Trouble on the Baltimore & Ohio

This article from the July 17, 1877 edition of the Baltimore American gives an account of the strike's origins in Baltimore, its spread to Martinsburg, West Virginia, the arrival of the miltary, and a description of the demonstrations that took place.

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A strike was started yesterday morning among the firemen on the freight engines of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which, although confined thus far to the firemen in service at this point, threatens to extend as far West as the Ohio river. The sum total of the disturbance yesterday was that nearly a hundred firemen and a few others in the employ of the Company remonstrated against the latest reduction of 10 per cent in their wages, and in some instances the firemen went out on their trains a few miles from the city, and when the engines stopped to take coal they left their places and refused to go any further, in consequence of which an attempt was made to put new men on, and the strikers used intimidation and threats. Apprehensive that the trouble might become serious, information was given to Marshal Gray, who collected a force of fifty police officers from the different districts and sent them to Camden Junction, the scene of the disturbance, two miles from Baltimore. Before their arrival the strikers had dispersed and the mission was fruitless. Afterwards, three of the striking firemen, Amed E. Mumford, C. Meads and G. Hudson, were arrested, charged with threatening to incite a riot. The strikers, who insist that they have just cause for complaint, give as the reasons of their action, first, that a uniform reduction of ten per cent on the wages of all employes was not proportionate, but unjust to them, the poorest paid of all; second, that lately their trips were lessened in number, involving extra expense and less compensation, and third, that for several months past they have had to wait two weeks beyond the regular pay day for their money. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad officials at Camden Station assert, on the contrary, that the reduction was on a proper basis and a necessary retrenchment; that they have not oppressed the firemen in any way, but endeavored to conciliate them, and that the Company has been as prompt in the payment of employes at this time as any similar corporation in the country.


The official statement of the affair, furnished by First Vice President King, is as follows:

The only difficulty that has occurred on the line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in reference to the reduction of ten per cent, which went into effect to day, was with the firemen of the freight trains at Baltimore. The pay of those men had been $1.75 per day for first-class firemen, and $1.50 for second class, and at the reduced pay the wages would be $1.58 and $1.35, respectively. A number of those men refused to submit to the reduction of ten per cent. As soon as this became known there was an immense number of applicants for the vacant positions, and the Company had no difficulty in filling the places generally from experienced firemen, who had been for some time past out of employment. Seven freight trains were started this morning, but a delay of an hour or two to each convoy was experienced because of the intimidation on the part of come of the old firemen towards those who were willing to work at the reduced wages. Upon these facts being known the police authorities were called upon, who promptly responded, and Deputy Marshal Frey, with fifty men, proceeded to the scene of disturbance, but by the time they reached there most of the discontented men had disappeared. At the present time all is quiet, and trains are running regularly upon all portions of the line between Baltimore and Chicago.


As usually happens on occasions like this, there were a variety of exciting rumors afloat, most of them without foundation. It was represented that the track had been torn up in certain places; that all engineers, firemen and brakemen about Baltimore, Maryland in the employ of the road had determined upon a strike; that the Locust Point men had left their engines and would return to Martinsburg and other points of rendezvous on the line, and that fighting had commenced between bodies of men willing to continue work and the strikers. That there was trouble among the men was plan, from the actions of the officials at Camden station. Mr. A.J. Fairbank, General Agent of the Company at Camden Station, applied to Captain Delanty, of the Southern Station, in the morning for extra men to be stationed at the depot. About noon it became known that there was trouble at Camden Junction, where the old Main Stem to Mount Clare connects with the Washington Branch, a point where all trains pass leaving Baltimore for Washington or the West. Passenger trains for all points departed from Camden Station without hindrance, and the freight trains also passed the point of anticipated trouble until about noon, when No. 32, the third out from the city, came along. As it stopped at the Junction for coal its fireman deserted his engine and left the train on the track. This was the first real sign of difficulty. A new fireman who had been sent out to take the place of the man who had left his engine was compelled by intimidation to leave the engine. At 8 o'clock P.M. a third fireman was put on the engine.


The officials at Camden Station were free in acknowledging that there was a good deal of threatening talk about striking along the line of the road at other points than Baltimore, and among employees other than the firemen. Whilst they did not apprehend any serious difficulty, yet there was cause for additional watchfulness and the adoption of precautionary measures against possible trouble. On this account members of the Baltimore city police force, in couple and trios, were station up to the hour of 6 P.M., at various points between Baltimore and the Relay House. A squad of twelve policemen was stationed near Camden Junction all the afternoon. [In this connection the question of jurisdiction does not appear, since a Howard county Judge stated yesterday that a city policeman had no authority in the premises.]

