B&O Railroad Strike of 1877

The (Martinsburg) Statesman
July 24, 1877

Press Misrepresentation.

As we anticipated the strike on the B. & O. railroad, and the unwarranted connecting of it with Martinsburg, has given the jealous enemies of our city the opportunity of defamation, which like vultures that have been quick to seize upon, scrupling not to add falsehood to their otherwise defamatory reports regarding the B. & O. railroad strike. Notably among those outside of the State are the whole batch of Baltimore papers, the Richmond Dispatch and Philadelphia Ledger, [sic] The latter says:

"Martinsburg is perhaps, committing commercial suicide by her failure to do her duty in suppressing the railroad mob there, and by the aid and comfort a considerable portion of her population are giving to the obstructio of and destruction to the business of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, and to the thousands of persons whose goods and merchandise are now blockaded before that lawless town."

I may surprise the Ledger, but it is nevertheless true, that nothing approaching a riot has taken place, unless the unwise and hasty action of Governor Mathews in ordering out the military was a riot. We assure the Ledger, that from the moment the disturbance commenced between the B. & O. railroad company and its employees, there has not been any disturbance of the peace in contemplation of law with the exception of the unfortunate wounding of two men, one a soldier and the other a railroad hand, which was more the result of excitement than that of a predetermined purpose to commit a breach of the peace. In all the consequent excitement, and even this kept within proper bounds, not a pin's point of the company's property has been disturbed or destroyed, nor that of any individual citizen. At no time has there been threats of violence to persons or property, and not an hour, day or night, when the most timid persons feared to pass the streets or along the line of the road; and it is a notable fact that the strikers in taking off rom the engines those who volunteered to run them, have done it in great good humor, and without danger to life or limb. Will the Ledger do the people of Martinsburg the justice to make the proper correction.


In the telegram sent from this office to the Baltimore Sun, giving an account of the occurrences on Tuesday last, growing out of the strike on the B. & O. railroad at this point, in noting the return of the Berkeley Light Infantry to their armory the word "ingloriously" was interpolated before the word "disbanded." No such qualifying adjective was used in the telegram, and we regard the interpolation made by the Sun editor as an unwarranted liberty. We have copies the same telegraphic report as part of our editorial this morning, leaving out the interpolation and making some other verbal corrections therein.

At Cumberland on Sunday a conflict of authority arose between Thos. R. Sharp, master of transportation on the B. & O. railroad and Col. French, commandant of the U. S. troops. Mr. Sharp was sharply informed by Col. French that he did not intend to act under any orders emenating [sic] from him, that he, Col. F. would run the trains to suit himself. We suppose Sharp imagined that the U. S. was but an appendage to the B. & O. railroad like the Governor and province of West Virginia.

If any thing was needed to show that the cutting down of the wages of the employees of the B. & O. railroad was not the result of decreasing business, it is only necessary to refer to the fact that the usual annual dividend of ten per cent to the stockholders of the road was declared at the last annual meeting of the directors of the Company. Mr. Garrett will have to give some other reason for his thumb screwing processes.

We have endeavored to get at the exact truth regarding the disturbances in this city since Monday evening last, growing out of the strike on the B. & O. railroad. Our animad [sic] versions on the conduct of certain officials are severe but just. We do not mean to permit, so long as we publish a paper, that our goodly city and its people shall go undefended.

The Railroad Strike.

