Posted By Norman Gasbarro on April 24, 2011
It is important to note that in 1861, Easter occurred on Sunday, 31 March, nearly three and a half weeks earlier than its occurrence in this year of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. On Easter 1861, the country was suspended between the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln and the first shots of the war which occurred at Fort Sumter on 12 April 1861 – not knowing what would occur – whether the nation would go to war – whether prayer and intervention of Providence would prevent the tearing apart of the nation and the bloodshed that was to follow.
The Philadelphia Inquirer of 1 April 1861 reported on the religious observances of the day before:
The joyous festival of Easter presented yesterday its religious contrasts with the sombre season of lent, which closed on Saturday night. Holy Saturday was observed with the customary offices of those churches which commemorate the day. Throughout Saturday, from seven o’clock in the morning until seven in the evening, the services in the Roman Catholic churches continued, excepting with a brief interruption. The new fire illuminating each altar was blessed, and the benediction pronounced upon the baptismal fonts. The Episcopal and Unitarian Churches, as well as the Roman Catholic, prescribe particular services for Holy Saturday.
Nothing else about Easter found its way into the Inquirer on that day. Since 1 April was “All Fools Day” the paper did see fit to warn its readers to beware of pranks:
This being April 1s, all persons should be on their guard against the “sells” with which practical jokers are so prolific on such occasions. The day will, doubtless, be celebrated with the customary amount of pranks. If the wreck of the ship John Trucks should be raised today in an hour, more or less, some people will not be fooled.
Of course, holidays also brought out the ruffians and readers on 1 April 1861 would take note of the following:
Riot in the Fourth Ward — An Officer Beaten – Arrest of a Crowd. There was considerable excitement in the lower section of the city, yesterday, in consequence of the the lawless conduct of the gangs of rowdies that infest that section. “Easter Sunday,” notwithstanding the stringency of the times, was celebrated with more than usual spirit, and there were, apparently, more drunken and disorderly persons in the streets than on any former occasion. Lieut. Hampton had forty officers on duty in the Second Police District, but this number were unable to maintain order. About one o’clock a fight occurred in Seventh street, below Bedford, in which a number of ruffians were engaged.
Officer Williard Barcus arrested one of the pary, when the entire crowd set upon him, and beat him in a shameful manner. He was knocked down with a sling shot, his baton wrenched from his hand, and used over his own head. The officer drew from his pocket one of Sharp’s revolvers, but it accidentally went off. The officer, however, arrested George Mayberry, one of the assailants, and lodged him in the Second District Station House. Officer barcus received a dreadful gash over his left eye, and another one on top of his head. Dr. Benner dressed his wounds, after which he was removed to his residence.\George mayberry, who was arrested for being concerned in the assault on the officer, resisted violently while on the way to the Station House, and received in return, what he richly deserved, a severe drubbing at the hands of the officers.
Lieut. Hampton, upon learning of the affair, immediately ordered a squad of his officers into that portion of the Fourth Ward, who arrested James McClain, John Heines, William Wilson, James rigley, Charles Hoffman, and Eliza Burke – all of whom were locked up — Besides this number, forty-five other persons were arrested for drunken and disorderly conduct.
A row occurred about half-past four o’clock, at the corner of Eighth and Emeline streets, but the officers soon made their appearance, and the crowd sought refuge in John McKeown’s hotel, in that vicinity.
Several disturbances took place during the day in Bedford, Spafford, monroe, Shippen, South, Emeline, and other streets.
The prisoners had a hearing before Alderman Moore at six o’clock last evening. George Mayberry was committed to answer at Court.
Sergeant Neff arrested James Rigley in Seventh street, between Shippen and Fitzwater, for refusing to clear the footway, and collecting a crowd. He was committed. The same officer arrested Joseph Stokely in Fifth street, above Christan, for attempting to smash in the door of a lager beer saloon. He was committed.
Charles Maginnis was arrested by officer Lyon for interfering with the officers. He was committed.
Oscar stein was arrested in Shippen street, above Seventh street, for committing a violent assault and battery upon Chas.Dougherty. The complaintant presented himself before the magistrate with a frightful black eye. The defendant was held in $400 to answer at Court.
James McClain was arrested by officer Simlar for fighting at the corner of Seventh and Fitzwater streets. He was sent below.
Charles Weaver was arrested at Seventh and Fitzwater, by officer Keyser, for crowding upon the officers while in the discharge of their duties, and he was committed.
News items are from Philadelphia Inquirer digital archives available on-line at the Free Library of Philadelphia.