With little more than eight hours’ notice, Dr. Smith, along with Company B, took the early train from Groton and arrived at Lowell, Massachusetts, by 9:00 a.m. on the morning of April 16. Here they met the other companies of the regiment at Huntington Hall, where they listened to patriotic speeches from the mayor and other dignitaries before starting their journey to Washington, D.C. The order “Fall in!” came as the band played “The Girl I Left Behind Me” in the background, and the regiment hastily moved into formation, boarding trains for Boston amid cheers and farewell tears from the crowds of families and townspeople that had gathered despite the cold, rain, and sleet that morning.
Over the next months they would all be tested in ways they could not have imagined. But the regimental chaplain, Reverend Charles Babbidge, remembered, “On that April morning, when the soldiers of North Middlesex came together . . . their hearts were cheered by the presence, and their souls lifted up by the loud and well-known laugh, of their surgeon. From the very start Dr. Smith was the life of the regiment. He was himself so much the embodiment of fun and humor; and this was a providential blessing to his comrades.”
"As the detachment reached the first bridge over Jones Falls Creek all sorts of missiles began to shower upon and about us. Men fell and the street became covered with knapsacks, blankets, hats, and muskets, etc. All sorts of obstacles were placed in the street to impede our march and the mob began to tear up the bridge over which we were obliged to pass, but thanks to the indomitable resolution of Captain Follansbee who put us into the run, we succeeded in reaching it previous to demolition and crossed in safety although many of the men fell partially through the holes made purposely to entrap us." All the time, the men continued to be assaulted by bricks, stones, clubs, and oyster shells on all sides, and furniture and household utensils were thrown at them from second-floor store windows lining the street. As Lieutenant John C. Jepson of Company C later reflected, “It has always been a wonder to me that we were not annihilated there. . . . I have been in many a battle, but I had rather, any time, face the enemy in the open field than go through such a scene as that was in the streets of Baltimore. It is worth something to know that your enemy is in front of you, and not above, behind and on every side."
In an irony of fate, the nineteenth of April will forever unite the Revolutionary and Civil Wars as the date of the first deaths in the two most significant wars in history fought on American soil. In 1775 the first shots flew and lives were lost on April 19 in the battles of Lexington and Concord that touched off the Revolutionary War. And now, in 1861, the Baltimore Pratt Street Riots on April 19 marked the first bloodshed and death of troops in the Civil War. In both wars, soldiers from Middlesex County, Massachusetts, were the first to give their lives. Some of the men in the Sixth Regiment were lineal descendants of those who marched to Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, including Dr. Smith, whose maternal great-grandfather, Lieutenant Abraham Stickney Jr., marched on the alarm with Colonel David Green’s Regiment on April 19, 1775.
Photos: Top - Dr. Norman Smith, ca. 1861, Sixth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Militia. "Officers, 6th Mass.,” MOLLUS Civil War Image Collection, vol. 93, p. 4763, U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle, PA; Bottom - Currier & Ives, The Lexington of 1861. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, LC-USZC4-1736.