The Baltimore Riot


Baltimore, April 19, 1861, 10:00AM.


George William Brown, the mayor of Baltimore, had come to his law office that Friday morning hoping to get caught up on paperwork. Instead, like so many other Baltimoreans, he found himself engrossed in the events of the day before, and the speculation about what lie ahead.

 It had been less than twenty four hours since Brown had been notified of the imminent arrival of six hundred Northern troops at Bolton Station, with plans to detrain and pass through the city on their way to Washington. Trains were not permitted to move through the center of the city, and this ordinance forced connecting passengers to reach the terminal of their departure by some other means. Sometimes, rail cars full of travelers were hitched to a horse and pulled there on rails laid in the streets, and at other times the passengers were left to make their own way to the station.

With only a few hours to prepare, the city was able to assemble 130 policemen, led by Marshal George P. Kane, to defend the soldiers as they marched to Mt. Claire Station on McHenry & Poppleton streets.

 It was only after the train was loaded at Mt. Claire that violence had erupted. Citizens scrambled atop the cars and beat on the roofs. Bricks and bottles were thrown, glass was shattered and men were spat upon.

 As the engine pulled the troops out of town, Brown could not help but feel that disaster had been narrowly averted. The city had been lucky this time. But how long would its luck hold out?

 On his desk lay that morning’s edition of the Baltimore Sun. As Brown scanned its headlines, he could see the flames of war beginning to engulf the nation. He hoped to somehow keep Baltimore out of it.

 The Sun carried stories announcing Virginia’s secession, certain to bolster rebel sympathizers; Secretary of State Seward’s rejection of Confederate emissaries on the grounds that the rebelling states did not constitute a foreign government, which would give cheer to Unionists; and more details regarding the fall of Ft. Sumter, which was sure to excite both parties.

 Also in the Sun that day were the proclamations of Brown and Governor Thomas Holliday Hicks. These appealed for calm, and Hicks’ statement contained within it the promise that no Maryland troops would leave its territory. An editorial also urged the city of 200,000 to keep the peace, and called for a mediated end to the “apparent division among us”. It went on to predict that, if war did commence, abolitionism and Black Republicanism would not be enough motivation for troops far from home.

 Local incidents relating to the “war excitement” abounded, and Brown, reading it all, felt at the center of the hurricane. A few days of quiet would be worth a fortune right about now, he thought.

 Just then, the door to his office burst open, and three gentlemen, all Baltimore city councilmen, hurried inside. Seeing Brown at his desk, they crossed the room, almost out of breath.

 “We have a message from Marshal Kane” said the man in front. “He is on his way to Camden-street station. More troops are coming in, this time from Philadelphia. They’re due at President-street station soon, very soon, and they are to move by Pratt Street.” He paused to breathe. “They might already be in the city.”

 Brown rose from his desk and brushed past the men toward the door. “Have the board of police been made aware of this?” he said as he moved out into the drizzle that had been falling since before dawn. “I have no idea.” said the man. “Then please indicate to Marshal Kane that I will be en route to Camden-street station as soon as I have conferred with the board.”

 Closing the door to the law office behind him, Brown, a small man with a neatly trimmed moustache and an air of sophistication about him, stepped down onto the wet pavement and hurried toward the board of police building. On the way he met up with George M. Gill, counselor of the city, and asked him if he would accompany him to Camden-street station. Gill assented and then went about the task of procuring a carriage to transport the two of them to the station. By the time one had been obtained, Brown was emerging from the board of police building, and the two of them climbed into the carriage and made their way south toward Camden-street at a rapid pace.

 As their train approached Baltimore, Colonel Edward F. Jones, the commander of the 6th Massachusetts Militia, had 20 rounds of ammunition distributed to each soldier and warned his men of the trouble ahead. 

