On Wednesday, the 17th of April, the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment entrained for Washington. Two days later it was in Baltimore. There it was attacked by a mob; the soldiers fired; and a number of civilians were killed as well as several soldiers.
These shots at Baltimore aroused the Southern party in Maryland. Led by the Mayor of the city, they resolved to prevent the passage of other troops across their State to Washington. Railway tracks were torn up by order of the municipal authorities, and bridges were burnt. The telegraph was cut. As in a flash, after issuing his proclamation, Lincoln found himself isolated at Washington with no force but a handful of troops and the government clerks. And while Maryland rose against him on one side, Virginia joined his enemies on the other. The day the Sixth Massachusetts left Boston, Virginia seceded. The Virginia militia were called to their colors. Preparations were at once set on foot for the seizure of the great federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry and the Navy Yard at Norfolk. The next day a handful of federal troops, fearful of being overpowered at Harper's Ferry, burned the arsenal and withdrew to Washington. For the same reason the buildings of the great Navy Yard were blown up or set on fire, and the ships at anchor were sunk. So desperate and unprepared were the Washington authorities that they took these extreme measures to keep arms and ammunition out of the hands of the Virginians. So hastily was the destruction carried out, that it was only partially successful and at both places large stores of ammunition were seized by the Virginia troops. While Washington was isolated, and Lincoln did not know what response the North had made to his proclamation, Robert E. Lee, having resigned his commission in the federal army, was placed in command of the Virginia troops.
The secretaries of Lincoln have preserved a picture of his desperate anxiety, waiting, day after day, for relief from the North which he hoped would speedily come by sea. Outwardly he maintained his self-control. "But once, on the afternoon of the 23d, the business of the day being over, the Executive office being deserted, after walking the floor alone in silent thought for nearly half an hour, he stopped and gazed long and wistfully out of the window down the Potomac in the direction of the expected ships; and, unconscious of other presence in the room, at length broke out with irrepressible anguish in the repeated exclamation, "Why don't they come! Why don't they come!"
During these days of isolation, when Washington, with the telegraph inoperative, was kept in an appalling uncertainty, the North rose. There was literally a rush to volunteer. "The heather is on fire," wrote George Ticknor, "I never before knew what a popular excitement can be." As fast as possible militia were hurried South. The crack New York regiment, the famous, dandified Seventh, started for the front amid probably the most tempestuous ovation which until that time was ever given to a military organization in America. Of the march of the regiment down Broadway, one of its members wrote, "Only one who passed as we did, through the tempest of cheers two miles long, can know the terrible enthusiasm of the occasion."
To reach Washington by rail was impossible. The Seventh went by boat to Annapolis. The same course was taken by a regiment of Massachusetts mechanics, the Eighth. Landing at Annapolis, the two regiments, dandies and laborers, fraternized at once in the common bond of loyalty to the Union. A branch railway led from Annapolis to the main line between Washington and Baltimore. The rails had been torn up. The Massachusetts mechanics set to work to relay them. The Governor of Maryland protested. He was disregarded. The two regiments toiled together a long day and through the night following, between Annapolis and the Washington junction, bringing on their baggage and cannon over relaid tracks. There, a train was found which the Seventh appropriated. At noon, on the 25th of April, that advance guard of the Northern hosts entered Washington, and Lincoln knew that he had armies behind him.
The history of the North had virtually become, by April, 1861, the history of Lincoln himself, and during the remaining four years of the President's life it is difficult to separate his personality from the trend of national history. Any attempt to understand the achievements and the omissions of the Northern people without undertaking an intelligent estimate of their leader would be only to duplicate the story of "Hamlet" with Hamlet left out. According to the opinion of English military experts*, "Against the great military genius of certain Southern leaders fate opposed the unbroken resolution and passionate devotion to the Union, which he worshiped, of the great Northern President. As long as he lived and ruled the people of the North, there could be no turning back."
* Wood and Edmonds. "The Civil War in the United States."
Lincoln has been ranked with Socrates; but he has also been compared with Rabelais. He has been the target of abuse that knew no mercy; but he has been worshiped as a demigod. The ten big volumes of his official biography are a sustained, intemperate eulogy in which the hero does nothing that is not admirable; but as large a book could be built up out of contemporaneous Northern writings that would paint a picture of unmitigated blackness--and the most eloquent portions of it would be signed by Wendell Phillips.