Monthly Archives: November 2011

Gratitude Amidst Turmoil

The celebration of Thanksgiving on a regular basis throughout the country on the last Thursday of November came about with seventeen years of agitation by a New England woman and the pressures of war. Sarah Josepha Hale, a poet, journalist and author, began in 1846 writing letters to the President of the United States asking him to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Four presidents ignored her. Finally in the midst of all the agonies of the Civil War, President Lincoln responded to her letters and editorials and issued the proclamation reprinted below. As I read it, I think it  is right for us today. The words are just as true and just as powerful. I am thankful for all the American women who have pestered American presidents into good action.

Sarah Josepha Hale


The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union. In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863

President Lincoln in 1863


Thank you, veterans!

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the fourth year of the Great War, the guns finally fell silent. Initially the day was celebrated as Armistice Day. And eventually it came to be called Veterans Day, a day to honor not only the dough-boys who went to France in 1917 but all American veterans. Today I think of the women among those veterans. The nurses on the Western Front in 1917 and 1918 who suffered burned hands from the remnants of poison gas clinging to the clothes of injured soldiers as these nurses sought to tend to such awful wounds.

Ms Florence Watson flying a P-51 fighter

The 1,074 pilots of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) who flew more than 60 million miles, ferrying every type of military aircraft from the manufacturers to forward air bases during the Second World War and who waited until 1977 to be officially recognized as having veteran status and given the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009 by President Obama.

The President honors WASP flyers

 And over 700 women, at least 250 wearing Confederate grey and at least 450 wearing Union blue, who struggled in America’s Civil War.

A distinguished soldier's grave

The tombstone, a plain silver-grey granite, has in front of it, an American flag & a little round ‘Grand Army of the Republic’ marker indicating the grave of a Civil war veteran. This veteran’s grave in the tiny town of Saunemin, Illinois tells in simple words, an amazing story:

Albert D. J. Cashier

Co. ‘G’ 95th Illinois Infantry

Civil War


Jennie Hodgers in Clogher Head, Ireland


 The 95th Illinois Infantry was organized at Rockford, Illinois and mustered into Federal service on September 4, 1862. An infantry regiment numbered over 1,000 officers and men at full strength, but disease, disabilities, and battle casualties reduced these numbers very rapidly. The 95th Illinois was mustered out on August 17, 1865 at Galveston, Texas. During the course of the war, the regiment suffered 7 officers and 77 enlisted men killed in action or dead of wounds and 1 officer and 204 enlisted men who died of disease, for a total of 289 fatalities. Over 100 others suffered permanently disabling wounds.

 Cashier was the shortest soldier in the 95th Illinois. In one of the few existing photographs of Cashier taken during the war, a very careful observer can faintly detect the outline of breasts under the uniform. But an observer has to be looking for it. In 1862 the military was not. Hodgers was born in Clogher Head, Ireland around Christmas day, 1843, the child of Sallie and Patrick Hodgers. How and when the family moved to the United States is not clear. By 1862, Hodgers was living in Belvedere, Illinois. At 19, Jennie was eager to serve. Dressed in men’s clothing, the short, slim Hodgers stepped into the recruiting office and volunteered for military service. Reading and writing were not required of volunteers and so after marking an “X” on the enlistment papers and passing a cursory pre-induction physical examination, merely a quick look at the eyes and ears with no undressing or stripping to the waist, Jennie Hodgers transformed into Albert D. J. Cashier. Later, he said, “Lots of boys enlisted under the wrong name, so did I. The country needed men, and I wanted excitement.”

 Rodney Davis, from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, knew all about the exceptional story of Albert Cashier. In a strange twist of fate he discovered that his own great-grandfather was the commanding non-commissioned officer to Albert Cashier. “C. W. Ives was Cashier’s first sergeant so they got to know each other rather well. Albert managed to survive the war without arousing undue suspicion as to his gender identity. Accounts by comrades indicate that the other soldiers just assumed he was small and somewhat shy. One wrote: ‘He was of very retiring disposition and did not take part in any of the games. He would sit around and watch, but would not take part. He had very small hands and feet. He was the smallest man in the company.’”

Between September of 1862 and August of 1865, the 95th Illinois traveled over 9,000 miles, as part of the Army of the Tennessee under Ulysses S. Grant, later under William Tecumseh Sherman and yet later under O. O Howard. The regiment took part in the bloody siege at Vicksburg, the Red River Campaign, and the fierce combat at Guntown, Mississippi where they suffered heavy casualties. Cashier took part in more than 40 skirmishes and battles. While on a skirmishing expedition during the Vicksburg campaign, Albert Cashier was captured by rebels. He was fearless. He seized a gun from a guard, knocked the man down and made it back to the Union lines unharmed.

