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The national railroad strike of 1877 began in mid-July in Maryland and West Virginia with a work action against the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. President Hayes sent troops to West Virginia, but the strike spread north and west, punctuated by gunplay, arson, and looting.

Businessmen, political leaders, and journalists spoke of conspiracy and insurrection, attributing what they saw as unprovoked violence to communists and troublemakers of the kind that set Paris afire during the Commune of 1871. They also blamed the conflict on outside agitators in general and immigrant radicals in particular rather than on flaws in the economic order.

The strike reached Chicago at the end of the month. The specific politics aside, the fact was that American troops, as well as police and militia, were fighting local residents in the streets of American cities. In some instances the police abandoned their clubs for Springfield rifles mounted with bayonets, and the federal infantry's weapons included ten-pound guns and howitzers. The fighting consisted not of extended battles but of a series of violent encounters characterized by taunting, rock throwing, and random shooting at the forces of authority by clusters of rioters who dispersed and reassembled unpredictably.

One of the major sites of these skirmishes is depicted here, near a railroad viaduct at 16th and Halsted Streets, the scene of several violent confrontations on July 26. In one part of the clash, Montgomerie T. Agramonte of the Illinois National Guard was injured when his horse fell as he pursued a mob leader.