The First Year of the War-1861


TThis year marks the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. It has been called the War of Secession, the Brothers’ War, the War Between the States and the War of the Rebellion. Whatever one calls it, I believe that more than anything else, it is THE defining American experience. It changed the way Americans saw themselves and the way that Europeans saw us. It changed us from “the United States are” to “the United States is.” It was about the nature of the federal union, about states’ rights, about economic development, about the Constitution and, I strongly believe, more than anything else, about race and citizenship and civil rights.

 The Civil War cost the nation in many ways. The federal government and the Confederacy spent almost $7,000,000,000 combined (in 1860 U S dollars) to fight the war. This is more than $189,000,000,000 in today’s dollars. Additionally the United Sates paid millions of dollars in veterans benefits until well into the twentieth century. Confederate veterans were disqualified from such benefits. However, some Southern states paid disabled veterans what they could manage with the money at hand. Union forces suffered 140,414 deaths in combat; Confederate forces at least 72,524 combat deaths. Between the two sides, in excess of 300,000 soldiers and sailors died of disease, accidents and other causes. About 282,000 Union fighters suffered wounds in combat, the Confederacy, probably about 175,000 wounded. Some historians estimate that by December, 1865, 1 of every 4 white men in the Confederacy were dead or disabled. No one knows for certain how many civilians, particularly in the South, were killed. Total number of dead soldiers and sailors, by best estimates, amounted to 1.98% of the total 1860 population. Compare that with World War Two American dead which amounted to 0.3% of the total 1940 populastion.

The Civil War battles occurred in more than 10,000 locations. However, almost 40% of these were fought in Virginia and Tennessee.

With this blog, I’m beginning a very long series about the Civil War, its people, its events–large and small, and the world around the war which went on as human life does during any period of warfare. Part of these essays will be chronological to help me and my readers see the day-to-day unfolding and many kinds of interconnections.

I confess, gentle readers, that I approach this topic neither detached nor disinterested. While at the time of the Civil War, my known forebearers were either infants or children in England, Ireland, Bavaria and Alsace-Lorraine, intellectually and emotionally I am the off-spring of abolitionists. William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, Abby Kelley Foster, Reverend Samuel J May, Frederick Douglass, John Greenleaf Whittier, Richard Allen, William Wilberforce, Theodore Dwight Weld, Angelina Grimke, Levi Coffin, Anthony Benezet, May Ann Shadd Cary, Susan B Anthony, Benjamin Lundy, Theodore Parker, Granville Sharp, Henry David Thoreau, Sojourner Truth, John Woolman, Harriet Tubman and others I proudly acknowledge as my mothers and fathers in the faith, a faith that slavery was not merely an economic policy of questionable merit nor a political wrong but it was sin! In this matter, as Martin Luther said of another matter of faith, “I can not, I will not recant. Here I stand. So kelp me God. Amen.” When I have taught this period, I have made clear to my students that I absolutely reject the Gone With The Wind version of that history. That view is a falsehood whose proponents have other agenda. While I find noble individuals in the conflict, I reject the concept of “the Lost Cause.” Just read the infamous March 21, 1861, “Cornerstone Speech” given at Savannah, Georgia, by Alexander Stephens, newly-elected Vice President of the Confederacy in which he declares that slavery is the natural condition of black people and a cornerstone of the foundation of the Confederacy. “The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions—African slavery as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro [sic] in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.”

A slave showing scars from whippings

Today I start with some thoughts about how others have seen the Civil War and an overview of various aspects of 1861, the year the war began.

 “Let me tell you what is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives you may win Southern independence, but I doubt it. The North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche.”–Sam Houston, governor of Texas

“The quarrel between the North and South is, as it stands, solely a fiscal quarrel.”–Charles Dickens

 “No tongue can tell, no mind conceive, no pen portray the horrible sights I witnessed this morning.”–Captain John Taggert, 9th Pennsylvania Reserves, September 17, 1862

 “War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”–General William Tecumseh Sherman


“In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free. Honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best hope of earth.”–President Abraham Lincoln, message to Congress, December, 1862

 “What armies and how much of war I have seen, what thousands of marching troops, what fields of slain, what prisons, what hospitals, what ruins, what cities in ashes, what hunger and nakedness, what orphanages, what widowhood, what wrongs and what vengeance.”–Clara Barton

 “In this age, and in this nation, there can be no meaning to liberty which leaves a man stripped of all civil rights, and free only as the beasts of the forest are free. Emancipation and liberty are but empty and mocking words if they do not convey the idea and rights of citizenship.”–American Missionary Association, December, 1865

 “We have shared the incommunicable experience of war. We felt, we still feel, the passion of life to its top. In our youths, our hearts were touched by fire.”–Oliver Wendall Holmes, Jr.

