This August 1945 Proceedings article was published by P. H. Magruder, former Secretary of the Naval Academy as “The U.S. Naval Academy and Annapolis During the Civil War 1861-1865: An outline of the conspicuous part displayed by the locality during those tragic days”.
There may be relatively few of this generation who realize what a very interesting and important part Annapolis and the Naval Academy played in the Civil War, particularly in its early stages. Annapolis, on account of its close proximity to Washington, naturally became an important strategic position for the defense of the Capital, especially as the geographic position of Annapolis on the Chesapeake, with a steam railroad direct to Washington, made it an important focal point in the early stages of that defense. The fact that Maryland was directly adjacent to the Mason and Dixon line caused her population to be very evenly divided in their sympathies between the Union and the Confederacy.
In April of 1861 the secessionist elements of Maryland were rapidly organizing in their strenuous efforts to have Maryland secede, and the situation appeared grave, as it was almost inevitable that the National Government would employ a large force to defeat such a move. Attempts had been made by Southern sympathizers to burn the bridges, over the rivers between Baltimore and the Susquehanna River, of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad, along which line dangerous rioting was in progress to prevent the passage of troops from the North for the defense of Washington. To lessen this hazard, the Federal troops were diverted to water transport at Perryville, on the north bank of the Susquehanna, and brought down the Chesapeake to Annapolis and Baltimore in large numbers to disembark and continue by train for Washington. This soon got the situation in better control. The Naval Academy and Annapolis became the pivotal point of operation for the disembarkation of troops, and vast numbers of transports filled the wharves and harbor, presenting a scene of great activity. This condition not only existed in the early stages of the war, but continued throughout. Large expeditions for the South were fitted out in Annapolis to join other units then organizing. An unusual number of Army transports filled the inner harbor at the time General Burnside’s large expedition was forming. It has been estimated there were between 35,000 and 40,000 troops in this vicinity at that time, and more than 70,000 troops were in Annapolis at different times during the period of the war. These troops were quartered within the Naval Academy reservation, which afterwards became an Army post, St. John’s College grounds, and later at Camp Parole and Camp Richmond adjoining, together with other camps on towards South River.
Passing back to the problems confronting this locality, the Federal Government’s attention was kept closely fixed on this area, and considerable concern was felt about the events that were occurring here, as will be shown by the following letter of President Lincoln to General Scott, under date of April 25, 1861:
My dear Sir:—The Maryland legislature assembles tomorrow at Annapolis, and not improbably will take action to arm the people of the State against the United States. The question has been submitted to and considered by me, whether it would not be justifiable upon the grounds of necessary defence, for you, as Commander in Chief of the United States Army, to arrest or disperse the members of that body. I think it would not be justifiable nor efficient for the desired object. First, they have a clearly legal right to assemble; and we cannot know in advance that their action will not be lawful and peaceful. And if we wait until they shall have acted, their arrest or dispersion will not lessen the effect of their action. Secondly, we cannot permanently prevent their action. If we arrest them, we cannot long hold them as prisoners; and when liberated, they will immediately reassemble and take their action. And precisely the same if we simply disperse them. They will immediately reassemble in some other place.
I therefore conclude that it is only left to the commanding general to watch and wait their action which, if it shall be to arm their people against the United States, he is to adopt the most prompt and efficient means to counteract, even if necessary to the bombardment of their cities; in the extremest necessity, the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. (Lincoln to Scott, April 25, 1861. Unpublished MS. See Abraham Lincoln-A History-The Border States, by John Nicolay and John Hay, private Sec. to President Lincoln.)
Thus directed, General Scott wrote to General Butler on the following day:
In the absence of the undersigned, the foregoing instructions are turned over to Brigadier General B. F. Butler of the Massachusetts Volunteers, or other officer commanding at Annapolis, who will carry them out in the right spirit, that is, with moderation and firmness. In case of arrested individuals notorious for their hostility to the United States, the prisoners will be safely kept and duly cared for, but not surrendered except on the order of the commander aforesaid. (Scott to Butler, April 26, 1861, War Records.)
At the last moment, however, realizing what some of their members were meditating against the Government, the Maryland legislature abandoned the idea of meeting at Annapolis, and induced the Governor to convene their special session at the town of Frederick. There Governor Hicks sent them his special message of the 27th, reciting the recent occurrences, transmitting his correspondence with the various Federal authorities, and expressing the conviction “that the only safety of Maryland lies in preserving a neutral position between the brethren of the North and of the South.” At the same time he admitted the right of transit of Federal troops, and counseled “that we shall array ourselves for Union and peace.” (Hicks’ Special Message, April 27, 1861. Rebellion Records.) The Federal authorities felt that the lack of coherence and consistency in the message was atoned for by its underlying spirit of loyalty.
