Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Early Returns

In which we celebrate Election Day at a secesh BBQ

Brig. General Joseph Hooker had settled his small division well into their positions along the Lower Potomac in Maryland by November 8. Hooker called his headquarters at Chickamuxen Church "Camp Baker", after the Senator from Oregon killed in battle who had given Hooker his first break during the war, and had occupied himself with establishing an efficient military camp there for his old brigade and down the road for the other brigade in the division, that of Dan Sickles'. He detailed it all in his long daily reports to Maj. General George McClellan, through his adjutant, Seth Williams.

The November 8 report is typical of Hookers' reports, which collectively form a remarkably complete picture of the daily activities of a division commander on detached duty (and should surprise those of used to depictions of Hooker as a self-seeking bungler with their above-average competence). In it Hooker reports the establishment of a new hospital at Camp Baker, which he hopes will deprive men of an excuse to escape work by traveling all the way back to the old hospital at Camp Union in Bladensburg. He also complains about the discipline of Sickles' Brigade, a nearly daily occurrence (though he doesn't hesitate to criticize his old brigade in earlier reports).

But Hooker's movement down the Potomac was not to establish a camp further from the city, and his report reflects that. Part of his objective had been to establish control over a population that was known to be Confederate-sympathizers, if not outright Confederates. It certainly hadn't been lost on Hooker or McClellan, or anyone in the War Department or White House that Hooker would arrive just in time for the first Wednesday of November, the date of Maryland state and local elections.

On November 2, he had received orders through Seth Williams with regards to the election. Hooker's reply carefully specifies that he will use his cavalry "to preserve quiet and good order, and to suppress any coercion or intimidation on the part of the secession leaders." But he and his superiors in Washington were intimately aware that the 1861 elections in Maryland would seat a state legislature that would again take up the topic of secession. The president had already authorized suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and Fort McKinley in Baltimore Harbor was already stocked with Southern-sympathizing Maryland politicians, including the mayor and police commissioner of Baltimore. But it was imperative for the defenders of Washington to ensure that the new Maryland legislature didn't move towards secession.

Hooker was operating in the most pro-secession area of Maryland, and his report shows an awareness of that, but a confidence that it would not be a problem. In addition to the "peacekeeping" efforts of his four companies of the 3rd Indiana Cavalry, it was his opinion in his November 3 report that most of the men had left for Virginia to fight in the Confederate army, and the remaining populace had "no arms and no heart for resistance, however much they desire it."
The most noisy resident is Perry Davis, a tavern-keeper at Port Tobacco, and the secession candidate for the legislature. I learn he has been stumping the district and filling the heads of listeners with his secession heresies. I shall give directions for him to be arrested to-day and forwarded to me.
In addition to arresting the secession candidate for legislature, Hooker's report implies intimidation at the polls only in one other place: "I am informed that a secession barbecue will be given at what is called White Horse Tavern on election day, at which I shall take the liberty of inviting a whole company of Indiana cavalry."

The work apparently paid off. On November 7, Hooker reported positively on the elections:
I have received reports from several of the precincts at which the election was held yesterday. So far as heard from it passed off quietly, and a much larger Union vote was polled than anticipated. One arrest was made at Port Tobacco but after an examination of the case I found that he had been arrested on suspicion only. Finding no evidence against him he was discharged.
With Hooker's help, and similar efforts by other divisions of the Army of the Potomac throughout Maryland, the state legislature and governor that would be sent to Annapolis in 1862 would be overwhelmingly pro-Union. And as for the anti-Union candidate:
Perry Davis, the secession candidate for the legislature, was arrested at Port Tobacco and brought in to me for making treasonable speeches during the canvass ,but on his assuring me that he made them while running for office in a secession district, and that in case of election, which was probable, he should vote against the ordinance for secession if an opportunity presented itself, I deemed it politic to give him his liberty. Besides the election was over.

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