As part of my ongoing Virtual Lowell Walks series, I have created two new videos on Civil War Lowell. The first, called Lords of the Loom, covers the conflict in Lowell between the interests of the city’s economy which was entirely dependent on raw cotton picked by enslaved Africans in the American south with the growing knowledge that slavery was morally wrong and should be opposed and ended.
The second episode, The Minutemen of 1861, tells the story of the attack on Fort Sumter which started the Civil War and the involvement of the Lowell-based Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, whose soldiers were the first to be killed by hostile fire in the war.
A third episode, Ben Butler Saves the Union, is about the decisive leadership of Lowell General Benjamin Butler in the opening months of the war.
Here are episodes one and two. Scroll down for a text account of the April 19, 1861 riot in Baltimore that killed the soldiers of the Sixth Regiment:
Episode 1: Lords of the Loom
Episode 2: Minutemen of 1861
The Minutemen of 1861
The Civil War broke out on April 12, 1861 with the firing on Fort Sumter. President Abraham Lincoln responded on Sunday, April 14 with a call for 75,000 volunteer troops to put down the rebellion. Among the first to mobilize and move out was the Lowell-based Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
On Monday, April 15, the eight infantry companies of 100 men gathered at their respective armories in Lowell (four companies), Lawrence (two companies), Groton and Acton (one company each). On the morning of Tuesday, April 16, all eight companies gathered at Lowell’s Huntington Hall had a train station on the first floor and a large public hall on the second, for a patriotic send-off. That afternoon, the entire regiment rode the train to Boston where the men were housed in Faneuil Hall.
On Wednesday, April 17, the Sixth Regiment formed up in front of the State House where Governor John Andrew gave an inspirational speech and the men were issued modern rifles in place of their antiquated muskets. Because the federal War Department had requested regiments of ten companies, the eight companies of the Sixth Regiment were reinforced with companies from Boston and Stoneham.
Led by its commander, Colonel Edward Jones of Pepperell, the thousand-man strong Sixth Regiment departed Boston by train on the afternoon of April 17. When the train stopped in Worcester, an infantry company from that city came aboard as additional reinforcements. The train traveled overnight through Connecticut and arrived in New York City on the morning of Thursday, April 18, 1861. There, the entire regiment was treated to breakfast at the exclusive Metropolitan Hotel before taking a ferry to New Jersey to continue their journey to Washington.
Late that same day (Thursday, April 18), the train arrived in Philadelphia where the now-exhausted men were to spend the night. While the soldiers slept, the officers gathered for a reception at the Continental Hotel. There, executives from the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad warned Colonel Jones that Confederate sympathizers in Baltimore had threatened to block the passage of any northern troops through that city.
Hoping to avoid problems in Baltimore by slipping through that city in the early morning hours, Colonel Jones roused his sleeping soldiers just before midnight and in the early minutes of Friday, April 19, 1861, the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment departed Philadelphia, bound for Baltimore.
In 1861, trains coming from the north arrived at Baltimore’s President Street Station which was on the eastern shore of the city’s harbor. But trains departing for points south left from Camden Station which was a mile away and on the other side of the harbor. As is the case in Boston with North and South Station, the trains could not continue directly from President Street to Camden. However, the two stations were connected by streetcar tracks, so the standard procedure was to use horse teams to drag individual coaches of trains arriving from the north through the streets of Baltimore from one station to the other where the coaches would be reassembled and the train could continue its journey south with a new locomotive.
Not wanting to disperse his regiment in small groups as they passed through a potentially hostile city, Colonel Jones planned to have the entire regiment dismount upon arrival in Baltimore and march through the city en masse to the Camden Station, reasoning that 1000 armed men marching in formation would deter any hostilities.
Colonel Jones’s plan went awry long before the Sixth reached Baltimore. Midway through the passage from Philadelphia to Baltimore lay the Susquehanna River which had no railroad bridge across it. Instead, trains were shuttled across the river by ferries and reassembled on the other side. While Jones had been in the first coach when the train left Philadelphia, when the cars were re-assembled on the south side of the Susquehanna, his car ended up in the middle of the train. With he and everyone else fast asleep, no one noticed this reshuffling of the train coaches.
When Colonel Jones finally awoke, he found the train already in Baltimore having arrived not in the pre-dawn hours when the city was still asleep, but at 10 am, when the waterfront was already stirring. Jone also realized to his great distress that the first few cars bearing his men were already being trundled through the streets of Baltimore in accordance with the standard practice at the time. With his car next to go, Jones decided to allow the Baltimore railroad workers to continue the shuttle service and hoped for the best.
Although Jones made it to Camden Station undisturbed, the next coach did not. Alerted to the presence of northern troops in the city, a pro-southern mob gathered on the waterfront and blocked the passage of the next car which contained Major Benjamin Watson, the regiment’s second in command, and a company of infantry. An obstruction on the track caused that car to derail and the teamster in charge uncoupled his horses and fled, stranding the car in the middle of the mob. Watson ordered his men to lie down on the floor of the car which was being pelted by rocks and paving stones and dismounted. Seeing another horse team nearby, Watson pulled his pistol and ordered that teamster to assist the soldiers. Was the mob surged around them, the new horse team got the car back on the tracks and it made it to Camden Station with many broken windows by only minor injuries among the troops.
The final three companies of the Sixth Regiment were not so fortunate. By now the mob had made the tracks impassible with heavy objects. Captain Albert Follansbee, the senior officer present, ordered all three companies out of their coaches and into formation. Surrounded by the howling mob, the three companies began their march to the mile-distant Camden Station.
At one point, a Massachusetts soldier fell to the ground unconscious from a brick to the head. A rioter leaped forward, grabbed the fallen soldier’s rifle and fired it into the formation, striking another soldier. This caused the rear company to halt, turn about, and fire a volley of rifle fire into the crowd. Armed members of the crowd fired back and soon four soldiers and twelve civilians lay dead. When the explosion of violence briefly paused, the soldiers from Massachusetts resumed their march and made it to Camden Station without further casualties.
At 1 pm on Friday, April 19, 1861, the Sixth Regiment left Camden Station bound for Washington where they were greeted by President Lincoln who was desperate to have loyal troops arrive in the capitol before nearby Confederate forces could seize the undefended city.
The Sixth Regiment’s dead were Luther Ladd and Addison Whitney of Lowell, Sumner Needham of Lawrence, and Charles Taylor, a man no one knew who had signed on with the regiment just as it was leaving Boston. Thirty-two other soldiers of the Sixth were wounded in the melee.
The Sixth Regiment would serve for 90 days and then return to Lowell. It was reactivated twice more during the Civil War but never saw combat. However, many of the men who were present in Baltimore on April 19, 1861, enlisted in other units and served throughout the war.
Back in Lowell and across the northern states, Ladd, Whitney, Needham and Taylor were hailed as “the first martyrs of the Rebellion” and were honored and memorialized.