Conflict in Baltimore, Md.
Extracts from the message of the Mayor of Baltimore.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME 2 [S# 2] -- CHAPTER IX.

[BALTIMORE, July 11, 1861.]

To the honorable the Members of the First and Second Branches of the City Council:

GENTLEMEN:

    On the 19th of April last an attack was made by a mob in the streets of Baltimore on several companies of a regiment of Massachusetts troops, who were on their way to the city of Washington in pursuance of a call for 75,000 men made by the President of the United States.
    On the day previous troops had been safely passed through the city under the escort of the police. In the afternoon of the same day (18th) the regiments from Massachusetts were expected, and provision was made by the police for their reception; but they did not arrive, and the board of police could not ascertain when they would come, although two of the members of the board went in person to the station of the Philadelphia Railroad Company to obtain the necessary information.
    On the morning of the 19th, about 10 o'clock, I was at my law office engaged in the performance of professional business, when three members of the city council came to me with a message from Marshal Kane, to the effect that he had just learned that the troops were about to arrive, and that he apprehended some disturbance. I immediately hastened to the board of police and gave notice. George M. Gill, esq., counselor of the city, and myself got into a carriage, and drove rapidly to the Camden station, and the police commissioners followed without delay. On reaching Camden station we found Marshal Kane in attendance, and the police coming in squads to the spot. The plan of the agents of the railroad companies was that the troops which were to arrive in the cars at the President-street station should in the same way be conveyed through the city, and be transferred to the cars for Washington at the Camden-street station. Accordingly, the police were requested by the agent of the road to be in attendance at the latter station. After considerable delay the troops began to arrive, and were transferred, under the direction of the police, to the Washington cars as rapidly as possible. There was a good deal of excitement, and a large and angry crowd assembled, but the transfer was safely effected. No one could tell whether more troops were expected or not. At this time an alarm was given that a mob was about to tear up the rails in advance of the train on the Washington road, and Marshal Kane ordered some of his men to go out on the road as far as the Relay House, if necessary, to protect the track.
    Soon afterwards, and when I was about to leave the station, supposing all danger to be over, news was brought to Commissioner Davis and myself, who were standing together, that other troops were left at the President-street station, and that the mob was tearing up the track on Pratt street. Mr. Davis immediately ran to summon a body of police to be sent to Pratt street, while I hastened alone down Pratt street towards President-street station. On arriving at the head of Smith's wharf I found that anchors had been piled on the track so as to obstruct it, and Sergeant McComas and a few policemen who were with him were not allowed by the mob to remove the obstruction. I at once ordered the anchors to be removed, and my authority was not resisted.
    On approaching Pratt-street bridge I saw several companies of Massachusetts troops, who had left the cars, moving in column rapidly towards me. An attack on them had begun, and the noise and excitement were great. I ran at once to the head of the column, some persons in the crowd shouting, as I approached, "Here comes the mayor." I shook hands with the officer in command, saying, as I did so, "I am the mayor of Baltimore." I then placed myself by his side and marched with him as far as the head of Light-street wharf, doing what I could by my presence and personal efforts to allay the tumult. The mob grew bolder and the attack became more violent. Various persons were killed and wounded on both sides. The troops had some time previously begun to fire in self-defense, and the firing, as the attack increased in violence became more general.
    At last, when I found that my presence was of no use, either in preventing the contest or saving life, I left the head of the column, but immediately after I did so Marshal Kane, with about fifty policemen, from the direction of the Camden station, rushed to the rear of the troops, forming a line across the street and with drawn revolvers checking and keeping off the mob. The movement, which I saw myself, was perfectly successful and gallantly performed. I submit herewith Marshal Kane's account of the affair, published on the 4th of May last,(*) which substantially agrees with my own.
    It is doing bare justice to say that the board of police, the marshal of police, and the men under his command, exerted themselves bravely, efficiently, skillfully, and in good faith to preserve the peace and protect life. If proper notice had been given of the arrival of the troops and of the number expected, the outbreak might have been prevented entirely; and but for the timely arrival of Marshal Kane with his force, as I have described, the bloodshed would have been great. The wounded among the troops received the care and medical attention at the expense of the city, and the bodies of the killed were carefully and respectfully returned to their friends.
    The facts which I witnessed myself, and all that I have since heard, satisfy me that the attack was the result of a sudden impulse, and not of a premeditated scheme. But the effect on our citizens was for a time uncontrollable. In the intense excitement which ensued, which lasted for many days, and which was shared by men of all parties, and by our volunteer soldiers as well as citizens it would have been impossible to convey more troops from the North through the city without a severe fight and bloodshed. Such an occurrence would have been fatal to the city, and accordingly to prevent it the bridges on the Northern Central Railroad and on the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad were, with the consent of the governor and by my order, with the co-operation of the board of police (except Mr. Charles D. Hinks, who was absent from the city), partially disabled and burned, so as to prevent the immediate approach of troops to the city, but with no purpose of hostility to the Federal Government. This act, with the motive which prompted it, has been reported by the board of police to the legislature of the State and approved by that body, and was also immediately communicated by me in person to the President of the United States and his Cabinet. I inclose a copy of the report made by the board of police to the legislature on the 3d of May last.
    On the evening of the 19th of April, a portion of the military of the city were called out. On the 20th of April, your honorable body, by unanimous vote, placed at my disposal the sum of $500,000 for the defense of the city, and the banks, with great patriotism and unanimity, voluntarily offered to advance the money through a committee of their presidents, consisting of Messrs. Columbus O'Donnell, Johns Hopkins, and John Clark, who notified me, in person, of the fact, on the morning of the 20th of April, at the mayor's office. A number of citizens in all the wards volunteered for the purpose of defense; and were enrolled under the direction of the board of police; and for their use arms were partially provided. The Commander-in-Chief of the forces of the United States, with the approbation of the President, in view of the condition of affairs then existing in the city, on the earnest application of the governor of the State, of prominent citizens, and myself, ordered that hereafter the troops should not be brought through Baltimore, and they were accordingly transported to Washington by way of Annapolis. But great danger existed to Baltimore from large bodies of unauthorized men at the North, who threatened to cut their way through the city, and visit upon it terrible vengeance for the acts of the 19th of April.
    As soon as this danger had passed away, and the excitement among our own citizens had sufficiently subsided, the military were dismissed, and the citizens who enrolled were disbanded by order of the board of police. The peace of the city had been preserved, and its safety and the persons and property of men, and men of all parties, protected under the circumstances of great peril and the most intense excitement, and it was hoped that affairs would be allowed to return as nearly as possible to their previous condition. To this end my efforts and those of the board were devoted. Large bodies of troops from the North have ever since passed through the city without molestation, and every proper precaution to accomplish that object was taken by the board of police, and carried out by the force.
    But civil war had begun on the immediate border of our State. A great division of opinion in regard to it existed among the people, and the events which had occurred in the city, and their consequences, seem to have made an indelible impression on the minds of the authorities at Washington that the police force of the city of Baltimore was prepared to engage in hostility against the General Government whenever an opportunity should occur.
    The result has been very unfortunate. On the ground of military necessity, of the existence of which and of the measures required of it the Federal officers claim to be the sole judges, our city has been occupied by large bodies of troops in its central points; picket guards have been stationed along many of our streets; the arms provided by the city for its defense and those left by private individuals with the authorities for safe-keeping, the station-houses and other property of the city have been seized; operators in the police and fire-alarm telegraph office have been displaced and others substituted in their stead; the marshal of police and the board of police, with the exception of myself, have been arrested and are now imprisoned in Fort McHenry, one only, who is in bad health, has been released on his parole; the writ of habeas corpus has been suspended; the police force, established under a law of the State, has been set aside by superseding the only power which could lawfully control it; a new police, without authority of law, has been established under the control of a marshal appointed by the commanding general, and all power to hold elections in the city has been for the present set aside by suspending the functions of the board under which alone elections can lawfully be held.
    The grounds taken by Major-General Banks as a justification for these proceedings, and the position assumed by the board of police, respectively, will be found in the proclamations of the general and the protest of the board, which I inclose.
    The hidden deposits of arms and ammunition referred to in the proclamation of June 27 are, I suppose, those found in the city hall, in reference to which a few words of explanation may be made. The arms consisted in part of muskets which belonged to the old police, established under the administration of Mr. Swann; of revolvers procured for the police, and of some rifles, carbines, &c., lately procured in part for the use of the police and in part for the defense of the city. The board of police considered it proper that there should be a sufficient number of efficient weapons to arm the entire police force in case of an emergency. There were not enough in the city hall for that purpose. An allegation has been made that some of the arms and ammunition belonged to the Massachusetts troops; but I am informed that this is not the case, except as to two muskets which were taken by the police from the hands of the mob. The ammunition at the hall, which was purchased for the defense of the city, was more than was entirely safe. Of this I was well aware, and should have ordered it to be removed if the city had any proper place of deposit; but I apprehended that any attempt at removal at this time would only lead to a seizure on the part of the officers of the General Government and to unfounded rumors and suspicions; for all the rest of the arms and ammunition belonging to the city, and all the arms left with the city authorities for safe-keeping, which were placed in depositories procured expressly for the purpose and in no way concealed, had been previously seized by the authorities of the United States under circumstances very mortifying to the pride of the people. That some of the arms and ammunition were concealed about the building is sufficiently explained by the fact that the officers in charge desired to secure them from seizure, but such concealment was made without my knowledge.
    The proclamation charges the existence of unlawful combinations of men organized for the resistance to the laws, for accumulating hidden deposits of arms, and encouraging contraband trade.
    Although I am only ex officio member of the board, and by reason of other engagements not able to be present at all their meetings, yet, from the free and full interchange of views among us, and the custom of the members to consult me on all important questions, and my knowledge of all their proceedings, I feel that I have a right to say, of my own personal knowledge, that the board had no notice or information of any such combination, if any such existed, which I have no reason to suspect.
    Indeed, my experience of the fidelity of the board to its legal obligations during my whole official connection with it, and the common understanding between myself and my colleagues as to our course of duty since the present troubles began, justify me in saying that if any organization in this city for resistance to the laws could have been discovered by proper vigilance they would have been found out and suppressed to the extent of the powers conferred on the board by law.
    After the board of police had been superseded, and its members arrested by the order of General Banks, I proposed, in order to relieve the serious complications which had arisen, to proceed, as the only member left free to act, to exercise the power of the board as far as an individual member could do so. Marshal Kane, while he objected to the propriety of this course, was prepared to place his resignation in my hands whenever I should request it; and the majority of the board interposed no objection to my pursuing such course as I might deem it right and proper to adopt in view of the existing circumstances, and upon my own responsibility, until the board should be enabled to resume the exercise of its functions.
    If this arrangement could have been effected it would have continued in the exercise of their duties the police force, which is lawfully enrolled, and which has won the confidence and applause of all good citizens by its fidelity and impartiality at all times and under all circumstances. But the arrangement was not satisfactory to the Federal authorities.
    As the men of the police force, through no fault of theirs, are now prevented from discharging their duty, their pay constitutes a legal claim on the city, from which, in my opinion, it cannot be relieved.
    The new force which has been enrolled is in direct violation of the law of the State; and no money can be appropriated by the city for its support without incurring the heavy penalties provided by the act of assembly. Officers in the fire-alarm and police telegraph department, who are appointed by the mayor and city council and not by the board of police, have been discharged, and others have been substituted in their place.
    I mention these facts with profound sorrow, and with no purpose whatever of increasing the difficulties unfortunately existing in this city, but because it is your right to be acquainted with the true condition of affairs, and because I cannot help entertaining the hope that redress will yet be afforded by the authorities of the United States upon a proper representation made by you. I am entirely satisfied that the suspicion entertained of any meditated hostility on the part of the city authorities against the General Government is wholly unfounded, and, with the best means of knowledge, express the confident belief and conviction that there is no organization of any kind among the people for such a purpose. I have no doubt that the officers of the United States have acted on information, which they deemed reliable, obtained from our own citizens, some of whom may be deluded by their fears, while others are actuated by baser motives; but suspicions thus derived can, in my judgment, form no sufficient justification for what I deem to be grave and alarming violations of the rights of individual citizens, of the city of Baltimore, and of the State of Maryland.

Very respectfully,
GEO. WM. BROWN, Mayor.

Source:  Official Records of the War of the Rebellion

This page last updated 10/24/01

RETURN TO BALTIMORE RIOT PAGE