Prospects and Problems–January, 1862



Seal of the Sanitary Commission

The new year– 1862– begins with prospects and problems. The Trent Affair peacefully resolves although Northerners like George Templeton Strong find themselves increasingly bitter toward Britain while the insightful former slave, Frederick Douglass, points out that for decades the United States refused the right of search in international waters when Britain sought to suppress African slave trade. Lincoln’s cabinet experiences a shake-up and the President attends the opera to relax. Charles Finney, president of Oberlin College and prominent evangelical preacher, joins in petitioning Congress to end slavery. People who will shape the arts, sciences and business in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are born throughout this year.

With the exceptions of Union General Grant and Confederate General Jackson, most commanders on both sides are doing little or nothing, much to President Lincoln’s dismay as well as that of ordinary soldiers like Elisha Hunt Rhodes. Frederick Douglass, as he will do ceaselessly for many months, calls on the federal government to enlist African Americans who are willing to serve. With the United States distracted by internal strife, European powers intervene in Mexico.

Many Northern people, women and men, become active in the Sanitary Commission, a private relief agency, to meet the needs of soldiers. The Commission is headed by Frederick Law Olmstead, a friend of George Templeton Strong.

January–Rochester, New York–In this month’s issue of Douglass’ Monthly, Frederick Douglass takes the country to task for the Trent Affair. “To our mind, the capture was wrong and inexcusable on general principles, and especially so on American principles. No nation has maintained a more steady position against the right of search in all its forms, and exacted greater deference to our national flag than have the American government and people. We have seen our national flag the last refuge of pirates and slave-traders, and have contended that even this abuse could not justify even the right of visit. While all the great powers have been ready these twenty-five years to unite in a treaty by which slave-traders could not shelter their hell-black traffic under their respective flags, the United States, with her usual tenderness towards slavery in all its forms, and all her sensitive regard for the sacredness of our flag have sternly refused to unite with the world in this honorable concession for the promotion of honesty on the ocean.”

 January 1–Wednesday– Provincetown, Massachusetts–The Confederate emissaries Mason and Slidell who had been seized from the British mail steamer Trent, depart the United States on the British warship Rinaldo.

 January 1–Wednesday–New York City– The New York Times speaks of the turning of the year. “It is to be hoped that the old year carries with it too the final solution of the trouble lately threatening us from across the seas. It carries a message and a pledge of peace from us to England; and if England does not desire to thwart this nation’s purposes and destiny (which it is not, indeed, in her power to accomplish), she will accept our pledge of peace in the spirit of conciliation in which it is offered. . . . We begin the new year with hope, and with a consciousness of National strength which contrasts wonderfully with the dubious feeling of a year ago.”

 January 1–Wednesday–Nigeria–Great Britain annexes Lagos Island.

 January 2–Thursday–Memphis, Tennessee– The Argus complains that Confederate forces are not being put to good use yet Richmond continues to gather tax money to fight the war.

January 2–Thursday–New York City–Attorney and business man George Templeton Strong takes the measure of the times as he writes in his diary. “It was a pleasant day, but in these times one cannot get rid of the presence of national peril. Even when one gives up a whole day to mere amusement, he is haunted by a phantom of possible calamity and disgrace. . . . William H Russell of the London Times dined at the New York Club on the invitation of Samuel Ward and others. His presence stirred up a little row outside the dining room. . . . The difference was assuaged, I hear, by drinks all round. But we are beginning to hate England and Englishmen, not without reason.”

 January 3–Friday–Cockpit Point, Virginia–Confederate shore batteries, set up to blockade the entrance to the Potomac River, are bombarded by Union gunboats.

 January 3–Friday–Washington, D. C.–This evening President Lincoln attends a lecture by Horace Greeley at Smithsonian. Some of General Fremont’s supporters are publicly rude to the President.

 January 3–Friday–London, England–Matthew Cotes Wyatt, English painter, sculptor and member of the Wyatt family of artists, dies at age 84. He leaves an estate valued at £80,000. [Today worth about £5,820,000 or about $8,230,000.]

January 4–Saturday–Washington, D. C.–Standing in front of the White House, President Lincoln reviews troopers of the 6th U.S. Cavalry.

 January 6–Monday– Hancock, Maryland– Confederate artillery under General Stonewall Jackson’s command begins two days of shelling the town from the West Virginia side of the Potomac River.

General "Stonewall" Jackson, CSA

January 6–Monday–Veracruz, Mexico–French, Spanish, and British forces arrive, beginning the European intervention in Mexico to collect debts owed to the European powers.

January 7–Tuesday–Washington, D. C.–President Lincoln acknowledges receipt of memorial from a group of English Quakers, thanking them for their “generous suggestions in the interests of peace and humanity.”

 January 8–Wednesday–Vera Cruz, Mexico–In the port 700 British troops and 2,500 French troops join the 6,000 Spanish soldiers present.

