The appearance of Edward Jones outside the Post Office in Lowell, Mass. sent shockwaves through town that day in April, 1861. Jones, 33, was the colonel of the 6th Massachusetts Militia, one of four units ordered by the governor to respond to President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 men. His regiment – a military unit of about 1,000 men - was urgently needed in Washington to bolster the weak federal force defending it. Jones was to report to Boston with his men as soon as possible for transport to the front.
Lowell was a mill city at the spearhead of the industrial revolution. In thirty years, it had grown from a small village into a sprawling metropolis of over 36,000 residents. Its primary industry was the production of cotton cloth. A maze of canals criss-crossed the city to drive the waterwheels of ten enormous mill complexes, which lined the Merrimack River for almost a mile. Little interrupted the operation of the mills, which were kept running twelve hours a day, six days a week, but the news that war had begun changed that.
Church bells rang out in alarm and the normally quiet evening streets resonated with the sound of racing hoofs as officers and couriers spread the news of the call-up. The same paths that Paul Revere had traveled 86 years earlier, almost to the day, were alive again with the tramp of militiamen. As darkness enveloped the town, hundreds of men filled the streets to say farewell to loved ones before making their way to the town’s armories.
Among the soldier-citizens preparing for the next day’s departure was 17-year-old Private Luther Ladd. In four days, Luther would become the first soldier struck down in the cause of preserving the Union. Luther had grown up in New Hampshire on a farm at the base of Old Cardigan Mountain, far up the Merrimack River from Lowell. When he was 7, his mother died, leaving his father to raise him and his six sisters. Luther nearly followed his mother to the grave a few years later, when he fell off the roof of his house, but he was nursed back to health by his sisters. By the age of 16, he had begun to show a strong interest in machinery, and with his father’s permission, he set off to Lowell, where three of his sisters already worked in the mills. There, Luther learned the skills needed to become a mechanic. He also was an ardent student of history and had been closely following the events unfolding in the South. Anticipating that a conflict was soon to come, he enlisted in Company D of the 6th Massachusetts Infantry, the Lowell City Guards. When news came that Fort Sumter had been attacked, he was ready.
The next morning dawned cold and dismal. Rain and sleet fell through the leafless trees, rendering the New England streets slick and muddy. Not all who had pledged to muster did so. Many with family or work obligations were unable or unwilling to leave their civilian responsibilities so quickly. Luther was not among them.
Shortly after dawn Luther was practicing drill with the other 50 or so men of his company. Since he was a minor, a brother-in-law offered to intercede on his behalf to help him escape his term of service, but Luther would hear nothing of it. After the drill, he traveled with fellow mechanic Charles Richardson to his place of employment, the Lowell Machine shop, to collect his pay.
An hour later, his company joined the rest of the regiment at Huntington Hall, an enormous three-story brick structure that served the dual purpose of town meeting place and railroad depot. The militia drew up in solid columns in front of a speaker’s stand while relatives and friends rapidly filled in the remaining space. A pastor read from the bible and prominent citizens addressed the soldiers. “Be temperate and be careful of yourselves for your country needs your services and cannot spare you.” one orator told them. At the close of the speeches the building shook with cheers for the soldiers and Colonel Jones. Then the men boarded a waiting train and steamed off for Boston.]3]
For the next three days, Luther and his comrades were treated to an almost continuous ovation. “Never did a regiment set out for war, under better auspices than the gallant sixth,” wrote one of Luther’s companions. In Boston residents braved the wind, rain and sleet to cheer on the regiment. On the nighttime train trip to New York City, towns were alight with the glow of immense bonfires in their honor. Huge crowds gathered on along the rails to shout support for the troops and the air was filled with the sound of ringing church bells and celebratory cannon fire. Whenever the train stopped, bands played on the platforms and people offered refreshments and coffee.
In New York, they were escorted by the Metropolitan Police through the city, fed lunch in the finest hotels and marched down Broadway to the wildest plaudits. Across the Hudson, thousands of Jersey City residents waited five hours for the regiment to arrive so they could escort them from the docks to the flag-draped railroad station. After sunset in Philadelphia, the welcoming crowds were so dense that the regiment could only pass through the masses two abreast.
In the two and a half days since leaving Lowell, they had been given little opportunity to rest. Fatigued and emotionally drained, Luther and his comrades turned in for the night at about 10 o’clock anticipating a long rest before the final leg of their journey to Washington. Their break would only last an hour.
Railroad officials told Jones that secessionist sympathizers in Baltimore were vowing to resist the passage of his men through the city with force and that he had to get through the city first thing in the morning. At 11 o’clock, the long roll sounded and the soldiers rolled out of their blankets. “Pretty long sleep I call that!” one soldier would write home, but he boasted, “…as about quick as lightning we were up and ready to go.” They marched down Philadelphia’s deserted streets and boarded a special night train for Baltimore.
In the preceding decade, Baltimore, the third largest city in the country, had earned the nickname Mob Town for its gang violence. . Gangs with names like the Pug Uglies and Blood Tubs armed themselves with awls, knifes, pick axes, pistols, sometimes even a cannon, and took their turf wars to the streets. Railroad strikes, corruption and racial violence – a third of Baltimore’s population was black– made the city more dangerous. Now outbreak of war added something else to fight about and the police force was exhausted. Its officers had spent the week keeping pro-northern and pro-southern forces apart. The Civil War may have started at Fort Sumter, but the fighting and dying would begin on the streets of Baltimore.
