Policing Baltimore During the Civil War: a Significant Find
Ed Papenfuse, Maryland State Archivist, retired
In 1860, when the Baltimore City Police department was taken over by the State of Maryland in the aftermath of election fraud, mob violence, and alleged corruption, every effort was made to record the daily activities of the officers on the beat and to account for not only their actions, but also any occurence that was thought to be disturbing the peace of the community. A standard format for recording was devised and each police district station was given blank volumes in which the desk clerk recorded the required information. Overseeing the consequences of any alleged criminal activity was a magistrate assigned to the station who determined any fines and any further legal action such as referring the matter to a grand jury, incarceration, or sending adult vagrants and abandoned babies to the almshouse.
Fortunately for students of local history and crime generally most of the dockets kept by the desk clerk have survived for the late nineteenth, early 20th century and are available for research at the Maryland State Archives, but for the intervening years from 1860 until then, the records have not survived except in rare instances.
Until just recently, only one ledger, that for the Eastern Police district for 1863 (encompassing Fell’s point) was known to exist. Thanks to the concern of a public official who salvaged another from a flood of a storage room as it was about to be thrown into the dumpster, another one for the Middle Police District (1862) has surfaced, and was presented by his family to the Baltimore City Historical Society for preservation and public access.
Family members of the public official who salvaged the police docket (shown on the left) and participated in the Baltimore City Historical Society workshop celebrating its importance at the Baltimore City Archives on March 26, 2019. The Volume is now a part of the Baltimore Historical Society’s Collection at the Baltimore City Archives (BCA MS 32-2).
The newly discovered middle district police docket covers the period from the night of the 7th of May 1862 until the 27th of March 1863. The middle police district (also known as the Central Police District) encompassed the very center of the city at a time when it was occupied by Union troops and with a population that was divided in its sympathies in regard to the secession of the Southern states. It extended from the then northern boundary of the city (North Avenue) to the harbor.
Detail from an 1880 Charity map showing the Middle District Police District,
courtesy of the author’s collection. Note that the office on the map is the \
Charity office and not the police station
On March 26, 2019, the Baltimore City Historical Society sponsored a workshop on the significance of the contents of the Middle Police docket for 1862, and as a thank you to the family that preserved it from the dumpster. While there are many historically important topics that could be addressed using the docket including the crime rate, the administration of justice, and the functioning of the police at the most basic local level, the emphasis of the workshop was on what could be learned about the round the clock activities in the neighborhood as recorded by the police who worked two shifts, day and night. Led by the former State Archivist and authoritatively informed by Matt Crenson who has recently published an political history of Baltimore soon to appear in paperback, attention was drawn to a number of stories to be found in the volume including the capture of several runaway slaves (Maryland would continue to be slave state until the fall of 1864), the charges of drunk and disorderly conduct brought against literally hundreds of soldiers listed by name and unit, treasonous behavior by supporters of the South, and murder.
Source of photograph: https://www.kilduffs.com/
For the time covered by the 1862 Police Docket, the Police Station was located at the South East Corner of Saratoga and Holiday Street. The station was known as the Central Police Station, while the District was called both the Middle (as on the docket) and the Central Police District. Detail from 1879 Sanborn Insurance Map of Baltimore, Peale Collection, Maryland Historical Society
A few examples of what can be learned about life in the neighborhoods of the Middle Police District from the perspective of the police include:
- enforcing City Ordinances and State Laws as the related to speeding on city streets, throwing snowballs, begging, and selling short weights of butter at the city market. John Cull, a boy, was charged with begging on the street and committed to the House of Refuge by Magistrate Hiss on January 26, 1862.
- coping with the abandoned, the poor and the indigent including the insane. Jenny Scharff was charged with insanity and committed to the Almshouse on the night of May 18, 1862. “At one o’clock [a.m. in the morning of August 28, 1862] as officer Joseph E. Hamilton was making his rounds he found a market basket with a white male child neatly dressed on the steps of 185 Aisquith Street and brought it to the station house and it was properly cared for until an opportunity afforded to send it to the almshouse.”
- enforcing gambling laws. On Saturday July 5, 1862, fifteen policemen raided the house of Samuel Root on Forrest Street, near Gay and arrested 17 men (including Root) who were playing Keno. All were also charged with being enemies of the U. S. Government and Samuel Root was held for a hearing by Magistrate Hiss.
- responding with the fire department to fire alarms. For example “Between 3 & 4 O’clock [on June 24, 1862] a bed was discovered on fire at no. 4 Bank Street which gave rise to the alarm from box no. 21. It was set on fire by 3 children being left in the house alone. The door had to be broken open to put the fire out. The parties occupying the house named Bragman.”
