How soldiers from Massachusetts were the first to fight the Civil War
On April 12th, 1861, just a single month in to President Lincoln's first term of office, Union Forces were attacked and defeated at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Following this opening engagement of the Civil War, eleven Southern states immediately seceded from the union and declared independence for their 9 million inhabitants. Recognizing that the US Army with a mere 16,000 men would be unable to effectively defend Washington, President Lincoln issued an urgent call for union states to provide 75,000 volunteers for ninety days' service to defend the capitol.
Massachusetts 6th infantry had been organized in January of 1861. They assembled and moved from Lowell to Boston, where they were outfitted; given their charge by Governor John Andrew and set off for Washington, DC on April 17th. As was customary from the revolutionary war, Massachusetts's Governor presented the sixth regiment with a distinctive flag to carry in battle. The honor of a regiment was bound to its flag.
The regiment passed through New York and Philadelphia by train, reaching Baltimore on April 19th, 1861 - the 86th anniversary of the "shot heard round the world" in Lexington and Concord. Little did the troops realize that they would fire their own shots heard round the world, and that the first union casualties in the war of rebellion would come from the sixth regiment later that day.
In Baltimore a local ordinance prevented steam engines from operating within city limits. Paul O'Neil, an interpreter for the Baltimore Civil War Museum, explains this ordinance was likely designed to benefit teamsters, who provided horse service through town to connect the city's train stations. So, the sixth regiment rode in train cars drawn by horses from Baltimore's Presidential Station to the Camden Yards station.
Seven of the ten cars carrying the 6th regiment made it before a growing mob blocked the tracks with sand and ship anchors. Once stopped, the soldiers began marching down Pratt Street in formation.
There on Pratt Street, the Civil War began to be fought. The incensed crowd hurled bricks, cobblestones, and any other objects within reach at the troops.
However, the young troops from Massachusetts disported themselves with military discipline. The regimental color was carried by Color Sergeant Timothy A. Crowley of Lowell.
"Crowley bore himself gallantly on that trying day. He might have rolled up his colors and have escaped the position of prominence which otherwise would subject him to the greatest danger. But no; he unfurled them to the breeze, and bore them on, and, like the white plume of Henry of Navarre, they became a guide and an inspiration. Without music, they could only look on that, and follow where it led."
Chaplain John W. Hansen - 1866
Chaplain Babbidge, who was with the regiment that day wrote, "paving stones flew thick and fast, some just grazing their heads, and some hitting the standard itself." Shots from handguns came from the crowd, the Massachusetts regiment returned fire. It is believed that 16 people were killed in the melee, including four soldiers - Luther C. Ladd and Addison Otis Whitney of Lowell, a Mr. Needham of Lawrence, and Mr. Taylor, whose history is unknown. These four became the first to serve and die on the 19th of April, 1861.
Once the surviving soldiers made it out of the train yard, the mob turned back to the President Street Depot, where nearly 1,000 more Pennsylvania and Massachusetts volunteers still waited. Under the attack of the mob, soldiers emptied into the streets, where they were joined by pro-Union citizens who fought along side them and brought them into their homes. There was such disarray that some soldiers walked all the way back to Pennsylvania after the battle.
The battle flag of the sixth regiment survived the Pratt Street Riot and accompanied the regiment throughout their service. The regiment presented their battle flag to Commonwealth of Massachusetts where it remains safely with the battle flags of over one hundred other units.
Lowell natives Ladd and Whitney were memorialized by the city of Lowell just four years later. The city constructed a somber unembellished obelisk on a triangle of land in front of Lowell City Hall. The monument's purpose is simply stated:
Addison O. Whitney, Born in Waldo, ME. Oct. 30 1839
Luther C. Ladd, Born in Alexandria, N.H. Dec. 22 1843
Marched from Lowell in the 6th M.V.M. to the defense of the national capital and fell mortally wounded in the attack on their regiment while passing through Baltimore April 19, 1861.
Governor Andrew, who had given the 6th regiment their charge and battle flag was joined by officials from Baltimore at the dedication of Witney and Ladd Monument on Saturday, the 17th of June, 1865. They celebrated that the union had endured the storm of war which started, unexpectedly, on that day in Baltimore. They celebrated the courage and sacrifice of youth, and that the burden they bore had come to a proud, though painful victory.
This online exhibit was made possibly through the support and involvement of the Massachusetts Art Commission and the Maryland Historic Society.