The long Golden Years of Fell’s Point which began during the Revolutionary War and peaked during the War of 1812 ended with the Civil War. Ship building moved to larger facilities in Locust Point, Canton and beyond. Immigration moved to larger facilities in Locust Point at the B & O Piers. International sea trade outgrew the facilities in Fell’s Point and spread throughout the harbor region. All of this began to happen prior to and during the Civil War leaving the Point a shadow of its former glory.
During the War, Fell’s Point, whose sentiments seemed to be with the Union in a City that would be under martial law because of its Confederate sentiments, did contribute to the war efforts by building a few gun boats. Fell’s Point was not a major port facility for the supply line of war goods, handled instead by Locust Point and the railroads. Although one of the major railroad lines to and from the North, The Philadelphia, Wilmington Baltimore Railroad, went through Fell’s Point, its terminus was just west at the President Street Depot.
This historic seaport would remain on the fringes of the war-time commerce and activity in Baltimore during the Civil War. The shipbuilding, commerce, and immigration which had flourished during it Golden Years experienced a rapid decline.
The City of Baltimore, located in a “border state”, had a divided population between Northern and Southern sympathizers before and during the Civil War. Fell’s Point appears to have been one of the communities which supported the Union. Its first generation immigrant population would have naturally been supportive of their adopted nation as well as strong believers in their European anti-slavery beliefs. This was quite evident in the below newspaper articles about Fell’s Point’s display of the Stars and Stripes and reaction to the Confederate flag.
"The Confederate Flag – Among the flags given to the breeze yesterday, in our harbor, was one exhibiting the nationality of the Confederate States. It was hoisted on the bark Fanny Crenshaw, of Richmond, Va., lying at Chase’s wharf. It naturally attracted a great deal of attention, hundreds, if not thousands going to look at it. It being the first, we believe, hoisted in our harbor. There was some little excitement produced by the incident during the day. About eleven o’clock, while everybody was away from the vessel except a boy, some parties who had not enough business of their own to attend to, went on board and directed the boy to haul the flag down, which through fear, he did. As soon as the captain heard of it, he went on board and again hosted [sic] it, when it was kept flying during the balance of the day. The circumstance becoming known caused much talk among the large crowd on the wharf, and apprehension of some disturbance, a posse of police was dispatched to the wharf, where they remained. There was, however, no difficulty." - The Baltimore Sun, 1861
By the time of the Civil War sip building had already begun to disappear along the waterfront of Fell’s Point moving to larger facilities in Locust Point/Federal Hill and Canton. The remaining ship builders such as Abraham & Ashcroft (Wolfe and Thames Streets), Abrahams & Sons (Thames and Caroline Streets) and Captain J.A. Robb (Eastern terminus of Thames Street), were still active during the war. Both the Abraham & Ashcroft and Abrahams & Sons ship yards built several gunboats for the U.S. Navy.
The Packing Houses suffered drastic periods of scarcity of oysters during the war as a result of boat seizures and enforced blockades in the southern bay region.
"The Oyster Trade - Good oysters, such as are usually kept in eating houses, have become very scarce and consequently the price high. This has lead to inquiry on the part of packers and the proprietors of public houses as to the cause. A meeting was held on Monday evening at the public house of Mr. J.H. Amey, on Green Street, and they adjourned to Thursday evening without reducing the price of the bivalves. We learn from persons from Accomack County that delicious seaside oysters were never more plentiful, and are selling there at very low rate, but in consequence of the seizure of the boats formerly engaged in transporting oysters to this city, the means of sending them to this market is diminished. By sending a fleet of boats down to the seaside, a profitable business may be done and a supply furnished equal to the demand." - The Baltimore Sun, 1862
Despite the blockades of the Bay, German immigration to Fell’s Point continued on a limited basis from Bremen throughout the war.
