On April 19, 1861, just one week after the attack on Fort Sumter by Confederate forces marked the beginning of the Civil War, a train carrying Union volunteers with the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment pulled into the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad's President Street Station. At the time, railroad cars traveling south of Baltimore had to be pulled by horses along Pratt Street to Camden Station on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad to the west. However, a mob of Southern sympathizers started to attack the train cars and forced the Union troops to get out and start marching through the city streets.
The mob continued their attack with bricks, paving stones, and pistols, leading the Union troops to respond by firing into the crowd, starting a violent skirmish that left four soldiers and twelve civilians dead, 36 soldiers and an unknown number of civilians wounded, along with the loss of much of the regiment’s equipment. One of the soldiers killed, Corporal Sumner Needham of Company I, is often considered to be the first Union casualty of the war.
President Street Station, where the infamous Pratt Street Riot began, was built in 1850 as the Baltimore terminus of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad. Largely replaced in 1873 by Union Station (now known as Penn Station) which connected the Pennsylvania Railroad and Western Maryland Railway, President Street Station continued to serve a limited number of passenger trains through 1911, later serving as a freight station and then warehouse. By 1970, a fire had destroyed the train shed leaving only the head house. In the 1990s, President Street Station started a new life as the Baltimore Civil War Museum.