 “The regiment will march through Baltimore in column of sections, arms at will. You will undoubtedly be insulted, abused, and perhaps assaulted, to which you must pay no attention whatever, but will march with your faces square to the front, and pay no attention to the mob, even if they throw stones, bricks or other missiles; but if you are fired upon and any one of you is hit…” He paused here for effect, gazing around the silent car into the faces of his raw troops. “…your officers will order you to fire. Do not fire into any promiscuous crowds, but select any man whom you may see aiming at you – and be sure you drop him.”

 By the time the cars bearing the 6th Massachusetts, and ten unarmed companies of Pennsylvania volunteers (who were still in civilian clothes), rolled into President Street Station that morning, plans had changed. Col. Jones had been persuaded to have his regiment taken to Camden Station by rail car, rather than parade them through the streets of a city teetering on the edge of chaos. A large, unruly crowd was already gathering there, and it flowed back to Pratt Street, where the cars would pass on their way to Camden Station.

 At 11:00AM, the cars were uncoupled from the train, teams of horses hitched to the front of each, and the journey begun. As the troops were pulled down President Street and onto Pratt, they saw Col. Jones’ vision come to life before them. Cheer after cheer went up for Jefferson Davis and the Southern Confederacy, and boos cascaded down upon the names of Abraham Lincoln and the Federal Union.

 Leaving at frequent intervals and keeping a quick pace, the first nine cars passed unmolested, and then fate intervened. Inexplicably, the brake on the tenth car became engaged as it crossed Commerce Street, and a large box containing the hated Yankee soldiers suddenly squealed to a halt before the enraged crowd. Taking this as some sort of sign, stones and bricks now became missiles, crashing through the windows of the car and sending explosions of jagged glass into the faces of the Massachusetts boys.

 Panicking, the driver hitched the horses to the rear of the car, and beat a hasty retreat back down Pratt Street, delighting the crowd, which continued to stone the car as it went. 

 At Gay Street, a small but growing knot of people busied themselves with a new task. Laborers had been repaving Pratt Street at this point, and now the paving stones were carried to the tracks, and a barricade began to be erected. Someone discovered a cart of sand and it was dumped on the pile, as were a number of anchors that were procured from the docks nearby, apparently with the help of blacks employed on Southern schooners laying up there. Others tore up the street itself, and a stretch of about fifty yards was rendered unusable.

 At Camden Station, Brown and Gill arrived to find the large, thickly bearded Police Marshal Kane, with his officers, keeping a large and angry mob at bay. The line of rail cars carrying the advance companies of the 6th Massachusetts were just arriving, as were the police commissioners, who had followed the Mayor to Camden Street. One of the commissioners indicated to Kane that he was to use the entire Baltimore police force, if necessary, to maintain order and to protect the troops. “They will be protected, even if I and my entire force should have to sacrifice our lives”, replied Kane.

  The light rain that had been falling all morning tapered off, and it seemed to the mayor as though the crowds were swelling with the improved weather. A report now came to Brown that rebel sympathizers were destroying the tracks south of the city, and he instructed Kane to assemble a squad of men to investigate the matter.

 As the last of the nine cars pulled into the station, Brown asked Kane, “Are there any more than this?” Kane did not know. Brown saw no more rail traffic on Pratt Street, and repeated the inquiry many times, but no one seemed to be sure. He wondered if it was safe to relax. Then, in the distance, Brown saw a young man he recognized to be a police officer sprinting toward himself and Police Commissioner Davis.

 “They’re tearing up the street! The mob has created a barricade in the center of Pratt Street, near Gay. The cars cannot pass. They have returned to President-street station.”

 “There are more cars? How many?”

 “I’m not sure, sir. But it is more than a few, of that I’m certain. Sergeant McComas and I attempted to clear the obstruction, but were driven off by the mob. He sent me here to get help.”

 Brown quickly found Marshal Kane in the bedlam and updated him on the situation. “Kane, I want you to collect a sufficient force and to move on Pratt Street with all possible haste. I fear that we have not yet seen the worst of this day.” With that, Brown raced off alone and on foot, heading east on Pratt Street toward the growing sound of disorder.

