Monthly Archives: February 2012

Remember the Ladies–The First Ladies

Today is Presidents Day, the combined birthday celebrations of Lincoln and Washington and a day to honor those who have been the Chief Executive or as they used to say in the nineteenth century, the First Magistrate of the United States. In the spirit of the day, I start by saluting the First Ladies. Here is my list of the twelve greatest First Ladies we have had. In making my choices, I considered their political savy, societal contributions before and after being in the White House and their contributions to the history of American women. I emphasize that this list is strictly personal–my own thoughts, reflections and analysis.

Eleanor Roosevelt

First and foremost on my list, in my mind the greatest First Lady we ever had, is Eleanor Roosevelt, “ER”– the longest serving in the position–from March 4, 1933 to April 12, 1945. Her political skills, journalistic style, graciousness, concern for people [I mean, how many First Ladies have gone down into coal mines or flew in a warplane with an African American pilot when racism was bitter and very public?] and advocacy efforts for human rights are unparalleled. As First Lady her press conferences were unique because she banned male reporters. Only two days after becoming First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt held the first of what would total 348 press conferences, with 35 women in attendance. Large publications wanted to carry the news which Ms Roosevelt generated, but could do so only by continuing to employ the women reporters given exclusive access to the press conferences. Her practice proved crucial in establishing women as part of the permanent and modern White House Press Corps. At the end of 1935, she wrote the first of her famous syndicated newspaper column, My Day. As First Lady, she wrote it six days a week; the only break during her White House tenure occurring on the four days following her husband’s death. As the first in her position to sponsor White House conferences, she hosted several that focused specifically on meeting the needs of women. In February, 1939 she resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution when that organization adhered to local racial restrictions and refused to rent its Constitution Hall for a concert by singer Marian Anderson. While ER was not responsible for, nor attended the ensuing public concert by Ms Anderson on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial two months later, she strongly supported the event. Two months after that, E R brought Marian Anderson to sing in the White House for the King and Queen of England. She was responsible for the 1935 appointment of the African-American educator Mary McLeod Bethune to the National Advisory Committee of the National Youth Organization. Beginning in 1934, she worked closely with Walter White, the director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and she vigorously pressed the President to support a proposed anti-lynching law. After leaving the White House, Ms Roosevelt spoke fearlessly of her concern about civil liberties as Senator Joseph McCarthy conducted his hearings. ER served as one of the key drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, being constantly mindful of the widely divergent cultures of the many nations involved, and won her own country’s support of the document. Shortly thereafter as the Human Rights Commission chair, she presented the declaration to the U.N. General Assembly on December 10th 1948. During the Kennedy Administration, Ms Roosevelt took an active role as chair of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, served on the Peace Corps Advisory Board, chaired a public hearing on violence against civil rights workers, and co-chair the Tractors for Freedom Committee to expedite the release of Americans held prisoner in Cuba after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.

Abigail Adams

Second on my list is Abigail Adams. Self-educated daughter of a minister, she took special interest in philosophy, theology, Shakespeare, classical literature, ancient history, government and law.Correspondent with Thomas Jefferson, she brokered a reconciliation between her husband John and Jefferson as they entered their older years. Her skills were the reason her husband came through the Revolutionary War without going bankrupt as other leaders did. If her husband had followed her advice, in my opinion, his presidency would have been more successful. He also failed to follow her admonition to pay heed to the ladies. As First Lady from March 4, 1797 to March 4, 1801, she created a strong impression on the press and the public. Unofficially dubbed “Lady Adams” by critical editors she encouraged such recognition by assuming a visible ceremonial role. After touring a New Jersey Army encampment, she reviewed the troops stationed there as a proxy for the President. Often mentioned in the press, her opinions were quoted during a debate at a New England town hall meeting. For political and economic reasons as well as social, she discouraged the wearing of French-inspired fashions and encouraged political wives to wear American-made or English-made clothing. A highly partisan Federalist, Ms Adams advanced the interests of the administration by writing editorial letters to family and acquaintances, encouraging the publication of the information and her viewpoint presented in them. She remained a life-long advocate of equal public education for women and the emancipation of African-American slaves. Charles Francis Adams, one of her grandsons, in 1848 arranged for the publication of some of her famous letters, this volume becoming the first published book pertaining to a First Lady. Contemporary historian Joseph Ellis praises the worth of the 1200 extant letters between Abigail and John. Ellis asserts, and I agree, that Abigail was a better writer than her Harvard-educated husband and that she is one of the most extraordinary American women.

Michelle Obama

Third on my list, in close proximity to Ms Roosevelt and Ms Adams, is the current First Lady, Michelle Obama. (Interestingly, she and ER are the two tallest women to be First Lady, both of them standing 5′ 11″ in their bare feet.) Born in Chicago, Michelle Robinson Obama holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology, with a minor in African-American studies, from Princeton University and a law degree from Harvard Law School where she graduated cum laude. She married Barack Obama on October 3, 1992 and they are the parents of two daughters. She began her duties as First Lady almost immediately with a working lunch with Washington’s mayor and his wife, visits to schools and dropping in to speak at the Department of Education and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. She makes periodic trips to almost all the federal departments and offices in Washington and vicinity where she introduces herself as a personal representative of the Obama Administration. Her declared intent is to provide a sense of connection for the thousands of civil service federal employees. Not since Eleanor Roosevelt hosted a series of large receptions for women federal workers in the 1940’s has a First Lady reached out in such ways. Additionally she is actively involved in dealing with childhood obesity, improving health care, conserving the earth’s natural resources and developing green energy. Like Ms Roosevelt and Ms Adams her legacy will endure for a long time.

