Baltimore Riots, 1861
Once Southern states began seceding, and tensions heightened, towns and cities across Massachusetts began to form volunteer militia units. Among the first militia units to form were mill workers from the textile cities of Lowell and Lawrence, who were christened the Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia upon its formal organization on January 21, 1861. It was mustered in with the understanding they would be a 3-month militia, once called to action. Two months of meetings and drills followed for the 6th Massachusetts. They were finally issued the blue suits and rifles made at the armory in Springfield, MA and told to be ready to mobilize at a moment’s notice, reminiscent of the Minutemen of 85 years previous. When Fort Sumter was attacked on April 12th, 1861, they understood that the moment had come. On April 15, President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers. The 6th Massachusetts was ordered to Washington, D.C. to help protect the capital and hopefully end the rebellion in quick fashion. Maryland had not seceded from the Union but many citizens of Baltimore held sympathies for the Confederate cause were not happy that Union soldiers were in their city. As the men traveled by rail towards the nations’ capitol, the mood was one of eager anticipation. Things changed in an instant when the train pulled into the President Street Station of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad around noon on April 19th. The station they arrived at is where the P. W. and B. abruptly ends and continuing south required transit by horse drawn cars to the Baltimore and Ohio’s Camden Station, on the other side of town. The first nine cars had made it to the Camden Station with no problems, but a growing horde of unruly citizens began throwing stones and dumping sand and ship anchors onto the tracks, forcing the remaining cars to stop. The soldiers that were left at the President Street Station consisted of approximately four companies and the 6th Regimental Band, about 220 men, and a group of about 800 recruits from Pennsylvania with no uniforms, weapons, or even officers who had been commissioned officially yet. They were left with no choice but to get off the train and begin marching the rest of the way. Colonel Edward F. Jones, the commander of the 6th, had been forewarned that the sentiment in Baltimore was Pro Southern and that their presence in the city was not going to be welcomed. His orders to the troops were to have their muskets loaded, but no one was to fire unless fired upon. As they attempted to make their way past the horde and through the city, the angry citizens began to taunt them and shout insults. The streets had been torn up by the mob and left in piles of stones, hitching posts and tree branches were turned in to clubs, and other various objects were turned into projectiles. Pistols began to be fired in the direction of the soldiers, in a mock warning. A Confederate flag appeared, cheers went up for Jefferson Davis and the frenzy grew larger. The Mayor of Baltimore, George William Brown, pleaded for calm, and for a moment, his request seemed to be heeded. The stone throwing resumed however, and some scuffles began to break out. Citizens tried to unarm the soldiers. The men were ordered to march at the double quick in hopes of making it to the Camden station without being injured. This, of course, made them look like cowards running away from a fight. People initially satisfied with verbal taunts and mistreatment now were looking to end the soldiers’ lives. Who fired first is an unknown factor in the riot. Shots rang out from the sidewalks, rooftops, and from the ranks of soldiers. Police finally arrived on the scene, and order was restored, but not before the 6th Massachusetts suffered 4 deaths and 36 wounded. 130 soldiers were missing, but presumed to have run to the outskirts to avoid the riots. The recruits from Pennsylvania never made it to Washington. The Baltimore police sent them back to Philadelphia. The citizens of Baltimore had 12 dead, and numerous wounded. The first blood of the Civil War had been shed.
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