1864: Baltimore Union Club

This letter was written by a Baltimorean who signed his name “Charlie” but following an exhaustive search, I have to concede that I have failed in establishing any further identification. We know his wife was named “May” and that they had an infant child (unknown sex). It also would appear that May had taken the infant north, perhaps to Philadelphia or beyond, in July 1864 — possibly to be with her parents or other relatives. Charley was most likely a clerk, if not the proprietor, of a store in Baltimore. The lack of an envelope or the naming of any additional relatives makes narrowing down the identity nearly impossible. The best hope for determining the author’s identity would be to examine the minutes of the Baltimore Union Club, and in particular the roster of volunteers from that club who joined the militia company in July 1864. Such records are maintained by the Maryland Historical Society.

In the letter to his wife, Charley informs her of the excitement in Baltimore caused by Jubal Early’s raid which threatened Washington D. C. in July 1864. While Early’s men were being turned back at the Battle of Monocacy on 9 July 1864, a detachment of cavalry led by Harry W. Gilmor with only 126 men struck terror in the vicinity of Baltimore when he targeted the railroad bridge over the Gunpowder River, effectively cutting off Philadelphia and the Eastern Shore from Baltimore (see Gilmor’s Raid). In the course of three days, July 10-12, 1864, Gilmor’s men burned houses and two trains, took down important telegraph lines in Fork, and chased inexperienced Union soldiers down York Road to Govans.

In Baltimore — a city famous for its divided loyalties — a Union Club was incorporated in May 1864 and publicly announced that “the purposes and objects of the said corporation are, to encourage a patriotic devotion to the Union, to promote social intercourse among loyal citizens, and to extend courtesies to strangers.”

In response to the threat to the city, an emergency meeting of the Baltimore Union Club was held on Sunday, 10 July 1864 to discuss the formation of a citizen’s militia. Judge Hugh Lennox Bond ¹ was chosen chair and George A. Pope became secretary. Pope, George B. Cole, and J. B. Richardson received the three highest vote totals and thus became ranking officers. Men were quickly armed by Gen. Henry Lockwood, commander of the city’s defenses. On July 11, ten men were sent to guard Adj. Gen. J. S. Berry’s house.


Baltimore [Maryland]
July 12th 1864

My Dear May,

I wrote to you last Saturday afternoon after store closed the same evening. I sent James up from the store for Rock to take a drive but he soon came back and informed me that the government officers were there examining horses and would not let him have him. The took eleven horses out of the stables but did not take Rock. I went up to the stables yesterday afternoon and found him still there though the darkey said they had had him out two or three times and some of them wanted to take him anyhow but he told the official that he was father’s horse and they would not let them have him.

On Sunday morning I was around at about six o’clock by the five bells singing throughout the city and quickly dressing myself went to the rooms of the Union League where I found all the members present. It appears that the alarm had been prepared the night before to bring the members out early. The president called the meeting together and made a proposition that we all go home, get our breakfast, and be back at eight. I thought it a very sensible movement (the breakfast part) and nobly acquiesced. On my way home I stopped for Lou but found he was out also but leaving word that I would call for him again. I went home, got my breakfast, and went back after Lou when we proceeded to the Rooms of the Union Club where we found the members about organizing a company for the defense of the city which we joined.

We spent the greater part of the day at the Club Room and were requested to meet there the next morning at seven o’clock, which we all did, where we found rifles and ammunition. They all marched out to Judge Bond’s place near the new reservoir ² and those wishing to attend to business had permission to leave (I did not go out with them). After supper I went out there and reported myself for duty. Neal Weston ³ and I were put in a squad who performed guard duty from 4 to 6 in the morning. Lou was not so fortunate having to serve between 12 and 2. Judge Bond’s house was open to us and having to get up so early Neal and I were among the first to turn in. I was fortunate enough to secure the only lounge in our room whilst Neal and a great many else had to sleep on the matting. I got a pretty good sleep and when our time came to go on guard, I had hardly time to sit up before Lou threw himself on the lounge and said, “Oh Charley, hurry up. I want to sleep so.” Poor fellow. He had been waiting for my place for sometime, not having had any sleep. There is a nice party of us out there and we are having a jolly good time of it so don’t be the least alarmed about me as we have no fear of the Rebs coming any way near us. I left at about 6½ o’clock, went home, took a nice shower, dressed myself, and am now at the store where we are very dull. I intend going out again tonight.

I hope by this time that our dear little baby’s health is very much improved and that you also are free from that pain you have suffered so much from the last five or six weeks. I am very glad that you are out of the city this warm weather, particularly as there is so much excitement here now. I suppose you have heard all about the burning of the bridges. If we are for awhile separated from each other, the Philadelphia boat leaves here every afternoon with the mails and passengers for the North. I have no doubt but that you feel very much worried about me but hope you will not feel so as we feel very hopeful indeed as we think we have now got these rascally rebels in a place they won’t get out of in a hurry. They were obliged either to surrender or start on some such raid as this which will be about the last of them. That is the way we feel here and our only fear is that they will run away too soon. Write to me soon. Kiss the baby for me and remember me to all.

Your affectionate husband, — Charlie

¹ Hugh Lennox Bond (1828-1893) was a judge on the Criminal Court of Maryland, Annapolis, Maryland from 1860 to 1867. During the Civil War, Bond’s letter of August 15, 1863, to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton was published in newspapers. Bond had been an abolitionist since before the Civil War; in his letter, he advocated the enlistment of slaves in the state of Maryland, even though they were not freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, which limited freedom to areas of rebellion. His advocacy soon became a reality.

² Bond’s family estate outside of Baltimore was known as the Mount Royal Mansion. It contained 20 rooms.  “It was considered so rural that during the Civil War, land that is now occupied by Druid Hill Reservoir was a large cavity where Union troops dumped their dead horses. The site was given the name Horse Haven. Not only was the area rural, it was also beautiful and many Baltimoreans bought tracts of land from Dr. Birckhead for country retreats. Among those who bought land from Dr. Birckhead were Charles and Walter Brooks, wealthy dry goods wholesalers who built Cloverdale in around 1838. Cloverdale included about 150 acres, which extended from what is now Brooks Lane and the bed of the Druid Lake over to Pennsylvania Avenue. As an interesting sidelight, Charles and Walter Brooks allowed Union troops to camp on their estate during the Civil War.” [Source: Reservoir Hill History]

³ Cornelius (“Neal”) Weston (1835-1918) was born in Lebanon, York County, Maine. He became a commission grain merchant in Baltimore in partnership with German-born Charles Wehrhane after the war. He was married in 1867 to Agnes Catherine Latrobe (1838-1915) in 1867.

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