In July of 1877, angry B&O workers went on strike in protest over cuts in their wages. This strike spread quickly to every railroad east of the Mississippi and then to the Missouri Pacific and other western lines. For more than a week, most freight and even some passenger traffic covering over 50,000 miles was literally stopped in its tracks. The situation in Baltimore got out of hand quickly as other disaffected citizens joined to create a mob of fifteen thousand. Marching on Camden Station, they clashed with National Guardsmen called in by the Governor. The confrontation resulted in at least ten deaths and scores of injuries. The station suffered damage as passenger cars were burned and nearby tracks were torn apart. Following a plea from B&O president John W. Garrett, President Rutherford B. Hayes ordered five hundred federal troops to Baltimore to help end the chaos. Peace was restored. The strikers retreated, and by early August, the trains were running again.
The events surrounding this confrontation are an excellent example of the continuing tension between workers and their employers that was part of the landscape in a recently industrialized nation. When things got out of hand, all levels of government were called upon to intervene. In this exercise, students will examine this incident in some detail and be encouraged to look at it from several different perspectives.