INTRODUCTION


 

Baltimore citizens attacking Massachusetts troops, April 19, 1861, Courtesy of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Cator Collection
 The Baltimore Riot, April 19, 1861


On April 19, 1861, citizens savagely attacked the U.S. volunteers of the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment in the heart of Baltimore.  Four soldiers died and scores were seriously wounded.  In reaction, many northern newspapers called for martial retribution against the apparently Secessionist populace of Maryland's largest and most important city.   Sarah Mills, a Baltimore resident, wrote a letter defending the national loyalty of her fellow citizens to a Northern relative; its text subsequently appeared in the Boston Transcript.  Challenging the current overwhelmingly negative perception of
Baltimoreans in the North, the Massachusetts-born Mills
penned: 
I assure you there are many more loyal men and women in this city than many at the North are willing to believe. . . . When this war for Constitutional government against anarchy and violence, is ended in triumph, and end it will, then you will find that Baltimore will have a record of heroism to show that may serve to hide in part at least her blushes for the crimes of her unworthy sons. 


Baltimoreans loyal to the Union rallied to the aid and comfort
of United States troops within their city throughout the Civil
War.  Often, it was women, prompted by compassion,
benevolence, and a patriotic spirit, that provided the moral
impetus and energy to lead soldier relief activities.  These
women's efforts ultimately achieved their finest expression in
the 1864 Maryland State Fair for U.S. Soldier Relief, or as it
is more commonly known, the Baltimore Sanitary Fair.  This
article uncovers the major role of Maryland's Unionist women
in the planning, fundraising, and execution of this event.  In
doing so, it provides important evidence of their  vital
homefront role. 

The lack of recognition of the benevolent efforts of Baltimore
Unionists, and of women Unionists in particular, in current
viewpoints stems primarily from three factors.  First, and most
importantly, a flawed historiographical foundation has
prevented a balanced presentation of Baltimore's war-time
societal dynamics.  Pro-Confederate bias characterized the
narrative of most nineteenth century local histories depicting
Civil War era Baltimore.  J. Thomas Scharf, a Confederate
veteran, greatly shaped subsequent local and general histories
of the city.  One recent appraisal of Scharf's Civil War
narrative stated that, his "logic twisted" as his work reflected
"the bitterness [he] carried with him after the defeat of the
 South."   Scharf often minimized details of Unionist activities or omitted them altogether. 

A second factor is the lack of recent comprehensive research
into Baltimore's social history during this period.  While such
study has been undertaken regarding other Civil War era urban communities, scholars have continued to overlook the
Monumental City.   Past scholarship regarding Baltimore, save for few exceptions, tended to concentrate on the April 19 riot
and its aftermath.  Too often the attack provides a summary
shorthand to general historians in characterizing the population
and the very complex issue of national loyalty in the war-time
city.  This viewpoint marginalizes the war-time activities of
Baltimore Unionists and promotes the impression of
Maryland's general population favoring secession. 

Third, and lastly, much past historical writing has generally discounted or ignored the contributions of women.  Today's scholarly researchers must devote great effort to uncover the  historical role of women.  It is arduous, if not sometimes impossible, to garner an in-depth understanding.  Most archival repository holdings over-represent the papers of the upper-class native males and traditionally exclude less socially
prominent, immigrant, and minority women.  However, through a careful study of scarce primary resources, including period newspapers and organizational reports, Unionist women's roles begin to emerge from the milieu of a divided citizenry that characterized Civil War Baltimore.
 

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