On April 20, 1861, only days after the news of Fort Sumter had reached the North, New York City hosted the “Monster Rally,” an effort to churn up support for the war effort. The exact number of spectators is unknown. Reports indicated that at least 100,000 people showed up to Union Square to hear a list of cunning orators speak their minds about the present crisis. Among the speakers was Edward Dickinson Baker, Oregon’s U.S. Senator and soon-to-be-commissioned colonel of the 71st Pennsylvania (1st California). Baker delivered an address that boggles the mind. He said,
Glory will not return until Sumter is avenged! . . . I propose that the people of this Union dictate to these rebels the terms of peace. It may take thirty millions [of dollars]; it may take three hundred millions. What then? We will have it. . . . It may cost us seven thousand men; it may cost us seventy-five thousand men in battle; it may cost us seven hundred and fifty thousand men. What then? We have them.
At this point, so claimed the New York Herald, Baker received applause.
(This image from Harpers Weekly depicts the April 20, 1861, Union Square Rally.)
Let me say: what a speech!
750,000 dead? Applause? What?
Certainly, Baker meant what he said. After all, on October 21, 1861, (exactly six months and one day later) Baker died in combat atop Ball’s Bluff, Virginia. Of the 1,700 men in his brigade, more than 220 accompanied him to the grave.
Still, at the beginning of the war, Baker confirmed that he was willing to expend three-quarters of a million additional northern lives to restore the Union. In actuality, the war cost the Union 360,000 lives—less than half that number. In studying the war, we often say that Americans—North and South—naively assumed the war would be short and bloodless. Clearly, not everyone believed that.
I do wonder if everyone in that crowd really heard what Baker said and let the sobering reality of his words sink in.