The first Civil War deaths caused by fighting did not happen during the war’s first battle, the attack on Fort Sumter (which caused no fatalities) – but actually occurred in a federal city between Union troops and civilians, when the Baltimore Riot of 19 April 1861 killed 4 soldiers and 12 civilians, with dozens more wounded.
The troops were marching through Baltimore to board a train for passage to Washington, D.C., when a pro-Southern mob gathered to obstruct them. Taunts rang out and bricks and stones were hurled at the troops. Then shots were fired, and the bloody riot became a running gunfight for ten blocks as the troops rushed to their waiting train.
The Baltimore Riot was a manifestation of the tension gripping America in the spring of 1861. Violence had been looming ever since South Carolina seceded from the Union on 20 December 1860. By February of 1861 seven states had seceded and formed their own country: the Confederate States of America.
Diplomacy failed and the Civil War began with the attack on Fort Sumter on 12 April 1861. Following that attack President Lincoln on April 15 issued a call for 75,000 volunteers to serve for 90 days to put down the rebellion; in response, four more Southern states joined the Confederacy.
There was strong pro-Southern sentiment in Maryland, one of the nation’s 15 slave states, and many agitators in Maryland watched closely to see what their neighboring slave state, Virginia, would do. Virginia was the first of the four additional states that joined the Confederacy, when it seceded on April 17 (soon followed by Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina).
Virginia’s decision emboldened the pro-secession movement in Maryland, especially in the city of Baltimore, and there were loud calls for Maryland to secede and join the Confederacy.
Meanwhile, Washington, D.C. was hurriedly preparing its defenses and troops were rushing to defend the capital. That is where Baltimore became the key, as a railroad hub for Northern troops heading south to Washington, D.C. The day after Virginia seceded, 460 Pennsylvania volunteers passed through Baltimore on April 18, surprising the city’s Southern sympathizers before they rallied and protested. Those sympathizers began to organize and vowed they would not be caught unprepared the next time.
That next time came the very next day, 19 April 1861, and caused the Baltimore Riot. This time the Union volunteers were from Massachusetts, 720 troops of the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment, along with some from Pennsylvania.
A peculiar Baltimore ordinance made the troops vulnerable by preventing their train from steaming straight through the city. Not wanting such heavy train traffic, the city ordinance called for all passing trains to stop at the President Street Station, have the railroad cars slowly pulled along the tracks by horses, then hooked back up to steam locomotives at the Camden Station ten blocks west to continue their journey.
It was while the nervous troops, packed into their railroad cars, were being pulled by horses those ten blocks along Pratt Street that the crowd attacked.
Six of the railroad cars made it through before the crowd blocked off the track and the horses could go no farther. The remaining men, around 250, had to get out and march to Camden Station. The howling mob descended upon them, and the riot quickly turned into a bloody battle.
A local newspaper had a reporter on the scene, and printed a detailed account of the soldiers’ desperate dash (it was no orderly march) to rejoin their comrades, get onto trains hooked up to steam engines, and get out of town alive.
Here is a transcription of this article:
Transit of Massachusetts Volunteers and Other Troops through Baltimore.
Their Passage Interrupted.
Railroad Track Barricaded.
Passage of Several Cars.
Citizens of Baltimore Shot Down in Our Streets.
Massachusetts Volunteers Killed and Wounded.
Immense Rally of Citizens on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
The Soldiers Stopped.
Calling Out of City Military.
The Railroads Decline to Pass Any More Northern Troops.
Scenes and Incidents, &c.
Meeting in Monument Square.
Yesterday morning the excitement which had been gradually rising in this city for some days, with reference to the passage of northern volunteer troops southward, reached its climax upon the arrival of the Massachusetts and other volunteers, some from Philadelphia, at President street depot, at 10½ o’clock. A large crowd had assembled, evidently to give them an unwelcome reception. The arrangements contemplated the passage of thirty-one cars occupied by the volunteers, from President street depot to the Camden station of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, over the intervening space occupied by the Pratt street track.