“I think that Lee should have been hanged. It was all the worse that he was a good man and a fine character and acted conscientiously. It’s always the good men who do the most harm in the world.”–Henry Adams

 “Thus ended the great American Civil War, which upon the whole must be considered the noblest and least avoidable of all the great mass conflicts of which till then there was record.”–Winston Churchill

 “He [President Lincoln] must have suffered far more than he ever expressed from the agonies and griefs of the war, and it was morally and dramatically inevitable that this prophet who had crushed opposition and sent thousands of men to their deaths should finally attest his good faith by laying down his own life with theirs.”–Edmund Wilson

 “The American government had set out to fight the slave states in 1861, not to end slavery, but to retain the enormous national territory and market and resources. Yet, victory required a crusade, and the momentum of that crusade brought new forces into national politics; more blacks determined to make their freedom mean something, more whites . . . concerned with racial equality.”–Howard Zinn




:What kind of year was 1861? What might one read or hear about, in addition to the war? What people were emerging as significant persons whose names we recognize today? Let’s look at some important areas:

Agriculture, Food & Drink:

>the McCormick reaper sells for $150; it can be purchased for $30 down, the balance in six months if harvest is good, longer if harvest is poor;

McCormick reaper in operation

>Gail Borden opens new factories in New York and in Illinois to supply condensed milk for the Union army;

>Gilbert Van Camp of Indianapolis receives a lucrative contract to supply his canned pork and beans to the Union Army;

>Julius Sturgis of Lititz, Pennsylvania, gives up his bakery to open the first commercial pretzel bakery in the U S;

>William Schrafft, a Bavarian immigrant, opens his candy store in Boston;

 >Peter Widener of Philadelphia obtains a lucrative contract to supply mutton to the Union army.

The Arts:

>the German-American painter Albert Bierstadt, age 31, finishes the first of his lush, sweeping landscapes of the American West; he will come to be considered the foremost painter of these scenes for the remainder of the 19th century;

 >in France, construction begins on the new Paris opera house; Napoleon III has approved the design submitted by Charles Garnier, a 36 year old Paris-born architect.


> new books this year include

>On Translating Homer by Matthew Arnold (a printed version of the series of public lectures given by him at Oxford from November 3, 1860 to December 18, 1860);

>Mother Right: an Investigation of the Religious and Juridical Character of Matriarchy in the Ancient World by the Swiss anthropologist Johan J Bachofen (published in German);

>The Flowers of Evil, 2nd edition, by Charles Baudelaire (published in French; this edition is missing the six poems for which Baudelaire had been fined for violating public morals yet includes a number of newer poems);

>Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management by Isabella Beeton;

Isabella Beeton

>The Octoroon by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

>Great Expectations by Charles Dickens;

>The Insulted and Humiliated by Fyodor Dostoevsky (published in Russian);








George Eliot

>Silas Marner by George Eliot ;

>The Chemical History of a Candle by Michael Faraday;

>Elsie Venner: A Romance of Destiny by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr (later dubbed the first of his “medicated” novels, it tells the story of a neurotic young woman whose mother was bitten by a rattlesnake while pregnant, essentially making her daughter half-woman, half-snake);

>Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs;

>The Book on Mediums or Mediums and Evokers’ Handbook by Allan Kardec (published in French, the second of his five books on spiritualist philosophy)

> The System of Acquired Rights by Ferdinand Lassalle (published in German);

>volume five of The History of England by Thomas Babington Macaulay;

>Considerations on Representative Government by John Stuart Mill;

>A Gift to Young Housewives by Elena Ivanovna Molokhovets (published in Russian-it will be the most successful book of its kind in 19th and early 20th century Russia, well known in Russian households for decades–Molokhovets will revise the book continually between 1861 and 1917);

>The Golden Treasury of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language by Francis Turner Palgrav;

>The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Read;

>Consuelo by George Sand (published in French; a new edition of the 1842 original);

>A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament: For the Use of Biblical Students by Frederick H A Scrivener, biblical scholar and textual critic (in this book Scrivener lists over 3,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, as well as manuscripts of early versions);

>Childbed Fever by Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis (published in German–Semmelweis, a Hungarian working in Vienna, argues that the simple act of hand-washing by physicians reduces disease among women giving birth; women describe him as the “savior of mothers”–his male colleagues ridicule him);

>Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical  by Herbert Spencer

>Lectures on the History of the Eastern Church by Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, professor of church history at Oxford

>The Adventures of Philip by William Makepeace Thackeray;

>Orley Farm by AnthonyTrollope;

>East Lynn by Ellen Wood;

>The Young Step-Mother by Charlotte Mary Yonge

 >Frederick James Furnivall becomes editor of the Oxford English Dictionary;

 >first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern for use in the Anglican Church appears in print.

