Monthly Archives: March 2012

Woman as Force in History

This is the concluding day of Women’s History Month so I want to pay tribute to the historian who many consider the founding mother of women’s history, Mary Ritter Beard.

Mary Ritter Beard, 1876-1958

Mary Ritter was born on August 5, 1876 in Indianapolis, Indiana, the third child and the first daughter of Narcissa Lockwood Ritter and Eli Foster Ritter. Her father served in the Union Army during the Civil War and afterwards became a lawyer. Her mother taught school. Mary Ritter graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and enrolled at DePauw University in 1893. At DePauw, she was influenced by her German professor, Dr Henry Longden who taught German not only as a language but incorporated history, culture, literature and philosophy into his classes. Dr Longden encouraged students to see their studies in a broad and inclusive context. This kind of world-view had a lasting influence on Mary Ritter.

 While student, at DePauw she met Charles Austin Beard. Charles, two years Mary’s senior, majored in history, edited the student newspaper and participated on the debate team. The pair met at a dance class. After his graduation, Charles Beard went to England to pursue graduate study in history at Oxford. Mary Ritter took a job as a German teacher until Charles returned and the two married in March, 1900. A month after the wedding, Mary accompanied Charles back to England where she became involved with both the woman suffrage movement and the women’s trade union movement. The couple became friends with a number of socialists and progressives and the exiled Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin. The militant suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters became friends with Mary. In 1901 Mary gave birth to a daughter and the next year the family returned to the United States, settling in New York City where she and her husband began graduate study at Columbia University

 Eventually Charles completed his doctoral degree in history and was hired as a teacher at Columbia. Mary dropped out of her program in sociology in 1904 and bore a son in 1907. She became active in labor organizing and political protests. Eventually she joined the American radical Alice Paul in Ms Paul’s Congressional Union. In the 1920’s Mary Ritter Beard and Alice Paul went separate ways because Mary became a firm believer in the benefits of protective litigation and legislation for women while Ms Paul believed that such special protections hurt the cause of women and she argued for a total equality of women and men with women in the work force covered by the exact same protections as their male co-workers.

 Mary Ritter Beard found her voice and her life’s work in study of women in human history. Her first published work was a little book published in 1910 entitled The Woman Voter. In 1914 she co-authored American Citizenship with her husband Charles. The next year, her first solo major work, Woman’s Work in Municipalities, a tome of over 325 pages, appeared in print.

 Ms Beard wrote Woman’s Work for the National Municipal League, now the National Civic League, which had been founded in1894 to promote municipal reform and improvements for city government. Beard took this task most likely for some of the same reasons she dropped out of graduate study at Columbia. The traditional scholarly academic approach of teaching-research-writing was male dominated and not particularly welcoming to women. As Jacqueline Goggin noted in a fine article fifteen years ago: “Although leading male historians at the most prestigious colleges and universities in the country trained the first generations of female historians and helped female students in their search for fellowships and employment, often praising their scholarship, these men did little collectively to reduce the discrimination women faced in their quest to be treated as equals. . . . Before 1940 . . . most male historians offered little encouragement or support to female colleagues but instead fostered and contributed in a variety of ways to the continuous sexual discrimination against women historians. In letters of recommendation for fellowships and jobs, male historians often commented on the age, appearance, dress, personality, and character of the female applicant in a manner that would have been considered improper when writing on behalf of men.” Goggin, Challenging Sexual Discrimination in the Historical Profession: Women Historians and the American Historical Association, 1890-1940, 97(3) THE AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW 769, 772 (June, 1997).

