Methuen at the Baltimore Riots

When word of an assault on a fort in Charleston, South Carolina harbor reached the Methuen area, it was met with shock and outrage. The United States was under attack.  Men from Methuen were some of the first to answer the President’s call for troops. While on their way to defend the nation’s capitol they were witness to the first bloodshed of a long and costly war.

As early as January 1861 there was concern that southern states would try to break away from the Union.  The 6th Massachusetts Infantry regiment, part of the state militia system, offered their services to the President should hostilities begin.  In the early morning hours of April 12, 1861 South Carolina militia attacked Fort Sumter.  Three days later President Lincoln called for 75,000 troops and the Civil War began.

Methuenite Amos Jones of Company F wrote, “I was at the Lawrence armory when the call came for troops, and I remained there all night, getting ready to depart.”  The next morning was cold and rainy when Amos Jones and eleven others from town left to join up with the rest of the regiment. After stops in Lowell and Boston for ceremonies they began the long train ride to Washington, D.C.

At Philadelphia rumors began circulating that there might be trouble in Baltimore.  Another Federal army unit had passed through the city earlier and had been attacked by pro-secessionist crowds.  Though no one was killed in that incident some were severely injured by the unruly mob.  Ammunition was distributed and muskets loaded as the Massachusetts men left Philadelphia at 1 am.

The Regiment arrived at Baltimore’s President Street Station at 10 am- two hours early.  The trains had to be uncoupled and hauled through the city by horses to the Camden Station on the other side of the city.  From there they could continue their journey.  The earlier than expected arrival worked in the regiment’s favor.

As the day wore on angry crowds began to gather. Seven companies, one with Amos Jones and nine other Methuenites, were able to make it through the city without incident, but four companies were left behind.  Bricks and paving stones were thrown at the remaining train cars as barricades blocked the streets to stop the trains. Officers ordered the four remaining companies out of the cars and formed them into ranks so they could march to the other train station. Methuenite Charles Stanley in one of the remaining companies, Company I, wrote, “They assailed us from every direction, with every kind of weapon-stones, sticks, brick-bats, buck-shot and pistol…”  Another description said they “had proceeded to march a short distance before they were furiously attacked by a shower of missiles, which came faster as they advanced.  They increased their step to double quick, which seemed to infuriate the mob…”  Shots were being fired into the soldiers and one soldier near Charles Stanley fell to the ground mortally wounded.  He was later identified as Sumner Needham of Lawrence.   The wounded were brought to the center of the formation for protection.  Orders were to not fire into the crowd, but when they reached another barricade and were still being attacked, they turned and fired over the heads of the crowds into a brick wall showering them with debris.  The Mayor of Baltimore soon joined the soldiers, begging them to not fire and placed himself at the head of the column.  He assured the soldiers that he would protect them.  The crowd was in too much of a frenzy and according to an official report “the mayor’s patience was soon exhausted, and he seized a musket from the hands of one of the men, and killed a man…”

Further along another soldier was killed.  Charles Stanley and the others from the four companies were in a desperate fight for their lives.  Amos Jones with the portion of the regiment that had already made it safely to Camden Station could only image the horrors that his neighbor and fellow soldiers were going through in the streets of Baltimore.

The soldiers took this abuse for more than a mile before they reacted with force. Stanley wrote, “We stood everything before we fired, and then we gave it to them.” Twelve of the mob were killed.

By the time Charles Stanley’s company made it to the station they had taken a bad beating. It wasn’t until later they learned the extent of the casualties. Four men had died and thirty-six were wounded. Baltimore police were able to control the crowds near the Camden Station, so the soldiers quickly boarded the trains and left Baltimore at 12:30 pm.

When the call came from the President, men from Methuen were some of the first to answer.  What they had to witness and endure in the streets of Baltimore proved to be just the opening chapter in a long and bloody struggle for our nation’s survival.