The cars were dispatched one after the other by horses, and upon the arrival of the first car at the intersection of Gay and Pratt streets, a vast assemblage having collected there, demonstrations were made which evidently contemplated the stopping of the troops at that point. Just there, repairs of the road were in progress, and a number of paving stones were lying in heaps, which were seized by the crowd and used for purposes of assault.
Six of the cars had succeeded in passing on their way before the crowd were able to accomplish their purpose of barricading the track, which they now began to effect by placing large heavy anchors lying in the vicinity directly across the rails. Some seven or eight were borne by the crowd and laid on the track, and thus the passage of the cars was effectually interrupted.
Having accomplished this object, the crowd set to lustily cheering for the South, for Jefferson Davis, South Carolina and secession, and groans for sundry obnoxious parties. In the meanwhile, the troops thus delayed at the depot remained quietly in the cars until tired of their inaction, and apprehending a more formidable demonstration, they came to the conclusion to face the music and march through the city.
They accordingly evacuated the cars and rapidly gathering on the street north of the depot, formed in line and prepared to make the attempt. The word was given to “march” and the head of the line had advanced some fifteen paces, when it was driven back upon the main body by the immense crowd still further increased by a body of men who marched down to the depot bearing at their head a Confederate flag.
Eight of the cars started from the President street depot and six passed safely to the Camden station. The other two soon returned, the track in the meantime having been obstructed at the corner of Pratt and Gay streets by anchors, paving stones, sand, &c., being put on it by the crowd. Attempts had previously been made to tear up the track, but the police by strenuous effort prevented [this]. A cart load of sand which was being driven along was seized and thrown upon the track.
The bridge across Jones’ Falls on Pratt street was also soon after barricaded with boards, &c., which were being used previously by workmen in repairing it.
After considerable delay it was determined to make the attempt to march the remaining troops through the city, only about sixty of whom were supplied with arms. The remainder were recruits, and occupied second-class and baggage cars.
At the head of this column, on foot, Mayor Brown placed himself, and walked in front, exerting all his influence to preserve peace.
Just before the movement was made from the cars, a large crowd of persons went down President street with a Southern flag and met the troops as they emerged from the cars. The Southern flag was then carried in front of the column, and hooting and yelling began, and as soon as the troops turned out of Canton avenue they were greeted with a volley of stones.
At the corner of Fawn street two of the soldiers were struck with stones and knocked down; one of them was taken by the police to the drugstore of T. J. Pitt, at the corner of Pratt and High streets, and the other to the eastern police station.
The yelling continued and the stones flew thick and fast. At Pratt street bridge a gun was fired, said by policeman No. 71 to have been fired from the ranks of the soldiers.
Then the crowd pressed stronger, until the body reached the corner of Gay street, where the troops presented arms and fired. Several persons fell on the first round, and the crowd became furious. A number of revolvers were used, and their shots took effect in the ranks.
People then ran in every direction in search of arms, but the armories of the military companies of the city were closely guarded and none could be obtained. The firing continued from Frederick street to South street in quick succession but how many fell cannot now be ascertained.
Among those wounded was a young man named Francis X. Ward, who resides at corner of Baltimore and Aisquith streets. He was shot in the groin, but the wound is not thought to be mortal.
A young man named James Clark, formerly connected with No. 1 Hook and Ladder Company, was shot through the head, and instantly killed.
James Myers, residing on Fayette street, was shot in the right side of the back, near the spine, and the ball, a Minnie, passed through him, and lodged among the false ribs. He was mortally wounded. John McCann, of No. 2 North Bond street, was mortally wounded.
A man named Flannery, residing on Frederick street, near Pratt, was mortally wounded, and died shortly after.
___ Carr, residing at the corner of Exeter and Bank streets, was wounded by a musket ball in the knee. The wound is severe.
John Staub, clerk with Tucker & Smith, on Charles street, [was] shot in the forefinger of the right hand.
A young man named Malony was shot on Pratt street, near Gay, and died at the central police station.
