by the State Central Committee was undoubtedly the regular representative of the party, its arbitrary refusal to agree to any course that might have brought harmony, alienated many staunch unionists from its support and Mr. Goldsborough, the League nominee, was elected Comptroller of the Treasury by a large majority.

Both conventions adopted a resolution in favor of the abolition of slavery in the State by State action, but Mr. Maffit, in accepting the nomination of the Central Committee people, flatly refused to be bound by their resolution on the subject, and this action no doubt contributed largely to his defeat.

The division in the party's counsels was however disastrous to its organization and was one of the causes which contributed to its overwhelming overthrow soon after the close of the Civil War, a result for which Mr. Davis was largely responsible.

Mr. Davis's radical temperament was exhibited about the period in which the movement which ended in the disruption of the party in the State was inaugurated, by open expressions of dissatisfaction with the Administration of President Lincoln, against whose re-nomination he made an effort to carry the State. He had a strong following, but the preponderance of sentiment in the State was decidedly against him and in favor of Mr. Lincoln. To dissipate all doubt upon this point the State convention, held in February 1864, to elect delegates to the national convention of the Republican party of that year, passed a resolution requiring those delegates to vote for Mr. Lincoln's re-nomination, "first, last, and all the time." I was a delegate to the State convention which adopted that resolution and which also elected me a delegate to the national convention.

It is a matter of public history that Mr. Davis continued his opposition to Mr. Lincoln far into the Presidential campaign of 1864. He joined with Senator Ben Wade, of Ohio, in issuing a manifesto which was a caustic and hostile criticism of the President and his policy, but in the end gave his strong influence and great talents to the work of carrying the State for Mr. Lincoln at the November election. It was generally said by his friends that he was always a step in advance of his party, which he pulled up to him and took another step forward. This did not appear, however, by his course in 1863, nor by the result of his opposition to Mr. Lincoln. He was, undoubtedly a great and highly gifted man. endowed with wonderful powers of mind and with unfaltering courage in the expression of his opinions. He died, after a brief illness, soon after the close of the Civil War and there were few Marylanders who did not deplore the sad event. The BALTIMORE AMERICAN, which had severely criticized him in 1861, paid a high compliment to his memory and expressed the universal sorrow of the people at his death.

Read Part Two


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