MHC extends its gratitude to author and blogger Scott L. Mingus Sr., for his guest contribution to our Chautauqua-themed blog.
Jefferson Davis served as the only president the Confederate States of America would ever know. The Kentucky-born and Mississippi-raised Davis was a West Point graduate; veteran of the Mexican War; former U.S. Congressman, Senator, and Secretary of War. His vast network of contacts spanned the country.
Following Mississippi’s secession from the Union on January 9, 1861, the 52-year-old Davis resigned from the Senate and returned home, where he accepted a commission as a major general of Mississippi troops. Scarcely a month later a convention in Montgomery, Alabama, named the well-known Davis as the fledgling Confederacy’s provisional president. He was inaugurated on February 18, 1861, and immediately began the process of organizing a government. In May the capital moved to Richmond, Virginia, following the Old Dominion’s secession.
Maryland, a slave state bordering free-state Pennsylvania to the north, proved to be problematic for both the Federal government and the Confederacy in the first year of the Civil War. Less than two percent of Marylanders had voted for Republican Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 election, and Southern sympathies were strong in several areas, including Baltimore and Annapolis. While Jefferson Davis was still in Alabama, on April 9, 1861, the Pratt Street Riot drew bloodshed when angry crowds faced off with newly trained Massachusetts troops passing through the city while en route to Washington, D.C.
Over the next few months, the Federal government stepped in to quell the secessionist sentiment, including incarcerating leading pro-Confederate politicians and civic leaders. Maryland remained in the Union, although some 25,000 men joined the Confederate army (more than twice that number enlisted in the Union army). Federal troops, including the 87th Pennsylvania, were dispatched into northern Maryland to guard the Northern Central Railway which ran from Baltimore to Harrisburg, and thousands of other Union soldiers guarded the vital east-west running Baltimore & Ohio.
President Davis believed that the pro-Southern sentiments in Maryland, though squelched in part by perceived heavy-handiness by Washington, remained strong. He later wrote, “The condition of Maryland encouraged the belief that the presence of our army, though numerically inferior to that of the North, would induce the Washington government to retain all its available force to provide against contingencies which its conduct toward the people of that state gave reason to apprehend. At the same time it was hoped that military success might afford us an opportunity to aid the citizens of Maryland in any efforts they should be disposed to make to recover their liberty. The difficulties that surrounded them were fully appreciated, and we expected to derive more assistance in the attainment of our object from the just fears of the Washington government than from any active demonstration on the part of the people of Maryland, unless success should enable us to give them assurance of continued protection. Influenced by these considerations, the army was put in motion.”
When he authorized General Robert E. Lee to invade Maryland in early September, 1862, Davis instructed Lee to issue a proclamation “to the people of Maryland, the motives and purposes of your presence among them at the head of an invading army…”
1st. That the Confederate Government is waging this war solely for self-defense; that it has no design of conquest, or any other purpose than to secure peace and the abandonment by the United States of their pretensions to govern a people who have never been their subjects, and who prefer self-government to a union with them.
2d. That this Government, at the very moment of its inauguration, sent commissioners to Washington to treat for a peaceful adjustment of all differences, but that these commissioners were not received, nor even allowed to communicate the object of their mission; and that, on a subsequent occasion, a communication from the President of the Confederacy to President Lincoln remained without answer, although a reply was promised by General Scott, into whose hands the communication was delivered.
3d. That among the pretexts urged for continuance of the war, is the assertion that the Confederate Government desires to deprive the United States of the free navigation of the Western rivers, although the truth is that the Confederate Congress, by public act, prior to the commencement of the war, enacted that “the peaceful navigation of the Mississippi River is hereby declared free to the citizens of any of the States upon its boundaries, or upon the borders of its navigable tributaries,” a declaration to which this Government has always been, and is still, ready to adhere.
4th. That now, at a juncture when our arms have been successful, we restrict ourselves to the same just and moderate demand that we made at the darkest period of our reverses, the simple demand that the people of the United States should cease to war upon us, and permit us to pursue our own path to happiness, while they in peace pursue theirs.
5th. That we are debarred from the renewal of formal proposals for peace by having no reason to expect that they would be received with the respect mutually due by nations in their intercourse, whether in peace or in war.
6th. That, under these circumstances, we are driven to protect our own country by transferring the seat of war to that of an enemy, who pursues us with a relentless and, apparently, aimless hostility; that our fields have been laid waste, our people killed, many homes made desolate, and that rapine and murder have ravaged our frontiers; that the sacred right of self-defense demands that, if such a war is to continue, its consequences shall fall on those who persist in their refusal to make peace.
7th. That the Confederate army, therefore, comes to occupy the territory of their enemies, and to make it the theater of hostilities; that with the people themselves rests the power to put an end to this invasion of their homes, for, if unable to prevail on the Government of the United States to conclude a general peace, their own State government, in the exercise of its sovereignty, can secure immunity from the desolating effects of warfare on the soil of the State by a separate treaty of peace, which this Government will ever be ready to conclude on the most just and liberal basis.
8th. That the responsibility thus rests on the people of the United States continuing an unjust and oppressive warfare upon the Confederate States—a warfare which can never end in any other manner than that now proposed. With them is the option of preserving the blessings of peace by the simple abandonment of the design of subjugating a people over whom no right of dominion has ever been conferred, either by God or man.
Lee’s army would be thwarted on September 17, 1862 near Sharpsburg at what the Northerners called the Battle of Antietam. Much to the surprise of Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders, few Marylanders had rushed to arms to support the invasion. The state would remain in the Union column for the remainder of the war.
Scott L. Mingus, Sr. is an author, tour guide, multiple award-winning miniature wargamer, patented scientist, and history buff based near York, Pennsylvania. His Civil War blogs include “Cannonball”, “Charge!,” and “Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Confederate Expedition to the Susquehanna River.” Learn more at www.scottmingus.com.
How do you think Davis was viewed in rural mountain Maryland, versus the bustling, populous hub of Baltimore, versus the agricultural domain of the Eastern Shore? What factors contributed to this range of opinions?
What impact do you think the Pratt Street Riots–at the start of the war–had on Jefferson Davis’ view of Baltimore? Maryland?
How did Maryland’s “problematic” or conflicted stance during the Civil War influence the state in the 150 years following it? What lasting effects can be seen/felt in Maryland today?