James Keenan was wounded by having a Minnie ball pass through his body. He was one of the stranger soldiers. His wound was supposed to be mortal. He was taken to the office of Dr. Hintze, where he received surgical attendance, and was then taken to the Protestant Infirmary.
At the police station, an old man, who did not give his name, was badly wounded.
How many were wounded it was impossible to ascertain, as many of the soldiers who left on the cars were known to have been injured.
Kirk Hatch, of Philadelphia, was wounded on the head by a blow from a stone or bludgeon. He was severely injured.
___ Conner, of Baltimore, was also wounded on the head with a stone, and was taken to his residence on Bond street.
At the central police station two soldiers were taken in dead, as also two citizens. Three soldiers and one citizen were taken to the same place wounded. The crowd passed on up Pratt street, and near Light street there was another volley fired.
At Light street wharf a boy named William Reed, a hand on board the oyster sloop “Wild Pigeon,” of York county, Va., received a ball through the abdomen, and was dying, at last accounts, in the hold of the schooner.
Another boy, Patrick Griffin, employed at the Green House, Pratt st., was shot through the bowels while looking from the door.
A frenzied crowd returned the fire from revolvers, and with bricks. Andrew Robbins, a member of a volunteer company from Stonington, Conn., was shot in the back of the head, and fell from the ranks. He was taken into the drugstore of Jesse S. Hunt’s, corner of Pratt and Charles sts. His wound is dangerous.
Another soldier, S. H. Needham, a member of the Massachusetts regiment, was struck by a brick and knocked insensible from the ranks. He was taken into the bookstore of T. N. Kurtz, 181 Pratt street. He subsequently died. Prof. J. W. R. Dunbar was very active in rendering assistance to the wounded, as were also other physicians.
The Firing on the Citizens at Howard and Dover Streets
At the corner of Howard and Dover streets one of the marching companies was pressed upon, when the troops in one of the cars fired a volley into the citizens. The balls struck in the brick walls of the dwelling, dashing out pieces of brick, and making large holes in the walls. The fire was returned from several points with guns and revolvers, and with bricks by the crowd. Several soldiers were wounded here, but it is thought no citizens were struck by the bullets of the soldiers. The faces of many of the soldiers, as seen through the car windows, were streaming with blood from cuts received from the shattered glass of car windows, and from the missiles hurled into them. Several wounded, supposed to have been shot in their passage along Pratt street, were taken out of the car in a bleeding and fainting condition at the Camden station, and transferred to the other cars.
From Gay to South street, on Pratt, the fight with the soldiers who marched, or rather ran through town, was terrific. Large paving stones were hurled into the ranks from every direction, the negroes who were about the wharf, in many instances, joining in the assault. At Gay street the soldiers fired a number of shots, though without hitting anyone, so far as could be ascertained. After firing this volley, the soldiers again broke into a run, but another shower of stones being hurled into the ranks at Commerce street with such force as to knock several of them down, the order was given to another portion of them to halt and fire, which had to be repeated before they could be brought to a halt. They then wheeled and fired some twenty shots, but from their stooping and dodging to avoid the stones, but four or five shots took effect, the marks of a greater portion of their balls being visible on the walls of the adjacent warehouses, even up to the second stories. Here four citizens fell, two of whom died in a few moments; and the other two were carried off, supposed to be mortally wounded.
As one of the soldiers fired, he was struck with a stone and knocked down, and as he attempted to arise another stone struck him in the face, when he crawled into a store, and prostrating himself on the floor, clasped his hands and begged piteously for his life, saying that he was threatened with instant death by his officers if he refused to accompany them. He said one-half of them had been forced to come in the same manner, and he hoped all who forced others to come might be killed before they got through the city. He pleaded so hard that no further vengeance was bestowed upon him, and he was taken to the police station to have his wounds dressed. As soon as they had fired at this point, they again wheeled and started off in a full run, when some three or four parties issued from the warehouses there and fired into them, which brought down three more soldiers, one of whom was carried into the same store with the one above alluded to, and died in a few moments. The others succeeded in regaining their feet, and proceeded on with their comrades, the whole running as fast as they could, and a running fire was kept up by the soldiers from this point to the depot, the crowd continuing to hurl stones into the ranks throughout the whole line of march.