Meanwhile the plentiful arrival of volunteers enabled the Government to strengthen its hold on Annapolis and the railroad. The military “Department of Annapolis” was created, and General Butler assigned to its command. This embraced 20 miles on each side of the railroad from Annapolis to Washington. (Gen. Orders No. 12, War Records of April 27, 1861.)
Prior to the arrival of General Butler’s troops at the Naval Academy on Monday afternoon, April 22, orders had already been received by Captain Blake, then Superintendent, from the Navy Department to make immediate preparations for the removal of the Academy from Annapolis. Accordingly, the midshipmen, stores, equipment, and the necessary personnel were hurriedly placed on board the frigate Constitution, then moored to the old Constitution Wharf, named in her honor. At the appointed hour of the sailing of the ship for her unknown destination, the Constitution was found to be aground, as she had been loaded too heavily. The commanding officer knew that the ship was resting in the mud, but it was expected that she would easily float at high water before the hour set for departure. Unfortunately, the wind had been from the northwest for several days, causing unusually low water, and the expected high water did not appear at the hour of sailing. It was necessary to lighten the ship, and the easiest way was to remove the guns from the gun deck, rather than disturb the cargo stowed below. This delayed the sailing and greatly worried Captain Blake, as it occurred just at the moment when there arose the menace of the serious riots in Maryland, and the report that the Confederates were about to capture the Naval Academy and Annapolis, together with the famed Constitution and her valuable cargo and personnel. Luckily for Captain Blake and the Government, General Butler suddenly appeared with the advance troops of his Massachusetts Volunteers on board the powerful steamer Maryland, which he had taken at Perryville at the head of the bay.
As preparations had already been well under way for the removal of the Academy to some other point of safety, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles had telegraphed Superintendent Blake on April 20 the following historic message: “Defend the Constitution at all hazards; if this cannot be done, destroy her.” From that message and from the letter of President Lincoln to General Scott above cited, it may be seen what very serious apprehension and concern the Federal authorities felt about conditions in Annapolis.
While General Butler’s troops were the first to arrive at Annapolis, they were not the first to land. That honor was reserved for the Seventh New York Volunteer Regiment, commanded by Colonel Lefferts, whose regiment landed on the grounds of the Academy, about five o’clock Monday afternoon, April 22. General Butler’s troops were landed afterwards.
It was immediately decided by General Butler and Captain Blake to start the Constitution on her way. So promptly the steamer Maryland with the ship in tow finally made Annapolis Roads, and then the Constitution spread her sails and soon disappeared down the Chesapeake, finally reaching New York safely. On April 27, the Academy was ordered to be re-established at Newport. The liner Baltic, then used as a transport between New York and Annapolis, was ordered to take the officers, professors, and their families, together with the civilian personnel, to the new seat of the Naval Academy. All the remaining furniture, books, models, and apparatus that could be transported were packed and placed aboard the transport, which arrived on May 9 at Newport. The Constitution with the midshipmen on board had already arrived just two hours before the Baltic.
The steamer Maryland had towed the Constitution to Annapolis Roads with Butler’s troops still on board, and in attempting to return to the harbor ran aground on the bar outside of Horn Point. There she lay for more than 30 hours.
While the Maryland was aground with the troops on board, Butler had already determined to land his troops as soon as possible. To the surprise of everyone, and unheralded, the steamer Boston appeared at the harbor entrance with the Seventh New York Volunteer Regiment on board. These troops promptly landed at the Academy wharf. Thus Butler’s troops were not the first to land. The Boston then took off the Massachusetts troops from the Maryland. Most of these troops were quartered in the buildings of the Academy, and the rest encamped on the grounds. During the period while the Maryland was ashore, Butler found it necessary to secure provisions for his troops by purchasing them from some of the local suppliers. Butler experienced no serious difficulty in obtaining all the meat and provisions necessary to feed his troops. He also experienced no difficulty in procuring the necessary teams to haul supplies to and from the railroad depot.
