Friday, April 19, 1861
The Sixth Massachusetts was the first regiment raised that was fully armed and equipped for battle. They had rifled muskets, knapsacks, even a full brass band. The Sixth had been joined by some unarmed Pennsylvania militiamen in Philadelphia. As the 36-car train pulled into the President Street Station, a small crowd met them, throwing nothing but jeers and hisses in their direction.
Traveling by rail through Baltimore was a strange event. A train didn’t simply pass through the city on its way south. After a train coming from the north pulled into the President Street Station, its cars were split up and pulled through the town by horses to the Camden Street Station, nearly a mile and a half away.
Before pulling into the station, word had reached Colonel Edward Jones, commander of the Sixth, that their passage through Baltimore might be contested. He ordered his men to have their arms ready, but cautioned them to ignore the crowds, even if they threw projectiles. They were warned not to shoot into the crowd and to only fire if they were fired upon and then to take specific aim at the gunman.
Jones also believed that his men would be marching from station to station, rather than riding in the horse-drawn rail car. He was, however, mistaken in this. As usual, the cars were decoupled and hitched up like wagons. The first eight cars made their way through Baltimore, as rocks and bricks broke their windows. The militiamen were rattled, but arrived unharmed at the train waiting for them at Camden Street.
The car carrying Company K was derailed near the Camden Street Station by the crowd, who threw rocks at the windows. Some soldiers were hit and then ordered to lie down. A few shots rang out from the crowd; one hit a soldier, shooting off his thumb. The order was then given to fire at will upon the crowd. Company K poked their musket barrels through the broken windows of the train car and fired. As this firefight continued, some of the crowd ripped up the tracks. This forced Company K to quickly detrain, form column and proceed as quickly as possible to the station, 200 yards away. They made it with only minor casualties.
The remaining cars, with about 200 of the Sixth (and their band, plus the unarmed Pennsylvanians), were left stranded at the President Street Station. The remaining men of the Sixth were ordered off the cars and to march through the city on foot, mostly via Pratt Street. Here, the mob surged forward, hurling rocks, paving stones and insults at the men. Some of the crowd grabbed at the soldier’s guns, but still the militiamen did not fire.
At Fawn Street, two soldiers were badly injured by rocks. Still, the soldiers, now at the double-quick, did not fire. The mob was enraged and pistol shots rang out. Private Luther Ladd, only seventeen years old, was struck by a rock and fell to the ground. His gun was seized by someone in the mob who shot and killed him. With this, the order to “Fire!” was given to the Sixth. They obeyed and several in the crowd fell.
Baltimore’s mayor attempted to quell the violence by marching at the front of the troops. He hoped the crowd would respect him. As he marched in the front of the column, the crowd attacked the rear. It was more bullets than rocks at this point. Men on both sides fell, many were badly wounded, some were dead.
The police formed a line between the mob and the soldiers, which allowed the soldiers to race to their waiting train. The fight was over. Four soldiers and twelve citizens were killed. Col. Jones, with all of his regiment with him (except the band), ordered the train to leave for Washington. It arrived in the capital later that evening.
As for the Pennsylvania soldiers, their cars were attacked and they scattered. It’s possible that five were killed and at least 13 seriously wounded. They never made it to Washington and were never mustered into service.1
That night in Washington, after the Sixth Massachusetts had found their camp for the night (in the Senate Chamber), a company of Washington militia, under orders from the Government, stormed the telegraph office and demanded the operators to leave. All communication to and from the capital was halted, not by rebels cutting telegraph lines, but by the United States government themselves.2
- This whole incident was taken from Baltimore and the Nineteenth of April 1861: a Study of the War by George William Brown (the city’s mayor at the time), 1887. Additional information was taken from Dissonance by David Detzer. [↩]
- The Military Telegraph During the Civil War in the United States, Volume 1 by William Rattle Plum, Jansen, McClurg & Company, 1882. [↩]