Early Civil War battleground

WAY BACK WHEN

1861 witnessed U.S. unraveling, Baltimore riots

Back Story

April 01, 2006|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN,SUN REPORTER

As the U.S. inextricably careered toward civil war in the winter and early spring of 1861, Baltimore was not immune from those tragic events and would indeed become the stage for the first blood spilled in the coming conflict.

In February, the Confederate States of America was formed with Jefferson Davis as its first president, and early the next month, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president.

The Civil War formally began at 4:30 a.m. April 12, when artillery under the command of Confederate Gen. Pierre G.T. Beauregard roared to life and began bombarding Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C.

The next day at 2:30 p.m., Union Maj. Robert Anderson surrendered the island fort. As the garrison evacuated to Union ships, the rebel forces claimed their prize and ran up the Stars and Bars on its flagpole.

Virginia seceded from the Union on April 17, and within five weeks so would Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina.

Two days later, two fateful events occurred: Lincoln issued an order blockading Southern ports, and troop trains from Philadelphia and New England were to travel through Baltimore to Washington, despite unsettled conditions in the city.

Baltimore Mayor George W. Brown wired Lincoln: "Under these circumstances it is my solemn duty to inform you that it is not possible for more soldiers to pass through Baltimore unless they fight their way at every step."

Lincoln replied: "Our men are not moles, and can't dig under the earth; they are not birds, and can't fly through the air. There is no way but to march across, and that they must do."

George P. Kane, who had reorganized the Baltimore police department and was its marshal, had tried to head off the trouble he knew would come as the railroad coaches pulled by horses made their way over Pratt Street from President Street Station to Camden Station and the B&O line, for the remainder of their journey to Washington.

However, his repeated telegrams to railroad officials of the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore, requesting the number of troops passing through the city, went unanswered.

In the late morning of April 19, as 600 or so officers and men of the 6th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment were passing from President Street to Camden Station, they were met by a crowd of taunting Southern sympathizers who pelted them with bricks and paving stones.

Rather than concentrating police forces at President Street Station, Kane, who was joined in his efforts by Brown, had chosen Camden Station. And as the unruly mob pressed forward and made its way westward on Pratt, he stopped them at Charles Street, and while waving a revolver, reportedly said, "Keep back, men, or I'll shoot."

The actions of the crowd had prompted militiamen to open fire, killing eight rioters. Other casualties included a bystander and three soldiers.

Another skirmish later that day near President Street Station involving Pennsylvania volunteers left at least five of them dead and 13 wounded.

What is startling is how Kane pulled off this dual role of defender of the city and Southern partisan, given his own political feelings. "He was known as a sympathizer with the assailants," reported The New York Times at his death in 1878.

Wilbur F. Coyle, in his book The Mayors of Baltimore, wrote that Kane was "very pronounced in his Southern sympathies," and after the April 19 riot, had wired the following to Bradley T. Johnson, later a Confederate general, at Frederick: "Streets red with Maryland blood; send expresses over the mountains of Maryland and Virginia for the riflemen to come without delay. Fresh hordes will be down on us tomorrow. We will fight them and whip them, or die."

Lincoln, fearing the loss of Baltimore, ordered the occupation of the city, and a month after the riot, Gen. Benjamin Butler and troops of the 6th Massachusetts Regiment occupied Federal Hill.

On June 27, Kane was arrested at his home at 163 St. Paul St. by a detachment of federal soldiers on military order and taken to Fort McHenry. He was later transferred to Fort Warren, a rather grim-looking granite fortress in the outer windswept reaches of Boston Harbor.

He was imprisoned there for 14 months along with Brown, the police commissioners, several members of the Maryland legislature, and such notable Baltimoreans as Charles Howard, Henry M. Warfield, S. Teackle Wallis and Charles H. Winder, who were not charged with a crime nor tried.

After all of the political prisoners at Fort Warren were ordered released unconditionally by the secretary of war on Dec. 1, 1862, Kane made his way to Richmond, Va., where according to his obituary in The New York Times, he "received a commission on Gen. [Robert E.] Lee's staff, and was with him at the battle of Gettysburg."

This is at variance with an obituary in The Sun that states the Kane went to Richmond and when the city was "evacuated by the Confederates, he went with Mr. Davis [Jefferson Davis] and parted with him in North Carolina after the event of Appomattox Court House."

After the end of the Civil War, Kane remained in Danville, Va., where he was in the tobacco manufacturing business.

He returned to Baltimore and was appointed to the Jones Falls Commission and in 1873 was elected sheriff by the Democratic Party. Four years later, he was elected mayor, and served briefly until his death June 23, 1878.

A funeral Mass was offered by Archbishop James Gibbons at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church on Calvert Street, with burial in a vault at New Cathedral Cemetery.

"It is not so much as a politician that his death will be sincerely mourned - for his principles were too rigid for partisans - but as a citizen of Baltimore who by native force of character raised himself to the highest positions in the city of his birth, both federal and municipal, and who as a merchant and official commanded their trust and confidence, because he had proved that he deserved it," noted an editorial in The Sun at his death.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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