Dolley Madison

For the fourth position I name Dolley Payne Todd Madison who served as First Lady from March 4, 1809 to March 3, 1817. Her first husband died of yellow fever during their fourth year of marriage. Her infant son died at the same time but her first born son, who turned out to be a ne’er-do-well, survived. About a year later she married James Madison. Because her husband was not a Quaker the Society of Friends expelled Ms Madison. James served as Secretary of State to his friend President Thomas Jefferson. Because Jefferson was a widower, Dolley Madison soon emerged as one of the women upon whom Jefferson relied to handle social affairs at the White House. By the time Ms Madison became First Lady when James was elected as Jefferson’s successor, she was already an accomplished and extremely popular Washington hostess. AsRichard Norton Smith says of her in the PBS film, “Dolley Madison, I think, has a larger claim than anyone else to having invented this unsalaried and ill-defined position that we all now take for granted, thatof the first lady. Certainly nobody knew what a first lady was. The term didn’t come into use really until Dolley Madison’s time. In the same film, journalist and historian Cokie Roberts notes that “They called her Queen Dolley because she reigned supreme over Washington.” Ms Madison saved critical pieces of American history when the British attacked Washington during the War of 1812 and then oversaw the rebuilding and redecoration of the White House. In the words of another writer, “She created the role of first lady as republican hostess. In order to accomplish this goal she established certain ceremonies, just as she had created public spaces. She managed to be elegant, even stunning, in a simple and unaffected way. Her supporters called her ‘queenly’ but her Federalist enemies accused her of being an innkeeper’s daughter, which she was not. She reached out to people and was charming and conciliating during a period in our history when rancor and partisanship dominated public and political life.”After James and Dolley Madison left the White House, she took a key role in assembling and publishing her husband’s papers, particularly his notes on the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Because the meetings were secret and no official minutes were kept, the notes of James Madison are key to our history of that momentous gathering. Without Dolley Madison’s persistence and organizational skills those documents might not have come to us as they did.

Louisa Adams

Next, in my number five spot, I list Louisa Johnson Adams, First Lady from March 4, 1825 to March 4, 1829. As her husband John Quincy Adams is vastly under-rated by most historians for his presidency, Louisa Adams is, unfortunately, greatly under-rated as a First Lady. She is the only First Lady born outside of the United States. [sshh! Not too loud–they’ll start calling for her birth certificate, trying to prove she wasn’t a citizen!] Her father was a businessman and the family was living in London, England, when Louisa Catherine was born, the second of nine children. Like her mother-in-law, Abigail, she was married to a complicated and difficult man and she endured much and struggled hard to provide lovingly to her husband and her four children, including the dashing Charles Francis Adams, Lincoln’s minister to Great Britain during the crisis of the Civil War. But before that brilliant career, his mother had to deal with Charles’ habit of frequenting houses of ill-repute while he was a student at Harvard. Louisa Adams was an independent thinker, a maverick among the women of her time and was so from her youth when one of her teachers, a Miss Young, drastically changed Louisa’s way of thinking about herself and the place of women in society, teaching her to express her own thoughts, hold her own opinions and to speak directly instead of modestly repressing herself as most young women of her class and era were trained to do. Her own study of the Bible convinced her that women had a valid claim to the same rights as men. Women’s rights became a life-long passion. Reading the writings of and engaging in extensive correspondence with the famed abolitionist and women’s rights advocates, the sisters Angelina and Sarah Grimke, made Ms Adams passionately anti-slavery. At a time when genteel women were deemed unfit for athletics, she engaged in rowing, swimming and fishing with other women friends. She read the letters of her mother-in-law, Abigail Adams, and believed they should be published as an inspiration to all American women. She wrote poetry and short plays. Of her husband’s political opponent Andrew Jackson who replaced John Quincy Adams in the White House, she wrote insightfully, “Popular governments are peculiarly liable to factions, to cabals, to intrigue. The people may often be deceived for a time by some fair-speaking demagogue, but they will never be deceived long.” Contemporary readers knew exactly what “fair-speaking demagogue” she meant–the hero of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. When Ms Adams died on May 15, 1852 in Washington, D.C. at age 77, both houses of Congress adjourned in mourning, making her the first woman whose death was so acknowledged by the federal government.

