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.”

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