Baltimore Riot of 1861
On April 19, 1861 in Baltimore, Maryland the Baltimore Riot of 1861 also known at the Pratt Street Riot or the Pratt Street Massacre occurred. The participants were Confederate sympathizers and members of the Massachusetts Militia who were en route to Washington, D.C. to report for federal service. This is considered by many historians as the first engagement of the Civil War which resulted in bloodshed.
The Civil War for all practical purposes had begun the week before on April 12th with the Confederate batteries firing on Ft. Sumter. At this point four southern states had yet to secede. They were: Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas. There were other slave states that did not secede but at the time it wasn’t guaranteed that they would remain in the Union although eventually they would. They are: Delaware, Maryland, Missouri and Kentucky.
Many influential Marylanders were supportive of secession dating back to the days of John C. Calhoun and the Nullification Crisis thirty years prior.
The secession movement was very popular in Maryland and in Baltimore in particular especially after President Lincoln called up for troops from the states for 90 days to repel the insurrection. In fact, during the Election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln only received 1,100 votes out of over 30,000 votes cast in the city of Baltimore alone.
Needless to say Baltimore was a hotbed o secession activity and the only way to get to Washington, D.C. by train at the time was through Baltimore.
On April 18th, a unit of militiamen from Pennsylvania came through Baltimore and anti-Union forces were surprised and not ready but they vowed to be ready the next time this happened.
The next day, on April 19th, the anti-Union forces would get their chance. The Union’s Sixth Massachusetts Regiment was attempting to transfer between stations when a mob of secessionists attacked the train cars and blocked the route.
When it became apparent that they could not proceed the soldiers disembarked from the train and proceeded to march through Baltimore on foot.
The mob followed the soldiers. They threw rocks, bricks and even fired pistols at them. At this point the soldiers started firing into the crowd and a general melee occurred between the soldiers, the secessionists and even the Baltimore Police who were trying to put a buffer between the two groups.
The soldiers finally made it to Camden Station but they had to leave most of their equipment behind.
Four soldiers were killed in the attack; Corporal Sumner Needham, Privates Luther C. Ladd, Charles Taylor and Addison Whitney. Twelve civilians were also killed and the total wounded is unknown.
After the riot some small skirmishes occurred through Baltimore and the rest of Maryland for the next month. Both the Mayor of Baltimore and the Governor of Maryland begged President Lincoln to ovoid sending troops through Baltimore. Lincoln replied that there was no other way to Washington by rail except through Baltimore so their request was denied.
On April 20th, more Massachusetts troops under the command of General Benjamin Butler arrived in Annapolis via ship. Butler bullied the Governor to permit them to travel to Washington via the rail line leaving Annapolis.
There was a lot of support from residents for the legislature to declare secession in the wake of the riots. Since Annapolis was under control of Federal troops, the Governor had the legislature move to Fredrick, Maryland which was in the western part of the state and predominately unionist.
More Union troops began to arrive and on May 13th, Butler sent troops into Baltimore and declared martial law. He arrested the mayor, the city council and the police commissioner had had them incarcerated at Ft. McHenry because they were pro secession and were either unable or unwilling to maintain order.
The legislative session in Fredrick continued through all of this and several secession votes came up but were voted down because many legislators felt that they didn’t have the authority without approval of the citizens.
There was a plan to reconvene the legislature on September 17th; however on that day Federal troops arrested several pro secession members and the session was canceled due to a lack of a quorum.
As a result of these events, Delaware was occupied in the same manner as Maryland with the same results. Kentucky declared its neutrality even though later they decided to remain in the Union. Missouri remained in the Union camp but there were Confederate governments-in-exile established in Arkansas and Texas.
Even though this riot was small in nature to many of the battles of the Civil War, it was nonetheless extremely important.
In order for the Union to survive, its capital could not be surrounded by the Confederacy which was for all intents and purposes a hostile enemy.
There may have been some unconstitutional irregularities but considering the time it was quite necessary.