Business & Commerce:

>Rudolph Wurlitzer obtains a contract to provide trumpets and drums to the U S Army;

>in Philadelphia, John Wanamaker opens a men’s clothing store with the new practice of selling every item at marked, fixed prices;

>in New York Eberhard Faber begins mass-production of pencils;

>in London, Charles Harrod begins transforming his father’s grocery store into a department store;

>Isaac M Singer sells more sewing machines by export to Europe than he is selling in the U S;

I M Singer

>in Canada, the discovery of gold in British Columbia starts a “gold rush”;

>the North has over 1,300,000 industrial workers producing about $1,500,000,000 worth of products;

>the South has 110,000 industrial workers producing about $155,000,000 worth of products.


>the census of Canada reports that the black population is 13,166;

>the total population of the United States is a little over 32.3 million, of whom about 2/3rd live in the Union;

> population in representative Confederate states: Virginia-1,219,630; Georgia-1,037,286; North Carolina-992,622; South Carolina-703,768;

>population in representative Union states: New York-3,880,735; Pennsylvania-2,996,215; Ohio-2,339,511; Massachusetts-1,231,066;

>the population of the Russian Empire is approximately 76,000,000;

>the population of Italy is about 25,000,000;

>Great Britain has a population of 23,000,000.


>the British government founds the Post Office Savings Bank, the world’s first postal savings system to allow workers “to provide for themselves against adversity and ill-health”;

>from July 1, 1860 to June 30, 1861, the United States has a trade deficit of $86,000,000.


The seal of Vasser College

>Vasser Female College, Poughkeepsie, New York, is endowed by businessman Matthew Vasser and the college receives a charter; however, classes will only begin in 1865;

>Yale awards the first American PhD degree;

>Mary Smith Peake, age 38, born of a white father and free black mother, starts a school for the children of former slaves in the fall of 1861 under what will become known as the Emancipation Oak near Fort Monroe; she is the first black teacher hired by the American Missionary Association; although in declining health, she single-handedly teaches more than fifty children during the day and twenty adults at night.

>New colleges founded include:

–University of Colorado, Boulder

–University of Washington, Seattle

–Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge

Fashion & Dress:

Mary Todd Lincoln

>Mary Lincoln, the new First Lady, spends more than $20,000 redecorating the White House, an effort she views as a necessary effort to create an image of stability that commands respect for President Lincoln and for the Union; she is the first presidential wife to be called “First Lady” in the press

Immigration (U.S.):

>91,918 immigrants enter the U S

>31,661 from German states

>23,797 from Ireland

>19,675 from Britain

>7,518 from China

>46.9% are female

>16.7% are under age 15

>9.9% are over age 40


>53.9% list no occupation [this includes many women and children]

>17.2% are general laborers

>10.2% are farmers

>10.2% are skilled laborers

>6.8% are commercial workers

>0.6% are servants

>0.6% are miscellaneous

>0.5% are professional workers

>Leland Stanford, businessman, lawyer and politician, hires hundreds of Chinese laborers to help build the western part of the Central Pacific Railroad.


>Robert Knight merges The Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce to become The Times of India;

 >John Edward Taylor, the son of the founder, becomes editor of the Manchester Guardian (the paper will begin an editorial policy hostile to the Northern cause in the American Civil War, earning the wrath of Charles Francis Adams and other Americans).


>in Great Britain, Parliament passes the Criminal Law Consolidation Acts–The death penalty is limited to murder, embezzlement, piracy, high treason and to acts of arson perpetrated upon docks or ammunition depots; the age of consent is codified as twelve; the Home Secretary takes over the power to reprieve or commute sentences from the judiciary and Privy Council.

 Medicine & Health:

>in France, Louis Pasteur publishes a scholarly paper attacking the old concept of spontaneous generation;


>in New England 14.2% of children die before age 1.


