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A House Divided
Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 04/19/2011

Frank Williams:How do you explain the crazed, homicidal fury of city residents during the Baltimore Riots of April 19, 1861 in response to Massachusetts troops passing through that city. Was that event an anomaly?


Chairman of The Lincoln Forum

Passions ran deep with the Baltimore “rowdies” prior to their attack on the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment. The plot to assassinate President-elect Lincoln on his passage through Baltimore on February 23, 1861 required the mobs to distract and incite the populace while the attempt was made on Lincoln’s life. So with crowds already impassioned by secessionist fervor and the resolutions passed at a “States Rights Convention” held in the city, they were incited to violence - even treason - when the 6th Massachusetts, responding to President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers, arrived in the city on April 19. While the Federal troops were approaching Baltimore, an anti-Lincoln rally was in progress.

The Sixth Massachusetts arrived at the President Street Station. Expecting trouble, those on the train were told to ignore insults and the throwing of stones and other objects, but “if fired upon, . . . your officers will order you to fire.” The troops were to transfer to the Camden Street Station for the final leg to Washington by marching in military formation but it was decided to tow the cars by teams of horses for the cross-city trip. The crowd attacked anyway, resulting in the deaths of ten soldiers and eleven citizens.

With other northern troops prevented from passing through Baltimore, Lincoln feared for the defense of the capital surrounded by Virginia and Maryland. In a state of great agitation, he told the Massachusetts troops after their arrival, “I don’t believe there is any North. The Seventh Regiment [NY] is a myth. Rhode Island [the First RI Regiment] is not known in our geography any longer. You are the only Northern realities.”

The President ordered General Winfield Scott to bombard Baltimore “if necessary” and suspend the writ of habeas corpus “if absolutely necessary.” Until the July 1863 draft riots, no other city acted as the mobs in Baltimore.

By Frank Williams  |  10:00 AM ET, 04/19/2011

Categories:  Views, 150th anniversary, 150th anniversary

 
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