American History Stories—Volume IV - Mara L. Pratt

[Illustration] from American History Stories - IV by Mara L. Pratt

Federal Hill

During all this time the Confederates had been threatening to attack Washington, and tear down the Union flag from the Capitol. They had even said they would yet have their own flag waving over Faneuil Hall in Boston. Think of it, imagine anything but the "Stars and Stripes" waving over that old "Cradle of Liberty."

Even then the Northerners did not realize how full of hate the Southerners were. Washington was indeed poorly guarded, but the idea of attacking the Nation's Capitol! It didn't seem possible. But now there came a cry, "Washington is in danger! Help, help for Washington!" And help came. The Seventh Regiment of New York, a regiment of young men, kept up to this time only for parades, never expecting to be called into real war, came forward and volunteered, that is, offered to go to protect the capital.

How the people shrank from accepting this noble sacrifice! This pet regiment of the State! made up of the very "flower of volunteer troops," as it was said then, to go into battle to be shot down, very likely, like dogs! But they were ready; the country needed them, and so, one morning in April, this regiment marched down Broadway, the main street of New York city, to the cars that should carry them to Washington.

That was a great day in New York city! Crowds and crowds of men and women filled the squares and the sidewalks, and cheers upon cheers rent the air as these boys marched down the street. Theodore Winthrop, one of the young men in this noble regiment, in writing of this day, says:

"It was worth a life, that march. Only one who passed as we did through that tempest of cheers, two miles long, can know the terrible enthusiasm of the day. We knew now, if we had not known before, that our great city was with us as one man, united in the cause we were marching to sustain."

This regiment was joined by the Eighth Massachusetts Regiment, with General Benjamin F. Butler as one of its volunteer generals. It was supposed that General Butler had always had much sympathy with the South, and had been always in favor of allowing the South all the freedom to carry out their own ideas that could possibly be given them without real harm to the Government. But, when the South set out to break up the Union, no one rose quicker in its defence than did General Butler. When one of his Southern friends told him what the South was planning to do, Butler said:

"If you do that, I trust you are ready for war."

"Pooh! the North will not fight," said the Southerner.

"The North will  fight," replied Butler. "You touch the Union flag and you'll find that the North will rise in a solid body against you; and if war does  come, down will go your Confederacy, slavery and all."

But the South did not believe it, although they had good reason to know that General Butler had a "long head," as we often say when we mean that a person understands what he is talking about. Imagine their surprise then, when they found that even Butler himself was against them, when it came to be a real question with him whether to stand by the South, or to stand by the Union. Alas! it took the Southerners a long time to understand what the Union  meant to a Northerner. And, alas, it took the Northerners a long time to understand what the State  meant to the Southerner. It proved a bitter, bitter lesson to them both.

These regiments, the Seventh New York and the Eighth Massachusetts, arrived safely at Washington, and the capital was safe. But on account of the Secessionists in Baltimore, these troops had been obliged to get to Washington in a very roundabout way, to avoid being attacked as the Massachusetts Sixth had been.

"Now," said Butler, when he had fairly got his regiment in order after their march, "the city of Baltimore must be taken. The city is made up of Union men and women, but they are kept down by the few "Secessionists" there. That city must be freed. We can't bother to take our troops around through the woods and up the rivers every time we want to bring them to Washington, when there is a railroad straight through that city. No, Baltimore must be taken; and I will go and take it!"

Accordingly, he marched to Baltimore; and one night, when the sky was black and the rain was pouring, the wind howling, the lightning flashing and the thunder mumbling and rolling on every side, up he marched with his men and his cannon to the top of Federal Hill. There he was when the morning dawned, his flags flying, his guns ready, his great black cannons looking down upon the city as much as to say, "Make one move against the Union, lift one finger against our troops, and our black throats are ready to pour out fire and death upon you."

The Secessionists understood the language of the cannons, and from that time the Union soldiers marched in peace through the city of Baltimore.