 Left sitting in their rail cars at President Street Station were companies C, D, I, and L of the 6th Massachusetts (a total of 240 men), their regimental band and the unarmed Pennsylvania boys. Outside of the station, an increasingly large and threatening tumult howled. Just as it seemed that the multitude would rush the cars, a police detachment arrived and placed itself between the throng and the soldiers.

 Seeing this, the order was given by the officers and the troops left the train, amidst much shoving and taunting from the crowd. As they formed up two abreast on the walkway next to the cars, a series of cheers was heard on the street, and the men could plainly see that someone was moving through the sea of humanity toward them, holding high the palmetto flag of South Carolina.

 Then, suddenly, the flag disappeared. Someone, presumably a Union man, had wrested the rebel colors from the bearer, but after a brief scuffle, the Union man was chased away, the flag reattached its pole and the banner resumed its place above the crowd.

 Now in command of the troops was Captain A.S. Follansbee of Company C. He ordered his unit forward toward President Street, but the mob with the flag refused to yield. Seeking to avoid a confrontation, he turned his men south, looking to find another way out, but was once again cut off by the crowd. Frustrated, he reordered his men into columns of four, and during the maneuver, the back line of four were briefly separated from their comrades, but fought their way back in, with the help of nearby police.

 With this broader front, and with a number of police running interference, the 6th Massachusetts was able to move out onto President Street and begin its arduous trip north to Pratt Street. The group with the palmetto flag took its place at the head of the column, and the Federal soldiers were forced to march behind the rebel flag.

 The column had not marched a hundred yards when a second attempt was made on the rebel flag at Fawn Street, with the attacker forced to hide amidst the troops for protection from the angry mob, which now began to hurl paving stones at the men. An especially large one struck militiaman William Patch in the back, and he was knocked to the ground, where a group of assailants leapt upon him and beat him mercilessly. His musket was ripped from his hands and given to a police officer. The Civil War had claimed its first casualty.

 At Stiles Street, two more Massachusetts men were knocked down by flying stones. One was able to rejoin his unit, while the other had to be whisked away by friendly hands to avoid the wrath of the crowd.

Rather than endure this shower of stones, Follansbee ordered his men to advance at the ‘double-quick’, which to the mob looked a lot like fleeing, and this only incited them more. As one group chased after them from President Street, another waited for them behind obstructions on the Pratt Street Bridge over the Jones Falls, and as the soldiers approached, they opened up with a rain of bricks and stones of their own. 

Follansbee, seeing his command pummeled by stones and bricks, watching his men dragged off to an unknown fate, and completely cut off from assistance, had had enough. He turned his men to face the mob, and then ordered them to fire upon the crowd.

Screams and groans were heard from those encircling the soldiers, and many of the rioters fell to the ground, dead or wounded. One soldier’s musket failed to fire, and it was snatched from him by one of the mob, who proceeded to run the man through with his own bayonet.

Among the dead was William R. Clark, a firefighter with the No. 1 Hook & Ladder Company, who was shot through the head; James Myers of Fayette Street, with a minie ball in the right side of his back; and John McCann of 2 N. Bond Street.

Follansbee ordered the column to face forward and quickly got his unit moving forward again. The crowd gave way, and the soldiers advanced, climbing over piles of debris on the bridge. 

 As the exhausted George Brown neared the Gay Street dock, he slowed his pace and tried to take in the scene before him. In the center of the street, on top of the transit rails, was a pile of dirt and anchors. A few dozen people were milling around, watched closely by a handful of policemen, who seemed to be doing only that. Occasionally, someone would shout, “Hurrah for Jeff Davis!” or “Three cheers for the Southern Confederacy!” More than a few of the rabble appeared to be drunk.

As Brown grew close, many in the mob recognized him, and the mass of insurgents drifted away from the pile. Thank God my authority still means something here, Brown thought.

“Sergeant! Clear this obstruction from the street!” the Mayor barked. Sergeant McComas immediately sprang to life, and he, along with the other policeman there, began to drag anchors from the road. Several of the throng, rather than resist, now joined in, helping the officers in their task. Brown watched in amazement. Reflexive politeness, it occurred to him, was able to survive even in this atmosphere.