Full Particulars

For sometime past there has existed among the employes of the B. & O. railroad a feeling of bitterness against the Company, growing out of the suspicion that the numerous reductions in their wages within the past year or two have been the result of mere greediness and selfishness on the part of the management of the road, having no reference whatever to diminutions in its earnings. These suspicions were not superficial or groundless. In the last report of President Garrett of the earnings of the road there appears to be the usual balance over and above expenses, and he took occasion in that report to congratulate the Directory upon the immensity of business that had been done in the previous twelve months. So far then as actual decrease in the earnings of the road was concerned, we have the testimony of Mr. Garrett that they were entirely satisfactory. No appreciative falling off could be discerned. Almost immediately, however, after that report appeared in the newspapers of Baltimore a reduction of the wages of all train hands, including engineers and employes in the shops along the line of the road was ordered. This the employes submitted to without a murmur. Hardly had this order gone into effect before it was superceded by another, still further reducing their wages, as if it was the purpose of the company to thumbscrew its employes by degrees. This further reduction was as cheerfully submitted to as the other, because it still afforded the means of subsistence with the practice of severe economy. Thus matters remained until Monday last, when another order of reduction went into effect, putting wages down to the starvation point. This last turn of the thumbscrew the employes determined to resist and it culminated in a general strike of the firemen and brakemen throughout the four divisions of the road. On Monday night last these train hands with their convoys arrived at Martinsburg, and refused to go further and the trains as each arrived were run upon the sidlings and stopped. The whole procedure was quietly accomplished. The interruption however created a buzz of excitement throughout the town. Maj. A. P. Shutt, the mayor, was appealed to to interfere and he endeavored to persuade the employes to pass on with their trains, but this appeal was a vain one. Failing in this he ordered the police to make arrests, but this was found to be impossible. The railroad authorities having been apprised of the condition of affairs appealed to Gov. Mathews, who seeming to have lost his head, ordered Col. C. J. Faulkner jr., to assemble his company and protect any of the train men who were willing to proceed with their trains.

The following is the telegraphic correspondence between Gov. Mathews and Col. C. J. Faulkner, Jr.:

Wheeling, July 16.
Col. C. J. Faulkner, Jr.:
Have been request to aid the authorities in Martinsburg to preserve the peace. If necessary do so with your company. Report to me the state of affairs.
Henry M. Mathews.

Martinsburg, July 17, 12 1/2 o'clock.
Gov. H. M. Mathews:
Strikers have refused to allow trains to move either east or west from town. Do my orders extend any further than protecting the peace? If so, answer in full.
C. J. Faulkner, Jr.

Wheeling, July 17.
Col. C. J. Faulkner, Jr.:
Avoid using force if possible; but see that the law is executed and the riot suppressed. Give all necessary aid to the civil authorities. I rely on you to act discreetly and firmly. Look also to Opequon.
Henry M. Mathews.

Martinsburg, July 17
Gov. H. M. Mathews:
Must I protect men who are willing to run their trains, and see that the same are permitted to go east and west?
C. J. Faulkner, Jr.

Wheeling, July 17.
Col. C. J. Faulkner, Jr.:
I am so informed that the rioters constitute a combination so strong that the civil authorities are powerless to enforce the law. If this is so, prevent any interference by the rioters with the men at work, and prevent obstruction of the trains.
Henry M. Mathews.

Col. Faulkner acted promptly upon the instructions given him, and attempted to aid the town authorities in protecting the road against the strikers. The success of his efforts in that direction will be seen from the following:

Martinsburg, W. Va., July 17.
Gov. H. M. Mathews:
Tried to take train out, and was fired into. Had one man shot, and shot one man. The engineers and firemen left us, and we could not take the train out. No firemen or engineer will go.
C. J. Faulkner, Jr.

Martinsburg, July 17.
Gov. H. M. Mathews:
It is impossible for me to do anything further with my company. Most of them are railroad men, and they will not respond. The force is too formidable for me to cope with.
C. J. Faulkner, Jr.

Wheeling, July 17.
Col. C. J. Faulkner, Jr.:
The peace must be preserved, and law abiding citizens protected. Whatever force necessary to accomplish this will be used. I can send if necessary a company in which there are no men who will be unwilling to aid in suppressing the riot and executing the law. Answer.
Henry. M. Mathews.

Martinsburg, July 17.
Gov. H. M. Mathews:
There is great excitement caused by the severe wounding of one of the strikers. Sympathy seems with them. Engineers and firemen are reluctant under this excitement to risk taking out trains. If you think such a condition of things requires a military force you will have to send it from other points than this, for reasons theretofore stated.
C. J. Faulkner, Jr.

Executive Department W. Va.
July 18, 1877.
Col. C. J. Faulkner, Jr.:
My Dear Colonel: I have heard with gratification of your speech to rioters, and of your conduct in the discharge of the delicate and important duty with which you were entrusted. Your remarks were just what they should nave been, and your conduct, characterized by wisdom and firmness, all that I could desire. Accept my thanks.
Very truly yours,
Henry M. Mathews.

What followed the orders of the governor we take from the report in the Balt. Sun of Wednesday last.

