Monash University

Restricted Access

Reason: Access restricted by the author. A copy can be requested for private research and study by contacting your institution's library service. This copy cannot be republished

'A fearful excitement': the Baltimore Riot in American Civil War history and memory.

posted on 2017-02-14, 02:15 authored by Dobson, Darren James
This thesis explores the Baltimore Riot of April 19, 1861 during the American Civil War (1861- 1865). Here the first deaths of the war occurred when Massachusetts soldiers attempted to journey through Baltimore onto the nation's capital Washington, D.C. An armed clash between local citizens and Northern troops ensued. Four soldiers were killed while another twelve Baltimoreans suffered the same fate. Despite being the place of the first deaths, the Baltimore Riot has been an under represented event in Civil War history and memory. It is this thesis' aim to go beyond accepting that the Riot was result of a secessionist mob and longstanding tensions within the city. The thesis is divided into three main chapters. The first chapter will investigate how historians have reported and handled this event as a part of the war's history and the ways the Riot has been passed down through memory. In this section I will show how the Baltimore Riot has been a difficult event for Civil War historians and commemorators to reconcile with the established understandings of this conflict. I will show how the Riot and the crowd has been classified into the arguments of self defence, traitors, and a composite stance where the crowd was solely a secessionists uprising while the majority of Baltimoreans remained loyal citizens to the Union cause. Chapter Two will analyse and compare the 1861 Riot to Baltimore's long history of public violence in particular the riots of the 1850s. Here I look at three events during the earlier decade - the 1856 Municipal Election Riots, the 1857 Seal Strike, and the 1858 and 1859 Caulker Riots. Through these events I will show that the Baltimore Riot of 1861 was far larger and incorporated all of the past methods and strategies into this one event. As such the 1861 Riot's scale and ferocity make this event more than a typical Baltimore style riot and says more about the longstanding practices of violence in the city. Chapter Three will explore the reasons and rationales of why Baltimoreans attacked the Massachusetts soldiers on April 19, 1861. These motivations are rumours and anxiety, and identity and self defence. To achieve this objective I will use testimonies of the people who witnessed, participated and lived through the Riot. These testimonies will come from Grand Juries, Maryland State Legislature sessions, diaries, letters and reminiscences and memoirs. The main purpose is to go inside the crowd and understand why the Riot resulted and to show that the crowd was not only secessionists but comprised from across a far broader social spectrum of Baltimoreans. Overall, I want to show that the Baltimore Riot as the place of the Civil War's first deaths deserves greater recognition and appreciation, and that its size and intensity stands apart from the city's lineage of rioting and violence. For me the Baltimore Riot is more than a riot perpetrated by a secessionist mob as it has more in common with being a battle. With this in mind the Riot needs to be considered as a more significant event at the start of the American Civil War.


Principal supervisor

Adam Clulow

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

School of Philosophical, Historical & International Studies


Master of Arts

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts

Usage metrics

    Faculty of Arts Theses


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager