Small strike became dangerous mob riots — National Law Enforcement Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin

Today, the National Law Enforcement Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin remembers when Maryland’s governor called out the National Guard to help the police enforce the rule of law on July 20, 1877.

From The History of the Great Riots by James Dabney McCabe, published in 1877:


Upon the receipt of his orders, about three o’clock on the afternoon of the 20th, General Herbert informed Governor Carroll that there was hardly time enough between that hour and the hour when the trains would depart for Cumberland to summon the soldiers and get them ready for a campaign.

He therefore suggested that an alarm known as the “military call,” No. 151, be struck, which would summon the soldiers to their armories.

Governor Carroll replied that he feared that the alarm would summon strikers as well as the soldiers, and that it must not be sounded.

General Herbert therefore sent for Captain Zollinger, senior captain of the 5th Regiment, informed him of the governor’s order, and directed him to have the troops ready to march at 6 P. M.

About half-past five o’clock General Herbert was informed that only one hundred and fifty members of the 5th had assembled at their armory, and that to obtain more it was necessary that the alarm signal should be sounded.

Governor Carroll thereupon gave his consent to the sounding of the alarm, and it was duly rung.

It was nearly six o’clock, the hour when the thousands of laborers are released from work, when the booming of the bells was heard over the city.

A certain proportion of the multitude that came from the workshops, upon hearing the alarm, hastened to the armory of the 6th Regiment, situated on the second floor of a large building at the corner of Fifth and Front streets, and gazed for a time apathetically at the busy soldiers.

In another part of the city, before the armory of the 5th Regiment, a large crowd also assembled, and every member, upon arriving, was greeted with cheers.

The soldiers were fully equipped for the march with fatigue caps, blouse, gray trousers, knap sacks, and blankets rolled.

All were armed with Springfield breach-loading rifles, and had twenty rounds of ammunition, the officers being armed with revolvers.

Captain Zollinger went among his men, giving this one and that one advice about his equipment, and finally said that the time had come when they were no longer holiday soldiers, and must act with the coolness of regulars.

The 5th was the first regiment ready, and moved out of its armory two hundred strong, about half-past seven o’clock, and took up the line of march for the Camden street depot.

The regiment marched through Garden street to Madison street, and then by way of Eutaw street to Camden street. Along the first part of their route the troops were heartily cheered, but about midway a few hisses were heard, and by the time the depot was reached the soldiers were surrounded by men trying to kill them.

The regiment was first attacked near the junction of Eutaw and Lombard streets, while a crowd of jeering men suddenly threw bricks and paving stones into the ranks of the troops.

Lieutenant Rogers, of Company C, was struck in the breast by one of the missiles and severely injured.

Several policemen at once dashed into the crowd and severely beat with their clubs the men who had flung the stones, while the injured lieutenant was carried into a neighboring building and cared for by the regimental surgeon.

The regiment marched on, but as it marched was assailed with a shower of stones. About twenty soldiers were struck and injured by these missiles, but none severely.

Captain Zollinger would not permit his men to fire, but ordered them to assist their wounded companions, and coolly proceeded on his way.

Upon nearing the depot, it was perceived that the route was barred at Camden and Eutaw streets by a crowd of determined men armed with stones. A volley of stones was hurled at the regiment by this mob, and about twenty of the soldiers were struck and injured.

Captain Zollinger would not permit his men to fire, but ordered them to fix bayonets, and prepare for a charge.

He then drew his sword, and demanded of the mob a passage for his men, and ordered the latter to charge the mob at the double-quick. A burly man, who seemed to act as the leader of the mob, was struck on the head by the captain with the flat of his sword and knocked to one side.

The regiment then charged into the depot, sweeping the mob before it. The special train of cars intended for the transportation of the regiment at this moment backed down to the depot before the platform upon which the soldiers were standing.

The mob, defeated at one point, now turned their attention to another. They pelted with stones the engineer and firemen of the train, drove them from the locomotive, and so injured the locomotive that it could not be used.

A few moments afterwards engine 407, engineer Byerly, was backed up to the Barre street entrance to the depot to connect with the No. 2 Chicago express, which was to leave at 8.15.

The mob instantly attacked Byerly, and removed him from the locomotive.

One of the mob then opened the throttle of the locomotive, and jumped from it as the massive machine moved off at a great rate of speed, without a guide, down the track. The locomotive ran into a freight train below Lee street, and was wrecked.

Thinking that the mob might be emboldened soon to attack the soldiers, General Herbert directed Captain Zollinger to drive the rioters away from the vicinity of the depot.

The captain took Company C and charged with fixed bayonets some of the mob that were midway upon the platform north of Barre street.

The crowd fled from the platform, but made a stand in the yard near Howard street, from which they hurled stones at the troops. These stones were obtained from a neighboring street, where unluckily the gas company was putting down some mains, and the roadway was torn up.

The shower of stones was very heavy, and a number of the soldiers were hurt. These were taken into Vice-President King’s private car, which had been turned into a hospital, and cared for.

Company H was ordered to the assistance of Company C, but the soldiers were driven back upon attempting to force the rioters out of the yard.

Governor Carroll and General Herbert thereupon requested the police authorities to summon to the depot all the policemen that could be spared from the station-houses.

Meantime the 6th Regiment had obeyed the summons to assemble, and its members had gathered at the armory. The members of the regiment gathered slowly, and it was not until half-past seven o’clock — at the very time that the 5th Regiment was leaving its armory — that a considerable number had assembled.