 As a result of male indifference or even outright hostility, women such as Mary Ritter Beard sought other ways to practice their craft. “Although women failed to achieve much prominence within the profession when they wrote on the history of women, many applied their historical skills in the larger society. They wrote histories for and served as advisers to women’s organizations and urged them to collect and deposit in libraries their organizational records and personal papers. Several women’s organizations sponsored publications, plays, and pageants that focused on American women and sought advice from women historians. . . . Numerous women historians were members of the American Association of University Women and conducted historical and sociological studies of college women and the contemporary issues that concerned them.” Goggin at 882-3. So we find Beard doing such work for the National Municipal League. Also, Ms Beard remained critical of narrow approaches in academia and encouraged the pursuit of self-education as she herself practiced for the rest of her professional life.

 From 1915 through the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, an amendment which finally guaranteed women the right to vote 133 years after the drafting of the constitution and 72 years after the Seneca Falls convention, Ms Beard spoke, wrote, raised money and organized on behalf of suffrage and the needs of women workers. In addition, she collaborated with her husband in writing a new edition of American Citizenship (1918) and her own brilliant Short History of the American Labor Movement (1920), a significant and pioneering work to which other scholars remain indebted.

 While her husband Charles supported participation by the United States in the First World War, he resigned from Columbia on Oct. 8, 1917, after the University discharged three faculty members who spoke out against the war. [Remember, these were still the days when presidents actually followed the Constitution and asked Congress for a declaration of war. Voting against American participation cost Jeanette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, her bid for re-election. But that’s a story for another time.] In his resignation, with Mary’s support, Charles charged that “the University is really under the control of a small and active group of trustees who have no standing in the world of education, who are reactionary and visionless in politics, narrow and medieval in religion. I am convinced that while I remain in the pay of the Trustees of Columbia University I cannot do effectively my part in sustaining public opinion in support of the just war on the German Empire.” Shortly thereafter, Charles helped to found The New School in Greenwich Village, New York City, where the faculty would control its own membership but left to enjoy his home in Milford, Connecticut, free of academic responsibilities. The many books and textbooks which Mary and Charles co-authored provided a steady income.

 Mary and Charles provided important intellectual leadership in what came to be called “The New History”– that is, that history is not merely political and military but rather, to be real, earnest historical study, must include intellectual, social, cultural, and economic elements, an inclusivity which Mary Ritter Beard insisted must include women. She alienated some feminists by refusing to concentrate solely on the exploitation of women by men. Rather, she insisted on recognition and inclusion of all that women had done, from earliest recorded history to the present. When she said and wrote things like “The dogma of woman’s complete historical subjection to men must be rated as one of the most fantastic myths ever created by the human mind,” she angered some other women. For Mary Ritter Beard, history needed to tell that “Woman’s success in lifting men out of their way of life nearly resembling that of the beasts – who merely hunted and fished for food, who found shelter where they could in jungles, in trees, and caves – was a civilizing triumph.” She insisted on history that included failures and successes, evil and good. “Unless one’s philosophy is all-inclusive, nothing can be understood,” she declared repeatedly.

 Working with the peace activist and feminist Rosika Schwimmer in 1935, Mary Ritter Beard founded the World Center for Women’s Archives which she intended to include all types of women’s records and to facilitate the writing of inclusive history and the education of women. While the project, supported by women such as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, eventually led to the creation of the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at RadcliffeCollege and the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College, it never reached the full operation of which Mary Ritter Beard dreamt. She left in 1940 and the Center fell apart in a matter of months.

 In 1942, Mary Ritter Beard, heading a team of scholarly women, completed a brilliant and scathing critique of the errors, omissions, distortions and failures of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s representation of women. Their report included significant recommendations on existing articles as well as suggestions for including new and necessary articles. For example, Beard’s team noted that the treatment of abortion was not comprehensive as it was more than a moral question and relevant to population, political, health, medical, and social issues. They rightly complained that the article on education was male-dominated, asked why there was no article on “Queen,” and why women were not included in the articles on medicine. Yet this informative work was so significantly ignored by the very editors who had requested it that five years later Mary Ritter Beard suggested that women decline to write for Britannica.