 January 8–Wednesday–London, England–Her Majesty’s Government receives a telegram from the British Minister in Washington, Lord Lyons, confirming that Mason and Slidell have been released by the Federal Government.

 January 8–Wednesday–Silver Creek, Missouri–Federal forces attack and rout a Confederate force.

 January 8–Wednesday–Brooklyn, New York–Birth of Frank Doubleday, American publisher.

 January 9–Thursday–Lima, Peru–The government of Peru suggests the formation of a hemispheric alliance among the United States, Peru and other South American countries to prevent European intervention in the Americas. Further, Peru indicates it is willing to send 5,000 troops to the aid of President Juarez in Mexico.

 January 9–Thursday– St Isidore de Dorchester, Quebec, Canada– Birth of Joseph-Octave Samson, businessman and politician who will serve as the 28th Mayor of Quebec City from 1920 to 1926.

 January 9–Thursday–New York City–The New York Times asserts that while British newspapers claim that the Union blockade is inefficient, the Confederate papers complain of the blockade’s effects. “This is evidence which the journals of secessionist proclivities, on the other side of the water will hardly attempt to rebut, however indiscreet they may consider their rebel friends in blazoning forth to the world the proofs of the extraordinary perfection of our blockade, and thus spoiling the efforts they have been making to convince Europe that it is of no account.”

 January 9–Thursday–Virginia City, Nevada Territory–Birth of Carrie Clark Ward, silent film actress who will make 62 films between 1911 and 1925.

Carrie Clark Ward--Hollywood promotional picture

 January 10–Friday–Sacramento, California–Amasa Leland Stanford takes office as the 8th governor of the state and its first Republican governor.

 January 10– Friday–Hartford, Connecticut– Samuel Colt, American inventor and firearms manufacturer, dies at age 47.

 January 10–Friday–Washington, D. C.– With General McClellan ill, President Lincoln holds a meeting in White House with several Cabinet members, military advisors and Senators, saying at one point, “if McClellan is not going to use the Army anytime soon, I would like to borrow it.” The President also transmits to Congress, a translation of Austrian documents provided by Austria’s Minister to the United States, relating to the position of the Austrian Empire on the Trent affair.

January 10–Friday–London, England–Lord Russell writes to Lord Lyon, the British Minister in Washington, advising that Her Majesty’s Government is satisfied with the American action of freeing Mason and Slidell and now views the Trent affair as closed.

January 11–Saturday–Washington, D. C.–Simon Cameron resigns as Secretary of War.

 January 11–Saturday–New York City–Today’s issue of Harper’s Weekly praises Secretary of State Seward. “Of all Mr. Seward’s services to his country—and they are many and signal, unquestionably greater than those of any other of our living statesmen—none is more honorable to his country and himself than his correspondence with Great Britain during the last year.”

January 11–Saturday–New York City–In his diary George Templeton Strong writes of the war’s financial problems. “Congress will probably make the national paper money a legal tender. This is disastrous for certain classes of the community, including mortgagees like myself. . . . I shall not complain if the nation be saved.”

 January 11–Saturday–Paris, France– Jean Philibert Damiron, philosopher and historian, dies one day after his 68th birthday.

January 13–Monday–Washington, D. C.–President Lincoln sends to Senate the nomination of Simon Cameron as American minister to Russia. He also nominates Edwin Stanton to take Cameron’s position as Secretary of War.

 January 14–Tuesday–Philadelphia, Pennsylvania–Speaking at National Hall, Frederick Douglass gives his view on why the Union is failing to win the war. “We are fighting the rebels with only one hand, when we ought to be fighting them with both. We are recruiting our troops in the towns and villages of the North when we ought to be recruiting them on the plantations of the South. We are striking the guilty rebels with our soft, white hand, when we should be striking with the iron hand of the black man, which we keep chained behind us. We have catching slaves instead of arming them. We have thus far repelled our natural friends to win the worthless and faithless friendship of our unnatural enemies.”

 January 15–Wednesday–Washington–Edwin Stanton becomes Secretary of War following the resignation of Simon Cameron.

Edwin Stanton

January 15–Wednesday– Washington, D.C.–Both the Senate and the House of Representatives receive a letter written by the evangelist and president of Oberlin College of Ohio, Charles G Finney, and signed by him and over 75 others, urging immediate action on the slavery question. “The undersigned citizens of Oberlin Ohio respectfully ask you in the name of God, of Justice, of Humanity, of Liberty, and of sound policy, to take immediate measures to abolish slavery in the U.S. and render its future existence in the same forever impossible.”

 January 15–Wednesday–Fullersburg, Illinois–Birth of Loie Fuller, pioneer of modern dancer and theatrical lighting techniques. She will dance in Paris for a number of years.