 Brown’s attention was suddenly drawn further down Pratt Street, where it appeared as though the riot was in full effect, and a great multitude had gathered. He heard shouting in the midst of a larger mingled roar, and objects flying through the air, giving the illusion of a flock of birds hovering above the tumult. Then he heard the volley of muskets.

Without hesitation, he once more raced toward trouble, and momentarily considered the possibility that he could be mistaken for an attacker and shot on sight. As a precaution, he slowed to a trot and then a brisk walk as he approached the troops, who, he now saw, were running toward him, with the mob in chase. Behind him, Brown heard people yelling “Here comes the mayor!” and “The mayor is with us!” He hoped the soldiers heard it too.

“I am the mayor of Baltimore” Brown said to the officer at the head of the column, offering his hand. Follansbee hurriedly shook the mayor’s hand and said nothing. Brown, already out of breath, joined the Follansbee at the front, jogging beside him, and quickly wished for them to stop running. Over their shoulders, they could hear pistol shots, and the cries of wounded men, apparently shot from the ranks as they ran. The troops returned fire intermittently, and at Frederick Street, a Mr. Flannery was mortally wounded; near Gay Street, a man named Maloney was shot and killed.

“Captain, please, I entreat you, do not fire upon the people again, as it only inflames them more. And I fear that having your men move at such a pace gives the impression of fear, and incites the crowd. Could you not move at a more controlled step?” Follansbee turned and looked Brown in the eye, and the mayor wasn’t sure if he was considering the suggestion, or if he was about to run him through with his sword.

The captain turned to face his men, running backwards without breaking stride. “Route step!” The order was echoed down the column. Awkwardly, bumping into each other as they slowed, the Massachusetts men stopped running, and began to walk normally. The pursuing horde stopped running as well, being careful to stay behind the soldiers and their muskets.

For a few blocks, the change of pace seemed to work, and the crowd was restrained. At Commerce Street, however, the ugliness resurfaced as individuals began reaching out to snatch flags and muskets from the hands of the soldiers.  James Keenan, of Company L, had his musket ripped from his hands and was then shot through the stomach. Falling out of the ranks, he was carried away by Unionists to a doctor’s office.

Once again paving stones and bricks filled the air, crashing into soldiers and citizens indiscriminately. Private Sumner H. Needham suffered a crushing head wound and was carried into the bookstore of T.N. Kurtz at 181 Pratt Street, where he soon died.  Kirk Hatch, visiting the city from Philadelphia, was struck on the head by a brick and seriously injured. Reacting to the pandemonium, the troops started firing at will. Many people reported seeing a badly wounded old man carried away, and a Mr. James Carr had his knee destroyed by a bullet.

Phillip Thomas Miles, age 19, who lived at 337 W. Fayette Street, was shot through the navel as the melee passed South Street, and soon died. Andrew Robbins, a volunteer from Stonington, Massachusetts, was shot in the back of the neck, and collapsed in the street. He was seen being carried to the drugstore of Jesse S. Hunt, at the corner of Pratt and Charles Streets. Snipers now fired at the soldiers from windows and rooftops.

The column fired another volley into the crowd as it neared Light Street, and more blood was spilled. A boy named William Reed, who was a hand on board the oyster sloop “Wild Pigeon”, was shot through the abdomen, and later died on the ship. Another young man, Patrick Griffin, was shot through the intestines while watching the riot from the door of the Green House on Pratt Street, where he worked.

Just past Light Street, a boy handed Mayor Brown a musket that he had found. The weapon was still warm and smoking. Brown, not wanting to be seen as a combatant, left the column and took the musket to the closest shop for safekeeping. Even so, many people saw him with the gun, and later accounts had him either shooting a soldier or shooting a citizen, depending on who was telling the story.

Some in the crowd, seeking to arm themselves even further, broke into gun shops and looted them. J.C.J. Meyer’s establishment at 14 W. Pratt Street was hit, as was the shop of Alexander McComas at 51 S. Calvert Street.