At age 70, Mary Ritter Beard published what is generally recognized as her best work, Woman as Force in History; a Study in Traditions and Realities. As historian Nancy Cott noted, this masterpiece was “harshly reviewed by male historians . . . [and] served as a beacon for feminist scholars two decades later.” See Cott’s entry on Beard in Notable American Women: the Modern Period, 1980, at 73.

 Charles Beard died in 1948, even as his work and reputation were being disparaged, in part because of his opposition to the United States’ entry into the Second World War and his last major work, a book extremely critical of President Franklin Roosevelt. In 1955, three years before her own death, Mary Ritter Beard rose to Charles’ defense and called for a fresh look at his work in her book, Making of Charles A. Beard : an Interpretation. Twenty years ago, I asked the activist lawyer and historian Staughton Lynd for his opinion about the work of Mary and Charles Beard and he replied to the effect that “they got it right” and we can still read their works with great profit.

 Before her death, Mary Ritter Beard destroyed many of her notes and correspondence. Yet her books and articles and a small collection of her papers survive and inspire. For excellent appreciation of her work, I recommend Making Women’s History : the Essential Mary Ritter Beard, edited and with a new preface by Ann J. Lane (2000) and Woman Making History : Mary Ritter Beard Through Her Letters, edited and with an introduction by Nancy F. Cott (1991).

In the conclusion of her article, Jacqueline Goggin wrote, “Although female historians had by 1940 acquired an organization in the Berkshire Conference and a small measure of recognition from their male colleagues, these gains were fragile, part of what sociologist Jesse Bernard termed the ‘flowing and ebbing tides’ of professional women’s status. Female historians, like women in other professions, were increasingly marginalized in the 1940s and 1950s. Only in the 1960s did large numbers of women reenter the profession. Many turned to and developed women’s history as a means of advancing the position of women. Women historians and women’s history are now well integrated into the profession. Less certain is whether the increasing presence of women and women’s history will produce full equality for female historians.” Goggin, at 802.

 I think Mary Ritter Beard continues to tell us that women were, are and will be a “force in history” and regardless of ebb and flow in academia, it is Clio, the female spirit, parchment in her hands, who relates the full story, not in dry statistics or mere accounts of bloody battles, but in the tales of human struggle and creativity which inspire and strengthen us.





Pioneering Journalist

It is 1848. Revolutions rumble through much of Europe. Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Prague and Rome are shaken by demonstrations of students and workers, demanding democracy and reforms. English philosopher John Stuart Mill shakes up economic theory. Karl Marx writes about the exploitation of the laboring masses. In the United States, it’s a presidential election year and Daniel Webster and Henry Clay find once again that the executive office has eluded them both. A determined group of women are gathering in Seneca Falls, New York. The Oneida Community begins a radical experiment in group living. The Associated Press is organized. Telegraph service extends from New York to Chicago. Gold is discovered in California at Sutter’s Mill. Over a quarter of a million (226,527) immigrants enter the United States, of whom 49.8% come from economically ravaged Ireland; And in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a new weekly newspaper appears. It’s revolutionary because its editor is a woman.

Her name is Jane Grey Canon Swisshelm. Jane Grey Cannon was born in Pittsburgh on December 6, 1815. Jane’s father died when Jane was 12, leaving his wife Mary with three children to support. Mary Canon put Jane to work, sewing dresses, making lace and fashioning corsets for well-to-do women. Jane received some formal schooling yet was like many nineteenth century women and men–naturally bright, a voracious reader and mostly self-educated. [For other examples, consider magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale, business developer Madame C J Walker, politician Abraham Lincoln and activist Frederick Douglass.] When 21 years old, Jane married James Swisshelm, handsome, extremely rich, cold-hearted and rather narrow-minded. Mr Swisshelm was not well-prepared for a wife like Jane–petite, slender and with a will of iron and voice determined to speak her mind. At age 32 Jane Swisshelm’s name had already appeared in print in letters and articles. She was against capital punishment, against slavery, and in favor of Pennsylvania’s Married Woman’s Property Act which sought to protect the financial interests of wives from greedy husbands. She relished stirring the pot

