Maryland’s “Treason Law” of 1862 & the “sharp tune” it played between a Southern Unionist and his Confederate son

Posted on September 2, 2012 by

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I’m a little late on this one, and had intended to post something about it in March, when on or near the actual Sesqui anniversary, but… better late than never, I suppose. On top of that, having a severe hankering for western Maryland-related content (it’s been quite a while since I last posted anything about Washington County, Maryland… but more should follow in the next few weeks, with the anniversary of Antietam fast approaching), this surfaced on my radar, once again.

A Treason Bill was introduced before the Maryland Legislature, and was passed by both houses on March 6, 1862. One might say that it did indeed “have teeth”, as can be seen in the content, below…

Now, despite its appearance, the truth of the matter is, the law had “more bark than bite”.

In John Thomas Scharf’s History of Maryland (and, let’s be clear, even as a former Confederate, Scharf, noted this)…

The Act was not to take effect until the 1st of April following, but we know of no instance in which parties were arrested and punished under its provision, and it proved, therefore, more of a dead letter than was intended.

So, then… isn’t just bringing this up in a blog post rather meaningless?

To some, perhaps, but, I see it as an interesting measure taken by the legislature in consideration of its divided state. Like I said, maybe they were just “barking”… but they did do something.

More importantly, however, a key player behind this act was Washington County’s own… William Price*, a member of the Maryland State Senate and the actual author of the “infamous ‘Treason Bill'”. In fact, there is a song (sung to the air of “John Todd”) that floated about, which may have been sung by a few Maryland Confederates, in response to Mr. Price’s bill. Pay particular attention to the text. At one point, there is an indication that the impact of his bill would reach even his own son.

Your sharp Treason Bill, Wm. Price, Wm. Price,
Your sharp Treason Bill, Wm. Price,
Is a capital ruse
To put a tight noose
On the people, while quiet as mice, Mr. Price,
On the people, while quiet as mice.

Now’s the time to get power, Wm. Price, Wm. Price,
Now’s the time to get power, Wm. Price,
The Federal arms
Have removed your alarms;
And Seward will give you advice, Wm. Price,
And Seward will give you advice.

Every dog has his day, Wm. Price, Wm. Price,
Ever dog has his day, Wm. Price,
And your Know Nothing crew,
Shrieking “Red, White and Blue,”
Seize office by Union device, Wm. Price,
Seize office by Union device.

Why so hard on the South, Wm. Price, Wm. Price?
Why so hard on the South, Wm. Price?
She’s built Baltimore up,
She has sweetened your cup;
And given you many things nice, Wm. Price,
And given you many things nice.

And now you would crush her, Wm. Price, Wm. Price,
And now you would crush her, Wm. Price,
And burn her fair homes,
And spires and domes;
And take all her cotton and rice, Wm. Price,
And take all her cotton and rice.

And deluge her fields, Wm. Price, Wm. Price,
And deluge her fields, Wm. Price.,
With the bright crimson flow,
Of her children laid low,
On her generous soil, cold as ice, Wm. Price,
On her generous soil, cold as ice.

Why strike hands with the North? Wm. Price, Wm. Price,
Why strike hands with the North? Wm. Price,
“When the law they o’er ride,
In their wrath and pride;”
To compel, where they once could entice, Wm. Price,
To compel, where they once could entice.

Has the South got no rights? Wm. Price, Wm. Price,
Has the South got no rights? Wm. Price,
Are all to be crushed,
And their sympathies hushed,
Who think the two sections won’t splice? Wm. Price,
Who think the two sections won’t splice?

Why punch us so hard? Wm. Price, Wm. Price,
Why punch us so hard? Wm. Price,
You cared not for law
When the “Natives” made war
On the ballot0box here so nice, Wm. Price,
On the ballot-box here so nice

But now you’re for law, Wm. Price, Wm. Price,
But now you’re for law, Wm. Price,
Your harsh Treason Bill,
Shows a heart and a will,
To hand us all up in a trice, Wm. Price,
To hand us all up in a trice.

You’d send us to jail, Wm. Price, Wm. Price,
You’d send us to jail, Wm. Price,
Should we venture to send,
To a sick Southern friend,
A pain-killer soothing and nice, Wm. Price,
A pain-killer soothing and nice.

And the Mother you’d fine, Wm. Price, Wm. Price,
And the Mother you’d fine, Wm. Price,
Who would send to her Son,
Keeping guard at Bull Run;
A pair of yarn socks warm and nice, Wm. Price,
A pair of yarn socks warm and nice.

You’d make it a crime, Wm. Price, Wm. Price,
You’d make it a crime, Wm. Price,
For a sister to send,
To a brother or friend;
Little dainties, all flavoured with spice, Wm. Price,
Little dainties all flavoured with spice.

And the little sweetheart, Wm. Price, Wm. Price,
And the little sweetheart, Wm. Price,
Would you send her to jail,
All so pensive and pale
For sending things South once or twice, Wm. Price,
For sending things South once or twice.

And your own flesh and blood, Wm. Price, Wm. Price,
And your own flesh and blood, Wm. Price,
If the hanging’s begun,
There’s your own “Rebel” son
Who may die by his father’s device, Wm. Price,
Who may die by his father’s device.

Pray make no more laws, Wm. Price, Wm. Price,
Pray make no more laws, Wm. Price,
Rather drop the Old State
On the federal plate
Than squeeze us to death in your vice, Wm. Price,
Than squeeze us to death in your vice. (Source)

So, that part about Price’s son… was that literally true, or was it actually more of a metaphorical meaning? It was, in fact… true…

The family of William Price, as outlined in the 1860 census, in the 11th Ward, Baltimore, Maryland.

Adrian D. Price was one of William Price’s sons, AND the one who donned gray.

Adrian served initially in Weston’s Battalion, Maryland Infantry (CSA), and then in “The Maryland Guard” of Co. B, 21st Virginia Infantry. Adrian’s service, however, was quite short. While he did muster-in with the “Maryland Guard”, in Richmond, in  May 1861, he was absent without leave by December… and absent with debility in Chimborazo #18 (Greaner’s Hospital) by May, 1862. Official records show he was no more than a private, but W.W. Goldsborough’s efforts suggested Adrian Price attained the rank of corporal.

No records are clear as to Adrian’s final outcome… other than two graves; one at Hollywood Cemetery, in Richmond, and the other in Loudon Park Cemetery. It appears that Adrian never recovered from his debility, and died in October, 1862. He was buried initially in Hollywood Cemetery, and then, in 1874, relocated to Loudon Park.

Adrian D. Price’s stone (a new one, as the old one had faded so much), in Loudon Park Cemetery, Baltimore, Md.

And, there we have another brutal side of the war, and how differences in sentiment, even among Southern fathers and sons, was a reality. Regretfully, we have nothing from William Price regarding the death of his son, but we have to wonder how that division in sentiment impacted the two of them from 1860-1861, and how William reflected on it, to the day that he died, in November, 1868.

*My curiosity into William Price‘s background expanded while I wrote this, and I hope, at some point, to have another post focused specifically on his life. Incidentally, in his rise to becoming a lawyer, he was mentored by John Thompson Mason, nephew of George Mason. Price’s significance also grew after his Treason Bill, but I’ll reserve that for the post in which I’ll focus more on him. 

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