Less than 24 hours after Major Anderson had surrendered Fort Sumter, Massachusetts Adjutant General William Schouler sent Colonel Edward Jones, the commander of the Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the following instructions:
“Col. Jones: Sir, I am directed by His Excellency, the Commander-in-Chief, to order you to muster your regiment on Boston Common, forthwith, in compliance with a requisition made by the President of the United States. The troops are to go to Washington.”
Colonel Jones immediately set in motion the regiment’s existing mobilization plan and soon the nearly 800 men of the Sixth Regiment were streaming into their armories in Lowell, Lawrence, Acton and Groton to prepare for their departure.
In the morning on a drizzly April 16, 1861 a steady stream of Lowell residents visited the various armories where the militia companies of the Sixth Regiment had gathered the night before, bringing food, supplies, money and support. By 9 am, the remaining companies of the Sixth – Company A from Groton, Company E from Acton, and Companies F and I from Lawrence – had also arrived in Lowell.
At 10 am, a civic send-off ceremony commenced at Huntington Hall, the 19th Century equivalent of today’s Lowell Memorial Auditorium which was located at the corner of Merrimack and Dutton Street. Speakers included Regimental Commander Colonel Jones, Mayor Sargent, Rev Amos Blanchard and several other dignitaries. By 11:45 am, the Regiment had boarded a special train bound for Boston (the train station was on the first floor of Huntington Hall) and soon departed. In Boston, the Sixth marched through streets lined with cheering citizens, stopping for a while at Faneuil Hall and then continuing on to Boylston Hall on Washington Street, where they would spend the night.
That day’s Daily Courier reported on the confusion that ensued at the State House upon receipt of President Lincoln’s request for troops. That summons had called for several “fully uniformed and equipped regiments of ten companies each” but the Massachusetts militia had long been organized only as independent companies and only recently began to coalesce into larger, regimental sized units. None yet had ten companies (not to mention uniform uniforms). Governor Andrew and his advisors, after receiving “quite an amount of gratuitous advice . . . from warlike gentlemen who were about”, began mixing and matching companies and regiments. According to the Courier, “Col Jones’ regiment – the Sixth – appeared to be the favorite among all hands” with the “most popular plan” being to bulk up the Sixth and Eight Regiments with companies from the Ninth and Tenth until they reached full strength (hence the Stoneham, Worcester and Boston units that accompanied the Lowell-based regiment to Baltimore).
On the morning of Wednesday April 17, 1861, the companies of the Sixth Regiment marched to the Massachusetts State House where the old muskets carried by the troops were replaced with new rifled muskets and each man was issued “an overcoat, flannel shirt, drawers, and a pair of stockings.” Governor Andrew then presented the regiment with its official flag and made a speech. At 7 pm, the regiment marched to “the Worcester depot” with large crowds lining the route. Thousands of people gathered in Worcester to watch the train carrying the regiment pass through on its overnight trip towards New York City.
The Daily Courier on April 17 reported on the regiment’s activities in Boston and contained this observation:
THE FEELING IN LOWELL – Never has there been a time in the history of this city when there has been such a unity of feeling among all classes as exists at the present. All party distinctions seem to be buried, and all are united in a determination to do their part in sustaining the Union, the Constitution and the Laws. Now and then an isolated individual will attempt to speak against the universal sentiment, but the words of indignation, the frown and the hint soon silence all such. Lowell has a great interest at stake in maintaining the Government, and has with unprecedented alacrity, already sent forth two hundred of her young men – a portion of her bone and sinew – to protect it, and holds in reserve many times that number, should future exigencies arise to demand their service.
The train bearing the Sixth Regiment rolled into New York City early in the morning of Thursday, April 18, 1861 after the all-night journey from Boston. The troops marched through the city past great crowds that cheered their passage. At noon, the regiment boarded a ferry that transported the troops across the Hudson and into New Jersey, where they boarded a southbound train.
The Sixth arrived in Philadelphia at 8 pm on the evening of April 18 and were met by dense crowds of cheering citizens. The officers went to a reception at the Continental Hotel while the soldiers bunked at a place called Girard House. While the troops slept, Colonel Jones met with local officials and railroad executives regarding the remainder of the journey. People in Philadelphia had started to hear of civil unrest in Baltimore, brought on by pro-Southern sentiments. Jones decided that rather than wait until morning to depart Philadelphia, he would leave immediately which would get the regiment to and then through Baltimore early in the day, before any opposition had the opportunity to organize.
A sleepy Sixth Regiment departed Philadelphia by train at 1 am on Friday, April 19, 1861 bound for Baltimore. Colonel Jones knew that a train arriving in Baltimore from the north would arrive at the President Street Station which was on the northern side of the city’s inner harbor but that trains departing Baltimore for points south had to leave from Camden Station on the other side of the harbor. Normally, railroad cars continuing south would be decoupled from their original engine at the President Street Station and then pulled through the city by horses on the street car tracks on Pratt Avenue to Camden Station where they would be reformed as a single train with a new locomotive. Rather than allowing his regiment to pass through the city piecemeal in this manner, Colonel Jones planned to dismount the entire regiment at the first train station and march in regimental formation through the Baltimore to the second station. The mass of the entire regiment marching in formation, he hoped, would deter any active resistance.
