By J.J. Huggins

jhuggins@eagletribune.com

LAWRENCE — One hundred and fifty years ago, members of the Sixth Massachusetts Militia boarded trains in Boston and headed south to fight the Confederates.

People cheered as the soldiers rolled through Springfield, Hartford, New York, Trenton and Philadelphia. The troops were on their way to Washington, D.C., to protect the capital and quash the rebellion.

CARL RUSSO/Staff photo. Re-enactment participants in The Famous Olde Sixth Company I Massachusetts Militia of Lawrence Mass. from left, Sean Sweeney of Lawrence; Christian Padron of Lawrence; flag bearer, Morrgan Sweeney-Charlton, 17, and a sophomore at Central Catholic High School and Joe Bella of Methuen demonstrate a formation used to put down a mob while visiting the graves of Sumner Needham and his widow, Hannah in Lawrence’s Bellevue Cemetery. Sumner was a member of the Sixth Co. I Mass. Militia when he was killed by a secession mob in Baltimore in April 1861. The militia was traveling through Baltimore on its way to Washington to defend the capital at the start of the Civil War. The Lawrence militia members will travel to Baltimore on the weekend of April 16 to participate in events to commemorate the 150th. anniversary of the Civil War and the mob attack on the Militia that killed Sumner.

But the mood deteriorated when they arrived in Baltimore, a hotbed of Confederate sympathy, on April 19, 1861.

The troops arrived at President Street Station. A city ordinance prevented locomotives from traveling through town, so the men tried to pass through in train cars drawn by horses. As the story goes, they traveled along the waterfront to Camden Station.

A mob threw sand and ship anchors onto the tracks, so the soldiers had to disembark and walk.

“The southern sympathizers didn’t like the idea of Union troops coming across the city,” said Dan Gagnon, a historian from Methuen and a member of the Lawrence Civil War Memorial Guard.

The mob attacked with guns, stones, furniture and household items, Gagnon said.

Four militiamen died: Sumner Needham of Lawrence, Luther Ladd and Addison Whitney of Lowell, and Charles Taylor of Boston.

“This is the first blood of the war,” said Elizabeth Charlton, vice president of the Lawrence Civil War Memorial Guard.

The Lawrence City Council met as soon as they heard about Needham’s death. They immediately established a fund for his wife, Hannah, who was the first Civil War widow in the country, Charlton said.

The Needhams are buried in Bellevue Cemetery in Lawrence.

The attack was a dark day in American history, but an important one. The slain militiamen were considered martyrs, and their killings served as a recruiting tool for the Union, Charlton said.

To commemorate the attack, nine members of the Lawrence Civil War Memorial Guard are in Baltimore this weekend, dressed like the militia and marching through the streets with other Civil War re-enactors.

“It’s to educate people about the history,” Charlton said.

The hobbyists wear everything from the pants, to the coat, to the belt. They carry real muskets.

The group interacts with the public, but they don’t go into character.

Re-enactment participants in The Famous Olde Sixth Company I Massachusetts Militia of Lawrence, Mass., pose for a tintype photo, the type of picture taken during the Civil War.

“We just never made that leap,” Charlton said. “We’re largely informational.”

The Lawrence contingent is camped on Federal Hill this weekend. They met the Friends of the President Street Station, a group dedicated to preserving the historic train station.

They marched in the City of Baltimore’s Grand Procession yesterday, which barred Confederate re-enactors from marching but allowed them to stand by and heckle the Union re-enactors.

The Lawrence group also planned to catch the opening of “The Conspirator,” a movie about the woman charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination of President Lincoln. They’ll return home on Tuesday, Charlton said.

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Follow J.J. Huggins on Twitter under the screen name ETJJHuggins.

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