Frances Cleveland

Sixth on my list of great First Ladies is Frances Folsom Cleveland who became First Lady at age 21 when on June 2, 1886 in the Blue Room of the White House she married President Grover Cleveland, 49 years old. Music for the wedding ceremony was provided by the Marine Corps Band under the direction of John Philip Sousa. Despite the President’s efforts “Frankie”as she was called in the popular press, a nickname she disliked intensely, became an instant celebrity. She was mobbed by admirers at public events so much so that President Cleveland feared for her safety. The new First Lady joined the President in an unprecedented tour of the South and West in 1887 which increased her fame and popularity. Young women emulated her hairstyle. When she stopped wearing dresses with the bustle it ended the fashion in the United States for all practical purposes. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, alarmed that the very attractive young First Lady wore gowns that bared her shoulders, petitioned her to stop wearing such dresses because it was an “evil influence” on young women. She neither responded nor stopped wearing low-cut gowns. As First Lady she hosted receptions on Saturday mornings especially for working women who were unable to visit the White House on weekdays. Some White House staff members were shocked as ordinary shop girls, government clerks, maids and other service industry workers lined up in the decorous East Room to shake the First Lady’s hand and have a personal word with her. When she attended a ceremony to mark the opening of an organization that provided for educational, social, and practical opportunities for factory workers and made a point of greeting women workers, her action made the cover of the November 1887 Harper’s Weekly magazine. Frances Cleveland made a concerted effort to support the fledgling careers of young women in music at a time when the highest paying jobs in the professional music field went almost exclusively to men. She sponsored a young violinist, Leonora Jackson of Boston, to study in Berlin and who later became the first American to win the prized Mendelssohn Stipendium. Ms Cleveland helped to raise money for an African-American orphanage and the Colored Christmas Club, a charity providing food and clothing to poor local children at the holiday season. A year after her marriage, she also accepted a position on the board of trustees for Wells College, her alma mater. With a strong faith that women should have equal access to higher education, Frances Cleveland aided individual women in pursing a college degree and professional employment and maintained a network of like-minded women by helping to found the University Women’s Club. She provided an instrumental role in brinin the State of New Jersey to open up educational opportunities for young women, resulting in the founding of the New Jersey College for Women. She bore six children. Ms Cleveland served as First Lady between her marriage and March 4, 1889 and when her husband won a second but non-consecutive term, again served from March 4, 1893 to March 4, 1897. President Cleveland died in 1908, leaving her a widow at age 44. She remarried in 1913 and lived until 1947, the longest period any First Lady lived after leaving the White House.

Jackie Kennedy

In the seventh spot, I place Betty Ford. Eighth in this close field of my list is Jackie Kennedy. Filling the ninth slot is Lady Bird Johnson. Number ten for me is Rosalyn Carter. As these women are somewhat more contemporary and better known to most modern readers, I’ll save my analysis for a later time and finish my list with two more historic figures.

Rosalynn Carter

Eleventh on my list is Edith Wilson. Like Frances Cleveland, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson married a sitting president. Widowed in 1908, Edith Galt bought her own car, learned to drive and motored around to Washington social events without a chauffeur. She was introduced to President Wilson in early March, 1915 by one of the President’s cousins. Woodrow Wilson’s first wife had died in August, 1914, just as war erupted in Europe. The President quickly fell for Ms Galt, proposed after a matter of months and married her on December 18, 1915 at a ceremony in her home. Because Wilson, a very private man, preferred to work in the family quarters rather than in the Oval Office, Edith Wilson was his confidante and constant companion from the date of their marriage until his death. After the United States entered the war in April 1917, Edith Wilson became privy to classified information. Publicly, she led fund raising efforts by selling the wool sheared from sheep that grazed on the White House lawn, volunteered at the Red Cross canteen at Union Station where soldiers were departing for the war front, and released a public service statement warning soldiers against the dangers of venereal disease which they might encounter in Europe. Leading by example, she instituted certain days of the week when meat, wheat and gasoline were not used in order to conserve these resources for the war effort. After the Armistice of November 11th 1918, Edith Wilson became the first of the First Ladies to travel to Europe during her incumbency. She accompanied the President on two separate occasions, one in 1918, another in 1919, to visit troops and to attend the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Her presence among the queens and royal women of Europe put the position of First Lady on an equivalent standing, thus helping to define the uniquely American role in an international context. When President Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke in October, 1919, Edith Wilson decided to continue his work by conducting a disinformation campaign, misleading Congress and the public into believing that the President really suffered from temporary exhaustion which required extensive rest. She became the sole conduit between the President and his Cabinet. As her husband began partially to recover, Ms Wilson guarded access to him from advisors and politicians. When Republican Senator Albert Fall of New Mexico was sent to investigate the President’s condition, Edith Wilson helped arrange Wilson in bed to be presentable and sat through the brief meeting, taking verbatim notes. [Edith Wilson may have felt some satisfaction a few years later when Fall would be convicted for his part in the corruption of the Teapot Dome scandal.] She outlived President Wilson by forty-seven years and died in December, 1961, having been present at John Kennedy’s inauguration.

