In 1816, the Baker family immigrated to the United States, arriving in Philadelphia, where Baker's father established a school. "Ned" attended his father's school before quitting to apprentice as a loom operator in a weaving factory.
In 1825, the family left Philadelphia and traveled to New Harmony, Indiana, a utopian community on the Ohio River led by Robert Owen. The family left New Harmony in 1826 and moved to Belleville in the Illinois Territory, a town near St. Louis, Missouri. Edward Baker bought a horse and cart and started a drayage business that young Ned operated in St. Louis.
On April 27, 1831, he married Mary Ann Lee of Baltimore; they would have five children together. Shortly after his marriage, Baker affiliated with the Disciples of Christ and engaged in part-time preaching.
Baker and Lincoln became fast friends, with Lincoln naming one of his sons Edward Baker Lincoln, nicknamed "Eddie."
|Edward "Eddie" Lincoln|
The brigade so gallantly led by General Shields, and, after his fall, by Colonel Baker, deserves high commendation for its fine behavior and success.
Frustrated by his failure to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1859, Baker looked to greener political pastures to the north. Oregon held special interest for people who had once lived in Illinois, including men he had known in Springfield. He had become interested in Oregon politics in 1857, when Dr. Anson Henry, a friend from Springfield who had moved to Oregon, told Baker he could win the Senate election there. After Oregon became a state in 1859, Oregon Republicans asked Baker to come to their state to run for the Senate and counter the Democratic strength there. By the end of February 1860, the Baker family had moved into a house in Salem. Baker opened a law office and started campaigning for Republicans around the state.
In Salem on July 4, he acknowledged the rumbles of secession threats and proclaimed his willingness to die for his country:
If it be reserved for me to lay my unworthy life upon the altar of my country in defending it from internal assailants, I declare here today that I aspire to no higher glory than that the sun of my life may go down beneath the shadow of freedom’s temple and baptize the emblem of the nation’s greatness, the Stars and Stripes, that float so proudly before us today, in my heart’s warmest blood.The Oregon legislature met in Salem in September 1860 to elect two men to the Senate. In an effort to keep Baker from receiving the required majority of 26 votes, six pro-slavery senators left the meeting and hid in a barn to prevent a quorum. They were brought back, and the legislators reached a compromise on October 7 and elected Baker James Nesmith, a Douglas Democrat. The Douglas Democrats supported Baker because of his support of popular sovereignty.
In Washington, D.C., Baker took his seat in the United States Senate on December 5, 1860. On December 31, Senator Judah Benjamin of Louisiana argued that Southern states had a constitutional right to secede and that other states would soon join South Carolina, which had seceded on December 20. Baker refuted Benjamin’s argument in a three-hour speech a day later. He acknowledged that he was opposed to interference with slave owners in slave states, but he was also opposed to secession and the extension of slavery into new territories and states. In March 1861, he indicated a willingness to compromise on some issues to prevent the breakup of the country.
|Baker in carriage with Lincoln at Inauguration|
|Lincoln's first inauguration at Capitol Building|
The Civil War began on April 12 when Confederate artillery fired on Fort Sumter; three days later, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to join the Union army. Baker left the Senate to go to New York City, where he spoke for two hours to a crowd of 100,000 in Union Square on April 19:
The hour for conciliation is past; the gathering for battle is at hand, and the country requires that every man shall do his duty. . . .If Providence shall will it, this feeble hand shall draw a sword, never yet dishonored, not to fight for honor on a foreign field, but for country, for home, for law, for government, for Constitution, for right, for freedom, for humanity.The following day, he met with 200 men from California who wanted to form a regiment that would symbolize the commitment of the West Coast to the Union cause. On May 8, Baker was authorized by Secretary of War Simon Cameron to form the California Regment with Baker as its commanding officer with the rank of colonel. He was assigned command of a brigade guarding fords along the Potomoac River north of Washington, D.C.
At a dinner with a journalist in August, Baker predicted he would die in an early battle of the war:
I am certain I shall not live through this war, and if my troops should show any want of resolution, I shall fall in the first battle. I cannot afford, after my career in Mexico, and as a Senator of the United States, to turn my face from the enemy.
|Death of Colonel Edward D. Baker at the Battle of Ball's Bluff, October 21, 1861|
Currier & Ives Print
With bowed head, and tears rolling down his furrowed cheeks, his face pale and wan, his heart heaving with emotion, he almost fell as he stepped into the street.