- arresting for disorderly conduct, wife abuse, drunkenness, and a wide range of illegal behavior. Drunken behavior was by far the the most frequent offense, but domestic quarrels were often recorded such as John Pattison, colored, abusing his wife. Magistrate Hiss dismissed the case.
- arresting spies, deserters, and for public displays of support for Jeff Davis and the Confederacy. By June of 1862 it was illegal to display a “Secession Flag” in public. Apparently that is what Mary A. Clendenen, a millner at 110 Lexington did. Judge Hiss permitted her release on $500 bail and a fine of $.50 on June 28th, 1862.
- capturing runaway slaves (Maryland was still a slave state until November 1864). On May 31, 1862, Isaac Brown, colored, was charged with being a runaway slave of Hamilton Stump who lived at the corner of Paca & Lombard street. He was held in the lockup for a hearing.
- arresting thieves and pickpockets. Sarah Murphy was charged with stealing two pair of stockings, the property of A. Levi, no. 59 Baltimore Street. After a hearing she was discharged by Magistrate Hiss, presumably after paying a fine.
- enforcing the city and state’s ‘black code’. On the night of the 18th of December, 1862, eleven people were arrested by six police officers and “charged with having a Ball without having a white man in charge, at the house of Benjamin Carson, colored, no. 103 Ensor Street. Committed each for the peace” by Magistrate Hiss and presumably fined.
Throughout the docket the principal presiding magistrate was Charles D. Hiss, who began his political/judicial career as a Know Nothing and ended it as a Democrat. Hiss had control over what to do with those who were brought before him. Most were dismissed with fines, but in the more serious cases, they were referred the Grand Jury and to the Courts for further action. It was the fines and the money found on prisoners brought before him that got Hiss into trouble. On the first of June 1863, Silas Wright, a negro, was arrested and brought before Magistrate Hiss, accused of stealing “certain bank notes and promissory notes,” Magistrate Hiss dismissed the charge and set Wright free, but not before he had the contents of Wright’s pockets delivered to him, which he in turn decided to keep for himself. The individual who claimed the bank and promissory notes attempted without success to get the money back, but Hiss refused, and was criminally charged with stealing them, a decision that was upheld by the Court of Appeals. Without the subsequent volume it is not possible to determine for certain if Hiss continued in his post despite his misdemeanor conviction. According to the City Directories he remains in Baltimore until his death which may have been about the time of the 1904 Baltimore fire, although no record his decease could be found. His subsequent career was as a landlord of bawdy houses and ‘collector’. His last known address (1900 Baltimore City Directory) was at 1144 E. Lombard Street which was in the path of the 1904 Baltimore fire.
The docket is a rich source of neighborhood history as well as a significant source for the study of crime and criminal behavior in Baltimore City. It is to be hoped that it and the other sources for the police and criminal history of the city will be placed on line by the Baltimore City Archives and the Maryland State Archives for virtual access by researchers which will greatly facilitate our ability to research and write about the city’s colorful past.
 CRENSON, MATTHEW A. BALTIMORE: A Political History. [S.l.]: JOHNS HOPKINS UNIV PRESS, 2019, 230-231.
JAIL (City Criminal Docket, Index) C2060, 1855-1899
JAIL (City Criminal Docket) C2057, 1832-1899
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE (Criminal Docket) C211, 1821-1852
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Central District) C2117, 1885-1960
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Central District) T2296, 1893-1960
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Consolidated) C3065, 1873-1955
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Consolidated) T2212, 1873-1916
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Eastern District) C2111, 1863-1959
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Eastern District) T2271, 1863-1959
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Middle District) C2109, 1870-1884
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Middle District) T2297, 1870-1884
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Miscellaneous) C3075, 1902-1956
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Northeastern District) C2110, 1876-1878, 1900-1952, 1956-1959
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Northeastern District) T2264, 1900-1960
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Northern District) T4883, 1900-1961
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Northwestern District) C2112, 1876-1959
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Northwestern District) CM1260, 1881-1900
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Northwestern District) T2277, 1876-1959
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Southeastern District) C2115, 1959-1961
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Southeastern District) T2280, 1959-1961
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Southern District) C2113, 1867-1960
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Southern District) T2278, 1867-1960
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Southwestern District) T4880, 1901-1959
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Western District) C2114, 1959-1961
POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Western District) T2279, 1959-1961
 CRENSON, MATTHEW A. BALTIMORE: A Political History. [S.l.]: JOHNS HOPKINS UNIV PRESS, 2019
Charles D. Hiss vs. State of Maryland, Maryland Reports (1868) 34, pp. 556-562.