edith Wilson

Last on my list of the top twelve is Lucy Webb Hayes, First Lady from March 4, 1877 to March 4, 1881. She was born in Ohio to parents who were both strong abolitionists and she grew up in the Methodist church in which she was active all her life. Among First Ladies, she was to first to hold a college degree. During her time in the White House Ms Hayes expressed care and concern for Civil War veterans, especially those permanently disabled with injuries. After viewing excessive drinking at the first state dinner, one given by her husband for the Grand Dukes Alexis and Constantine, sons of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, in April 1877, she made it White House policy to serve only lemonade and ice water, earning her the nickname “Lemonade Lucy” from critics. While not supportive of woman suffrage, Ms Hayes actively supported women in the right to work, for example, helping to place two individual women in federal service position, one at the Agriculture Department and the other at the Patent Office. After Belva Ann Lockwood, also a Methodist, became the first woman admitted to practice law before the Supreme Court [March, 1879], Ms Hays gave her a celebratory party at the White House. Ms Hayes felt deep concern for the poor and became noted for her generosity and willingness to help. In January of 1880 alone her personal giving totaled $1,000, an amount equal to approximately $22,000 today. She gave a sympathetic ear to the efforts of the Native American tribe of Paiutes to have the federal government transfer them from forced detention in Washington territory to a preferred place in Oregon, an effort frustrated by the U S Army. A patron of the arts, she managed to move her husband to resume construction efforts on the Washington Monument and arranged for an Ohio artist to paint a full-length portrait of Martha Washington to hang opposite that of George Washington in the White House. She loved to sing and on any number of occasions, invited African-American musical groups to perform in the White House, including students of the Colored Industrial School, and famed soprano Madame Marie Selika, introduced to the First Lady by the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, then in his 60’s. A year after she sang at the White House, Madame Selika invited Ms Hayes to come to a concert at St Luke’s Protestant Episcopal Church in Washington, a predominately black congregation, an invitation which the First Lady readily accepted. Lucy Hayes was the first of First Ladies to have a telephone installed in the White House and she used it regularly. She loved animals of all sorts.The story is told that when she died, eight years after leaving the White House and returning to the Hayes estate in Ohio, her dairy cows quietly lined up on their own at the fence to watch her funeral procession pass by.

Lucy Hayes
So on this Presidents Day I elect to follow the advice of Abigail Adams and indeed remember the Ladies, the First Ladies. Our history is enriched by these women, some of whom would have made better presidents than their spouses–but I’ll leave that duscussion for another time.

Charles Dickens Turns 200

Happy Birthday, Mr Dickens!


Charles Dickens


Two hundred years ago today Charles Dickens is born in Landport, Portsmouth, England. What kind of world was he born into?

England is at war with France as it has been for most the past twenty-two years. King George III, now 74 years old, sits on the throne. However, because of the king’s mental imbalance, his son, George, has been ruling as the Prince Regent for the last two years. As the year begins, the Prime Minister is Spencer Perceval, a Tory. On May 11th Perceval is assassinated in the House of Commons and the Premiership passes to Robert Jenkinson, the 2nd Earl of Liverpool. Elections in the fall give the Tories a majority in the House of Commons. The Duke of Wellington is busily making a name for himself by winning victories over French forces in Spain and making changes in military tactics which will influence armed conflicts for the next 100 years. Wellington’s operations are secretly financed by the Rothschild family of Frankfurt. They will expand this operation so that when the Napoleonic wars end in 1815, the Rothschilds will be the first, and very successful, international bank clearing house. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by George Gordon Lord Byron is published and that nobleman delivers his first speech in Parliament’s House of Lords. Byron speaks in defense of the Luddites. Luddite agitation against industrialization, which includes vandalism of factories and machines, spreads around England. Support for the agitators grows when soldiers shoot some of the demonstrators. The cost of wheat in Britain reaches a new record high, making bread increasingly expensive. The Scottish engineer Henry Bell introduces the first steamboat service anywhere in Europe by beginning service on the River Clyde with his steamboat called The Comet.

 On the European continent France invades Russia. Napoleon wins a battle at Borodino, enters Moscow, begins a retreat and is defeated, both by winter and a crafty old Russian general. The campaign costs the French well over 450,000 casualties. While Napoleon is campaigning in Russia a General Claude Malet attempts a coup to return France to a monarchy. He fails, is arrested and executed. Ludwig von Beethoven’s Symphonies #7 and #8 receive premiers. Coffee is banned in Sweden. A painting of a nude woman by the American artist John Vanderlyn shocks Americans but is well received in Paris. [Three years ago Vanderlyn’s work was praised by Napoleon.] France’s La Surete is founded by detective Francois Eugene Vidocq who hires only ex-convicts to work as plain-clothes detectives. He finds their work exemplary. A book by the French scientist Baron Georges Cuvier marks the beginnings of the systematic study of paleontology.

In the Middle East,the Swiss explorer John Burckhardt finds the ruins of the ancient city of Petra in what is now modern Jordan.

 Spurred on by a combination of anti-British sentiment for British impressment of American sailors, anger at British attempts to disrupt trade with France, the industrial interests of the North, the desire to expand slave territory in the South and the West’s desire to acquire more land for settlement, Congress passes a declaration of war against Great Britain on June 8th and President Madison signs it on June 18th. [Yes, dear reader, in the 19th century American presidents actually did follow the constitutional mandate and ask Congress for a declaration of war!] Interestingly, on June 23rd Britain’s Parliament, as yet unaware of the United States declaration of war, repeals the orders regarding American shipping and impressment of American sailors. The United States invades Canada and is defeated. Native Americans exact a terrible vengeance on white settlers and soldiers as the white Americans evacuate Fort Dearborn in what is now Chicago. Almost from the beginning of the war, the United States loses a series of land battles. However, on the sea a warship, the USS Constitution wins two major engagements with the British. As ineffective British canon balls bounce off the side of the American ship with its unique design and re-enforced oak planks, her crew nickname her “Old Ironsides.” Sleeker and faster than the British opponents, the ship earns fame. One of the crew is a Nicolas Baker who in reality is a woman named Lucy Brewer. Cross-dressed as Baker she serves on the Constitution for three years without being discovered. In Boston a 32 year old Unitarian minister named William Ellery Channing finds growing support as he preaches against the war. James Madison wins re-election. In no small part he owes his political success and popularity to his wife, Dolley Payne Madison whose grace and skill as a hostess win friends across sectional and political lines.