Loie Fuller--circa 1900

 January 16–Thursday–Cedar Keys, Florida–Union forces burn ships and railroad cars in the town

 January 16–Thursday–Northumberland, England–In a terrible industrial accident 204 miners die following collapse of machinery at the Hartley Colliery.

 January 17–Friday–Mississippi River–Ice jams 20 miles below St Louis, Missouri, bring river traffic to a halt.

January 18–Saturday– Richmond, Virginia–Former President, John Tyler, 10th President of the United States, dies at age 71, apparently of a stroke. His last words, spoken to his doctor, are, “I am going. Perhaps it is best.”

 January 19–Sunday–Mill Springs, Kentucky–Union forces under General Ulysses Grant begin a thrust into Kentucky as they beat back Confederate units, with 261 Union killed, injured and missing and 533 Confederate casualties.

General Ulysses S Grant, U.S. Army

 January 20–Monday–Washington, D. C–Elisha Hunt Rhodes, soldier from Rhode Island, notes in his diary that “Today all the Army officers in Washington are to be presented to Hon Edwin M Stanton, the new Secretary of War.”

January 20–Monday–New York City– The New York Times offers a view of the term “contraband.” An enterprising antiquarian has discovered that the happy epithet of ‘contraband’ which Gen[eral] Butler applied to the slaves of rebels, and which was at once universally recognized as both a pun and a stroke of genius, is not so much the impromptu inspiration it was thought to be. It seems the original author of the term is our present excellent Mayor, George Opdyke. Ten years ago he published a treatise on Political Economy– a book whose merit has never received adequate appreciation.” The ambitious 56 year old Opdyke was just narrowly elected mayor last month.

 January 23–Thursday– Washington, D. C.– In the evening, President Lincoln and his wife, Mary, attend the Washington Theater to watch the New York Academy of Music perform selections from two Italian operas, Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore and Vincenzo Bellini’s I Puritani. When the President takes his seat in one of the private boxes the audience greets him with hearty applause.

 January 23–Thursday–Konigsberg, Prussia–Birth of David Hilbert, who will become one of the most important mathematicians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

 January 24–Friday–New York City–Birth of Edith Wharton, American writer.


Edith Wharton


January 27–Monday–Washington, D.C.–President Lincoln issues his General Order #1, requiring all Union army and naval forces to move against the insurgents on February 22nd.

 January 27–Monday–Paris, France–Emperor Napoleon III complains that the American Civil War has hurt French commerce but France will take no action as long as the rights of neutrals are respected.

 January 28–Tuesday–Washington, D. C.–In the evening, President Lincoln and his wife, Mary, host a reception at the White House. Newspapers report that “Mrs. Lincoln was never more elegantly attired, and of course was the center of attraction.”

 January 29–Wednesday–Bradford, England–Birth of Frederick Theodore Albert Delius, composer.

 January 29–Wednesday–Washington, D. C.–President Lincoln meets privately with Ellen Sherman, the wife of General William T. Sherman, and with her father Thomas Ewing, a former United States Senator from Ohio. They seek to deflect public criticism of General Sherman and refute newspaper allegations of the General’s madness.

 January 29–Wednesday–Washington, D. C.– Spending several days in the capital on business for the Sanitary Commission, George Templeton Strong confides to his diary his impressions of the Secretary of War and the President. “Stanton impresses me and everybody else most favorably. Not handsome . . . . Intelligent, prompt, clear-headed, fluent without wordiness, and above all, earnest . . . . a live man, and of a genial robust Luther-oid type.” Of Lincoln, Strong writes, “He is a barbarian . . . in respect of outside polish . . . but a most sensible, straightforward, honest old codger. The best President we have had since old Jackson’s time, at least, as I believe.”

 January 30–Thursday–Bresloau, Silesia–Birth of Walter Damrosch, conductor and composer

January 30–Thursday–Southampton, England–Confederate emissaries Mason and Slidell arrive from America.

 January 30–Thursday–Brooklyn, New York–Builders, engineers and Navy officials watch the launch of the iron-clad USS Monitor at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. With its turreted center gun, its design will change naval warfare.

 January 31–Friday–Washington, D. C.–In his diary Elisha Hunt Rhodes describes the wintry conditions in the capital. “Mud, mud. I am thinking of starting a steamboat line to run on Pennsylvania Avenue between our office and the Capitol. If I was owner of this town I would sell it very cheap. Will the mud never dry up so the Army can move? I hope so, for I am tired and weary of mud and routine work.. I want to see service and have the war over so that I can go home.”

 January 31–Friday–Evanston, Illinois–The American astronomer Alvan Graham Clark, who founded a company producing the best telescopes available at this time, makes pioneering observations of stars through an eighteen inch telescope at Northwestern University.

 January 31–Friday–Finland–The first rail line in the Grand Duchy of Finland opens with service between Helsinki and Hameenlinna.


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