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From 1861 to…?

It’s a story that began 160 years ago today.

Militia order 1861

It was the 15th of April 1861 when newly-inaugurated President Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation:

WHEREAS the laws of the United States have been, for some time past, and are now opposed, and the execution thereof obstructed, in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by law;

Now, therefore, I, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution and the laws, have thought fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth, the militia of the several States of the Union, to the aggregate number of seventy-five thousands, in order to suppress said combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed.1

And the troops started heading south, particularly to protect Washington, D.C., considered at high risk after the secession of Virginia on 17 April.2

Their route took them through the City of Baltimore, Maryland.

And — in light of the support for the south in that place at that time — that spelled trouble.

On the 18th, a small contingent of newly-activated Pennsylvania militiamen arrived in Baltimore, needing to change trains for Washington, D.C., and were met by protestors. The Baltimore police managed to keep the two groups apart.3

The same could not be said a day later — 19 April 1861 — when the 6th Massachusetts Regiment arrived in the city. Those opposing the passage of the Union troops blocked the rail lines, derailed one rail car, and ultimately forced four companies of the 6th Massachusetts — some 220 men — to march on foot to reach the station where they could hope to safely embark for Washington, D.C.4

Roughly 10,000 Marylanders stood in their way. Stones and bricks were thrown; ultimately shots were fired. When the dust cleared, four soldiers and at least 12 rioters had been killed. The first to fall: a 17-year-old boy, Private Luther C. Ladd of Lowell, Massachusetts.5

Most family historians whose research takes them through those early days of the Civil War know something of that part of the story. How Union troops essentially ended up taking control of Baltimore. How many civilian officials were held in military detention. How Lincoln ended up ignoring a court order to produce one Marylander — John Merryman — despite a writ of habeas corpus issued by the Chief Justice of the United States, Roger Taney, a Marylander.6

But there is so much more to the legal story of the Baltimore riot of 1861. Starting with a whole host of indictments returned by a federal grand jury in Baltimore in July 1861 using preprinted forms — every last one of the indictments charging those indicted with treason: “wickedly devising and intending the peace and tranquility of the United States of America to disturb, and to stir, move, excite, levy and carry on war, insurrection and rebellion against the United States of America…”7

It’s a fascinating story.

And it’s a story The Legal Genealogist can’t tell, not in whole.

Not yet at least.

Because I haven’t quite worked out what happened in all those cases.

The big hitch, of course, was that a charge of this magnitude had to be tried by the United States Circuit Court for the District of Maryland,8 and the key man who should have presided over those trials was the same Chief Justice, Roger Taney, who was involved in the legal logjam with Lincoln over the writ of habeas corpus. Taney argued nobody charged could get a fair trial in Maryland during wartime conditions.9

So… no trials. Not in 1861. Not in 1862. Not in 1863. Not in 1864.10

So what exactly happened in all those cases?

Dunno. But as a family historian, I sure want to find out…

I’ve got a couple of books on order such as Jonathan White’s Abraham Lincoln and Treason in the Civil War … what resources can you add to my list?

Because I want to be able to tell the whole story.

From 1861 to … ?

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Telling the whole story,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 15 Apr 2021).


  1. Proclamation No. 3, 12 Stat. 1258 (15 April 1861); digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 15 Apr 2021).
  2. See “Dates of Secession,” American Civil War, Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Georgia ( : accessed 15 Apr 2021).
  3. Wikipedia (, “Baltimore riot of 1861,” rev. 23 Mar 2021.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Wikipedia (, “6th Massachusetts Militia Regiment,” rev. 14 Apr 2021.
  6. See Ex parte Merryman, 17 F. Cas. 144 (C.C.D. Md. 1861).
  7. See e.g. “The Indictment of Samuel Mactier involved in the Baltimore ‘Riot’ of 1861,” digital images, ( : accessed 15 Apr 2021), imaged from U.S. District Court for the Northern (Baltimore) Division of the District of Maryland, Criminal Case Files, 1841 – 1999, Record Group 21, Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685 – 2009; National Archives, Philadelphia, Pa.
  8. The Circuit Courts had trial jurisdiction over serious felonies until the adoption of the Judicial Code of 1911. See “The U.S. Circuit Courts and the Federal Judiciary,” History of the Federal Judiciary, Federal Judicial Center ( : accessed 15 Apr 2021).
  9. Wikipedia (, “Ex parte Merryman,” rev. 13 Apr 2021.
  10. Ibid.
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