Passage Through Baltimore
March 8, 2013 10:22 AM   Subscribe

"Baltimore had always been seen as an explosive city, hypersensitive to the shifting currents of politics. The present crisis was no exception. While most Baltimoreans felt that Lincoln should keep his hands off the South, there was also a smaller contingent of Confederate zealots there who were more than willing to go to war over it. Sending Northern troops through their hometown was like putting a lit match to a powder keg."
The Baltimore Riot of 1861, also known as the Pratt Street Riots, underline Maryland's complex and often tragic part in the US Civil War.

Maryland was a slave state: census records from 1860 count just over 87,000 slaves and just under 600,000 free men in that state. At the same time, Maryland's geographical position compelled Lincoln to maintain a military presence throughout the state, with such results as:

"Assembling the [US Colored Troops] began at Camp Stanton in Benedict, Maryland (Charles County). While black troops trained at Benedict, there were still thousands of slaves living in the area surrounding the Camp."

But Lincoln was hugely unpopular in Maryland, getting only 2.5% of the popular vote in that state in the previous elections. Tensions came to a head when the Sixth Massachusetts Militia got off their train at Bolton Street, in Baltimore, April 19, 1861, and were met by an angry mob. When all was said and done, 16 were dead, at least 36 soldiers and unknown numbers of rioters were injured, and both the city and state were taken under the administration of the US military.

James Randall, living in Louisiana at the time of the riots, was a Confederate supporter who became inspired by the event, and penned a poem encouraging Maryland to fight the Union. Entitled "Maryland, My Maryland", it was made the state song in 1939.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing (11 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
What are the main explanations historians have advanced regarding why the population of Baltimore was mostly pro-South? I recently read 1861, by Adam Goodheart, but he doesn't elaborate much about Maryland. He mentions however how St Louis, mostly due to its immigrant population, managed to balance Missouri's planters to keep the state in the Union. Was it paradoxically the large number of colored free men in Baltimore (25,000 as opposed to only 2,500 slaves, according to that NYT piece linked above) that made the white workers more scared of Lincoln, as they felt economically threatened? I'd love to read more about that. Great post anyway!
posted by susuman at 10:49 AM on March 8, 2013

As someone just walked in the door saying 'why do we have to learn about history?', the timing and quality of this post could not have been better. Thanks.
posted by repoman at 10:57 AM on March 8, 2013

Entitled "Maryland, My Maryland", it was made the state song in 1939.

"O-Oh say can you see, by the dawns early light..."
Generations of Baltimoreans tend to associate Fort McHenry with the big black cannon along a parapet and pointed over the harbor. The historian has documented that in the 1860s there were a pair of 10-inch Columbiads aimed not at ships in the Patapsco River, but at the Washington Monument in the heart of the affluent Mount Vernon neighborhood.

Similar cannon were mounted at the Union encampment on Fort Federal Hill and aimed at the Pratt Street business district.
posted by at 10:57 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

What are the main explanations historians have advanced regarding why the population of Baltimore was mostly pro-South?

From the first link (italics mine):
Back at Pratt Street, an orgy of destruction unfolded. Rioters dumped heavy anchors and cartloads of sand onto the tracks. Charles Pendergast, a shipping agent who profited handsomely from transport between Baltimore and South Carolina's Charleston Harbor, handed dockworkers crowbars and pickaxes with orders to pry the rails from the cobblestones and put the road out of commission.
posted by tommasz at 11:03 AM on March 8, 2013

A bit of an aside, but related in the general mindset of the city.

Mob Town
posted by lampshade at 11:12 AM on March 8, 2013

In the Maryland Historical Society's museum, in Baltimore, there is a long timeline of the state's history. It includes two contemporary cartoons of the Pratt St. Riot, one from the rebel view (degenerate, sloppy soldiers sneaking through town surrounded by large, handsome men trying to protect their women) and one from the Union view (large, brave soldiers being pelted with trash and rocks by street trash dressed in rags).

I've always enjoyed looking at the two of them, placed next to each other, without commentary.

What are the main explanations historians have advanced regarding why the population of Baltimore was mostly pro-South?

Don't forget that Maryland, especially the southern part and the Eastern Shore, were huge slaveholding areas. Many of the slaveholders spent at least part of the year in Baltimore. Maryland, like the other border states, was pretty divided. There were Maryland units on both sides of the Civil War. After the war, many former Confederate generals and politicians moved to Baltimore because it was the only Southern city not under Reconstruction.

The state song is offensive as all hell, and should be changed.
posted by QIbHom at 12:06 PM on March 8, 2013

Where The Civil War Began
On the day of the Pratt Street Riot, with the dead and wounded still lying on the streets of Baltimore, Mayor George W. Brown and Governor Hicks met to determine a course of action for the city. For the time being, they would side with the rioters.

To prevent further movement of troops through Baltimore, they ordered John Merryman, a lieutenant in the Baltimore County Horse Guards, to burn railroad bridges north of the city. In Mayor Brown's post-war account of this eventful day, he wrote that the condition of the city " . . . may best be described as one of armed neutrality."

The only remaining symbol of federal authority was the U.S. flag flying over Fort McHenry. Staffed by the U.S. Army, the fort now turned its guns to face the city it had been built to defend. Tensions between the soldiers there and the citizens of Baltimore could not be higher.
Baltimore In The Civil War
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:10 PM on March 8, 2013

There's sorrow and there's weeping by mountain, vale and shore,
For Freedom's new slain martyrs,--the Dead at Baltimore!
There's a swelling cry for vengeance on those counterfeits of men,
Who haunt that hold of pirates,--that foul assassin's den.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:36 PM on March 8, 2013

"Baltimoreans?" We prefer "Baltimorons."
posted by SixteenTons at 2:03 PM on March 8, 2013

What are the main explanations historians have advanced regarding why the population of Baltimore was mostly pro-South?

It was hardly unique in that regard -- don't forget the New York City draft riots. The divisions in sentiment were less geographic than economic, e.g. the free soil movement of farmers opposed to the direct competition to their livelihood of plantation-style agriculture, and working-class city dwellers feared the influx of blacks would seize their jobs and depress their wages.
posted by dhartung at 3:25 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, and more so were the 1863 riot in detriot...

"Riots in Detroit have occurred over particular issues of justice, economics, and race. The city's first major riot, which took place in March 1863, stemmed from the trial of a black man for rape and was fueled by the local press. The violence resulted in the killing of one black and the burning of thirty homes and buildings. For a long time afterwards, Detroit avoided major civil violence, even into the period following World War I, when riots broke out in many other major cities."

Here is a interesting paper (PDF)

Seems two girls were raped by a man whom was thought to be black but Mexican-american, a man by the name of Faulkner whose guards shot and killed (in melee) a german immigrant at a courthouse.
posted by clavdivs at 11:15 AM on March 10, 2013

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