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Massachusetts Militia Passing Through Baltimore, an 1861 engraving of the Baltimore riot

The Baltimore riot of 1861 (also called the Pratt Street Riot and the Pratt Street Massacre) was an incident that took place on April 19, 1861, in Baltimore, Maryland between Confederate sympathizers and members of the Massachusetts militia en route to Washington for Federal service. It is regarded by historians as the first bloodshed of the American Civil War.[1]


Causes of the riot

On April 12, one week prior to the riot, the battle of Fort Sumter started, signaling the beginning of the American Civil War. At the time, the slave states of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas had not yet seceded from the U.S.. In addition, it was not yet known whether four other slave states, (Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky) (later known as "border states"), would remain in the Union. When Fort Sumter fell on April 13 without a single man lost, the Virginia legislature took up a measure on secession. After little debate, the measure passed on April 17. The other southern states watched with interest to see what would happen, as the secession of Virginia was important because of the state's industrial value. Influential Marylanders, who had been supportive of secession ever since John C. Calhoun spoke of "nullification", agitated to join Virginia in leaving the Union. Their discontent increased in the days afterward while Lincoln put out a call for volunteers to serve 90 days and end the insurrection; newly formed units were starting to transport themselves south. Baltimore was a particularly secession-sympathetic city; Abraham Lincoln received only 1,100 of more than 30,000 votes cast for president in 1860.[2] 460 newly called up Pennsylvania volunteers passed through Baltimore on April 18;[3] however, anti-Union forces were too disorganized and surprised to do anything about it. When the next regiment came on April 19, however, they were ready.

April 19, 1861

On April 19, the Union's Sixth Massachusetts Regiment[4] was traveling south to Washington, D.C. through Baltimore. At that time, 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) due to ordinances prohibiting the use of steam locomotives in the inner city and the lack of union stations at the time. Rail cars that transferred between the two stations had to be pulled by horses along Pratt Street.

As the regiment transferred between stations, a mob of secessionists 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."[5] In response, several soldiers fired into the mob, and chaos immediately ensued as a giant brawl began between the soldiers, the violent 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[6] Luther C. Ladd, Charles Taylor[7], 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.[8] Sumner Henry Needham is sometimes considered to be the first Union casualty of the war, though technically he was killed by civilians in a Union state. Needham is buried in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Ladd, Taylor, and Whitney are buried in Lowell, Massachusetts.[9]

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.[10]


After the April 19th rioting, 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 George William Brown and Maryland Governor Thomas Hicks implored President Lincoln to reroute troops around Baltimore city and through Annapolis to avoid further confrontations. On the evening of April 20th 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 captains was John Merryman, who was arrested without a writ of habeas corpus one month later, sparking the case of Ex parte Merryman.

Lincoln rerouted troops through Union-friendly Annapolis at first. Once enough troops had made it to Washington, D.C. to defend the capital, Lincoln resolved to end the problems in Baltimore and restore the rail connection. On May 13, the Union army entered Baltimore, occupied the city, and declared martial law. The mayor, city council, and police commissioner, who were pro-South and seemingly incompetent at maintaining order in the situation, were arrested and imprisoned at Fort McHenry. Meanwhile, the states of Arkansas and Tennessee seceded on May 6. Some Southerners reacted with hostility to the battle; 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.[11] The poem was later set to music 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.

After the occupation of the city, Union troops were garrisoned throughout the state. Several members of the Maryland legislature were arrested, days before a delayed secession vote, and the state was placed under direct federal administration.[12] Days afterward, North Carolina became the final state to approve secession (May 21). Delaware was occupied by Union troops due to its proximity to (and to prevent a repeat of the events that took place in) Maryland. Kentucky declared its neutrality (although it would eventually join the Union's side), and although Missouri was on the Union side, a Confederate government-in-exile existed in Arkansas and Texas. Maryland would remain under federal administration until April 1865, the end of the war.

See also


  1. ^ Vogler, Mark E. (April 18, 2009). "Civil War Guard on duty in Baltimore to save President Street Station". Eagle Tribune. Retrieved 2009-06-07.  
  2. ^ "Baltimore: A House Divided & War on the Chesapeake Bay". 2008. 2008-01-13. Retrieved 2008-02-06.  
  3. ^ Catton, Bruce. The Coming Fury. (1961) pp. 340-341
  4. ^ "Welcome G. A. R. (From the Washington Evening Star)". Theodore W. Noyes, The national capital. Newspaper articles and speeches concerning the city of Washington. September 19, 1892. Retrieved 2008-02-26.  
  5. ^ James M. MacPherson, Battle Cry of the Republic: The Civil War Era (Oxford University Press, 1988), Amazon Kindle Page Location 6126-40.
  6. ^ "Luther C. Ladd". Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Retrieved 2008-02-06.  
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ .P.19
  9. ^ "Results for April 19, 1861". Find a Grave. Retrieved 2008-02-06.  
  10. ^ Alexander Crosby Brown (1961). Steam Packets on the Chesapeake. Cambridge, Maryland: Cornell Maritime Press. pp. 48–50. LCCN 61-012580.  
  11. ^ Phair, Monty. "A Brief History of Randallstown". Baltimore County Public Libraries. Retrieved 2009-07-27.  
  12. ^ "Teaching American History in Maryland - Documents for the Classroom: Arrest of the Maryland Legislature, 1861". Maryland State Archives. 2005. Retrieved 2008-02-06.  

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