Before leaving Philadelphia, Colonel Jones planned the loading of the train in great detail so that his unit could rapidly disembark and assemble in traveling formation as soon as it reached Baltimore. However, the plan unraveled long before the Sixth Regiment reached Baltimore. The first mix-up occurred when the train reached the southern border of Delaware and prepared to cross the Susquehanna River into Maryland at a place called Havre-de-Grace. There, the cars of the train were ferried across the river where they were reunited and attached to a new locomotive. Other cars were added to the train and those carrying the troops from Massachusetts were rearranged. Neither Colonel Jones nor any of his subordinates noticed this reshuffling of the cars, probably because it was the middle of the night and they were all asleep.
The train reached Baltimore at 10 am and railway workers quickly attached the first seven cars of the train to horse teams and dragged them through the city, again without either Jones or any of his commanders seeming to notice. While these first cars made it through the city without their occupants suffering any injuries, their passage was not without incident. Here is an account of the next few minutes as described in “History of Middlesex County” which was written shortly after the war:
On Pratt Street, the mob detached the horses [that were pulling the cars], in proximity to a pile of paving stones. Here a most furious and determined attack was made with stones and fire-arms, wounding several soldiers in the car. Major Watson ordered the men to shelter themselves, as far as possible, by lying upon the floor of the car while he went out among the crowd and by threats and the formidable appearance of his revolver, compelled the driver to reattach the horses. They had proceeded but a short distance, when the horses were again detached and the same scene was repeated; the car was then drawn to the depot without further incident.
Eight railroad cars bearing seven companies of the Sixth Regiment made it to Camden Station, but four companies in four cars remained behind. From Camden Station, Colonel Jones somehow got word to Captain Albert Follansbee, the senior captain at President Street Station, ordering him to march the four remaining companies of the Sixth along the streetcar tracks to Camden Station.
Along the way, the troops had to overcome a number of obstructions and eventually stones were thrown at them and shots rang out. Men from the upper floors of a building just passed by the companies fired into the trailing unit, killing two of its men. At the front of the column, with their path blocked by the mob, the soldiers leveled their guns and fired, killing many in the crowd. More shots and two more of the soldiers were killed and several wounded. They pressed on, however, and soon were reunited with their comrades at the Camden Station.
The men of the Sixth all mounted their train and had to point their guns out the window to get the menacing crowd to back off. The regiment reached Washington at about 1 pm and was quartered in the Capitol.
The following is a portion of the story that appeared on Saturday, April 20, 1861 in the Daily Courier:
The painful rumors of last evening respecting the attack upon the Sixth Regiment, at Baltimore, are confirmed by this morning’s advices, though the reports are very contradictory as to those killed belonging to the Massachusetts Regiment . . . The Lowell and Stoneham Companies were in the thickest of the fight. The mob endeavored to seize the colors which were bravely defended by Sgt Sawtell. Colonel Jones and his officers and men are in good spirits ready for service.
That day’s Courier also printed “Dispatches” (probably telegrams) received from Baltimore the night of the riot. There are brief, on-the-scene reports that are not necessarily reliable:
FIRST DISPATCH: Baltimore, April 19 – Terrible scene here. The Pratt Street track torn up. The troops attempted to march through but were attacked by a mob with bricks and stones and fired upon. They returned fire. Two men are killed and several wounded. The fight is now going on. Awful scene.
SECOND DISPATCH: Cannot say certain what portion of the troops were attacked. They bore a white flag as they marched up Pratt Street, but were greeted with a shower of paving stones. There was an immense crowd and the streets were blocked. The soldiers finally turned and fired on the mob. Several of the wounded have just been carried off the street in carts.
THIRD DISPATCH: The mob rushed the Guards Armory for arms. FOURTH DISPATCH: At the Washington Depot (also known as Camden Station) an immense crowd assembled. The rioters attacked the troops at the depot. Several of the latter were wounded – some fatally. There are said to be four of the troops killed and four of the rioters killed.
FIFTH DISPATCH: It was the Massachusetts regiment that was attacked, and they have marched through. Three of the mob are known to be dead. Also three soldiers, and many wounded. The stores are closing. The military are rapidly forming.
Killed in the riot were Addison Whitney and Luther Ladd of Lowell, Sumner Needham of Lawrence, and Charles Taylor who had only joined the regiment as it left Boston on April 17. In addition to the four dead, 32 soldiers were wounded in the melee which also resulted in the death of 12 civilians.
The bodies of Ladd, Whitney and Needham were all returned to their respective cities, but the body of Taylor was never retrieved. The best available explanation is that because of his late enlistment in the unit, he did not have a uniform and was little-known to his fellow soldiers. When he fell dead in the street, he was clad in civilian clothes and presumed to be one of the civilians who were killed by the return fire of the troops. When no one claimed his body, he was buried in an unmarked grave that has since disappeared from the record.
The Sixth Regiment’s band along with two regiments of unarmed and civilian clothes clad Pennsylvania militia who had arrived on a subsequent train found themselves stranded at President Street Station. Soon the mob, inflamed by the gunfight with the troops, attacked these non-combatants which caused hundreds of men to flee into the city. Most were sheltered by charitable business and homeowners until order could be restored. They were eventually transported by train back to their respective homes in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
The ten infantry companies of the Sixth made it to Washington, D.C., without further incident, arriving late in the afternoon of April 19. There they were billeted in the United States Capitol building and the next day assumed garrison duties for the city as the first of tens of thousands of Union troops to descend on Washington during the war.