Result:Confederate sympathisers ultimately suppressed.
The Baltimore riot of 1861 (also called the Pratt Street Riot and the Pratt Street Massacre) was a conflict on April 19, 1861, in Baltimore, Maryland, between anti-War Democrats (the largest party in Maryland), as well as Confederate sympathizers, and members of the Massachusetts militia enroute to Washington for Federal service. It produced the first deaths by hostile action in the American Civil War.
In 1861, most Baltimoreans were anti-War, and did not support a violent conflict with their southern neighbors. Many sympathized passionately with the Southern cause. In the previous year’s presidential election, Abraham Lincoln had received only 1,100 of more than 30,000 votes cast in the city. Lincoln’s opponents were infuriated (and supporters disappointed) when the president-elect, fearing an assassination plot, traveled secretly through the city in February enroute to his inauguration. The city was also home to the country’s largest population (25,000) of free African Americans, as well as many white abolitionists and supporters of the Union. As the war began, the city’s divided loyalties created tension. Supporters of secession and slavery organized themselves into a force called “National Volunteers” while unionists and abolitionists called themselves “Minute Men.”
The American Civil War began on April 12, one week before the riot. At the time, the slave states of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas had not yet seceded from the U.S. The status of Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky (later known as “border states”), remained unknown. When Fort Sumter fell (without casualties) on April 13, the Virginia legislature took up a measure on secession. The measure passed on April 17 with little debate. Virginia’s secession was particularly significant due to the state’s industrial capacity. Sympathetic Marylanders, who had supported secession ever since John C. Calhoun spoke of nullification, agitated to join Virginia in leaving the Union. Their discontent increased in the days afterward when Lincoln put out a call for volunteers to serve 90 days and end the insurrection.
New militia units from several Northern states were starting to transport themselves south, particularly to protect Washington, D.C., from the new Confederate threat in Virginia. Baltimore Mayor George William Brown and new Police Marshal (chief) George Proctor Kane anticipated trouble and began efforts to placate the city’s population.
On April 18, 460 newly mustered Pennsylvania volunteers (generally from the Pottsville, Pennsylvania area) arrived from Harrisburg on the Northern Central Railway at the Bolton Street Station off North Howard Street (present site of the later Fifth Regiment Armory). They were joined by several regiments of regular United States Army troops under John C. Pemberton (later the Confederate general and commander at the siege of Vicksburg in Mississippi whose surrender in July 1863, resulted in the first split of the Confederacy) returning from duty on the western frontier. They split off from Howard Street in downtown Baltimore and marched over east to Fort McHenry and reported for duty there. Seven hundred “National Volunteers” of southern sympathizers rallied at the Washington Monument and traveled to the station to confront the combined units of troops, which unbeknownst to them were unarmed and had weapons unloaded.Kane’s city police force generally succeeded in ensuring the Pennsylvania troops’ safe passage marching south on Howard Street to Camden Street Station of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Nevertheless, stones and bricks were hurled (along with many insults) and Nicholas Biddle, a Black servant traveling with the regiment, was hit on the head. But that night, the Pennsylvania troops, later known as “The First Defenders” camped at the U.S. Capitol under the uncompleted dome, which was under construction.
On April 17, the Sixth Massachusetts Militia departed from Boston, Massachusetts, arriving in New York the following morning and Philadelphia by nightfall. On April 19, the unit headed on to Baltimore, where they anticipated a slow transit through the city. Because of an ordinance preventing the construction of steam rail lines through the city, there was no direct rail connection between the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad’s President Street Station and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s Camden Station (ten blocks to the west). Rail cars that transferred between the two stations had to be pulled by horses along Pratt Street.
Sometime after leaving Philadelphia, the unit’s Colonel Edward F. Jones received information that passage through Baltimore “would be resisted”. According to his later report, Jones went through the railroad cars and gave this order:
Indeed, as the militia regiment transferred between stations, a mob of anti-War supporters and Southern sympathizers attacked the train cars and blocked the route. When it became apparent that they could travel by horse no further, the troops got out of the cars and marched in formation through the city. However, the mob followed the soldiers, breaking store windows and causing damage until they finally blocked the soldiers. The mob attacked the rear companies of the regiment with “bricks, paving stones, and pistols.” In response, several soldiers fired into the mob, beginning a giant brawl between the soldiers, the mob, and the Baltimore police. In the end, the soldiers got to the Camden Station, and the police were able to block the crowd from them. The regiment had left behind much of their equipment, including their marching band’s instruments.