 Parts of Venezuela are shaken by a large earthquake. Catholic priests tell the people that the quake is God’s punishment for the on-going revolutionary efforts against the Spanish. The revolution in Chile is fractured by a serious rift between Bernardo O’Higgins and Jose Miguel Carrera. Spanish auxiliary troops suppress revolutionary efforts in San Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Guatemala. However, revolutionaries in Mexico led by Jose Maria Morelos win important battles.

 Pioneers establish the Red River Settlement in Manitoba, Canada.

 Dr Benjamin Rush publishes Medical Inquiries and Observations upon the Diseases of the Mind in Philadelphia, the first textbook issued in the United States on what will later be called psychiatry. The New England Journal of Medicine is founded in Boston, Massachusetts, by Dr John Collins Warren.

 Books published in 1812 in addition to Byron’s work include:

Amelia Beauclerc – The Castle of Tariffa

Bridget Bluemantle – The Vindictive Spirit

Maria Edgeworth – The Absentee

Grimm’s Fairy Tales, volume 1

Charles Robert Maturin – The Milesian Chief

Henrietta Rouviere Mosse – Arrivals from India

Rebecca Rush – Kelroy

George Soane – The Eve of San Marco

Louisa Stanhope – The Confessional of Valombre

Elizabeth Thomas – The Vindictive Spirit

Jane West – The Loyalists: An Historical Novel

[West is quite conservative. While this novel attacks the American Revolution, she has published other books attacking the French Revolution, atheism and Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women.]

Johann David Wyss – The Swiss Family Robinson

John Galt – Cursory Reflections on Political and Commercial Topics

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel – Die objektive Logik

John Nichols – The Literary Anecdotes of the 18th Century, volume 1

Percy Bysshe Shelley – Declaration of Rights

Percy Bysshe Shelley – The Devil’s Walk: A Ballad

Anna Laetitia Barbauld – Eighteen Hundred and Eleven

[With this book which criticizes the British war against Napoleon, Barbauld ruins her career and suffers social ostracism.]

James Kirke Paulding – The Diverting History of John Bull and Brother Jonathan [The book makes great sport of British politics and manners.]

John Melish – Travels in the United States

 In the backwoods of Kentucky, a youngster who will become a life-long avid reader turns 3 years of age. His name is Abraham Lincoln. He will love the novels of Charles Dickens.

February’s Frustrations–Part the Second–1862

The frustrations of February continue throughout the month. The Lincoln family mourns the death of a 12 year old son. The Confederacy endures the loss both of Fort Donelson and the city of Nashville. Union forces fail to stop a Confederate move against Santa Fe. West Virginia moves closer to statehood by adopting a state constitution but bans African Americans. Officials of the Sanitary Commission complain about a lack of governmental and military support. [The Sanitary Commission was a private relief organization intended to provide help to individual Union soldiers and to Union hospitals caring for the wounded and sick.] Anti-British sentiment continues in the North, despite the resolution of the messy Trent business. Mexico fails to gain help in solving its debt crisis or stopping European intervention. The Filipino people lose a great, elderly poet. As the month draws to a close, Yankees from New York businessmen to soldiers in the ranks wonder if the Army of the Potomac will begin to move as the weather warms. Northerners find cheer in their new hero– General “Unconditional Surrender” Grant while aside from the American Civil War life around the world moves on in a mysterious cycle of life and death.

February 13– Thursday– near Dover, Tennessee– Despite the mild weather turning into rain and sleet with temperatures falling to 10 degrees F by night, Union land and naval forces commence bombardment of Fort Donelson.

Harpers Weekly shows Union gunboats moving in support of Grant

February 13– Thursday– Wheeling, West Virginia–The West Virginia Constitutional Convention adopts a provision banning any slave or free person of color from settling in the new state.

February 15– Saturday– near Dover, Tennessee– In an attempt to break the siege, Confederate forces sally forth from Fort Donelson. In a bitter day long fight in cold weather the Confederates gain some ground but are driven back into the fort by nightfall. By that time 44 year old “Mother” Mary Ann Bickerdyke, self-appointed nurse and hospital “administrator,” is taking care of wounded men in an improvised field hospital. Confederate cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest flee southeast rather than surrender. Two Confederate generals do likewise.

"Mother" Bickerdyke, hero to wounded soldiers

February16– Sunday– near Dover, Tennessee– After three days of hard fighting, the Confederate commander of Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River asks General Grant for terms of surrender. Grant replies, “No terms except an immediate and unconditional surrender can be accepted.” Low on ammunition and food and having suffered heavy losses, the Confederates surrender. Grant takes 12,000 prisoners. Battle casualties for the last three days are heavy on both sides: 2,832 Union killed, wounded and missing and approximately 1,500 Confederate dead, injured or missing.. Grant wins an important Union victory and opens an attempt to split the Confederacy into eastern and western parts.

February 17– Monday– Tsuwano, Japan– Birth of Mori Ougai, novelist, poet, editor and physician.