"The ship Adolphene arrived at this port yesterday, after a passage of forty-one days from Bremen. She brought eighty immigrant passengers." - The Baltimore Sun, 1862
“In the city there were also celebrations of the occasion. At noon a salute was fired, and there was a parade and inspection of all the vehicles in the employ of the quartermaster’s department. In the afternoon, Brig. General Tyler, commandant of the northwestern defense of Baltimore, ordered out for parade and inspection the forces under his command. Alexander’s Battery, the Junior Artillery, Eagle Artillery, Hanks’s Battery, First Delaware Calvary, and company C. Purnell Legion Calvary, assembled on Broadway, were reviewed and inspected – They then marched to Monument Square where they were inspected by Major General Schenck.” - The Baltimore Sun, 1863
“Rioting, etc. – Yesterday morning a riotous disposition among caulkers engaged in the ship yards in the eastern section of the city manifested itself, in which it appeared that certain parties of white men forcibly operated to drive the negro men engaged in the caulking of vessels from their work. The white men are also said to be caulkers. Attacks were made by the whites on parties in the ship yards of Messrs. Butler & Silcer, on Jackson’s wharf, at the screw dock and on the street. The negroes in some cases were beaten, white men jumped overboard to escape. John Fisher and John W. Boslay were arrested by officers Barnes and Everett, and were held for an examination before Justice Spicer this afternoon. We know not the special origin of this matter, but it appears to be a kind of raid such as took place some two years since, when the white caulkers attempted to drive the others away.” - The Baltimore Sun, 1863
Fell’s Point during the Civil War was filled with everyday dangers. The streets were monopolized by train traffic causing many pedestrian accidents, there were frequent drownings, and home accidents were prevalent such as those caused by exploding ethereal oil lamps. Fights and bar brawls were a common occurrence and work and industrial accidents were an ever present reality. All of this kept doctors like Dr. Nicholas Dashiell extremely busy. There was hardly any day in which some accident or tragedy wasn’t reported in Fell’s Point
Scharf’s “Chronicles of Baltimore” records a large mob assembled at the President Street Depot a few blocks west of Broadway. It was here that they attacked the Pennsylvania Volunteers and Band members who were still in their passenger cars. For safety reasons they were transferred to freight cars according to this account. During this procedure over one hundred volunteers were separated from the others. For their safety the police took them to the Eastern District Police Station for a brief time until the train left to return to Pennsylvania. (Scharf, Baltimore Chronicles, p. 593)
The Sun Paper on April 20, 1861 records “A body of one hundred and five of the volunteers from the North was taken in charge by the police of the eastern district and sent back. They are now said to have stopped at Magnolia.”
In 1904, Fell's Point merchant, Simeon Hecht, dictated his life story to his son Meyer. Simeon discussed the events of April 19, 1861, the day of the Baltimore riots. However in these memoirs, Simeon clearly stated that the first bloodshed of the Civil War occurred on Canton Avenue (Fleet Street) near Broadway. Most historians have stated that the first casualty occurred on Pratt Street. Does Simeon give a missing piece of the puzzle or does he give incorrect information?History is almost always documented by personal accounts. Read Simeon Hecht's story and judge for yourself.
"On Friday morning April 19th 1861, during the recess hour at Public school number 2 – corner of Broadway and Bank Street the pupils were alarmed and frightened; by pistol shots and outcries of fright and terror. We all rushed out of the gate and looking down Broadway saw a large gathering of people armed with pistols, clubs and axes, firing and throwing stones at a train of cars coming through Canton Avenue from the North to Washington.
The 9th Massachusetts Regiment were on their way to Washington in pursuance of a call for 30 day Volunteers by President Lincoln. One third, 3 Companies were armed, the remaining 7 Companies expected to obtain their arms and accouterment at Washington, in the midst of the excitement mother saw me she grabbed and hurried me across the street to our private Residence. Father was up town, all the stores were closed and we all, huddled in the cellar to be out of danger.
One soldier was forcibly taken from the car beaten to death by the mob and left on the sidewalk to perish, after the commotion ceased Mother went over to the store, and ordered the clerks to bring the body in , this was done, the mob threatened to sack the establishment, and there was no relief until the police came from the Eastern Station and took it to Headquarters.
This was the first bloodshed in Maryland or any other State with the exception of a wounded soldier at Fort Sumter during the War, the same evening a crowd of Union men who were in the habit of congregating on the corner Raised the Stars and Stripes on a line extending from our corner across Broadway on the opposite side.
Every one expected Maryland would secede and consequently would be the seat of War – but Ben. Butler or Spooney Butler brought a Regiment of Soldiers from Boston via of Philadelphia, and the inland Water Route, occupied Fort McHenry and took possession of the Buff at the head of the harbor, planted siege guns and issued a proclamation that if any more troops were interfed [sic] with during the progress to Washington he would shell the town, until every secessionist was killed, at the same."
“Arrival of Release Political Prisoners. – At 3 ½ o’clock on Saturday afternoon, the following named gentlemen, released last Wednesday from Fort Warren, arrived in the Philadelphia train, at the President street depot: George Wm. Brown, ex mayor of this city; Col. George P. Kane, ex marshal of police of this city, and Dr. Chas. Macgill, a distinguished physician of Hagerstown, Md. The expected arrival of these gentlemen, at the time stated, having been previously announced, a large assemblage of citizens was at the depot to receive them, including many ladies. Messrs. Brown, Kane and Macgill had been in prison for nearly one year and a half, not withstanding which they appeared to be quite in their usual health. As the train crossed Broadway, on its route to the depot, a number of the friends of the gentlemen jumped on the cars and then followed such a greeting as made the passengers look with wondering astonishment. When the train reached the outside yard of the depot, the crowd was so dense, and so many jumping on and off the cars that the engineer did not attempts to pull the cars into the inside depot. Mr. Brown stepped from the platform of one of the cars, then Dr. Macgill, followed by Colonel Kane. Then ensued the hearty grasp of the hand, the earnest ‘God bless you,’ the true hearted ‘welcome home,’ and cheer after cheer as the gentlemen urged their way through the crowd.” - The Baltimore Sun, 1862
Fell’s Point’s Golden Years which began with the Revolutionary War came to an end with the Civil War. It would continue to be a sailor’s town and productive immigrant community into the second half of the 20th century.