Four soldiers (Corporal Sumner Needham of Co I and Privates Luther C. Ladd, Charles Taylor, and Addison Whitney of Company D) and twelve civilians were killed in the riot. About 36 of the regiment were also wounded and left behind. It is unknown how many additional civilians were injured. Sumner Henry Needham is sometimes considered to be the first Union casualty of the war, though he was killed by civilians in a Union state. Needham is buried in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Ladd and Whitney are buried in Lowell, Massachusetts. Taylor was buried in Baltimore; though his grave was lost, his name appears on the Lowell Monument.
After the attack on the soldiers, the office of the Baltimore Wecker, a German-language newspaper, was completely wrecked and the building seriously damaged by the same mob. The publisher, William Schnauffer, and the editor, Wilhelm Rapp, whose lives were threatened, were compelled to leave town. The publisher later returned and resumed publication of the Wecker which continued throughout the war a firm supporter of the Union cause. The editor moved to another paper in Illinois.
As a result of the riot in Baltimore and pro-Southern sympathies of much of the city’s populace, the Baltimore Steam Packet Company also declined the same day a Federal government request to transport Union forces to relieve the beleaguered Union naval yard facility at Portsmouth, Virginia.
In Brown’s later assessment, it was the Baltimore riot that pushed the two sides over the edge into full-scale war, “because then was shed the first blood in a conflict between the North and the South; then a step was taken which made compromise or retreat almost impossible; then passions on both sides were aroused which could not be controlled”.
On July 10, 1861, a grand jury of the United States District Court indicted Samuel Mactier, Lewis Bitter, James McCartney, Philip Casmire, Michael Hooper and Richard H. Mitchell for their part in the riot.
After the April 19 riot, some small skirmishes occurred throughout Baltimore between citizens and police for the next month, but a sense of normalcy returned as the city was cleaned up. Mayor Brown and Maryland Governor Hicks implored President Lincoln to send no further troops through Maryland to avoid further confrontations. However, as Lincoln remarked to a peace delegation from the Young Men’s Christian Association, Union soldiers were neither birds to fly over Maryland, nor moles to burrow under it. On the evening of April 20 Hicks also authorized Brown to dispatch the Maryland state militia for the purpose of disabling the railroad bridges into the city—an act he would later deny. One of the militia leaders was John Merryman, who was arrested one month later, and held in defiance of a writ of habeas corpus, which led to the case of Ex parte Merryman.
On April 19, Major General Robert Patterson, commander of the Department of Washington (Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and the District of Columbia), ordered Brigadier General Benjamin Franklin Butler, with the 8th Massachusetts, to open and secure a route from Annapolis through Annapolis Junction to Washington. The 8th Massachusetts arrived by ship at Annapolis on April 20. Gov. Hicks and the Mayor of Annapolis protested, but Butler (a clever politician) bullied them into allowing troops to land at Annapolis, saying,
“‘I must land, for my troops are hungry.’—’No one in Annapolis will sell them anything,’ replied these authorities of the State and city. Butler intimated that armed men were not always limited to the necessity of purchasing food when famished.”
The 8th Massachusetts, with the 7th New York, proceeded to Annapolis Junction (halfway between Baltimore and Washington), and the 7th New York went on to Washington, where, on the afternoon of April 25, they became the first troops to reach the capital by this route.
There were calls for Maryland to declare secession in the wake of the riot. Governor Hicks called a special session of the state legislature to consider the situation. Since Annapolis, the capital, was occupied by Federal troops, and Baltimore was harboring many pro-Confederate mobs, Hicks directed the legislature to meet in Frederick, in the predominantly Unionist western part of the state. The legislature met on April 26; on April 29, it voted 53–13 against secession, though it also voted not to reopen rail links with the North, and requested that Lincoln remove the growing numbers of federal troops in Maryland. At this time the legislature seems to have wanted to maintain Maryland’s neutrality in the conflict.
