When Lincoln stopped in Baltimore

In his address the president stressed that African-American soldiers would receive the same treatment as their white counterparts

April 15, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

One hundred forty-seven years ago Monday, Abraham Lincoln made his only appearance in Baltimore as president, when he stepped off a special B&O train at Camden Station to address the Sanitary Fair Commission, whose purpose was raising funds for wounded Union soldiers.

Shortly after 6 p.m. on April 18, 1864, as the presidential special braked to a stop at Camden Station, Lincoln prepared to get off and be welcomed to the city by a large crowd that had gathered outside the station and on the platform and cheered him for 20 minutes.

"As soon as he made his appearance he was saluted by cheers. He proceeded immediately to the carriage of William J. Albert, Esq., and proceeded to the residence of that gentleman, on Monument Street, near Cathedral," reported The Sun the next day. "A squadron of cavalry was in waiting at the station, which acted as an escort to the President."

This was a far different reception than Lincoln received Feb. 22, 1861, when his life had been threatened by a conspiracy after it was learned that he was to pass through Baltimore en route to Washington for his inauguration March 4.

Allan Pinkerton considered the threat serious enough that he made sure that the president-elect traveled through Baltimore aboard a later night train.

"The city was in proud repose when we passed through," wrote Pinkerton. "Darkness and silence reigned over all. Perhaps, at this moment, however, the restless conspirators were astir, perfecting their plans for a tragedy as infamous as any which has ever disgraced a free country."

Barely two months later, on April 19, with secessionist feelings running high in the city, the famous Pratt Street Riot took place. About 600 officers and men of the 6th Massachusetts Infantry were marching from President Street Station to Camden Station when they were confronted by a mob of taunting Southern sympathizers who pelted them with bricks and paving stones.

But on this night in 1864, Baltimore gave Lincoln a warm and sustained greeting as if to blot out the terrible memory of April 19, 1861.

Lincoln arrived at the old Maryland Institute building at East Baltimore Street and Market Place, where he was to address the Ladies Union Relief Association, which was the Maryland unit of the U.S. Sanitary and Christian Commission.

The Ladies Union Relief Association, which had been organized in 1861, provided nursing care for wounded federal soldiers, sewed bandages, and offered clothes, food and other necessities. It was in many ways a forerunner of today's Red Cross.

Its primary work was executed at the U.S. Army General Hospital that stood near Camden Station, but it also provided care at seven other Baltimore military hospitals.

In anticipation of the president's arrival, the Maryland Institute had freshly painted and refurbished its great hall, where he would speak. Great floral arches extended from either side of the enormous room.

Thousands squeezed into the "immense salon … where about 1,000 jets of gas furnish one grand flood of light," observed The Sun, and greeted the "towering figure" of the speaker with "a waving of handkerchiefs and continuous cheers."

The orchestra struck up "Hail to the Chief," which marked Lincoln's arrival at 8 p.m. He was rushed by several giddy women, reported The Sun, who wished to shake his hand.

He slowly climbed the platform and began the delivery of a 10-minute address.

"Ladies and Gentleman — Calling to mind that we are in Baltimore, we cannot fail to note that the world moves. Looking upon these many people, assembled here to serve, as they best may, the soldiers of the Union, it occurs at once that three years ago, the same soldiers could not so much as pass through Baltimore," he said.

"The change from then till now is both great, and gratifying. Blessings on the brave men who have wrought the change, and the fair women who strive to reward them for it," said Lincoln.

He continued, "With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men's labor.

"Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same thing — liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names — liberty and tyranny."

When Lincoln intoned the phrase, "Recently, it seems, the people of Maryland have been doing something to define liberty; and thanks to them that, in what they have done, the wolf's dictionary, has been repudiated," there were bursts of cheers and a waving again of handkerchiefs.

A seriousness fell over the hall when Lincoln said that "a painful rumor, true I fear, has reached us of the massacre, by the Rebel forces, at Fort Pillow, in the west end of Tennessee, on the Mississippi River."

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