Mori Ougai in adult life, 1911

February 18– Tuesday– New York City– George Templeton Strong complains in the pages of his diary about the apparent lack of support from President Lincoln, Secretary of War Stanton and General McClellan for the work of the Sanitary Commission. “We cannot go on asking the community to sustain us with money as an advisory government organ after six months’ experience like this.”

February 18– Tuesday– Richmond, Virginia–For the first time the Congress of the Confederate States of America convenes.

February 18– Tuesday– Wheeling, West Virginia–The West Virginia Constitutional Convention finishes three months of work and adopts the first constitution for the proposed new state of West Virginia.

February 19– Wednesday– Vilnius, Russia– Birth of Lev Kekushev, architect who will design a number of art nouveau buildings in Moscow during the 25 years before the outbreak of the First World War.

February 19– Wednesday–New York City– Discussing General Grant’s demand for the unconditional surrender of Fort Donelson, the New York Times declares, “let the insurgents understand that we are not sacrificing our brothers by the thousands and our money by the millions for the sake of having knightly passage at arms with them.” The North’s sole objective must be “the absolute submission of the culprits.”

February 20– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– Willie Lincoln, 12-year-old son of President Lincoln, dies from typhoid fever.

February 20– Thursday– Nashville, Tennessee– Worried by the Federal advance after the capture of Fort Donelson, Confederate authorities announce that the state capital is being moved to Memphis.

February 20– Thursday– Udyong, Bataan, the Philippines– Francisco Baltazar y de la Cruz, whose nom-de-plume is Francisco Balatagos, dies at age 73. He is considered an important poet in the development of Filipino literature.

February 21– Friday–New York City– Federal authorities hang Nathaniel P Gordon, an American sea captain, for engaging in African slave trade. George Templeton Strong writes in his diary of the execution that “our unprecedented execution of justice on a criminal of this particular class and at this particular time will do us good abroad, perhaps with the pharisaical shop-keepers and bagmen of England itself.”

February 21– Friday– Boston, Massachusetts– Today’s Liberator reports on the activities of J Sella Martin, 29 years of age, who escaped from slavery in the deep South six years ago and is now an ordained Baptist minister. “Rev. J. Sella Martin, of this city, was well received in England, where he was engaged in upholding the Union cause. He has done more for that cause in England than has been done by any white American, and the English naturally listen to him more readily than they would to white men, most of the latter not speaking adversely to slavery.”

February 21– Friday– Valverde, New Mexico Territory– In a vain attempt to stop a Confederate advance on Santa Fe, a Union force attacks a Confederate column but is repulsed. The Federal losses total 263 dead, wounded and missing while the Confederate casualties amount to 186 dead, wounded and missing.

 February 22– Saturday– Richmond, Virginia– On the 130th anniversary of the birth of George Washington, Jefferson Davis is inaugurated as the first President of the Confederate States of America. Alexander Stephens is inaugurated Vice President.

February 22– Saturday– Washington, D.C.– Because of the death of his son President Lincoln does not attend the Washington’s Birthday celebration at the Capitol Building. He has authorized Dr Charles D Brown to perform the relatively new process of embalming on Willie’s body and this evening the boy’s body lies in state in the Green Room at the White House.

February 22– Saturday– New York City– Today’s issue of Harper’s Weekly gives vent to on-going anti-British sentiment in the Northern states. “The apprehensions of foreign intervention, to which we referred last week, were revived a day or two since, first by an alarming letter from Mr Thurlow Weed and subsequently by dispatches from the reporter of the Associated Press, asserting that Napoleon was about to interfere and raise the blockade, with or without the assistance of England. Those false reports are happily set at rest by Napoleon’s speech to the Chambers [of Deputies] on 27th [of January], in which he stated positively that, so long as the rights of neutrals were respected, France would confine itself to the earnest wish that the dissensions in the United States would be speedily brought to a close. Is it too much to hope that our gullible fellow-citizens will be on their guard hereafter against the monstrous lies of the British newspapers? These foreign writers, and among them we must, we fear, class the European correspondent of the New York Associated Press, have deliberately and systematically misrepresented European, and especially French sentiment ever since the war broke out: seeming to labor, if not in reality laboring, in the interest and for the comfort of the Southern rebels. They have been convicted of falsehood as often as Dr Russell [William Russell, correspondent from the Times of London, seen in the North as a rebel sympathizer] has been convicted of blundering. Yet every fresh canard which they choose to publish sends a thrill through the nerves of our people. When shall we begin to understand them?”

?”February 22– Saturday– Stange, Norway– Birth of Karen Hulda Bergersen Garborg, author, poet, playwright, educator, women’s rights activist and advocate for the preservation of traditional Norwegian dress, cooking and folk-dancing.

February 24– Monday– Sore, Denmark– Bernhard Ingemann, novelist, port and hymn writer, dies at age 62. His works for children challenge Hans Christian Anderson in period popularity among the Danes.

February 25– Tuesday– Nashville, Tennessee–Federal forces occupy the city without bloodshed as most Confederate forces have moved out. This is the first Confederate state capital to fall into Union hands.

February 25– Tuesday– Washington, D.C.– In Congress, the Senate defeats a measure to lend Mexico enough money to pay the Mexican debt to European powers.

February 25– Tuesday– Richmond, Virginia– In a message to the Confederate Congress, President Davis writes of recent “serious disasters” and asks for a strengthening of Confederate forces.