Midmorning April 19th, Luther’s train pulled into the President Street Station on the eastern side of Baltimore. The streets were eerily quiet. Almost immediately, horses were hitched up to the cars at the front of the train, and one by one, they began their journey to the Camden Station on the west side of town. But before they reached the car Luther was in, the horse teams stopped coming. A mob had blocked the route midway through town and driven off the teamsters. The 256 men of the remaining four companies were stranded, and an angry crowd had begun to form along side the train.
Two Baltimoreans advised Luther’s company commander, Captain Hart, that the only way to get to Camden Station was on foot. He odered the company to file out onto the street.
The crowd was now nearly a thousand strong. Some began to hoot at the northerners while others cheered for Jefferson Davis, the new president of the Confederacy. Luther slung on his backpack and with rifle in hand, stepped off the train into a barrage of screams and insults. “They called us everything but honest men,” recalled another member of the unit. Many in the crowd flaunted revolvers and Bowie knifes, threatening to kill every soldier who tried to pass through the city. Someone spit in the face of one corporal at the end of the line while another man kicked him. “Tears ran down his cheeks, and he was as pale as death,” recounted an onlooker. 
In a quick vote, the officers elected Captain Albert Follansbee to lead the detachment through the city. None of the officers knew how to get to Camden Station and Follansbee enlisted one of the few policemen on the scene to act as a guide. Reluctantly, the police officer agreed.
Just before the soldiers set off, several dozen more roughs arrived on the scene led by a large man with a South Carolina flag tied to a pole. The secessionist positioned himself directly in front of Captain Follansbee, and with an oath, planted the flag in the ground and dared him to touch it. Follansbee coolly brushed the man off, but a miffed Unionist in the crowd grabbed the flag and a scuffle ensued.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Follansbee gave the order for the column to move forward. Packed close together to prevent the crowd from breaking their ranks, the four companies stepped off. After only a few feet, the crowd pressed in on all sides and halted the column. With a little maneuvering and the help of a few police, Follansbee was able to get his column going again, but the large secessionist with the flag, after subduing the Unionist, took a place at the head of the column and obliged the northerners to bear the insult of following the rebel banner for several hundred feet up the street.
In only a few minutes, another attempt was made by Baltimore Unionists to take the Palmetto Flag, but they soon found themselves outmatched by the secessionists in the crowd and were violently attacked. Trying to escape their assailants, the pro-Union men sought shelter behind the marching militia, but their actions only resulted in a torrent of projectiles being thrown into the column.]6]
Unable to stand the insults any longer, a lieutenant in the lead company broke ranks, knocked down the man with the flag, tore it out of the secessionist’s hands, and returned to his place in line.
Capt. Follansbee could see the situation was deteriorating quickly and shouted to his men to double quick, but the appearance of the soldiers running from a fight only made the mob more frenzied. Everything that could be picked up was thrown at the militiamen. Only two blocks from the station, soldiers began to fall. Two who were unable to rise were swiftly dragged off to safety by police.
Another block further and pistol reports rang out simultaneously from the street and a second-story window. Two more men went down and the New Englanders momentarily scattered. “They assailed us from every direction, and with every kind of weapon--stones, sticks, brickbats, buckshot and pistol, and large logs of wood, from the house tops and alley-ways...” Officers urged their men to close up ranks to keep the mob from separating them. Then the policeman guiding the northerners was also knocked down.
At the head of the column, Captain Follansbee rounded the corner onto Pratt Street where, a block ahead, he saw rioters tearing up the planks on a bridge over the Jones Falls and using them to add to a barricade piled on the east side of the crossing. The leaders of the group could distinctly be heard ordering the rioters to hold their fire until the soldiers reached the bridge.
Now Follansbee took his lead men and rushed to the crossing with fixed bayonets, driving the mob back. Keeping their momentum, they scrambled over the barrier and balanced themselves on the stringers to get across the bridge.
A block behind Follansbee, the tail end of the column with Luther Ladd’s company was just rounding the corner onto Pratt Street when a heavy piece of iron was heaved off one of the rooftops. The metal crashed down on Luther’s head and he staggered forward a few feet before a rioter took his weapon and shot him in the thigh, severing an artery. Soldiers near Luther claimed to have heard him say, “All hail to the Stars and Stripes”, before he died. The young mechanic from Lowell is thought to be the first to die in the war’s fighting.
A moment later, another soldier had his weapon torn from his grasp and was killed by it. Now the breaking point had finally been reached. Several solders swung around and opened fire, and for a moment the mob receded, leaving several prostrate bodies on the ground. The men in the rear of the column had no way to remove the bodies of their comrades and took advantage of the brief pause to get to the bridge as the mob came rushing back. Again the troops fired. When the smoke faded, several more rioters lay in the street dead or dying while the rest fell back dragging their wounded.
For the remainder of Follansbee’s command, the battle in Baltimore had only just begun. Severe fighting would follow them all the way to Camden Station before they could rejoin their command.
In those next few minutes of fighting, two more men from Massachusetts and at least a half dozen Baltimoreans would be added to the list of killed in combat– a roll that would grow to more than 200,000 during the next four long years of war.