Bashing Through Baltimore

Checked out the first "battlefield" of the civil war by doing a quick bash through Baltimore on a beautiful fall afternoon. The inner harbor swarmed with tourists, and live entertainment surges all around as I wait for traffic to pass long enough to step out into the street and take the pictures that I want.

Federal Hill as seen from the inner harbor

This beautiful inner harbor is the location of the Baltimore Riot of 1861.

First of all, keep in mind that Baltimore's nickname is "Mobtown." Baltimore likes it rough, and even today it owns one of the countries highest murder rates. I always joke that when the police respond to a car accident, they spend the first 20 minutes setting up routes of escape and laying down cover fire. I've been all over Baltimore in the last couple of years of living and working on the outskirts, and it's a hard nosed town. Easy to forget that in the tourist friendly inner harbor area, but you go a short distance in any direction from here, and you're up into some mean streets.

Baltimore in the years up to the 1860s knew rioting and violence, with street gangs such as the Plug Uglies starting in the west end, the Know Nothings, and a host of other political organizations/street gangs.

Even President-elect Lincoln slipped through the town incognito a day early to avoid the ugly mob that showed up when his arrival had been expected.

The view of Baltimore and the inner harbor from Federal Hill

When Union troops built a fort overlooking Baltimore's Inner Harbor on Federal Hill, the guns were trained on Baltimore. Fort McHenry at the mouth of could handle the Confederate Navy; Federal hill was fortified to subdue Baltimore, and keep it quiet.

Not to protect it.

Because Baltimore had pro-southern leanings. The mayor, the police chief, the city council all supported the southern states.

Now, April 19, 1861.

Federal troops have not yet built the Fort on Federal Hill.

President Lincoln has called for volunteers to suppress the rebellion, and some of the first units formed are traveling from New York to Washington D.C.

They leave by train from New York to the cheers of the crowd gathered to see them off, but each soldier knows there is trouble ahead.

Baltimore has already had demonstrations and protests about the war, and the soldiers must have felt the fear in their bellies as their train began to slow and lurch into the President street station.

President Street Station. Where the soldiers arrived, this was the main office and entrance to the passenger trains. The locomotive tracks would have been running off to the left in this picture, and the horse drawn tracks would have run down the center of this road. Abraham Lincoln would have traveled this exact same route when he came through Baltimore after his election.

You see, you couldn't just ride through Baltimore on a train. Baltimore was the end of the line from P, W & B line from New York, and since locomotives were banned on city streets, the rail cars were hooked up to teams of horses, and pulled across the city one at a time to the B & O railway station at Camden (yes, today's baseball stadium) to go on to Washington.

The station and track layout in 1861. You can see the tracks that would have been used to draw the cars out of the station and into the streets. The little brown structure in this model is the main station entrance in the picture above

So the soldiers, from the 6th Mass. regiment, waited anxiously at the station, as their railway cars were hooked to teams of horses, and drawn laboriously across the waterfront. Corporal Sumner Needham told another soldier "We shall have trouble today, and I shall never get out alive."

The mob watching the soldiers grew agitated, and bold, believing that the soldiers were not armed with bullets.

One by one, the first cars left the station, to the shouts and curses of the mob running along outside and thronging the route. As the seventh car approached the Jones Falls Bridge, Confederate sympathizers dragged an anchor and other objects onto the rails, derailing the car.

Contemporary sketch of the Jones Falls bridge. Note the railway tracks in the center of the bridge.

The same location today

Major Benjamin Watson braved the crowd, going out and commandeering a team of horses to put the car back on the rails, as the mob hurled bricks and stones through the windows of the car. The soldiers took what shelter they could on the floor of the car, as Watson order them to "lie still and ignore the assault, as they are not being fired upon." After a bullet from outside tore through the car and severed one soldiers thumb, he authorized them to return fire.

The remaining cars, finding the passage now blocked, returned to the station.

Regimental Commander Col. Edward Jones sent orders for the remaining four companies to march across the city and rejoin the command a quickly as possible.

Led by Captain Albert Follansbee, they began to march in formation across the city, surrounded on all sides by the mob that had derailed the previous car, and now taunted them, and threw stones and bricks at them.

Unfurling a Palmetto flag, a symbol of secession, several Southern sympathizers began marching at the front of the column, insulting and mocking the troops by forcing them to follow a Southern banner. A fusillade of rocks knocked down two soldiers, near the intersection of President and Fawn Street.

The view intersection of President and Fawn street. The soldiers would have been marching from right to left in this picture.

Now, these are American soldiers.

They'll stay in rank.

You can throw rocks at them, shoot at them, even kill them, but you can't humiliate them.

That's not gonna fly.

Furious and goaded too far, Lieutenant Leander Lynde leaves the ranks, and seizes the Palmetto flag. He tears it from its staff, and stuffs it into his shirt.

Whether it's the look in his eye, or some other happy fortune, no one touches him as he rejoins his company.

The soldiers marched towards you in this picture, then turned to your right (their left) towards the Jones Falls Bridge.

They reach the Jones Falls Bridge blockade, which now includes a cannon aimed at them, and climb over the obstructions.

As they pass Gay Street, a soldier is struck by a missile and falls to the ground, dropping his musket. As it clatters to the ground, a man in the mob grabs it, and fired it into the column of soldiers. As others in the crowd handed him bullets, and showed him how to reload, the rest of the mob attacked the column of soldiers, with rocks, bricks, and gunfire. One man tried to seize the regimental flag, and the troops now began to return fire, killing William Clark, a Confederate soldier in Baltimore on his own way south to join the war.

This is where the mob assaulted the soldiers, beating two to death in the street, shooting two more, and wounding others.

The soldiers were ordered to march at double time, and it became a running gun battle, with two soldiers shot and killed, while two others, including Corporal Needham, were knocked from the ranks and beaten to death by the enraged mob.

On the left in this display case is a bayonet with markings indicating that is was the property of the 6th Mass. regiment, that was dropped in the melee and picked up and kept by a civilian. 

The soldiers marched double time away from you in this picture, the rear files firing back in this direction.

The soldiers reloaded as they hurried down the streets, dragging their muskets between their legs as they rammed home fresh cartridges, the stocks clattering on the stones of the road. Over the next few hundred feet the rear files turned and fired to keep their pursuers at a distance, and at last, the mayor and the police chief showed up with help to hold the mob back, as the soldiers entered Camden station under the protective fire of the remainder of the regiment.

Camden Station, and safety.

Repercussions from the riot are hard to measure. Both the North and South were outraged, for predictable reasons.

In the aftermath, the mayor had all railroad bridges leading into Baltimore destroyed to prevent more troops passing through, Baltimore was forcibly occupied by Union troops, habeas corpus was suspended and the city put under martial law, the mayor, city council, and police commissioner were arrested.

Maryland legislators suspected of secessionist sentiments were arrested without cause, and the state of Delaware also forcibly occupied.

Arkansas and Tennessee seceded shortly after, perhaps influenced by what was seen as a heavy handed Union response to the riot.

When I left the battle area, I went over to check out the last boat still floating from the Civil war, the Babe Ruth birthplace, and the grave of Edgar Allen Poe, but I'll save that for another post!

Posted by Indiana Reb on: Tuesday 19th September 2006, 2:16 PM

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