After the departure of the Constitution and Baltic, Annapolis suddenly lost its nautical atmosphere. The familiar figures of naval officers, midshipmen, and sailors on the streets were now replaced by swarms of army officers and soldiers with their unfamiliar uniforms. They also crowded the hotel lobbies and public places. “Ben” Butler was in charge of the town. He was not popular with the Southern sympathizers, who frowned on his usurpation of civil authority. General Butler did not remain long in Annapolis, leaving in early May of that year, but during his brief tenure he did big things in building mammoth storehouses, hospital buildings, and roads. After seizing the railroad, he immediately extended it to the Naval Academy water front, the line running from West Street Station down West Street to Tabernacle Street (now College Avenue), through the Academy grounds to the end of a new wharf, afterwards known as the Santee Wharf. Over this road vast masses of army supplies and thousands of troops were hauled, embarking and disembarking in their various swift movements for the protection of Washington and for the Army of the Potomac, and to Fortress Monroe and the South. This important base of operations was established here, for Annapolis was on the great inland waterway, accessible by water to the large eastern coastal ports of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, and with railroad facilities direct to Washington and the interior. As soon as some of the regiments disembarked and entrained for Washington and elsewhere, others replaced them, giving this locality a setting which it had not seen since Rochambeau’s and Lafayette’s troops encamped here in 1781 on their way to Yorktown.
It was decided by Butler to hold the Naval Academy long enough to receive reinforcements in order to prevent any efforts of the Confederates to shut off troops from Washington. He also decided to hold Annapolis. And as he said, “From that time forth Annapolis was in the hands of the Union side.” Reinforcements for that purpose were not needed, as it was believed that a single company would be sufficient to preserve order. There were few organized companies of militia in the State, only one in the entire county, and not more than one in the adjoining counties between Annapolis and Washington. If Maryland had not been classed as a border Southern State, and if the Union authorities could have foreseen that the preponderance of her population were opposed to secession, it would have been unnecessary to remove the Naval Academy, certainly at that time.
The fitting out and the embarkation of the expedition of General Burnside’s army from Annapolis to the South added greatly to the already military atmosphere of the vicinity. Over 30,000 troops poured into the town, while the broad harbor of Annapolis was filled with army transports in preparation for the embarking of an invading army. This expedition brought General Grant to Annapolis, and one of the incidents of the times was the grouping of General Grant, General Burnside, and Admiral Meade in the corridor of the old City Hotel then located on Main Street.
After the mobilization and departure of the expeditions for the South, the buildings of the Naval Academy and St. John’s College were used as hospitals and camps for the sick and wounded, who were sent here in large numbers from the front, and Camp Parole and Camp Richmond were retained for paroled prisoners of war. These large camps were located about a quarter of a mile beyond the Camp Parole of today. Camp Richmond was on the right side, and Camp Parole on the left side, facing north. The old Annapolis and Elk Ridge Railroad passed between the two camps, which were scenes of vast activity and traffic.
The fine new Naval Academy of its day, just completed with its new buildings and beautifully parked grounds, was turned over to the War Department (the second time the Naval Academy grounds had been used as an army post). It was used as such until the return of the Academy to Annapolis in 1865, Congress having previously passed an act restoring it to its original location, beginning with the Academic year 1865-66. Whatever beauty the former Academy possessed had been destroyed. The long row of willow trees that fringed the bay front had been eaten by the cavalry horses, wagon ruts ruined the lawns, sheds had been built on the parade grounds, to serve as beer rooms and sutler’s shops. Even the Colonial Superintendent’s house had been turned into a billiard saloon. In September, 1865, Captain Blake, afterwards Commodore Blake, was relieved by Admiral Porter, after he had served under the most trying circumstances as Superintendent for eight years, the longest tenure in the history of the Academy.
Probably the most important and exciting event in the military history of Annapolis during the war, after the landing of the troops of the New York and Massachusetts Volunteers, was the alarm caused by the raid into Maryland of General Early in July, 1864, whose Confederate troops nearly reached the environs of Washington. The Federal authorities in Annapolis at once proceeded to fortify the town, constructing entrenchments from the head of Dorsey Creek to a Cove on Spa Creek, directly across the town. Some of these entrenchments remained until a few years ago, and the partial remains of some can still be identified. To further this work citizens of Annapolis were pressed into service, and marched daily to the breastworks, but the danger of the alarm subsided within three or four days.
During the period warships of different nations visited Annapolis at various times; conspicuous among them were the English and Russians, which somewhat complicated the already divided opinion. The English sloop of war Racer arrived in Annapolis Harbor on September 11, 1862, anchored off the Naval Academy, and remained for some time.
During the entire period of the war there was a fleet of six Russian men-of-war on our Atlantic seaboard. In January, 1864, two of these ships visited Annapolis. The Varaig and Almaz appeared in the harbor and became frozen in the ice of that winter. The other four ships visited Washington.