For half an hour previous the members, as they entered the building, were hooted at, but no attack like that which followed was feared. Suddenly a brick was thrown into the doorway of the hall leading to the steps by which the soldiers ascended into the armory, and in another second a volley of stones was hurled through the windows of the armory.

The four police men at the doorway disappeared, and were succeeded by four soldiers. The streets of the vicinity were dotted here and there with heaps of cobble-stones, the gas company being engaged in putting down pipes; and in front of several large structures in process of construction were cartloads of bricks.

The mob seized eagerly upon these missiles, hurled them at the outpost of the regiment on duty at the door, drove the men within the building, and then bombarded the windows. Every pane of glass on the Front street side was broken.

Members of the regiment who arrived after this onslaught were assaulted and driven away from the building. One of the soldiers was seized and flung over the railings of the Fayette street bridge, but luckily fell upon a beam, and escaped falling into the stream.

Major A. J. George, who was one of the late ones, was knocked down, beaten, and badly bruised about the body and head. C. L. Brown, who ventured into the street, was attacked by the crowd, thrown down, and kicked on the head. With great difficulty he escaped into the building. Lieutenant Welly was assaulted and beaten.

An hour and a half passed, the crowd all the time becoming more aggressive. A large squad of police was unable to enforce order, and was driven into the building.

At half-past eight o’clock, Colonel Peters selected three companies (Companies I, F, and B) to march to the depot, leaving 150 men of the regiment to guard the armory.

The companies were formed and the order given to march out of the building. The stairs of the armory were so narrow that only two men could march down at a time. In this order the first company came out of the armory door.

Instantly the mob began pelting the soldiers with all sorts of missiles, stones, pieces of iron and bricks. The soldiers wavered for a moment, and then fled into the building.

This retreat greatly encouraged the mob, and the rioters shouted with triumph. In a few moments the soldiers dashed out of the building, and the foremost fired into the air, having been ordered to do so by Colonel Peters.

The mob fell back frightened.

Two of the companies were soon in line and ready to march. The crowd jeered at the soldiers, and finally renewed the attack upon them, this time using muskets and shot guns; the leaders assuring the assailants that the soldiers had nothing but blank cartridges in their guns.

Some of the soldiers at last became exasperated, and without orders to do so, fired into the crowd. By this fire a bystander was killed, and a boy fifteen years old severely wounded.

The companies then marched towards the Camden street station; two companies moving by way of Front street to Baltimore street, and up Baltimore street to Gay; the other company by way of Front street to Gay street, and up Gay street to Baltimore street, and thence toward the depot.

As the two companies passed along, the mob pressed heavily upon them, hurling stones and other missiles at them, and discharging muskets, shot guns, and pistols into the ranks.

The soldiers in the rear, who were compelled to bear the brunt of this attack, stood it for a while, and then unable to endure more, and acting upon the first law of human nature, fired with deadly effect upon the mob.

The rioters scattered immediately, but the next instant came together, and renewed their attack on the troops.

In those parts of the street which were laid with the Belgian pavement, the mob found it difficult to obtain missiles to hurl at the troops, and the military were unmolested.

Between Holiday and South street — a distance of one square — the soldiers fired many times; and the firing was also brisk from South to Calvert street, also one square.

The street cars along the route were naturally empty. There was little noise beyond that caused by the musketry fire and the people running away from danger.

The excitement afterward, however, when the dead and wounded were collected, was intense. The companies of the 6th Regiment reached the Camden station at half-past eight o’clock, and joined their comrades of the 5th.

The troops were formed on the platform, and the mob pressed closely around the depot, uttering the most savage threats against the soldiers.

Two companies of the 5th Regiment held the mob at bay, and prevented the rioters from entering the depot.

All the available police force was concentrated at the depot, and for a while it seemed that a bloody conflict was inevitable.

One of the Baltimore papers, commenting upon the character of the mob in that city, said:

“The number of railroad employees engaged in the rioting here has from the first not exceeded 150; but at the outset of the affair they were joined by thousands of laborers and mechanics out of employment, and by the entire criminal classes of the city, eager for an occasion to plunder.

“A large number of men besides these, in various occupations, who have suffered a reduction of wages of late, are in a sullen temper with their employers and with capitalists generally. They imagine that they have been wronged, and welcome what they think is an attempt of the railroad men to right a similar wrong.

“Some have actively aided the rioters, and nearly all have fermented the movement by reckless and inflammatory talk. The communistic character of the riots is shown by every incident.

“The mob which assailed the 6th Regiment, Friday night, was not composed of railroad men, but was a miscellaneous assemblage of laborers. The crowd that stoned the United States troops today probably had not a single striker in its midst.

“So of the gangs gathered up by the police in the numerous combats around Camden station last night. Some were thieves and rowdies, and others were working-men, usually well-behaved, but now crazed by the excitement of the outbreak.

“It is a notable fact that most of the men who yelled ‘bread’ in the crowd that surged against the lines of the police and the soldiers last night had evidently money enough to buy whiskey, for they were half-drunk.

“Some of the strikers affirm that they and their friends were taking no part in the lawless acts, and that the movement has passed altogether out of their hands.

“The prejudice against the Baltimore & Ohio road among the working classes, and to some extent among people in the higher walks of life, furnished at the beginning a strong fund of sympathy to sustain the strike.

“It was currently believed that the policy of the company has been to starve its men in order to keep up its ten percent dividends.

“There is no doubt that this prejudice was the real basis of the outbreak. Desperate men took advantage of it to defy the law, relying upon popular support.”


The National Law Enforcement Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s image of the riots in Baltimore, July 20, 1877.

National Law Enforcement Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin