By Mindie Burgoyne
While most Americans believe the Civil War started with the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, the first bloodshed of the Civil War happened one week later during the Pratt Street Riot in Baltimore.
Baltimore Civil War Museum
601 South President Street
Baltimore, Md. 21202
Hours: Sun – 12 to 5 p.m. Mon – Sat 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
The Civil War Museum, located in the President Street train station, is the beginning of a one and a half mile walking trail that tells the story of the Pratt Street Riot. The station itself was built in 1849 and is the oldest urban train station in America still standing. The building houses a self-guided tour that includes interpretive signage and exhibits that tell the story of the Pratt Street Riot, the history of the railroad station and the significance of the building to Baltimore and Civil War history.
The President Street Station is the start of the Civil War Baltimore Riot Trail that includes six stops, ending at the Camden Station one and a half miles away. Each stop has a marker with signage that tells the story of the Baltimore Riot.
On April 19, 1861, members of the Massachusetts militia with orders to defend the Union came by train into the President Street Station while en route to Washington. Locomotives were not permitted in the city, so the soldiers had to march along the railroad tracks to the Camden Station while horses drew the train cars. Confederate sympathizers attacked the militia as they made this walk, and a riot broke out which resulted in the deaths of six Union soldiers and 14 to 16 civilians.
The details of the riot are played out on the marker signage that visitors can read as they retrace the steps of the militia. President Abraham Lincoln walked this same route when he was traveling by train to his inauguration. Legends say that he disguised himself as a woman so as not to be recognized by the Confederate sympathizers. Historians have disproved this and suggested that Lincoln either walked through the city late at night or wore some type of disguise to blend in with the population.
Other elements of railroad history and Civil War history are recounted at the Civil War Museum. Escaped slaves including Frederick Douglass and William and Ellen Craft, used the Baltimore railroad lines to escape to freedom, making Baltimore one of the only places where the Underground Railroad actually operated as a live railroad. Interpretations from an archaeological dig are on display in the museum and depict how the Baltimore railroads were a major hub of the U.S. transportation system. Almost all transportation routes had a stop in Baltimore. The Civil War Museum is owned and operated in a three-way partnership between Baltimore City, Eastern National and the Friends of the Civil War Museum.
Mindie Burgoyne is an author, travel writer and tour guide living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her blog, The Travel Hag, shares information on outdoor travel for women. She is the author of Haunted Eastern Shore: Ghostly Tales from East of the Chesapeake.