Martinsburg, W. Va.
July 17th, 1877.
On Monday night when it was found that not less than twenty cars loaded with live stock had been stopped by the refusal of the striking firemen to allow them to pass, telegrams were sent to Baltimore giving the railroad company's officials notification of the situation. As stated in the dispatched of yesterday the mayor, Maj. A. P. Shutt, was appealed to and he used every endeavor to quiet the outbreak and relieve the embargo, but was overpowered and obliged to give it up. Gov. Mathews, of West Virginia was then appealed to, and he, at about midnight, Monday sent the necessary orders for the intervention by the local militia of Martinsburg.

Colonel C. J. Faulkner, Captain of the Berkeley Light Infantry, of Martinsburg had his company in ranks at five o'clock this morning in obedience to the order of the Governor of West Virginia, who telegraphed the night before the render all necessary assistance and see that the men who were willing to run trains were not interfered with. In the meantime another attempt had been made to send out a freight train, but the fireman was taken off and the train halted. The military company was marched down to the railroad, in front of the train-dispatcher's office, to clear the way for all trains desiring to pass. As a precautionary step, and to avoid if possible any collision or serious difficulty, Capt. Faulkner made a very sympathetic speech to those who were engaged in the obstructive proceedings. He kindly and temperately endeavored to persuade the strikers not to longer resist the passage of the trains. To those appeals the crowd turned a deaf ear, and then, finding it was useless to reason with them further he read to the assemblage the Governor's orders. At the same time he made a statement of his duty as he understood it, and ordered the company to load their pieces and resist any attempt made to stop the trains.

The militia company was deployed on both sides of a train which was about starting, an engineer and fireman having volunteered to work. As the train reached the switch one of the strikers, William Vandergriff, seized the switch ball to run the train on the side of the track. John Poisal, a member of the militia company, jumped from the pilot of the engine and attempted to replace the switch so that the train should go on. Vandergriff fired two shots at Poisal, one causing a slight flesh wound in the side of the head. Poisal returned the fire, shooting Vandergriff through the hip. Several other shots were fired at Vandergriff, striking him in the hand and arm.

When the firing was heard a very large crowd of railroaders and citizens collected, and the feeling became intense. The volunteering engineer and fireman ran off as soon as the shooting commenced. Capt. Faulkner then made the statement that he had performed his duty, and if the trainmen deserted their post he could do nothing more. The company was therefore marched to its armory and temporarily dismissed.

Vandergriff is lying in a dangerous condition in consequence of his wounds. One of his arms had to be amputated.

Thomas R. Sharp, master of transportation, Frank Mantz, supervisor of trains, and several other of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad officials are here making every possible effort to conciliate the strikers and to move the trains, especially the live stock train, in which the poor animals are suffering very much from the excessive heat. Up to 6 P. M., no freight trains have moved either east or west, and the strikers show no signs of receding from their position. The trouble, however, seemed to be confined to a number of men from Baltimore, some of them in no way connected with the railroad. Very few of the railroad company's employees residing in Martinsburg have engaged in the obstructive resistance, but there seems to be no doubt that the strike will become general.

All passenger and mail trains have been allowed to pass unobstructed, only the freight trains being embargoed. The idea in this is to avoid amenability to the laws of the United States for obstructing the mails. No damage has been done to the property of the railroad company or attempted. The men engaged in the strike say they do not mean to molest any person. All they ask is a living compensation for their labor. They say that at the present prices the firemen cannot pay their daily expenses, much less support their families.

Heavy convoys of freight trains are lying on the sidings east and west of Martinsburg. A train of stock shipped here has been reshipped by Mr. Mantz over the Cumberland Valley and Western Maryland railroad. Thus far the authorities have been unable to secure the passage of a single freight train. To-night the excitement had quieted down, and every body is waiting to see what will turn up.

It was well indeed for the peace of this community that Gov. Matthews' orders were addressed to as cool headed a man as Col. Faulkner, else it would have been a bloody day in the history of Martinsburg. Happily the officer had more discretion than his chief, and it ended with the slight wounding of a private, and the more severe wounding of one of the strikers, Mr. Vandergriff, a resident of this city.

