The Union Army had priority railroad space, even in first class when President Lincoln called for seventy-five thousand volunteers. Though the windows were open the press of bodies produced the smell of rank anxiety, cigar smoke and creosote as the iron wheels rumbled out of the South Boston Station. Half of the fresh recruits turned quiet, a sure sign of imbibing the night before and now suffering the after effects, they slouched in their seats. The others sang a rowdy “John Brown’s Body” as if they were going on a picnic. They seemed neither gallant nor brave --- just indescribably silly like childhood arrested.
The engine’s whistle screamed. Slowly the landscape changed. Beyond the city limits the train passed the triple-decker tenements of the Irish immigrants to the countryside of red barns and white farm houses, prodding Harry’s memories of the Vermont farm he’d left. He saw his mother bending over the iron sink in the milk room where the metal separators were washed. A low fire burned in the grate. Empty maple sugar pails stacked by the shed door for the drawing of the syrup and the back-breaking job of sugaring down to commence. After patrolling the aisle, Harry sank into an aisle seat. No more of this. He had to concentrate on the mission at hand.
Vendors sang as they entered the coach, carrying baskets. “Spruce gum . . . ginger snaps, apples, sasperilla. Roasted peanuts while they last.” They made slow progress as hands reached out with coins. “Tobacco . . .snuff of the finest quality.”
Though the train traveled at the unheard speed of twenty miles an hour, the locomotive stopped often to take on water announced by another shrill whistle. Plaintive harmonica music, “Rock of ages,” drifted in melancholy halting strains between the ping-ping barrage of tobacco strikes to the spittoon.
The sun set. The coach’s lamps cast a quivering glow. Too agitated to sleep, Harry kept an uneasy vigil and fought fatigue. The train’s movement produced a hypnotic deception; at last he slipped into a restless doze.
The screech of braked iron wheels brought him wide awake. A conductor entered with a lantern. “Stopping for forty minutes in Baltimore for refreshment and fuel. Mind the time.”
At midnight the train slowed to a stop. A major opened the connecting door from the higher grade of officers’ coach. He held up his hand for silence. “We received a telegram. There’s been a disturbance in Baltimore station by southern sympathizers. Fires were set. You’re ordered to use all caution. Stay together under your commanding officer, Lieutenant Scold.”
Harry took a deep breath. The recruits had not been issued weapons, thank God. He called them to attention. “You will proceed in an orderly manner. Four abreast into the depot. Use the facilities and return to the coach in the same formation as you disembarked. Ignore any and all harassment.”
Smoke enveloped him as he stepped onto the platform. “Fall in,” ordered his sergeant. The recruits lined four abreast. Broken glass lay scattered beneath the gaslights’ posts. The only light came from smoldering fires in close by buildings with smashed windows. Shouts and screams came out of the darkness. No other passenger trains waited on the tracks. The sergeant called off the cadence. “Ready set. March.”
Before Scold’s Company H took their first step, a band of men armed with spikes, shovels and bricks exploded from the behind the depot, shouting, “Goddamn abolitionists! Get out! Get the hell out of Baltimore — Nigger lovers!” Stones and bricks were hurled at the unarmed recruits. Wounded men fell out of formation amid the protesting soldiers’ shouts.
Harry unsheathed his sword and took out his side arm but froze. Before he realized his own inadequacy his sergeant covered him. Withdrawing his Colt O’Leary fired over the heads of the maddened mob. Federal soldiers poured from the other coaches, along with army regulars armed with Springfield rifles accompanying the green troops. They advanced in battle formation and shot straight into the frenzied mob. Panicked, the rebels left their dying and retreated into the railroad station where they barricaded themselves. Three new recruits lay dead.
A man in civilian clothes pushed through stunned company H. “Who’s in charge?” he yelled. “Two women got off the train before the attack. Good God, I’m afraid they’re trapped inside.”
Someone pointed to Lieutenant Scold already approaching the man. “Who the devil are you?”
“Allen Pinkerton of the Pinkerton Detective Agency,” he answered. “They’re young ladies, Lieutenant. I promised Miss Drummer’s father I’d keep an eye on them.” He raised his voice., waving his arms. “We’ve got to get them out of the depot!”
Immediately, Harry motioned to the sergeant. “Take four men with you. See that they’re armed. Go around to the back. Inside there’s a Ladies Convenience. Force a window open. Cover me.”
Moving with a mindless efficiency, he sprinted past the regulars still aimed to fire. A brick narrowly missed him. He dodged a thrown pitchfork at the station’s entrance. Rushed from both sides, Harry fought off his attackers with his sword, first plunging into the chest of a screaming man with an ax. They were the enemy and they wanted to kill him. He whirled, shot the next rebel in the face when he spotted the LADIES sign over a double door. Harry backed up to it, praying his weapon wouldn’t jam and threw his entire weight against the door. It shattered. A shrill scream came from the other side as he broke through. He recovered long enough to hold back more of the mob.
Two women huddled against a wall beneath an open window. “Lieutenant Scold at your service!”
Scold backed into the Ladies Convenience with a saber in one hand and a pistol in the other, surrounded by smoke. “God damn it — get back. Back, I say.”
Smoke followed him inside, gunshots cracked and terrified screams added to the chaos. He whirled around, his face a mask of fury. He pointed to the single closed window with his sword. “Open the little window — I’ve got armed men outside to protect you — ”
Wren Drummer had no idea what this crazed officer meant; she only half understood with the intense noise drowning his urgent shouts. His body barred the way but the angry mob threatened to overwhelm him. “Hurry,” he urged. Then Wren knew.
Escape through the window? Impossible! But they wouldn’t harm women, would they?
Scold dodged a wooden spike and shot the civilian attacker. The man fell, forming a human barrier followed by another. Struggling from her friend’s strangle-hold on her arms Wren forced herself to act. She climbed on the bench. Her fingers gripped the grimy window sash and she lifted it little by little. The opening looked too small to fit through — especially for a grown woman with a hoop skirt. She reached under her dress, unfastened the ties to her waist and stepped out of the encumbering garments, which dropped to the floor.
Wren leaned toward her sobbing friend. “Don’t think. Here take my hand.”
“I can’t . . . no, please . . . ” cried hysterical Augusta her eyes wide with terror, but she took the extended hand and Wren firmly grasped her wrist. With her other hand she reached under her friend’s skirt, touched the tiered hoops and yanked. The metal cage tore loose from its fastenings before the girl protested.
On the other side of the open window, a man’s face appeared, then the upper part of his chest, and he reached inside. “Make a step with your hands, Miss and when I say ‘heave’ I’ll pull the lady through.” Augusta tried to free herself, fighting back her rescuer who held on. “Heave,” he shouted. Wren pushed and Augusta ( Gussie)Cantwell went out head first with a piercing cry, lacy pantaloons kicking.
Wren heard a mighty howl; she glanced over her shoulder to see the captain raise his saber and strike the next rebel. A wall of bloody bodies lay at his feet. The rioting crowd considerably thinned then called for reinforcements, though none responded as the Federal soldiers with bayonets herded the menacing Baltimoreans away from the Ladies Convenience to the opposite wall of the station. Bricks and stones continued to fly.
Unmindful of a bleeding head wound, Harry Scold sheathed his sword. “Allow me, Miss Drummer.” He lifted Wren to waiting hands at the window. “You owe me a dance at the next Army Ball.”