Up to 6 P.M. fifteen freight trains in three convoys were despatched from Locust Point and Mount Clare. A convoy, it will be understood, consists of several trains running close together, on the same schedule time. The engines of these trains were supplied with firemen mainly from among persons who had previously been in the employ of the Company in that position. Five of the men sent out were nominal strikers, who afterwards signified their willingness to work for the reduced wages. This would indicate either that the number of persons at the command of the Company was limited, or else that where possible the preferred to have experienced men. It is a well-known fact that the experience of the fireman has much to do with the successful running of a locomotive, and an inexperienced fireman hampers the efficiency of the engineer. Although the trains were thus properly equipped before sent away, a [decision o]f an hour or two was occasioned in several in[stanc]es.


The strikers' side of the question, which, of course, has to be taken somewhat in moderation, shows at least the intensity of their feelings against the Company. They assert that, first of all, their numbers were reduced nearly one-half. Next their wages of $2.25 per day were reduced to $1.75 Then a system of grades was introduced, making the pay of men in the first class $1.75 per day, and of men in the second class $1.50 per day. On the slightest pretext a fireman in the first class was reduced to the second class, but promotions from the second class were few and [far] between. Consequently two-thirds or more of all firemen were kept in the second class. This was [possi]ble if they had steady work, but they asset that [?] time past the method of working has been [?] they only earned enough to pay actual expenses, and they were left without a penny for their [milles].

A fireman would start from Baltimore and run on the train clear to Martinsburg. There he had to lay over sometimes several days before he could make the run back, as there would be no train offering. During this time he had to pay board and incur other expense. When he made the run back to Baltimore, however, he often had to start on another half[trip] without getting sufficient rest or any time to spend with his family. Of course, he was only paid the company $1.50 for each day actually worked. [?] the state of affairs existing when the flat [?] that there should be an additional reduce[?] per cent. of the firemen's wages. The fire[?] assert that up to three months ago it was [?] for the Company to pay their employees be[?] 1st and 6th of every month. During the [?] months they have not been paid their [?] wages until the 15th of the month following [?] came due. The strikers say that if the of[?] Camden Station had not proceeded to pay off [?]ists and laborers and some other employes [?] there would have been a general strike in [?] and work shops. The majority of em[?] the transportation department, they say, [?]been paid as yet for their services in June. The strikers argue, and in this they are supported by the statements of storekeepers and others, that the delay in the payment of their wages has CAUSED THEIR FAMILIES TO SUFFER, [?] that even the landlords, grocers and others were [?]ped materially in consequence of this procrastination. It was found in the pursuit of this information that some of the strikers had started on a [?] that others said they were reckless as to [?] they did in the future and that several were [?]to tears in the recital of what they called [?] oppression. It was asserted that a mutual understanding existed to the effect that the strike would become general among the four hundred fire men east of the Ohio river, and the brakemen and engineers were only biding their time, being mean[?]ile in full sympathy with the firemen.


The official circular setting forth the proposed re[?]on is as follows:


Officers and Employes of the Baltimore Railroad Company:

[?]eeting of the Board of Directors of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, held this day, the [following] preamble and resolutions were adopted:

Whereas, The depression in the general business interests of the country continues, thus seriously affecting the usual earnings of railway companies, and rendering a further reduction of expenses necessary; [therefore], be it

Received, That a reduction of ten per cent. be made in the present compensation of all officers of and employes of every grade in the services of the Company, where the amount received exceed one dollar per day, to take effect on and after July 15th. inst.

Received, That the said reduction shall apply to the [ain] stem and branches east of the Ohio River, and to the Trans-Ohio divisions, and that it shall embrace all roads leased or operated by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company.

It is hoped and believed that all persons in the service of the Company will appreciate the necessity of and concur cordially in this action.

The Board postponed action until some time after its great competitors, the Pennsylvania, New York Central and Hudson River, and New York and Erie companies had made general and similar reductions [of] pay, with the hope that business would so improve [tha]t this necessity would be obviated. In this they [have] been disappointed.

The President, in announcing the decision of the Board, takes occasion to express the conviction and expectation that every officer and man in the service will cheerfully recognize the necessity of the reduction and earnestly co-operate in every measure of judicious economy necessary to aid in maintaining effectively the usefulness and success of the Company.

JOHN W. GARRETT, President.

It will be seen from the tenor of the circular that even when issuing it some apprehension were felt that the reduction would create dissatisfaction.


At Riverside Station, South Baltimore, several strikers appeared during the day and forcibly compelled a new fireman to leave his engine. The fireman resisted the strikers, and was not only roughly [handled], but severely beaten. Mr. Clemons, agent at Locust Point, but several of the strikers arrested for assaulting and taking men from the train. At Riverside, which is a large rendezvous for freight trains and employes, [fears] were entertained towards evening that there would be some difficulty when the train arrived for starting convoy No. 38 for the West, though the last of convoy No. 34. about which there had been so much trouble during the day, went safely past Camden Junction at [3:05] P.M.