The Troops Reach the Camden Railroad Station
As early as nine o’clock throngs collected about the Camden Station in anticipation of the arrival of the troops from the President street depot. The throngs gradually augmented until about 10½ o’clock, when a large body of police appeared, and the mass took it for granted that the troops were coming. Meanwhile the assembly kept itself informed on events at the lower depot by several young men on horseback, who rode rapidly forward and back between the depots. The Mayor of the city and the Board of Police Commissioners did their utmost to pacify the crowd, as well as did other prominent citizens. Finally, crowds, rushing pell-mell from the lower streets towards the depot, gave notice that the cars were coming, and they arrived one after another, drawn by four horses. The blinds of most of the cars were shut down, and in those not provided with blinds the troops laid down flat to avoid the bricks thrown at them. The car windows were perfectly riddled, and their sides bore great indentations from the rocks and bricks hurled at them.
The scene while the troops were changing cars was indescribably fearful. Taunts, clothed in the most fearful language, were hurled at them by the panting crowd, who, almost breathless with running, pressed up to the car windows, presenting knives and revolvers, and cursed up into the faces of the soldiers. The police were thrown in between the cars, and forming a barrier, the troops changed cars, many of them cocking their muskets as they stepped on the platform.
After embarking the assemblage expected to see the train move off, but its departure was evidently delayed in the vain hope that the crowd would disperse; but no, it swelled, and the troops expressed to the officers of the road their determination to go at once, or they would leave the cars and make their way to Washington.
While the delay was increasing the excitement, a wild cry was raised on the platform, and a dense crowd ran down the platform and out the railroad track towards the Spring Gardens, until the track for a mile was black with an excited, rushing mass. The crowd, as it went, placed obstructions of every description on the track. Great logs and telegraph poles, requiring a dozen or more men to move them, were laid across the rails, and stones rolled from the embankment.
A body of police followed after the crowd, both in a full run, and removed the obstructions as fast as they were placed on the track. Various attempts were made to tear up the track with logs of wood and pieces of timber, and there was a great outcry for pickaxes and handspikes, but only one or two could be found. The police interfered on every occasion, but the crowd, growing large and more excited, would dash off into a breakneck run for another position further on, until the county line was reached. The police followed, running, until forced to stop from exhaustion. At this point many of the throng gave it up from exhaustion, but a crowd, longer winded, dashed on for nearly a mile further, now and then pausing to attempt to force the rails, or place some obstruction upon them. They could be distinctly seen for a mile along the track where it makes a bend at the Washington road bridge. When the train went out the mass of people had mostly returned to the depot. Shots and stones were exchanged between the military and citizens at several points, with the result detailed elsewhere.
The following is the correspondence of the authorities with the railroad officials and President Lincoln, on the subject of stopping the passage of troops:
Mayor’s Office, City Hall, Baltimore, April 19, 1861.
John W. Garrett, Esq., President Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
Sir: We advise that the troops now here be sent back to the borders of Maryland. Respectfully,
(Signed) Thomas H. Hicks, Geo. Wm. Brown.
By order of the Board of Police.
(Signed) Chas. Howard, Prest.
Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, President’s Office, Balto., April 19.
To His Excellency, Tho. H. Hicks, Governor; His Hon. G. W. Brown, Mayor of Baltimore; Chs. Howard, Esq., President Board of Police Commissioners.
Gentlemen: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of this date, in which you advise that the troops now here be sent back to the “borders of Maryland.” Most cordially approving this advice, I have instantly telegraphed the same to the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad Company, and this company will act in accordance therewith. Your obed’t servant,
(Signed) J. W. Garrett, President.
Mayor’s Office, Baltimore, April 19, 1861.
To His Excellency the President of the United States.
