A Riot in Baltimore

By Richard P. Howe Jr.

Mass State House Mural
Massachusetts State House mural

At the top of the stairs leading to the third floor rotunda of the Massachusetts State House, just outside the chamber of the House of Representatives, a colorful mural, ten feet high and fifteen feet long, depicts the soldiers of the Lowell-based Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia Regiment standing beneath the flags of the United States and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, desperately fighting an angry, well-armed mob of civilians in the streets of Baltimore.  The mural’s inscription, signed in 1919 by Governor Calvin Coolidge explains:

Marching through Baltimore in 1861 on the Historic 19th of April, true to the tradition of their own Lexington and Concord, defending the Constitution and the Union and carrying freedom to all who live beneath the stars and stripes.

Killed in that engagement were four soldiers from the Sixth Regiment  – Luther Ladd and Addison Whitney of Lowell, Sumner Needham of Lawrence and Charles Taylor whose residence remains unknown .  Despite four more years of fighting and 750,000 additional deaths, the State House mural and the city of Lowell’s iconic Ladd and Whitney Monument provide powerful evidence that intervening generations attributed great significance to the events in Baltimore on April 19, 1861. 

The Sixth Regiment’s road to Baltimore began on 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861 when South Carolina militia opened fire on Fort Sumter which sat in the middle of Charleston Harbor with 85 American troops inside.  After 34 hours of battering, the Federal garrison surrendered on April 14.  The next day, President Lincoln requested Northern governors to provide 75,000 state militia to suppress the rebellion.  Massachusetts was the first to act.  By April 19, 1861, four full regiments of well-equipped militia had left the Commonwealth, bound for points south.  The first to go was the Lowell-based Sixth Regiment.

‘Lawrence Guard’ re-enactors march in Baltimore, April, 2011

The regiment’s eight companies – four from Lowell, two from Lawrence and one each from Acton and Groton – left Lowell on April 16.  After spending that night in Boston where three independent companies were attached, the reinforced regiment set out for Washington the next afternoon.  After passing through New York City and Philadelphia, the train bearing the Sixth Regiment arrived at Baltimore’s President Street Station at 11 a.m. on April 19, 1861.

To continue on to Washington, the Sixth Regiment had to make its way more than a mile through the streets of Baltimore to Camden Station.   As the Massachusetts troops marched through the city, a large mob of southern sympathizers blocked their path.   Bricks and then bullets soon followed the insults of the crowd.  Four soldiers were killed; thirty-one were wounded.  The men of the Sixth returned fire, killing twelve and wounding an untold number of civilians.  After reaching the relative safety of Camden Station, the regiment reformed and continued on to Washington where its men were welcomed as heroes and housed in the Senate chamber.

Ladd & Whitney monument
Ladd and Whitney monument, downtown Lowell

The riot in Baltimore gave the Sixth Massachusetts an early prominence that was eclipsed by the enormous scope of the war and that regiment’s limited participation in it.  At the time, however, Ladd, Whitney, Taylor and Needham were seen as “the first martyrs of the great rebellion” and provided the North with symbols to rally around.   The bodies of Ladd and Whitney were returned to Lowell where a memorial service attracted what was said to be the largest gathering in the city’s history.  The granite obelisk that bears the name of the two deceased soldiers was to be dedicated on the fourth anniversary of the Baltimore riot but that event was postponed when President Lincoln was assassinated just days before.  The Ladd and Whitney monument was instead dedicated on June 17, 1865, Bunker Hill Day.  The monument still stands in front of Lowell City Hall, a constant reminder of the sacrifice of two young mill workers from Lowell whose bodies are entombed beneath its granite base.

Richard P. Howe Jr. is the Register of Deeds of the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds.  He is a graduate of Providence College and Suffolk University Law School and holds an MA in History from Salem State University.  In the early 1980s, he served as a US Army Intelligence Officer in Germany.

  Mr. Howe is the creator of richardhowe.com, a widely read blog about Lowell history and politics.  Three years ago, he succeeded the late Catherine Goodwin as the official tour guide of Lowell Cemetery.  He has lectured frequently on the American Civil War and its impact on the city of Lowell and surrounding communities.

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