Editor’s Note: This is a work in progress.
Of all the Border States, it was Maryland that gave Abraham Lincoln the most problems. Indeed, it was a group of Marylanders led by John Wilkes Booth who ultimately assassinated Lincoln. They also targeted Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward.
“Maryland first threatened Lincoln through a Sicilian barber named Cypriano Ferrandini, who plied his trade in the basement of Baltimore’s Barnum’s Hotel. Ferrandini’s conspiracy aimed to assassinate Lincoln as he passed through Baltimore on his way to be inaugurated as the sixteenth president.
They planned to trap Lincoln when he changed trains. A staged distraction would draw off any police escort, allowing assassins to fall upon him. In a solemn ceremony, the conspirators drew lots to choose the man to strike the fatal blow. Ferrandini later claimed he rigged the drawing so eight men each would think he was the instrument of assassination. …
Plenty of Marylanders continued to resist the supposed despot in Washington. Toward the end of the war, John Wilkes Booth led a second Maryland-based assassination plot.
Born in Harford County northeast of Baltimore, Booth went into the family business: the theater. His father (Junius Brutus Booth) and brothers (Edwin and Junius) were even more celebrated actors, but John Wilkes acquired renown as a handsome and charismatic stage presence.
Unlike the rest of his family, John Wilkes passionately supported the Confederacy. In 1864, he began to connect with Confederate agents in Southern Maryland, including young John Surratt, Surratt’s mother, and George Atzerodt. Booth traveled to Canada and met with more Confederate agents in Montreal.
The young actor led a scheme to kidnap Lincoln and whisk him to Richmond to be ransomed for the release of Confederate soldiers held in Northern prison camps. In addition to his Southern Maryland followers, he recruited two school friends from Baltimore, Michael O’Laughlen and Samuel Arnold, and a sole figure from out of state, Confederate Army veteran Lewis Powell.
In mid-March 1865, Booth’s gang staked out a lonely road where Lincoln was expected to pass on his way to a performance for convalescing Union soldiers. The plot fizzled when Lincoln’s plans changed and he never materialized.
Though Confederate armies were losing the war on the battlefield, Booth and his fellow Marylanders converted their plot into one to kill the president, plus newly-elected Vice President Andrew Johnson, Secretary of State William Seward, and General Ulysses S. Grant. Two more Marylanders joined the group — Edmund Spangler and David Herold — and April 14 was the date for the four assassinations. …”
According to James McPherson (hardly a Confederate apologist), Maryland’s Eastern Shore and southern Maryland were secessionist. This area had been culturally part of Tidewater since the early 17th century. Virginia and Maryland are sister states. The grain growing areas of western and northern Maryland which were culturally part of the Middle Colonies were Unionist and Baltimore was the swing region.
“Maryland was a divided state. Historian James M. McPherson wrote: “The tobacco counties of southern Maryland and the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay were secessionist. The grain-growing counties of northern and western Maryland, containing few slaves, were safe for the Union. But the loyalty of Baltimore, with a third of the state’s population, was suspect. The mayor’s unionism was barely tepid, and the police chief sympathized with the South. Confederate flags appeared on many city homes and buildings during the tense days after Sumter. The traditional role of mobs in Baltimore politics created a volatile situation. Only a spark was needed to ignite the states secessionists, such a spark hit the streets of Baltimore on April 19.”
Gen. George McClellan wrote in his memoirs that the reason Lincoln arrested dozens of Maryland state legislators is because Maryland had a secessionist majority and was poised to secede from the Union. As was the case in Missouri, the legal state government was on the run:
“Over the summer of 1861 the hand of the federal government fell firmly on the shoulders of Marylanders,” wrote historian Robert Brugger.6 Federal officials and officers were taking no chances with a repeat of April’s chaos. After the reassignment of General Butler, General Nathaniel Banks and General John A. Dix shared responsibility for the state. Historian David Detzer wrote: ‘Between late April and early September, Maryland came beneath increasing military pressure. Hundreds of individual were imprisoned on suspicion of having secessionist sympathies….During the Civil War federal authorities would eventually jail 2,094 Marylanders — including seventeen owners of newspapers, twenty-nine elected members of the state legislature, countless bankers, merchants, and manufacturers — for such political reasons.” …
Lincoln biographer Isaac N. Arnold wrote: “In September 1861, information was communicated to the government that the Legislature of Maryland was to meet, with a view of passing an act of secession. General McClellan was directed to prevent this by the arrest of the members. His order to General Banks, dated September 12th, 1861, says, among other things: ‘When they meet on the 17th, you will please have everything prepared to arrest the whole party and be sure that none escape…If successfully carried out, it will go far towards breaking the backbone of the rebellion….I have but one thing to impress upon you, the absolute necessity of secrecy and success.’” 8 McClellan wrote in his memoirs: “Information from various sources received in Aug. and Sept. 1861, convinced the government that there was serious danger of the secession of Maryland.”
“The secessionists possessed about two-thirds of each branch of the State legislature, and the general government had what it regarded as good reasons for believing that a secret, extra, and illegal session of the legislature was about to be convened at Frederick on the 17th of Sept. in order to pass an ordinance of secession. It was understood that this action was to be supported by an advance of the Southern army across the Potomac….It was impossible to permit the secession of Maryland, intervening, as it did, between the capital and the loyal States, and commanding all our lines of supply and reinforcement. I do not know how the government obtained the information on which they reached their conclusions. I do not know how reliable it was. I only know that at the time it seemed more than probable, and that ordinary prudence required that it should be regarded as certain. So that when I received the orders for the arrest of the most active members of the legislature, for the purpose of preventing the intended meeting and the passage of the act of secession, I gave that order a most full and hearty support as a measure of undoubted military necessity.”
“On the 10th of Sept. Hon. Simon Cameron, Secretary of War, instructed Gen. Banks to prevent the passage of any act of secession by the Maryland legislature, directing him to arrest all or any number of the members, if necessary, but in any event to do the work effectively.”
“On the same day the Secretary of War instructed Gen. Dix to arrest six conspicuous and active secessionists of Baltimore, three of whom were members of the legislature.”
“The total number of arrests made was about sixteen, and the result was the thorough upsetting of whatever plans the secessionists of Maryland may have entertained. It is needless to say that the arrested parties were ultimately released, and were kindly treated while imprisoned. Their arrest was a military necessity, and they had no cause of complaint. In fact, they might with justice have received much more severe treatment than they did.