Much indignation has been expressed here among all classes of citizens at the hasty an[d] ill advised action of Gov. Mathews. There seemed to be no extended inquiry on his part as to whether the civil authorities, if properly supported by a posse comitatus, could not have quelled the disturbance - if any disturbance there was - no authentic proof as yet having clearly established that fact; but admitting that a disturbance existed, it certainly did not amount to a riot. It was clearly the duty of the Governor to have satisfied himself thoroughly that the civil authorities were powerless, before he superceded them by ordering out the military. No one in this community doubts the fact that Sheriff Nadenbousch would have quelled the disturbance, had a sufficient civil posse been called out.

In view of these facts unfavorable comparisons have been drawn between the action of Gov. Mathews and that of the cool and deliberate course pursued by Gov. Corroll of Maryland. Gov. C. was summoned to Baltimore and importuned to call out the military in behalf of the road, but as we learn he peremptorily refused his consent. Not so, however, with Gov. Mathews, he jumped to conclusions and with alacrity called out all the volunteer militia at his disposal inferentially ordering them if need be to shoot down any who stood in the way of the trains on his friend Garrett's road. It mattered not what the conduct of this defiant corporation had been towards its employes. No matter by its selfishness it was its purpose to murder by starvation the hands that poured golden treasures into its coffers - no matter that the wife and children in the humble home of its laborers, needed but enough to stay the cravings of hunger - all this was nothing - Jno. W. Garrett's trains must not be hindered, though blood - the blood of starving men - his own fellow-citizens, should run ankle deep along the highway of this foreign, heartless corporation.

But this is not all. Gov. Mathews overstepped his constitutional duty and his oath of office when at the bidding of John W. Garrett he applied for the aid of federal troops. The strike of the employes of the B. & O. railroad was not an insurrection against the peace and dignity of West Virginia. If there was an insurrection - if there was an offense attempted at all against the peace and dignity of the State it was not the act of the starved men who quietly quit their engines, but such insurrection and such offense was committed when Gov. Mathews, the chief executive officer of the State, as the instrument of Garrett, first ordered his military to shoot down citizens of the State, not in insurrection - if so it might be termed - against the arbitrary conduct of a foreign corporation, that had for thirty years defied the very laws it then sought protection from and by compulsory processes, similar to the thumb-screwing of their defenseless employes, robbed the people by excessive freights out of their hard earnings.

But as if Gov. Mathew's ill-advised order to the military companies of Martinsburg was not enough to satiate his ambition to serve his friend, the millionaire head of this foreign corporation, he must go further and insult the dignity of the State by appealing to the President to send federal soldiery to aid in shooting down his own oppressed fellow citizens. For this high handed procedure he had not the shadow nor shade of excuse. He knew full well that these starved men, were not in insurrection against the peace of the commonwealth - such a thing had never entered their heads, nor for a moment was ever conceived. There was not a man among them who if called on to defend the State from invasion or insurrection, but would have volunteered on the spot. It was but a pitiful subterfuge therefore for Gov. Mathews to address to the President the following call for troops, which to every person conversant with the facts in this community is both mortifying and surprising.

Wheeling, July 18, 1877.
To His Excellency, R. B. Hayes, President of the United States, Washington, D. C. Owing to the unlawful combinations and domestic violence now existing at Martinsburg and at other points along the line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, it is impossible with any force at my command to execute the laws of the State. I therefore call upon your Excellency for the assistance of the United States Military to protect the law abiding people of the State against domestic violence and to maintain the supremacy of the law. The Legislature is not now in session and could not be assembled in time to take any action in th[i]s emergency. A force of from two to three hundred men should be sent without delay to Martinsburg, where my aid, Col. Delaplain, will meet and confer with the officer in command.
Henry M. Mathews,
Governor of West Virginia.

Upon the arrival of the federal troops it was vainly imagined that the strikers would instantly cower, but these starving men, without a morsel of food passing their lips for forty-eight hours preceding, were made of sterner stuff; they did not falter nor quail in face of the dangers hedging them around. "I might as well die by the bullet as to starve to death by inches," said a stalwart and determined striker in our hearing, and this was the animating motive of these brave but oppressed men.