The officials at Camden Station had looked upon the most favorable side of the difficulty during the day, and felt able to control the strike, believing that it would not become general, as the strikers asserted, but would be confined to the firemen in the city. Later in the evening they became apprehensive that the affair would probably assume larger proportions, and Mr. Fairbanks was despatched to Riverside to superintend the starting of No. 38. When the trains of the convoy were ready to start three of the engineers left the engines and refused to take them out. Other men, however, were substituted at once, and the trains all left and passed the junction about 9 o'clock, no obstruction being offered at that point, which was still guarded by Deputy Marshal Frey and a strong force of policemen. The conduct of the engineers in refusing to start satisfied the Company that the strike was of greater import than was at first supposed, and some of them expressed the belief that a general strike had been determined upon. Despatches were sent to Martinsburg, Keyser, Cumberland, Piedmont, Grafton and Wheeling at half-past eight o'clock, making inquiry as to the condition of affairs, to which replies were received that all was quiet.


At 9 o'clock P.M. Mr. Stewart, Superintendent of the telegraph lines of the Company, received several despatches from the operator at Martinsburg, informing the Company that the strike had reached that place, and that the greatest excitement prevailed there.

Martinsburg is in West Virginia, one hundred miles from Baltimore, and is one of the principal relays for freight engines, the engines and train hands being changed there. The families of a large number of employes also live there, and the population of the place is largely made up railroad dependents.

The Company's officials say they can easily find a thousand skilled men at the different points on the line of the road to supply the places of the strikers if necessary, and that the business of the road will not be delayed twenty-four hours, if they are backed by proper authority and sustained in measures to prevent the strikers from stopping or impeding trains. This, however, may prove to be a serious difficulty, and is one greatly feared, as at most of the towns on the road where strikes are likely to occur the people will naturally be in sympathy with the strikers, and may be able to resist any ordinary force that could be brought to bear against them. It is highly probably that if the strike continues and becomes too formidable to be controlled by county police the Governor of West Virginia may be called upon to assist the counties in the preservation of the peace and aid the Company in discharging its obligations to the public.



MARTINSBURG, July 16.—The firemen of all the freight trains of the Baltimore and Ohio Road at this place, twenty-five or thirty in number, struck this evening and left their trains. The Company put new men on the engines at once, but the strikers interfered to prevent the new men from starting the trains. A large mob assembled at the depot, and a riot at one time was imminent. Colonel A.P. Shutt, Mayor of the town, with all the police at his command, arrested the ring leaders of the strike, and attempted to protect the new firemen in the discharge of their duties, but the strikers were reinforced by a large body of citizens of the town, who swelled the crowd until it reached the proportions of a large mob. With the assistance of this mob the strikers succeeded in rescuing their comrades. The new firemen are now completely intimidated, and at present there is no prospect of any freight convoys being able to pass this point, and the large blockade is likely to continue until a force large enough has been collected to prevent the strikers from having their own way. Up to this hour, 9 P.M., it is not known that any damage to the property of the road has been attempted, and passenger trains have not been interfered with. The excitement is very great, and nearly every man in the town is on the streets or at the depot. Sympathy is evidently with the striking firemen, and it is believed that before the trouble is ended that other employes with be brought into it.


Mr. John King, Jr., First President of the Road, was telegraphed to at his country residence, Chesnut Hill, and informed of the trouble at Martinsburg. Mr. King rode into town and arrived at Camden Station about half-past eleven o'clock, and immediately telegraphed to Governor Matthews at Wheeling, West Virginia, stating that the Company's trains in both directions had been stopped at Martinsburg by the strikers; that there had been a riot, and that local authorities were unable to suppress it. He asked the Governor to call out the military of the State to suppress the riot, and to enable the Company to transact its business with safety and regularity. In a short time Mr. King received the following dispatch:

Mr. John King, Jr.: There are two companies at Martinsburg supplied with ammunition. I have telegraphed to my Aide-de-Camp, Colonel C. J. Faulkner, Jr., to aid the civil authorities with these companies in the execution of the laws of the State, and to suppress the riot. I will do all I can to preserve the peace, and secure safety to your trains and railroad operatives.


Col. Faulkner commands one of the military companies at Martinsburg. About 1 o'clock this morning he telegraphed to Baltimore that he would execute the orders of the Governor, and asked the railroad authorities to inform him officially of the extent of the difficulty.

Captain Thomas R. Sharp will go to Martinsburg this morning, and be present during the efforts to reconcile the trouble there.


Up to one o'clock A.M. everything was quiet at Baltimore, and the officers of the Company expressed the belief that there would be no more trouble here. No further advices had been received from Martinsburg in relation to the strike. The passenger train which left Camden Station last night for the West at 8 P.M. passed Martinsburg without molestation.

No information had been received of interference with any of the passenger trains at any point on the line. No freight trains were despatched from Baltimore last night, partly as a measure of precaution, and partly on account of a heavy storm which prevailed at Harper's Ferry. Trains will be despatched as usual this morning.

About this Document

  • Source: Baltimore American
  • Date: July 17, 1877