Fevered July, 1861–War Intensifies

In the summer’s heat, the Civil War grows in its intensity. The first large scale battle takes place with a surprising Confederate victory but leaves both sides shocked by the casualty rates. A little Union general gets a big head, a Confederate general gets a nick-name. The American president reaches out to an Italian hero. Romans show respect to a recently deceased poet. Comings and goings in Japan. Canon fire in southeast Asia eerily foreshadows events of a century hence.

Frederick Douglass-c.1858

July–Rochester, New York–In this months issue of Douglass’ Monthly, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass writes about the war. “What our rulers at Washington most of all stand in need of, in order to a speedy suppression of this slaveholding rebellion, and to place the nation on a firm foundation of peace and prosperity, is neither men nor money, but a living and all-controlling faith in the principles of freedom avowed in the Declaration of Independence, and which are the foundation of the government; they need faith in the Bible truth, that righteousness exalteth a nation, and that sin is a reproach to any people . . . . To fight against slaveholders, without fighting against slavery, is but a half-hearted business, and paralyzes the hands engaged in it.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

July 1–Monday–Rome–The shops in the section of the city around the house of the Brownings close and people show their mourning for Elizabeth Barrett Browning with a public demonstration.

Her tomb as it looks today

July 1–Italy–The Vatican begins publication of its newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, a daily publication to champion the opinions of the papacy and provide a polemical defense as the forces of Italian unification reduce the territory of the Papal States. The first edition bears the sub- title “a political and moral paper.”

July 2–Hakodate, Japan–Reverend Ivan Kasatkin arrives to serve as priest at the chapel connected to the Russian consulate. He will introduce the Eastern Orthodox Church to the Japanese, winning converts and eventually becoming Archbishop of the Orthodox Church in his adopted country.

July 4–Washington–Having called Congress into special session, President Lincoln sends a message, addressing the unique needs of suppressing insurrection and asking for quick passage of a number bills. “On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men–to lift artificial weights from all shoulders–to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all–to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.”

July 10–Wednesday–Townsend Harris resigns as U S Minister to Japan. The first person to hold the office, he has served since July, 1856.

Townsend Harris in 1855

July 10–President Lincoln writes to a Kentucky politician that “It is my duty . . . to suppress an insurrection existing within the United States. I wish to do so with the least possible disturbance or annoyance to well disposed people anywhere.”

July 11–Missouri–Confederate and Union representatives meet at Planters’ House in St Louis to discuss a truce and ending violence in the state. The talks end abruptly without any resolution.

July 14–Washington–From his camp with the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, Major Sullivan Ballou writes to his wife, Sarah, anticipating both upcoming battle and the possibility of his own death. “If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing–perfectly willing–to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt. . . . my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.”

George Templeton Strong

July 15–New York City–Businessman and lawyer George Templeton Strong confides to his diary his opinion about his recent trip to Washington. “Home again. Thank Heaven, for of all detestable places Washington is the first–in July, and with congress sitting. Crowd, heat, bad quarters, bad fare, bad smells, mosquitoes, and a plague of flies . . . . Beelzebub surely reigns there, and Willard’s Hotel is his temple.”

July 17–Wednesday–Through Secretary of State Seward, President Lincoln sends a letter to the U.S. Minister at Brussels, H S Sanford, offering the Italian hero Giuseppe Garibaldi a commission as a Major General in the U S Army.