 Cashier served with the regiment through the war until August, 1865, when all the soldiers were mustered out. When the 95th Illinois were finally discharged, they were welcomed home as heroes and honored at a public reception. Each man then went his own way and Albert, a quiet bachelor, finally settled down in Saunemin in 1869. There he held a variety of jobs over the next 40 years: janitor of the church, farm hand, town lamplighter, handyman — no one ever the wiser. He voted in the presidential elections before Illinois gave women the right to vote and before the 19th Amendment became a part of the U. S. Constitution in 1920, five years after his death.


Cashier in uniform

In November 1910, Cashier was hit by a car and broke his leg. A physician discovered his secret in the hospital, but agreed to remain quiet. On May 5, 1911, Cashier was moved to the Soldier and Sailors home in Quincy, Illinois. He lived there until his mind deteriorated and he became confused and noisy. He was deemed insane and moved to the Watertown State Hospital in March 1913. Attendants there discovered his sex when they attempted to give him a bath. He was placed in the women’s ward and forced to wear skirts. It was so devastating to him that he would pin the skirt together between the legs to make them look like pants. When he did that, the outfit was awkward and he fell. An injury from the fall resulted in an infection. That was the cause of the death.

 When the asylum discovered a woman’s body in those trousers, the U.S. Pension Bureau launched a fraud investigation. It seemed impossible that a frail little woman drawing a veteran’s pension could actually have fought throughout the Civil War. Fortunately, several former comrades successfully rallied to Cashier’s defense and he retained his benefits.

 Professor Davis says his great-grandfather was one of several former comrades who successfully rallied to Cashier’s defense later in life. The status as a Union Army veteran, to them, trumped gender identity. Cashier demonstrated that he was as good as they were, as brave as they were, as effective a soldier. A woman’s body in those clothes was obviously worthy of remark, but not anything that made them turn away. Cashier had been in service from the beginning to the end. He stuck it out.

 Cashier died on October 10, 1915. In the end, Cashier did get rid of that dreaded skirt. Cashier’s comrades made sure that he was buried in the soldier’s uniform which he had neatly kept for years, and that he received a proper military funeral, honor guard, rifle salute and taps. His tombstone was inscribed “Albert D. J. Cashier, Co. G, 95 Ill. Infantry” It took W. J. Singleton, executor of Cashier’s estate, nine years to track Cashier’s identity back to Jennie Hodgers. None of the would-be heirs proved convincing, and the estate of $418.46 [worth over $8600 today] was deposited in the Adams County, Illinois, treasury. In the 1970s, a second tombstone, inscribed with both of his names, was placed beside his first.

 Ms. Deanne Blanton, co-author of They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War, observed that a private in the Union Army made $13 a month, easily double what a woman would make as a laundress, a seamstress or a house maid. At that time, women could not vote. Most depended on men to survive. In return, women were to devote their time and talents entirely to husbands, children and their extended families. Once women were cross-dressed and in the military, earning more money and spending their money as they saw fit, they greatly enjoyed the freedom that came with being perceived as a man. The women who went to war, who disguised themselves as men and carried a gun, were overwhelmingly working-class women, immigrant women, poor women, both urban women and farm workers. Hodgers was part of this group, an immigrant from Ireland, who couldn’t read or write.

 The women soldiers easily concealed their gender in order to fulfill their desire to fight. Two Union soldiers under General Philip Sheridan’s command, one a teamster and the other a private in a cavalry regiment, became drunk and fell into a river during a scuffle. The soldiers who rescued the pair discovered, in the process of resuscitating them, that both were women. Sheridan personally interviewed the two and later described the woman teamster as coarse and the “she-dragoon” as rather attractive, even with her unfeminine suntan. He did not state their real names, aliases, or regiments.

 For the most part, women were recognized after they had received serious wounds or died. Mary Galloway was wounded in the chest during the Battle of Antietam. Clara Barton, attending to the wound, discovered the gender of the soft-faced “boy” and coaxed her into revealing her true identity and going home after recuperation. One anonymous woman wearing the uniform of a Confederate private was found dead on the Gettysburg battlefield. It is likely she died participating in Pickett’s fateful charge on July 3rd. In 1934, a grave site found on the outskirts of Shiloh National Military Park revealed the bones of nine Union soldiers. One of the skeletons, with a minie-ball in the bony remains, was female. The identities of these two dead women are lost to posterity.