February 25– Tuesday– Columbia, South Carolina–Southern socialite Mary Chesnut comments in her diary. “They have taken at Nashvillemore men than we had at Manassas; there was bad handling of troops, we poor women think, or this would not be. Mr. Venable added bitterly, ‘Giving up our soldiers to the enemy means giving up the cause. We can not replace them.’”

February 25– Tuesday– Lima, Peru–U S Minister Robinson reports to Secretary of State Seward that the president of Peru told him that the struggle in Mexico is like the French Revolution, “a war of the crowns against the Liberty Caps.” However, he expressed his certainty to Minister Robinson that the people will prevail over the imperial powers.

Army of the Potomac stuck in the mud, Harpers Weekly

February 26– Wednesday– Washington, D.C.– In his journal Elisha Hunt Rhodes of Rhode Island notes that “Rumors of movement are plenty. . . . In the evening I attended a fair on 20th Street held by a Methodist church . . . and I went home with some young ladies.”

February 27– Thursday– New York City– George Templeton Strong notes a hint of possible activity by General McClellan. “Two significant advertisements in last night’s papers from two steamboat lines. They discontinue their trips for the present, because the government has engaged all their vessels. For the Potomac?”

Opera star, Pauline Gueymard-Lauters in costume

February 28– Friday– Paris, France– The opera La Reine de Saba (The Queen of Sheba) by Charles Gounod premieres at the Paris Opera House with the 27 year old Belgian soprano Pauline Gueymard-Lauters singing the role of the queen.

February’s Frustrations–Part the First–1862

In both capitals and in both the Union and the Confederacy, people feel frustrated in the second month of the year 1862. Frederick Douglass berates the army for its inactivity, its refusal to enlist African Americans and the government’s inactivity on the end of slavery. Richmond worries about Federal victories at Fort Henry and at Roanoke Island. Dante Gabriel Rossetti finds his wife’s body. Julia Ward Howe attempts to stir patriotic fervor. European conservatives see a liberal government come to power in the Netherlands. President Lincoln sends a conciliatory letter of condolence to Britain’s Queen Victoria whose husband, Prince Albert, died about six weeks ago in the midst of the crisis over the Trent, and a letter of thanks to the King of Siam but spends his birthday with a very sick young son.


February– Rochester, New York– In this month’s issue of Douglass’ Monthly, Frederick Douglass gives voice to the exasperation many in the North feel about the war. “We say nothing of its progress–for it has made none, unless getting together a large army on the Potomac, which has remained idle through the summer, waiting for autumn,–idle through the Winter, waiting for Spring, and which will probably remain idle through the Spring, waiting for good roads, thus completing a year of inactivity, money sinking, marching, counter-marching– can be called progress. . . . It is enough to exhaust the patience of Job.”

Her Royal Majesty, Queen Victoria

February 1– Saturday– Washington, D.C.–President Lincoln sends a letter of condolence to Queen Victoria on the death of her husband, Prince Albert. “The People of the United States are kindred of the People of Great Britain. With all our distinct national interests, objects, and aspirations, we are conscious that our moral strength is largely derived from that relationship, and we think we do not deceive ourselves when we suppose that, by constantly cherishing cordial friendship and sympathy with the other branches of the family to which we belong, we impart to them not less strength than we derive from the same connection. Accidents, however, incidental to all States, and passions, common to all nations, often tend to disturb the harmony so necessary and so proper between the two countries, and to convert them into enemies. It was reserved for Your Majesty in sending your son, the Heir Apparent of the British Throne, on a visit among us, to inaugurate a policy destined to counteract these injurious tendencies, as it has been Your Majesty’s manifest endeavor, through a reign already of considerable length and of distinguished success, to cultivate the friendship on our part so earnestly desired. It is for this reason that you are honored on this side of the Atlantic as a friend of the American People. The late Prince Consort was with sufficient evidence regarded as your counselor in the same friendly relation. The American People, therefore, deplore his death and sympathize in Your Majesty’s irreparable bereavement with an unaffected sorrow. . . . I know that the Divine hand that has wounded, is the only one that can heal: And so, commending Your Majesty and the Prince Royal, the Heir Apparent, and all your afflicted family to the tender mercies of God, I remain Your Good Friend, Abraham Lincoln.”

February 1– Saturday– Amsterdam, the Netherlands– Johan Rudolph Thorbecke, a Liberal, becomes Prime Minister for the second time in his life. In the tumultuous period of 1848-49, he led the drafting of a constitution which moved the Netherlands to a constitutional monarchy with limitations on the power of the king. Historians will consider him one of the most important Dutch politicians of the 19th century.

Dutch Prime Minister Thorbecke

February 2– Sunday– New York City–At Coopers Institute, Henry Ward Beecher speaks out in favor of women’s rights.

February 3– Monday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln sends a letter to King Somdetch Phra Paramendr Maha Mongut of Siam to thank him for gifts which the President accepts on behalf of the American people and declines the King’s offer of war elephants. “I have . . . received in good condition the royal gifts which accompanied those letters,— namely, a sword of costly materials and exquisite workmanship; a photographic likeness of Your Majesty and of Your Majesty’s beloved daughter; and also two elephants’ tusks of length and magnitude such as indicate that they could have belonged only to an animal which was a native of Siam. . . . Under their [the U S Congress] directions the gifts will be placed among the archives of the Government, where they will remain perpetually as tokens of mutual esteem and pacific dispositions more honorable to both nations than any trophies of conquest could be. I appreciate most highly Your Majesty’s tender of good offices in forwarding to this Government a stock from which a supply of elephants might be raised on our own soil. This Government would not hesitate to avail itself of so generous an offer if the object were one which could be made practically useful in the present condition of the United States. Our political jurisdiction, however, does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant, and steam on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce.”

