The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Strike

This article in the July 18, 1877 edition of the Baltimore Sun notes the extent of the trouble on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the rioting at Martinsburg, West Virginia, and the militia's ineffectiveness.


Extent and Character of the Trouble—The Situation at Baltimore—Rioting at Martinsburg—Two Men Wounded—Disbanding the Militia—The Governor of West Virginia at Grafton, &c.

[Reported for the Baltimore Sun]

The strike on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, which has culminated in some violence, especially at Martinsburg, West Virginia, seems to be confined for the present to the firemen of the freight trains, though they appear to have a number of abettors in the line employes, who, like themselves, come under the ten per cent. reduction order lately issued. The strike is to resist this reduction. It is said that some few of the locomotive engineers are also among the strikers, and that others will join the movement. At present the chief difficulty exists at Baltimore, Martinsburg, Keyser, Grafton and Wheeling, having begun on the first and second divisions, which include Baltimore and Martinsburg. No disturbance is reported at Cumberland. So far as it has proceeded it is estimated that between 400 and 500 men are engaged in the movement.

At Baltimore, yesterday, there was no disturbance whatever. A freight train was sent out in the morning and one at night, which passed the disputed ground at Camden Junction without any demonstration. Detachments of the police force, under Deputy Marshal Jacob Frey and Sergeants Hause, Handy and Bruchy, were stationed during the day at Camden Junction, Mount Clare and Riverside station, at Baltimore. The news of the disturbance at Martinsburg caused considerable excitement in the city, and fears were expressed that additional bloodshed might follow.

First Vice-President John King, Jr., with Mr. Robert Stewart, superintendent of telegraph, were at Camden Station during the entire day and last night, and dispatches were constantly received and sent.

At 3 o'clock P. M. Hon. John Lee Carroll, Governor of Maryland, arrived in Baltimore and proceeded to Mr. King's office, where he remained for half an hour. The Governor was also at the depot later in the day. Brigadier General James R. Herbert, of the State forces, and one of the police commissioners of Baltimore city, was with Mr. King at the same time as the Governor. It is ascertained that no demand has yet been made upon Gov. Carroll for troops, as no necessity for their use exists in Maryland, but the conference had reference to what might be done should such a contingency arise. Gov. Carroll was non-committal, subsequently merely remarking that a great corporation would naturally be anxious where such large interests were involved, and would like to have military assistance to prevent their works from being stopped, but the question was one to be considered with just regard to the public welfare. He did not anticipate any difficulty in this State.

In view of the situation freight for shipment was in some instances refused to be received at Camden Station. About half-past two o'clock yesterday morning freight engine No. 161 and two cars of its train were overturned near the gas house, foot of Leadenhall street, South Baltimore, by a switch having been opened and locked back by some one unknown. The engine was driven by Samuel Musgrave, engineer, and August Sulkman, fireman. The train was mixed coal and freight cars, and was on its way to Locust Point, running not over five miles an hour. Mr. Musgrave saw that the switch was open and reversed his engine but was unable to stop entirely, and ran on a trestlework leading into the gas house. The engine struck against some coal hoppers and the trestle-work gave way beneath it. The engine and tender fell about eight feet, overturning also two coal hoppers and a freight car of the train. The engineer and fireman escaped with a few bruises.

The trestle and footboard of the engine caught fire from coals falling from the engine. An alarm was sounded from box 134, and the flames were extinguished by the city fire department. The engine and cars were considerable damaged. It is generally believed among officers of the railroad company that the switch was purposely misplaced by some of the strikers. The men, however, indignantly deny this, and denounce in strong terms any one who would be guilty of such an action. They say that the engineer and firemen were greatly liked by their fellows, and they certainly would not have attempted any thing to harm them.

The authority to use the police force out of the city at Camden Junction having been questioned, Deputy Marshal Frey stated that each man had been commissioned specially by the action president of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad under the plain authority conferred in the section 4, chapter 119, laws of Maryland, passed in 1860:

"And be it further enacted, That for the security of life and property on the line of said Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, and on the branches thereof, and at the deport, shops, and warehouses thereof, it shall and may be lawful for the president of the company, for the time being, to designate and appoint such persons as he may deem necessary to act as policemen, and such persons so by him appointed shall have, on the line of said railroad, and on the branches thereof, and at the depots, shops and warehouses thereof, within the State of Maryland, all police powers which are by the common law devolved upon constables."

Gov. Carroll, upon nearly the same point, was clearly of the opinion that the Baltimore police force could be used in any county of the State by the summons of a magistrate as a posse comitatus, with commissions as special officers.

A meeting of railroad men engaged in and sympathizing with the strike was held last night in the hall corner of Sharp and Hanover Streets, which was entirely filled, there being probably sixty or seventy persons present. The proceedings were private, but the men stated that here were in it engineers and brakemen besides the firemen.

In conversation one of the men said that they expected the engineers would join the strike to-day, and expressed themselves as all solid and determined to continue the strike. They assert that the company will not be able to obtain experienced firemen to take their places, and that some of those put on Monday had no knowledge of the business. They say, too, that they have not been able to have and keep out of debt on the wages hitherto paid, and the reduction would be almost equivalent to starvation. As an average they say that a fireman can only earn from $20 to $27 a month, as they do not have all working days, and they have to pay their board along the road and sustain their families here also. It is reported that a meeting was also held in the western section of the city. The men say that the strike will be general all along the line, but they do not apprehend or desrire any violence.

Telegraphic reports received at Camden Station give the main facts of the occurrences at Martinsburg yesterday, corresponding with the detailed statement of the special correspondent of The Sun annexed. After the collision between the military and strikers early in the day no attempt was made to start any freight train and last night the strikers were still in possession of the field. Officers of the company state that they have plenty of men to take the places of the strikers as soon as the West Virginia authorities can afford them protection. They still declare that at all points ten men offer their services where one leaves.

At Keyser, W. Va., the terminus of the third division, where large workshops of the company are situated, the firemen struck yesterday and threatened to shoot any of their number who offered to start a freight train, and no trains were sent out last night. At Grafton, terminus of the fourth division, and Parkersburg branch, the firemen struck and forced the new men from the engines. Three or four of the ringleaders were arrested by the authorities of the place. Gov. Henry M. Matthews, of West Virginia, arrived their last night from Wheeling, with the Matthews' Guard of 60 men, and expected to be able to quell the whole disturbance with that force.

At Wheeling there was also a strike and many men objected to leaving on the engines as their lives would not be safe in the present condition of affairs. In the event that Governor Matthews should not be able to put down the disturbance in West Virginia with the small militia force at his disposal, it is supposed that the might call on the President of the United States for aid, but that would rest with his discretion and on the actual existence of an insurrection which does not yet exist.

At Martinsburg the efficiency of the military company was destroyed by the fact that many of the members were railroad men, and were not willing to fire upon their old companions.

The situation last night was grave on both sides. The firemen were elated by the proportions the strike had assumed, and were confident the company would have to yield.

The officers of the railroad were perfectly cool and determined to do without the strikers, and equally confident that the vacant places would be supplied in a short time. There has been no interruption of passenger travel, and all trains ran as usual. It is certain, however, that the strikers at Martinsburg are greatly encouraged by the indecision of the military there, and the ease with which the commander found a way to disband his troops and leave the field.

About this Document

  • Source: Baltimore Sun
  • Date: July 18, 1877