 Another whom we do know about was Sarah Emma Edmonds (1841?–September 5, 1898), a Canadian-born woman who lived to be about 56 or 57 and is known for serving with the Union Army. She was born in New Brunswick, Canada, and left home after her abusive father attempted to force her to marry a man she did not love. She worked for a time in New Brunswick selling Bibles but still afraid of being found by her father, she fled to the United States in 1856 where she settled in Flint, Michigan.

 During the Civil War, she enlisted in the 2nd Michigan Infantry, disguised as a man named Franklin (“Frank”) Thompson. He first served as a male nurse, participating in several campaigns, including the First Battle of Bull Run. As Frank Thompson, he also served as a spy, occasionally disguising himself as an African American or a woman, or sometimes both. At one point, she disguised herself as an Irish peddler named Bridget O’Shea.

Sarah Edmonds, Union soldier


The military career of Frank Thompson came to an end when he contracted malaria. Unable to go to the military hospital because he would be revealed as a woman, Frank “left” the army and checked into a private hospital, intending to return to military life once recuperated. (He didn’t think of his leaving as desertion).When she was better, however, she saw posters listing Frank Thompson as a deserter. Rather than return to the army as a man, she decided to serve as a female nurse at a Washington, D.C. hospital for wounded soldiers run by the Sanitary Commission.

 After the war under the pen name “S. E. Edmonds” she wrote Nurse and Spy in the Union Army. It was a huge success, selling in excess of 175,000 copies. In 1867, she married a Mr L. H. Seelye, a Canadian carpenter with whom she had three children; one of them she named Fredrich Seelye. In 1886 she received a U S government pension of $12 a month, rewarding her military service. Edmonds died on September 5, 1898.

 This day is to honor you–all of you veterans.

Previews of Coming Attractions



Beginning in January, 2012, I will continue my month-by-month history and commentary on the Civil War as we continue to observe the sesquicentennial of that American struggle. I am preparing a similar series for several retrospective years–1937 (75 years ago from 2012); 1927 (85 years ago); 1912 (100 years ago); 1892 (120 years ago); 1877 (135 years ago); 1872 (140 years ago); 1857 (155 years ago); 1852 (160 years ago); 1847 (165 years ago); and 1812 (200 years ago).

Next year will be a presidential election year. I want to look at1912, 1892, 1872, 1852 and 1812 because they too were presidential election years. I wonder what parallels and what differences we may see.

1812 also marks the 200th anniversary of the war with Britain. As Canadian friends gleefully remind me, the Canadians defeated American attempts to invade Canada–several times.

As in the preset time, 1937, 1927 and 1877 were full of economic problems, worker unrest and social change.

Related to the Civil War, 1857 was full of events leading up to the outbreak of the war.

Political and social change occupied much of 1847 as well. We’ll see what lessons are there to be learned. Additionally, I will take a quick synoptic look at 1832, a presidential election year and time of change and in the summertime look at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, 225 years ago, and the amazing document which the Convention drafted in that secret meeting from late May to early September.

Stay tuned. Plenty of historical adventure coming your way via this blog!

The Storms of November

November of 1861 presents President Lincoln with additional problems. Having accepted the resignation of old General Scott, he selects George McClellan to head the Union Army. Poor choice. McClellan, who will be nicknamed “Little Napoleon,” is an arrogant man who will prove overly cautious and slow to engage the Confederate forces. Unbeknownst to Lincoln, the general who the president really needs, Ulysses Grant, starts his career in this war. It will be rocky and unsettled but twenty months from now Grant will give Lincoln what he needs–victories.

Meanwhile, an international crisis boils up over the seizure of two Confederate representatives in international waters off of a ship flying the British flag and creates a foreign policy crisis for Lincoln. In the United States, Secretary of State Seward wants war with England to bring the Confederacy back into the Union while in England Lord Palmerston and Lord Russell are quite willing to tangle militarily with the United States. Fortunately cooler heads prevail. Senator Sumner counsels caution in the United States. In England, an already ill Prince Albert moderates the war hawks. This is his last major service as he will soon leave his dear wife, Queen Victoria, a widow. The United States is also fortunate to have Charles Francis Adams as Minister to the Court of St James, a post previously held by his father, John Quincy Adams, and his grandfather, John Adams. Charles Francis begins to shine in the diplomatic circle.

One of the things I notice is the emergence of Lincoln as a skilled international head of state. Amazing, considering that he had no previous experience in international relations. The curtain falls on the storms of November with a looming possibility of another war. As they used to say on television, “tune in next time for another thrilling episode.”