July 21–Manassas, Virginia–About 25 miles southwest of Washington, the two large armies fight the first large scale battle of the war. Confederate forces turn back the Union Army. Union casualties (dead, wounded, missing) total 2,896 while Confederate losses amount to 1,982. By 4 o’clock in the afternoon, the fighting ends with Union forces in disorganized retreat back to Washington. Well-to-do people, including some members of Congress and their families, expecting an easy Union victory, had come to picnic and watch the battle. When the Union army is driven back, the roads are blocked by the carriages of panicked civilians attempting to flee. However, Confederate commanders are disorganized and unable to follow-up their victory. Both sides suffer shock from the intensity of the fighting and the numbers of dead and wounded. It is the largest and bloodiest battle in American history up to this date. Major Sullivan Ballou of Rhode Island suffers a mortal wound and dies within a week. Confederate General Thomas Jackson, being prominent in the vanguard of the fighting, earns his nickname as another officer yells out, “Look at Jackson standing there like a stone wall!” For the first time, Union soldiers hear what come to be called “the Rebel yell.”

July 22–New York City–A ship called the Waring enters the harbor. The merchant vessel had been captured by a Confederate privateer several days ago. However, the Northern prisoners, led by William Tilghman, a black man, over-powered the Southerners, retaking the ship and bringing it to safety.

July 22–New York City–Commenting upon the Union defeat at Manassas, George Templeton Strong opines in his diary that “If the North be not cast down and discouraged by this reverse, we shall flog these scoundrels and traitors all the more bitterly for it before we are done with them.”

Mary Chesnut

July 23–Tuesday–Southern socialite Mary Chesnut notes in her diary: “Witnessed for the first time a military funeral. As that march came wailing up, they say Mrs. Bartow fainted. The empty saddle and the led war-horse–we saw and heard it all, and now it seems we are never out of the sound of the Dead March in Saul. It comes and it comes, until I feel inclined to close my ears and scream.”

July 23–Washington–Responding to the defeat two days previous, President Lincoln issues a number of directives to Union commandeers: the Navy to strenuously enforce the blockade; General Butler to strengthen his position at Fort Monroe; General McClellan to organize the forces in western Virginia; General Fremont to push forward in Missouri; the forces from the Manassas battle to rapidly reorganize; the volunteers who enlisted for 90 days to either re-enlist for longer service or be discharged; Congress to request more volunteers for longer service.

July 25–Thursday–Washington–The Congress approves the use of volunteers to suppress the rebellion.

July 25–Washington–The Congress passes the Crittenden Resolution which declares that “the preservation of the Union is the sole reason for the Civil War. Chief sponsorship for the measure comes Representative John Crittenden of Kentucky in the House and Senator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee in the Senate. The fighting is not for “overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States” but to “defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and to preserve the Union.” The measure is intended to insure the loyalty of slave-holding border states and to tell the Confederacy that the war is not “a war of abolition” as Confederate propaganda says.

July 26–Friday–General McClellan writes to his wife, Ellen. “I find myself in a new and strange position here–President, Cabinet, General Scott & all deferring to me– by some strange operation of magic, I seem to have become the power of the land. I almost think that were I to win some small success now, I could become Dictator or anything else that might please me.”

July 26–Mexico–The Confederate Minister advises the government that the Confederacy “demands” absolute neutrality from Mexico in the war with the North.

July 27–Saturday–General George McClellan receives orders appointing him as commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, replacing General Irvin McDowell.

July 31–Wednesday–Qui Nhon, Vietnam–While entering the harbor in search of missing sailors from the American merchant ship Myrtle, the USS Saginaw comes under canon fire from the Vietnamese fort guarding the city. It may be that the Vietnamese mistook them for a French ship. The Saginaw returns fire and even after seeing an explosion from within the fort and the Vietnamese cease firing, the Saginaw continues firing until the fort is reduced to rubble. No American sailors are killed or injured. Vietnamese casualties are unknown. The Saginaw returns to Hong Kong without finding the missing sailors.

USS Saginaw

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  • Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Ph.D.  On August 16, 2011 at 11:56 am

    Thanks, Clio, for all this very interesting and little-known information. I am glad you included mention of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the photograph of her grave, which I had never before seen. The uplifted casket reflects Robert Browning’s idealism concerning his beloved wife, and somehow makes me feel better in the midst of all the horrific details of the Civil War. –Virginia Mollenkott

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