Maryland Secession Cockades

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Maryland was a strategic state in the tug-of-war between the North and South. As a border state, it was right next to Washington D.C. but below the Mason-Dixon line. Along with Southern sympathizers, there were many pro-Unionists in the state as well. Feeling was deeply divided and nobody knew for sure which way Maryland would go if the Southern states began to secede.

Many Civil War histories focus on the excitement in Charleston during the firing on Fort Sumter - the official opening shots of the war. But that excitement was just as intense in other cities around the United States, including Baltimore.

But it's doubtful if anybody in 1861 realized that the first casualties of the War Between the States would be in Baltimore, not Charleston.

Beginning in April 1861, newspapers across the nation started carrying the same simple 2-sentence bite of news. This is one of them:

"Baltimore, April 14. - The Union feeling in this city has been unmistakeably displayed since Friday. Men with cockades and Secession emblems have been chased by crowds and protected by the police." As with many such short blurbs, there's a story behind it. In fact, this was one of the incidents that set the scene for the infamous Baltimore Riot of 1861.

"Southern Rights" Maryland
Secession Ribbon

Tensions Build

Like other states that were considering secession, the tipping point for Maryland was Lincoln's call for troops on Monday, April 15. Southern sympathizers and even some Unionists were infuriated at this move. But tensions - and cockades - had already begun rising the weekend before Lincoln's call. The Daily Exchange in Baltimore tells us more (I've left in the original spelling):

"Never before, perhaps, in the history of the old Monumental City, have the citizens, one and old, been laboring under such a perfect furore of excitement as has been prevailing since Friday evening last. At a late hour in the evening a despatch was received from Charleston, announcing the startling intelligence that the war had been inaugurated. This despatch was no sooner received than it became generally known throughout the entire city, and the immediate result was, that a crowd of several hundred persons assembled around the bulletin boards....

"As the crowd increased in numbers, the excitement became more intense, but although many were violent in their argument and gesticulations, no difficulty of any kind took place, until about eleven o'clock, when a young man made his appearance in the neighborhood of the Exchange office, wearing upon his hat a Southern cockade. He was saluted with hisses and groans by the Union men, who raised a shout of "take it off, "Hurrah for the Union," &c...."

Police to the Rescue

"Through the exertions of our efficient Police Department, however, quiet was partially restored. About four o'clock, however, the crowd again became excited by the appearance of another "cockade" upon Baltimore street. Many of those assembled made a rush toward the party wearing it, who proved to be a gentleman from North Carolina...and cries of "Go in Union men," "Rally, minute men," Take it off the d—d secessionist," and other riotous shouts were heard.

"The crowd pressed rapidly around the stranger, and although he was immediately surrounded by a number of sympathizing friends, he was forced up Baltimore street...when a decided stand was taken, and with the assistance of Sergeant McComas, of the Police Department, the gentleman was enabled to return to the hotel, the crowd following him with shouts and yells of every description....

"A number of officers were dispatched to the corner of North and Baltimore streets to preserve the peace; and during the balance of the day no difficulty occurred, although the newspaper offices were surrounded by hundreds of persons up to a very late hour last night."

The Baltimore Riot

It was in this atmosphere that Massachusetts and Pennsylvania troops answering Lincoln's call endeavored to make their way through Baltimore on April 19. When the crowd began to throw bricks and stones at the soldiers, orders were given to fire. In the ensuing struggle, 21 soldiers and citizens died and scores were wounded.

And it was the police who once again restored peace. As the mayor later recalled, "At the moment when I returned to the street, Marshal Kane, with about fifty policemen (as I then supposed, but I have since ascertained that in fact there were not so many), came at a run from the direction of the Camden-street station, and throwing themselves in the rear of the troops, they formed a line in front of the mob, and with drawn revolvers kept it back....Marshal Kane’s voice shouted, “Keep back, men, or I shoot!” This movement, which I saw myself, was gallantly executed, and was perfectly successful. The mob recoiled like water from a rock."

Arrest of the Secessionists

Since Maryland lay directly between the North and the South, people were deeply divided about whether to secede. A special General Assembly was called to consider the question, with many hoping to simply remain neutral during the ensuing hostilities. However, Federal troops arrived on September 17 and arrested all pro-Confederate Assembly members. Thus, Maryland's secession - or neutrality - was crushed.