General McClellan--acting Napoleonic

November1– Friday– Washington–President Lincoln promotes General George B McClellan to General-in-Chief of the U S Army.

 November 2–Saturday–Washington–President Lincoln relieves General Fremont from duty.

 November 3–Sunday–Boston, Massachusetts–As the American ship Maritana, which sailed from Liverpool England, on September 13, approaches the harbor here, it strikes rocks, breaks apart and the captain, most of the crew, and all of the twenty-four passengers aboard drown.

 November 4–Monday–President Lincoln approves for payment a bill in the amount of $5,198.00 from “William Carryl and Brother” for “French Satin Brocatelle Curtain, Tassels, Fringes, Cornices, Hall Carpets, Laces Labor Freight & Cartage” which Mary Lincoln had purchased for the White House and has indicated that the items are correct and have been delivered. [This would be about $133,000 today].

 November 5–Tuesday–Republican governors Andrew of Massachusetts and Ramsey of Minnesota easily win re-election. Both men are powerful Republican supporters of President Lincoln and the Union. Governor Ramsey had been in Washington when war broke out and was the first governor to offer his state’s military support for the conflict. Both handily defeat Democratic opposition in today’s election, Andrew with almost 68% of the ballots cast, and Ramsey with 61% of the vote.

 November 6–Wednesday–Cairo, Illinois–General Ulysses S. Grant sails with two brigades in six transports, escorted by U.S. Navy gunboats to attack Confederate forces concentrating around Columbus, Kentucky.

 November 7–Thursday–Cuba–The British mail packet the Trent leaves Havana bound for England. Mason and Slidell are among the passengers.


The British mail ship TRENT

November 7–Vienna, Austrian-Hungarian Empire–In today’s Press, Karl Marx observes, “One sees . . . that the war of the Confederacy is in the true sense of the word a war of conquest for the extension and perpetration of slavery.”

 November 7–Port Royal Sound, South Carolina–Union soldiers and sailors capture the two Confederate forts guarding this area between Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina.


Emissary Mason

November 8–Friday–In international waters off the Bahama Islands, the U.S. warship San Jacinto stops and boards the British mail packet Trent, and the Americans take into custody James Mason and John Slidell, Confederate commissioners to London and Paris.

Emissary Slidell


November 8–Washington–Secretary of State Seward presents Count Edward Piper, minister of Sweden and Norway, to President Lincoln. The Count assures Mr Lincoln of the warm support of his country for the United States

 November 9–Saturday–Washington–President Lincoln sends a congratulatory letter to Jose Joaquin Perez, newly-elected President of the Republic of Chile. “I offer my sincere congratulations to your Excellency upon the event which you have communicated to me, and I am happy to believe that the sentiments which inspire your Excellency and which the Government and people of the United States cordially reciprocate cannot fail to be productive of the largest benefits to your own Nation, while they will promote the best understanding and harmony with others. Accept my best wishes for your Excellency’s personal happiness, with the assurances of my profound interest in the welfare and prosperity of the Chilean Nation.”

 November 10–Sunday–Naphan, Laos–Death of the French naturalist and explorer, 35 year old Henri Mouhot. In January of 1860, he reached the ancient temple of Angkor Wat and recorded his visit in his travel journals, including three weeks of detailed observations. These journals and illustrations will be incorporated into Voyage dans les Royaumes de Siam, de Cambodge, de Laos and published posthumously. He dies of a malarial fever during his fourth expedition in southeast Asia. [Mouhot did not “discover” Anghor; indigenous Khmer people knew it well and a French missionary of the 16th century visited and wrote about the place. Mouhot generated modern interest.]

November 11–Monday–Lisbon–King Pedro V of Portugal dies of cholera. The king, a cousin of Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, is only 24 years old and has reigned since 1853. During his brief reign, roads, telegraphs, and railways were constructed and health care improved. Considered by the people to be a conscientious and hard-working monarch, he is greatly loved and quite popular. King Pedro having no children, a younger brother will ascend the throne.

 November 12–Tuesday–London–In The Times, Lord Palmerston writes that U S Minister Charles Francis Adams has assured Her Majesty’s Government that no American warship will “meddle with any ship under a foreign flag.”

 November 12–Savannah, Georgia–A Confederate blockade runner, purchased in England, arrives with a cargo of military supplies.

 November 13–Wednesday–Washington–President Lincoln visits General McClellan at the general’s house. McClellan makes Mr Lincoln wait for 30 minutes, then sends a message saying the general has gone to bed and can not see the President tonight.

