Tensions were high throughout Baltimore as Union troops passed through the city on their way to Washington DC on April 19, 1861, exactly one week after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter. Although the vast majority of Baltimore residents hoped that the conflict between the states might be peacefully resolved, many white residents maintained Southern sympathies. After several hundred Union soldiers passed through the city and safely boarded their next train, armed Confederate sympathizers isolated and attacked a group of Massachusetts recruits. Four Union soldiers and twelve members of the mob were killed in the resulting street fight, known today as the Baltimore Riot of 1861.
According to Baltimore Mayor George William Brown, it was these riots that pushed both the Union and Confederates into full-fledged civil war. Brown is quoted as saying, “because then was shed the first blood in a conflict between the North and the South; then a step was taken which made compromise or retreat almost impossible; then passions on both sides were aroused which could not be controlled.” Paying tribute to the history of these riots is the Baltimore Riot Trail, a series of interpretive markers that show the evolution of the riot as it occurred. Visitors can begin the trail at the Baltimore Civil War Museum on President Street Station.