Finally, a squad of about fifty police officers under the command of Marshal Kane arrived on the scene, and placed itself behind the 6th Massachusetts, between the mob and the soldiers. With pistols drawn, the constables shouted warnings such as “Stay back or I’ll shoot!” and “Stand clear! Let them pass!”

The attacks of the crowd became less furious and more sporadic, but continued nonetheless. As the clock tower of Camden Station came into view, the column increased its pace, with soldiers pausing only to fire quick volleys at Howard Street and again at Camden Street. Then, with the train at last in sight, there was a final mad dash for the waiting cars, which the Federal troops gratefully scrambled aboard.

Settling into their seats, the Massachusetts volunteers watched as the mob surrounded them, hurling oaths and stones, and the soldiers replied by firing their muskets through the shattered windows. A police commissioner suggested that the shades be drawn, and an officer gave the order.

At 12:45 in the afternoon, thirteen cars containing the 6th Massachusetts Militia, minus 130 of their comrades (including the regimental band) slowly chugged its way southbound out of Camden Station. A continuing shower of stones chased the train from the city. 

Only a few minutes out of the station, Robert W. Davis, with the firm of Paymer, Davis & Company, dry good merchants on Baltimore Street, was on Eutaw Street, inspecting some property he was considering buying near the present day site of Oriole Park. As the train passed, he shook his fist at it, and a soldier in one of the cars dropped him with a musket ball. He died not long after.

A short time after this, word began to spread that the famous New York Seventh Regiment would be arriving at President Street Station at 3 PM that afternoon, and the carnival quickly moved east down Pratt Street. Upon arriving at President Street, the mob instead discovered fourteen rail cars containing the 6th Massachusetts’ regimental band and the 1000 unarmed Pennsylvania volunteers, still awaiting orders.

 Wasting no time, the crowd began to stone these cars, shattering windows and wounding soldiers with the flying glass. Once the windows had been knocked out, the stones flew directly into the cars, and over twenty of the troops were badly injured.

In the middle of this melee, Marshal Kane arrived with General Egerton of the Maryland Militia, a unit which was well known for its Southern leanings. “They are going back to Philadelphia!” Kane shouted. “Stop! You have carried the day. They are going north again! For the love of God, stop!”

Having won a victory, the mob relented for a time, but then grew impatient. Soon, renewed attacks began on the cars, worse than before. In addition to the hurling of missiles, people now scampered onto the roofs of the cars, using an iron bar to create a hole in the metal. It now appeared as if the cars would be stormed by the rioters, and that hand to hand fighting would ensue.

At this moment, a force of Unionists poured out of Mechanics Row, the area that is now known as Little Italy, and attacked the Rebel mob. As the battle raged on President Street, the band and the Pennsylvanians abandoned their precarious position, musical instruments and luggage and squeezed their way inside windowless freight cars, quickly bolting the doors.

Not all of the troops made it inside, however, and about 110 were left to seek shelter inside the Eastern Station House, where they were protected by Baltimore police officers.

At just past 2:30 PM, an engine was attached to the shattered train, and it started north, returning to Philadelphia the way it had come earlier that day.

In the days that followed, Mayor Brown (supposedly with the consent of Governor Hicks, who would later dispute this) ordered key rail bridges between Baltimore and the North destroyed, preventing the further passage of troops through the city. A siege-like atmosphere prevailed in the streets, as the dubious concept of “armed neutrality” took hold.

The idea that Baltimore (or Maryland, for that matter) could opt out of the war ended just a few weeks later when, in the early morning hours of May 13th, General Benjamin Butler’s Federal troops entered the city during a heavy rain, and occupied Federal Hill. Butler immediately declared martial law in the city, securing it for the North.

Within months, Mayor George Brown, Police Marshal Kane, and much of the Maryland State Legislature would find themselves imprisoned at Fort McHenry, labeled as “southern sympathizers”. The secession crisis was over.  Maryland would stay in the Union. 


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