February 3– Monday– Washington, D.C.– Senator Zachariah Chandler, Republican from Michigan, presents a resolution from the Michigan state legislature which urges strong Federal action to quell the insurrection, the seizure of Southern property and the abolition of slavery.

February 3– Monday– Paris, France– Jean Baptiste Biot, mathematician, physicist and astronomer, dies at age 87. He greatly influenced Louis Pasteur’s interest in science.

February 4– Tuesday– Kirkman’s Old Landing, Tennessee– Elements of two Union divisions under the command of General Grant begin landing north of the ten acre Confederate Fort Henry on the Tennessee River.

February 4– Tuesday– New York City– Lawyer George Templeton Strong writes in his diary. “Fifty years hence John Brown will be recognized as the Hero or Representative Man of this struggle up to 1862. He will be the Wycliffe of the anti-slavery Reformation.”

February 5– Wednesday– Boston, Massachusetts–In this issue of the Atlantic Monthly there appears a poem entitled “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” by Julia Ward Howe.

February 5– Wednesday– London, England– Her Majesty’s government lifts the ban on the export of gunpowder, arms, ammunition and military supplies.

February 5– Wednesday– Tecamac, Mexico– Birth of Felipe Villanueva, composer.

February 6–Thursday– near Kirkman’s Old Landing, Tennessee– Even before General Grant’s 15,000 troops are fully in position, Union gunboats under the command of Flag Officer Andrew Foote begin heavy shelling of Fort Henry. About 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the Confederate commander surrenders. Almost in spite of the heavy artillery exchange, Confederate losses total 21 dead, injured or missing while the Union casualties amount to 47 dead, wounded or missing. The Union capture of Fort Henry opens a way for Federal troops to make a thrust down the Mississippi River Valley.

Union gunboats fire on Confederate Fort Henry

February 7– Friday– New York City– Birth of Bernard Maybeck, architect who will design a number of important buildings in the San Francisco Bay area in the 20th century, including the Palace of Fine Arts (1915).

February 7– Friday– Paris, France– The physician Prosper Meniere dies at age 62. His study of deafness and hearing loss leads to the recognition of what is now called Meniere’s disease.

February 8– Saturday– Roanoke Island, North Carolina–Making an attack with an amphibious force, Union troops capture the island, taking 2,765 Confederates as prisoners and capturing 30 canon. Confederate defenders lose a total of 85 killed or wounded while the successful Federals lose a total of 264 dead, injured and missing.

February 8– Saturday– London, England– The three act opera Lily of Killarney by Julius Benedict premieres at the Covent Garden Theater. The 29 year old soprano Louisa Pyne sings the lead role.

February 9–Sunday– Washington, D.C.– Held responsible for the Union defeat at Balls Bluff last October, Brigadier General Charles Stone is arrested and imprisoned for almost six months at Fort Lafayette, New York and placed in solitary confinement. Apparently this is mostly for political reasons. He never receives a trial and after his release he will not again hold a significant command during the war. He will never be told the reason for his imprisonment.

February 10– Monday– Washington, D.C.–The Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, forms an organization to review inventions and technical developments. The group will become the National Academy of Science.

Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles


February 11– Tuesday– London, England– Lord Russell advises Lord Lyons, the British Minister in Washington, that he received Mason, the Confederate emissary, as a private citizen. Lord Russell reaffirmed to Mr Mason that Her Majesty’s Government will remain neutral regarding the American Civil War.

February 11– Tuesday– London, England– Elizabeth Siddal dies at age 32 from an overdose of laudanum, perhaps an accident, perhaps a suicide. Siddal, a much in demand artist’s model and herself an artist and poet, had been sickly for several years. She married Dante Gabriel Rossetti two years ago and in trying to give him a child, birthed a still–born daughter. Rumors will later circulate that Rossetti found and destroyed her suicide note in order to give her burial in a church graveyard as English law at the time regards suicide as a crime and both the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches at the time forbid church funeral and burial for a suicide.

Elizabeth Siddal at work sketched by her husband, Rossetti

February 12– Wednesday– near Dover, Tennessee– Federal troops under General Grant create a semi-circle around the Confederates at Fort Donelson.

February 12– Wednesday– Washington, D.C.– In the White House, although it is President Lincoln’s 53rd birthday, he spends most of the day with his sick son Willie.

February 12– Wednesday– Boston, Massachusetts– Speaking at Tremont Temple, Frederick Douglass again calls for the Union to use willing black soldiers. “Colored men were good enough to fight under Washington. They are not good enough to fight under McClellan.” Douglass goes on at length to address the future of the slave population after the war. Asserting that emancipation must accompany victory, he says, “deal justly with them; pay them honest wages for honest work; dispense with the biting lash, and pay them the ready cash; awaken a new class of motives in them” and then “shall be learned the highest ideas of the sacredness of man and the fullness and perfection of human brotherhood.”