Sir: A collision between the citizens and the Northern troops has taken place in Baltimore, and the excitement is fearful. Send no troops here. We will endeavor to prevent all bloodshed. A public meeting of citizens has been called, and the troops of the State and the city have been called out to preserve the peace. They will be enough.
(Signed) Tho. H. Hicks, Geo. Wm. Brown, Mayor.
We are advised that Wm. Prescott Smith, Esq., besides sending the foregoing by telegraph, sent a special engine, ahead of all trains, down to Washington, so that there might be no doubt of Mr. Lincoln’s receiving it at the earliest moment.
The Baltimore directors of the Northern Central Railroad, who constitute only a minority of the board, held a meeting last evening and made a formal protest against the conveyance of any more troops from the North over the road. The Baltimore and Ohio Company sent an official communication to the Northern Central Company informing them that they would pass no more troops to Washington that should reach the city by that route.
A dispatch was received from Mr. Felton, president of the Philadelphia road, in response to the recommendations from here, saying that he would send no more troops over his road at present, and requesting the officers in this city to confer with proper parties on the subject.
The Order to the Military
The following order was, at 2:00 P.M. yesterday, sent to us for publication in The Sun, and as the earliest mode of presenting it to the public, was included in the contents of The Sun Extra:
Division Orders, First Light Division, Md. Volunteers, Baltimore, 19th April, 1861.
In obedience to the order of His Excellency Governor Hicks, the First Light Division will parade forthwith in North Calvert street, provided with ball cartridges, to suppress the insurrection and riot going on in the streets of this city, and to preserve good order and quiet.
By order of Maj. Gen. Steuart; James H. Steuart, Acting Aid.
Incidents of the Battle
While the cars containing the troops were standing at the President street depot, a clerk from the custom house went into one of them and denounced the soldiers in bitter terms. A captain ordered him out, threatening if he did not go they would fire on him. He replied they were too cowardly to fire, when the officer struck at him with his sword, which blow he received on the left hand, and with the other knocked him down and took his sword from him, as also the scabbard. A private interfered for the protection of his commander, and he too the clerk knocked down with a heavy drawn pistol, and escaped with his prize – the sword – the only injury he received being a pretty severe cut across his hand.
At the intersection of Gay and Pratt streets, while the soldiers were firing upon the crowd, two other clerks from the same place ran into the ranks, and each knocking down a soldier with his fists, bore off their muskets as trophies of their exploit.
The young man shot in the leg, and taken to the Infirmary, and attended by Dr. Morris, appeared quite grateful for the humane attentions shown him. When asked why he came, the simple and unsophisticated reply of the youth was “Oh, the Flag – the Stars and Stripes.” It was expected that the wounded leg would have to be amputated last night. He is only about eighteen years old, and may he live to grow wiser as he grows older.
Another of those in the station house said he had no enmity against the South, and came only because his company was ordered out, otherwise he would have been jeered as a coward and recreant. Others in the companies were actuated by the same motives.
A body of one hundred and five of the volunteers from the North was taken in charge by the police of the eastern district and sent back. They are now said to have stopped at Magnolia.
At the eastern police station last night, a German asked for lodging. He said he had been forced into the cars at Philadelphia, but did not know where they were going to take him.
The Run to Washington
The military train in its run to Washington was stopped at the Jackson bridge, near Chinquepin Hill, by the removal of several rails. They disembarked, and the rails were re-laid, under the protection of the troops. An occasional shot was fired at the troops from the hills and woods along the route, but the range was too long for any effect.
Suspension of Business – Closing of Stores
As the riot progressed along Pratt street all the stores on that thoroughfare were closed. Many of the stores on Baltimore and other business streets were also closed. The utmost alarm and distress was manifested on the part of some females and children, many of whom ran crying through the streets, apprehensive for the safety of relatives and friends.
A great number of arrests of parties throwing bricks and missiles at the troops were made by the police. The magistrate imposed the usual fine under the ordinance prohibiting the throwing of missiles in the streets.
Note: An online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors – the old newspaper articles also help you understand American history and the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers. Did any of your ancestors serve in the Civil War? Please share your stories with us in the comments section.