As we have said the B. & O. R. R. Company have constantly defied the very laws, whose protection they seek. Again and again has private property been wantonly destroyed along the line of its road and when but meagre compensation has been demanded it has been refused. When the authorities of the State have demanded the taxes assessed upon the property of the railroad it has refused payment and openly defied collection; and to this open defiance of the laws they have added the insult of the attempted seduction of members of the legislature of the State by free passess [sic] and by direct offers of other immunities. Such has been the notorious history of this Corporation in its dealing with our State and people, contemptuously overriding all the processes of the State government. Its whole course has been marked by supreme contempt for private rights and persistant [sic] defiance of laws regulating its franchises. Whilst therefore we are bound to say this much in justification of the oppressed employees, we do not approve of the course pursued by them to obtain justice at the hands of the Company. They should have first set forth in a calm address their grievances, asking the Company to do them at least a modicum of justice. If then the Company had turned a deaf ear to their appeal, notification might have followed the refusal, that upon a certain day work would cease, and relying upon their dire necessities for justification, but with no desire to interrupt trade or travel, they would protest to the bitter end against supercession. The Company could have then cast the balance sheet, between the continued employment of skilled labor at fair living prices and that of picking up hands here and there, to supercede them. It is most probably that the railroad authorities under the circumstances would have consented to an amicable compromise; at all events such a course would have greatly assisted the down trodden and oppressed employees in obtaining the object sought.

Again the obvious consequences arising from the hasty action of Gov. Mathews are far more serious than might be supposed. If the soil of West Virginia is to be made the battle ground between a foreign railroad corporation and its employees - if the peace of the State is to depend upon the good understanding existing between the employer and the employed; if the channels of business and the course of trade are to be interrupted, communities disordered and defamed, the lives of peac[e]able imperiled - if in a word the highways extending through the State's domain, belonging to foreign corporations, can be turned into an armed camp for U. S. soldiers, and the counties contiguous placed under martial law, then we may as well bid farewell to local civil government and attach ourselves as provinces, subject to the dictation and rule of any foreign mercenary possessed of money sufficient to purchase enough of our territory to lay down the track of a railroad or fence in it as a corportate [sic] inheri[t]ance. To such ignoble condition - through the action of the Chief Executive of the State has its sovereign citizens been brought to.

But, again, other serious and alarming consequences are dependant upon these strikes. If the deplorable results were confined to those immediately interested, upon one side or the other, and affecting only their own particular and individual relations it would not imperil the public safety to any appreciable degree; but the consequences cannot be thus confined. In period of public excitement the innocent are liable to suffer with the guilty. The lives and property of citizens, in no way concerned, are just as liable to destruction and spoliation, as are the lives and property of those concerned in the difficulty. The rights of the masses are jeopardized that those of the few may be sustained. Here in Martinsburg we have an illustration. Probably the strikers do not bear in numbers to the population as much as 1 to 100, yet the peace and quiet of the city has been greatly disturbed since Monday a week, the people have been necessarily very much excited, business has been almost suspended, our people have been maligned, vilified and denounced by outside parties, the military has been quartered in our halls of justice, the officers of the courts have been subjected to the hail of the sentinel, and universal alarm and disquietude reigns supreme. If civil law can be set at nought, civil officers defied in discharge of their sworn duties, how long will it be until universal anarchy supercedes law and order.

The press has been full of exag[g]erations regarding this strike. Its proportions have been magnified from 35 to 800 men. It has assumed the magnitude of a regular siege, with fighting all along the line. Scouts, according to Delaplaine, have been sent out to bring intelligence of the force and effective strength of the enemy at the "Sand House" and the nature and extent of his fortifications. Skirmishes at the outposts have been particularly described and the number of dead and wounded mentioned. According to some of the penny a-liners the town is not only in a state of siege, but completely at the mercy of rioters and drunken rowdies. Another phase of misrepresentation indulged in has been that the citizens of the town are not only in sympathy with all these imaginary lawless proceedings, but that our grocers and other business men have secretly incited it. We write but the simple truth when we say that all of this is but pure invention, coined from the double division of excited reporters or the crazed brain of parties sent here to bolster up excuses for military interference. Nor is it beyond reasonable suspicion that these lying, infamous misrepresentations both as to the extent and character of the strike and the wholesale defamation of this community has had another purpose in view. It looks as if the enemies of our city in the capital contest have seized upon the fortuitous happening of this strike in our city to malign and traduce its people so as to injure our chances in the approaching election. If this be the object, and we say it looks that way, we hope its base maliciousness will fail of its object. We appeal to that justice, distinctive of the West Virginian character, not to condemn us upon the one-sided testimony of malignants.


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