>as of June 30, there are 217,112 active duty personnel in the U S armed forces;

>Cochise, a leader of the Chiricahua Apache, is falsely accused of stealing cattle and kidnaping a white boy; escaping a trap, Cochise leads his warriors to fight the United States for the next eleven years;

 >in October, President Lincoln creates the Army Balloon Corps as a branch of the Union Army under the directorship of the balloonist Thaddeus S. C. Lowe and organized as a civilian operation employing a group of prominent American aeronauts and seven specially built, gas-filled balloons to perform aerial reconnaissance of the Confederate Army [it will function until August, 1863];

 >the Minie ball, a bullet developed by the French Army captain Claude Etienne Minie, is used immediately [and will be throughout the Civil War] by both North & South; it produces terrible wounds on those struck by it, shattering bones, and often causing doctors in field hospitals to amputate injured limbs rather than risk a typically fatal secondary infection; the large numbers of infantry armed with this type of ammunition results in mass casualties on a scale previously inconceivable to military strategists;

 >in Russia during April, in response to the Tsar’s abolition of serfdom the month before, in the Spassky Uyezd of Kazan Region, a group of peasants decide that the reform means that every large estate is now in possession of peasants, that they can refuse to pay rent to their aristocratic landlords and can suspend all works on their lands; led by a literate peasant named Anton Petrov, about 5000 peasants from 130 villages in the area join the movement; in violent confrontations, the Tsar’s soldiers kill between 57 to 91 peasants and wound more than 350 others; a university teacher, Afanasy Shchapov, who delivered a speech on behalf of the peasants, is arrested and sentenced to exile in Siberia


>the selection of Charles Francis Adams as U S Minister to Great Britain turns out to be fortuitous for U S-British relations; the appointment by President Lincoln of William Seward to the position of Secretary of State led directly to Seward’s insistence that Adams be chosen as Minister to England; President Lincoln follows Seward’s recommendation and appoints Adams to this key position; with his son Henry as personal secretary, Charles Francis Adams, along with his wife, arrives in London and quickly immerses himself in diplomatic and social affairs; British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, holds a precarious position as leader of a coalition government and is not in the Queen’s favor; the Foreign Secretary, Lord John Russell, though dutiful to the British government’s policies, soon develops an excellent relationship with Adams that, in turn, will help Adams in his effort to preclude British diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy; British working class opinion is against the Confederacy, due to the institution of slavery, while the aristocratic andcommercial classes favor the Confederacy; Adams provides exemplary diplomatic work amid this volatile atmosphere and disputatious events.


>in Korea Choe Je-u founds Donghak, a Korean religious movement against foreign invasions and critical of government policies of the time. Donghak venerates Haneullim (Lord of Heaven) and believes that human beings are not created by a supernatural being but instead are caused by an innate power. Koreans have believed in Haneullim from ancient times,

Science & Technology:

>the U S Patent Office receives 4,643 patent applications for inventions;

>in Great Britain, a system of fifteen land stations operates to use the new telegraph to transmit to Retired Admiral Robert FitzRoy [who had gained fame as captain of The Beagle during Darwin’s voyage] daily reports of weather at set times and includes a system of hoisting storm warning cones at the principal ports when a gale is expected;

 >in Australia, Thomas S Mort establishes at Darling Harbor the first freezing works in the world, which will became the New South Wales Fresh Food and Ice Company;

 >Linus Yale invents the cylinder lock which bears his name

Social Movements:

>an abolitionist, Frederick W Gunn, establishes the first ever recorded summer camp for boys at Washington, Connecticut

Sports & Exercise:

>having lost a bet on the outcome of the 1860 presidential election, Edward Payson Weston walks 478 miles from Boston, Massachusetts to Washington in 10 days and 10 hours, from February 22nd to March 4th, arriving in Washington at 5:00 pm, and attending President Lincoln’s inaugural ball that evening; the Union Army studies his technique in an attempt to improve infantry forced-marching;

 >an English promoter, George Martin, brings to the British Isles an American runner Lewis Bennett, a Seneca Indian from the Cattaraugus Reservation in New York who uses the name “Deerfoot” and runs his races with a naked chest, wearing a feather apron around his waist, and a band with one eagle feather around his head; in a 20 month tour of Europe, Deerfoot will become a world record holder.


>the Confederacy has about 9,000 miles of railroad track

>the Union has better than 22,000 miles of railroad track

Ah, yes–quite a year . . . and only the first act of the great drama.


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