April 19, 2011

It is six and eighty years this very day

In response to the shots fired at Fort Sumter a week earlier, Union troops from Massachusetts made their way to Washington, D.C. to protect the national capital from potential attack. In Baltimore, residents who were sympathetic to the Confederate cause did not take the presence of Union troops lightly and, soon, rioting broke out. Four soldiers and twelve civilians were killed in what was later dubbed the Pratt Street Riots. Maryland officials demanded no federal troops make their way through the state again. Eventually, the city of Baltimore was put under Union military control.

The irony of the date — 86 years to the day after the battle at Concord — was not lost on people. On that day, Rhode Island-born and Connecticut-raised Henry Howard Brownell wrote "April 19th, 1775-1861":

Once again, (our dear old Massachusetts!)
Once again the drops that made their way,
Red, ah not in vain! on that old greensward—
It is six and eighty years this very day.

Six and eighty years—aye, it seemed but a memory—
Little left of all that glory,—so we thought—
Only the old fire-locks hung on farm-house chimneys,
And rude blades the village blacksmith wrought.

Only here and there a white head that remembers
How the Frocks of Homespun stood against King George—
How the hard hands stretched them o'er the scanty embers
When the sleet and snow came down at Valley Forge.

Ah me, how long we lay, in quiet and in error,
Till the Snake shot from the coil he had folded on our hearth—
Till the Dragon-Fangs had sprouted, o'erhatched of hate and terror,
And hell, in armed legions, seemed bursting from the earth.

Once more, dear Brother-State! thy pure, brave blood baptizes
Our last and noblest struggle for freedom and for right—
It fell on the cruel stones!—but an awful Nation rises
In the glory of its conscience, and the splendor of its might.


  1. Some people make Private Luke Quinn, a Marine killed in the John Brown raid the first casualty. Thomas Wentworth Higginson in Cheerful Yesterdays gives the honor to James Batchelder, second US Marshall killed in the line of duty in 1854 during the attempted rescue of Anthony Brown.

  2. To the above poster: The first casualty of the Baltimore Riots was in the 1850s?

    In all seriousness, I think I see what you're saying but the struggles leading up to the Civil War were not the war itself. Romantic notions aside, the Civil War did not begin until April 1861... that's when it became an official military campaign with the Commander in Chief, etc.