Many more Union troops arrived. On May 13, Butler sent Union troops into Baltimore and declared martial law. He was replaced as commander of the Department of Annapolis by George Cadwalader, another Brigadier General in the United States Volunteers. Lincoln subsequently had the mayor, police chief, entire Board of Police, and the city council of Baltimore imprisoned without charges, as well as one sitting U.S. Congressman from Baltimore. The Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, who was also a native of Maryland, ruled on June 4, 1861 in ex parte Merryman that Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus was unconstitutional, but Lincoln ignored the ruling, and later when Baltimore newspaper editor Frank Key Howard, Francis Scott Key’s grandson, criticized this in an editorial he too was imprisoned without trial. (Ironically, federal troops imprisoned the young newspaper editor in Fort McHenry, which, as he noted, was the same fort where the Star Spangled Banner had been waving “o’er the land of the free” in his grandfather’s song.) In 1863 Howard wrote about his experience as a political prisoner at Fort McHenry in the book Fourteen Months in the American Bastille; two of the publishers selling the book were then arrested.
A man supposed to be a Maryland State Militia soldier was detained in Ft. McHenry, and Judge Giles, in Baltimore, issued a writ of habeas corpus, but Major W. W. Morris, commander of the fort, wrote back,
“At the date of issuing your writ, and for two weeks previous, the city which you live, and where your court has been held, was entirely under the control of revolutionary authorities. Within that period United States soldiers, while committing no offense, had been perfidiously attacked and inhumanly murdered in your streets; no punishment had been awarded, and, I believe, no arrests had been made for these crimes; supplies of provisions intended for this garrison has been stopped; the intention to capture this fort had been boldly proclaimed; your most public thoroughfares were daily patrolled by large numbers of troops, armed and clothed, at least in part, with articles stolen from the United States; and the Federal flag, while waving over the Federal offices, was cut down by some person wearing the uniform of a Maryland soldier. To add the foregoing, an assembly elected in defiance of law, but claiming to be the legislative body of your State, and so recognized by the Executive of Maryland, was debating the Federal compact. If all this be not rebellion, I know not what to call it. I certainly regard it as sufficient legal cause for suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.” Moreover, Morris wrote, “If, in an experience of thirty-three years, you have never before known the writ to be disobeyed, it is only because such a contingency in political affairs as the present has never before arisen.”
Just before daybreak on June 27, soldiers marched from Ft. McHenry on orders from Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, who had succeeded Cadwalader as commander of the Department of Annapolis, and arrested Marshal George P. Kane. Banks appointed Colonel John Reese Kenly of the 1st Regiment Maryland Volunteer Infantry as provost marshal to superintend the Baltimore police; Kenly enrolled, organized, and armed 250 Unionists for a new police. When the old Board of Police would not recognize the new police, and tried to continue the old police, they were arrested and sent to Fort Warren in Boston Harbor. On July 10, George R. Dodge, a civilian, was appointed as marshal of police.
Major General John Adams Dix succeeded Banks in command of the Department of Annapolis, and Colonel Abram Duryée’s 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, “Duryée’s Zouaves,” constructed Fort Federal Hill, Baltimore.
Some Southerners reacted with passion to the incident. James Ryder Randall, a teacher in Louisiana but a native Marylander who had lost a friend in the riots, wrote “Maryland, My Maryland” for the Southern cause in response to the riots. The poem was later set to “Lauriger Horatius”, the tune of O Tannenbaum, a melody popular in the South, and referred to the riots with lines such as “Avenge the patriotic gore / That flecked the streets of Baltimore.” It was not until seventy-eight years later that it became Maryland’s state song; there have been efforts to remove it since.
On September 17, 1861, the day the legislature reconvened to discuss these later events and Lincoln’s possibly unconstitutional actions, twenty-seven state legislators (one-third of the Maryland General Assembly) were arrested and jailed by federal troops, using Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, and in further defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice’s ex parte Merryman ruling. Because of this large-scale arrest of state representatives the legislative session was canceled, and no further debate on anti-war measures or secession could take place.
Delaware, bordering Maryland, was reinforced with Union troops to prevent similar events. Kentucky declared its neutrality (although it would eventually join the Union’s side), and although Missouri seceded from the Union on October 31 and was later occupied, a Confederate government-in-exile existed in Arkansas and Texas.