 November 15–Friday–Fort Monroe, Virginia–The U S San Jacinto arrives with its prisoners, Mason and Slidell.

 November 15–Friday–Washington–In prepared remarks at a meeting with a citizens delegation from Baltimore, President Lincoln expresses his thanks and his support of loyal people from the area. “I have deplored the calamities which the sympathies of some misguided citizens of Maryland had brought down upon that patriotic . . . State.” He assures the delegation that workers there will receive “a fair participation . . . in the benefits of supplying the Government.”

 November 16–Saturday–Washington–In a private meeting, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts and Postmaster General Montgomery Blair urge President Lincoln to immediately release the Confederate representatives Mason and Slidell.

 November 18–Monday–Washington–President Lincoln sends a letter of thanks to historian and former Secretary of the Navy, George Bancroft, for sending a report of proceedings of New York meeting for relief of loyal Union people in North Carolina.

 November 19–Tuesday–New York City–Attorney George Templeton Strong writes in his diary about the Trent affair. “It would seem that our seizure of Mason and Slidell is within the rules of international law . . . . But I fear John Bull will show his horns and that we shall have increased ill-feeling on both sides. Foreign war would be an ugly complication of our internal disease. I have no respect for John Bull any more. He ought to be called John B Pecksniff.”

 November 21–Thursday–Washington–President Lincoln issues an executive order, saying that, “If General McClellan and General Halleck deem it necessary to declare and maintain martial law at St. Louis the same is hereby authorized.

 November 21–Richmond, Virginia–The Richmond Dispatch carries an ad for a runaway slave girl. Mr Lawrence Moody offers a reward of $10 for “my girl, Jane. She is a little girl about 13 years of age, stout built, very flat nose; has a white spot in one eye don’t remember which. There is reason to believe that she is in the city . . . . The above reward will be paid for her delivery to me . . . or secured in jail so that I can get her. Persons are warned not to harbor her.”

 November 22–Friday–Washington–Responding to a request from President Lincoln, the Library Congress sends to the White House four volumes of the works of Thomas Jefferson and two books about the Mormons which the President wishes to read.

 November 23–Saturday–Washington–This evening, President and Mrs Lincoln entertain about 100 guests at the White House.

 November 24–Sunday–Boston, Massachusetts–Mason and Slidell are imprisoned in Fort Warren.

 November 24–Washington–Assigned to duty as a clerk to the headquarters of General Keyes, Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes from Cranston, Rhode Island, writes of sight-seeing in the capital. “I came back by way of the Washington Monument and admired this splendid structure although it is in an unfinished state. If ever it is completed it will be a worthy monument to the ‘Father of his country.’” [Begun in 1848, it will not be completed until 1884].

 November 25–Monday–Scotland–A tenement collapses in the Old Town of Edinburgh and buries 50 people. Rescuers find 15 of them alive.

 November 26–Tuesday–Wheeling–The West Virginia Constitutional Convention convenes to begin drafting a constitution for the propose new state.

 November 27–Wednesday–London–Passengers from the Trent arrive in the city and report the ship had been boarded by armed Americans and the two Confederate emissaries removed.

 November 28–Thursday–Washington–Richard M Young, who had served as senator from Illinois from 1837 to 1843, dies at age 63. For the last decade he practiced law here in Washington.

 November 29–Friday–Los Angeles, California–Federal troops arrest a group of Confederate sympathizers.

 November 29–London–Lord Russell, the British Foreign Minister holds a brief meeting with U S Minister Adams to determine American intent regarding Mason and Slidell.

 November 30–Saturday–London–At Queen Victoria’s request, her husband, Prince Albert, reviews all the documents related to the Trent affair. In a response to Lord Palmerston, Prince Albert writes, “The Queen should have liked to have seen the expression of a hope that the American captain did not act under instructions, or, if he did that he misapprehended them [and] that the United States government must be fully aware that the British Government could not allow its flag to be insulted, and the security of her mail communications to be placed in jeopardy, and Her Majesty’s Government are unwilling to believe that the United States Government intended wantonly to put an insult upon this country and to add to their many distressing complications by forcing a question of dispute upon us, and that we are therefore glad to believe that they would spontaneously offer such redress as alone could satisfy this country, viz: the restoration of the unfortunate passengers and a suitable apology.”

Victoria, Albert and family

 November 30–London–Lord Russell instructs the British Minister, Lord Lyons, in Washington to demand the release of Mason and Slidell and an apology from the Lincoln government. If the United States refuses, Britain will break diplomatic relations with the United States and order the Royal Navy to prepare for operations in North America.