Jane Grey Canon Swisshelm

Ms Swisshelm was writing regularly for the Pittsburgh Daily Commercial Journal when fate moved her to begin her own newspaper. As she tells in Half a Century her autobiography, local abolitionists began to gather their scattered forces and wanted a Liberty Party organ. To meet this want, Charles P Shiras started the Albatross in the fall of ‘47. . . . He was of an old and influential family, had considerable private fortune, was courted and flattered, but laid himself and gifts on the altar of Liberty. His paper was devoted to the cause of the slave and of the free laborer, and started with bright prospects. However, after only a matter of months, Shiras’ paper failed. Swisshelm decided to fill in the gap. She convinced Robert Riddle, editor of the Daily Commercial Journal, to enter a business arrangement with her, allowing her to print her paper at his facility.

The coming advent was announced, but I had no arrangements for securing either advertisements or subscribers. Josiah King, now proprietor of the Pittsburgh Gazette and James H. McClelland called at the Journal office and subscribed, and with these two supporters, the Pittsburgh Saturday Visiter [sic], entered life. The mechanical difficulty of getting out the first number proved to be so great that the forms were not onthe press at 3 P.M. By five the streets were so blocked by a waiting crowd, that vehicles went around by other ways, and it was six o’clock, January 20th, 1848, when the first copy was sold at the counter. I was in the editorial room all afternoon, correcting proof to the last moment, and when there was nothing more I could do, was detained by the crowd around the doors until it was after eleven.

Her newspaper caused an immediate stir locally and nationally. It was customary at the time for editors to exchange complimentary copies with other papers, even rival papers. This provided plenty of canon-fodder for papers of differing opinions to attack one another. Ms Swisshelm describes the response to her first issue:

My paper was a six column weekly, with a small Roman letter head, my motto, “Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward,” the names of my candidates at the head of the editorial column and the platform inserted as standing matter. It was quite an insignificant looking sheet, but no sooner did the American eagle catch sight of it, than he swooned and fell off his perch. Democratic roosters straightened out their necks and ran screaming with terror. Whig coons scampered up trees and barked furiously. The world was falling and every one had “heard it, saw it, and felt it.”

A woman had started a political paper! A woman! Could he believe his eyes? A woman! Instantly he sprang to his feet and clutched his pantaloons, shouted to the assistant editor, when he, too, read andgrasped frantically at his cassimeres, called to the reporters and pressmen and typos and devils, who all rushed in, heard the news, seized their nether garments and joined the general chorus, “My breeches! oh, my breeches!” Here was a woman resolved to steal their pantaloons, their trousers, and when these were gone they might cry “Ye have taken away my gods, and what have I more?” The imminence of the peril called for prompt action, and with one accord they shouted, “On to the breach, in defense of our breeches! Repel the invader or fill the trenches with our noble dead.”

“That woman shall not have my pantaloons,” cried the editor of the big city daily; “nor my pantaloons” said the editor of the dignified weekly;”nor my pantaloons,” said he who issued manifestos but once a month;”nor mine,” “nor mine,” “nor mine,” chimed in the small fry of the country towns. Even the religious press could not get past the tailor shop, and “pantaloons” was the watchword all along the line.”

Ms Swisshelm enjoyed making a stir. And her first issue was just a modest beginning. James Swisshelm had taken Jane with him to Kentucky where she observed to her horror, a slave woman, about her own age, naked to the waist, strapped to a post and being publicly bull-whipped by her owner. Jane swore to her Presbyterian God that she would do all she could for the oppressed–that is, slaves and married women. So when a Dr Robert Mitchell from Indiana County, Pennsylvania, sheltered and fed a fugitive slave named Jerry, was arrested, tried and fined by a judge named Grier for the kindness shown, Swisshelm was outraged. Of note, the $5000 fine levied by Grier would equal $108,000 today. The unrepentant Dr Mitchell said he’s do it again, regardless. In her second week as an editor, Ms Swisshelm took on the judge. Her account follows:

 There was disappointment that I had not criticized Judge Grier’s course in the first number of the Visiter, but this was part of my plan. In the second number I stated that there had been for a long time a great legal luminary visible in the Pennsylvania heavens, which had suddenly disappeared. I had been searching for him for several weeks with the best telescopes in the city, and had about given him up as a lost star, when I bethought me of Paddy, who had heated his gun-barrel and bent it around a tree so that he might be able to shoot around corners. Paddy’s idea was so excellent that I had adopted it and made a crooked telescope, by which I had found that luminary almost sixty degrees below our moral horizon. From this I proceeded to the merits of the case.

Judge Grier and Dr. Mitchell were both elders in the Presbyterian church. The Judge administered to men the eucharist oath to follow Christ, then usurped the law-making power of the United States to punish them for obeying one of the plainest precepts of the Master.

The article threw the judge into a fit. He threatened to sue the Mr Riddle, the owner of the Daily Commercial Journal who printed The Visiter and threatened Ms Swisshelm with imprisonment in the county jail and a libel suit. Grier demanded a published apology. He didn’t know who he was dealing with in that newspaper editor

My next article was headed “An Apology,” and in it I stated the circumstances which had called it out, and the pleasant prospect of my being sent to Mount Airy (our county jail) in case this, my apology, was not satisfactory. I should of course do my best to satisfy his honor, but in case of failure, should take comfort in the fact that the Mount would make a good observatory. From that height I should be able to use my telescope much better than in my present valley of humiliation. Indeed, the mere prospect had so improved my glass, that I had caught a new view of our sunken star, and to-day, this dispenser of justice, this gentleman with the high sense of honor, was a criminal under sentence of death by the divine law.

Judge Grier had helped a gang of thieves to steal Jerry, whose ancestors had been stolen in Africa. The original thief sold all he could sell–the title of a thief–and as the stream cannot rise above the fountain, Jerry’s master held the same title to him that any man would to Judge Grier’s horse, provided he had stolen it. The purchaser of a stolen horse acquired no title in him, and the purchaser of a stolen man acquired no title in him. The man who helped another steal a horse, was a horse thief, and the man who helped another steal a man, was a man thief, condemned to death by divine law. Jerry, after having been once stolen, had recovered possession of himself, and his master and other thieves had re-stolen him! Judge Grier, with full knowledge of this fact, had prostituted law for the benefit of the thieves.

Nothing more was heard of a libel suit. Two years after, James McMasters was sued for harboring a fugitive; was to be tried before Grier, and spoke to his lawyer about summoning the editor of the Visiter. The attorney exclaimed: “Oh bring her, by all means! No matter what she knows, or whether she knows anything; bring her into court, and I’ll win the case for you. Grier is more afraid of her than of the devil.”

Two years later, when Congress debated Henry Clay’s Compromise of 1850, Swisshelm became the first woman to sit and work in the press gallery. She covered the proceedings not only for her weekly but also as a stringer for Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune. [It is worth noting that Greeley had hired Margaret Fuller as a stringer when she went to Europe to view first-hand the Revolutions of 1848.] Like many others in the North who shared anti-slavery sentiment, Ms Swisshelm was shocked by Daniel Webster’s speech of March 7th, and accused Webster of selling out to the southern slave power. She described the event:

Darkest of the dark omens for the slave, in that dark day, was the defalcation of Daniel Webster. He whose eloquence had secured in name the great Northwest to freedom, and who had so long been dreaded by the slave-power, had laid his crown in the dust; had counseled the people of the North to conquer their prejudices against catching slaves, and by his vote would open every sanctuary to the bloodhound. The prestige of his great name and the power of his great intellect were turned over to slavery, and the friends of freedom deplored and trembled for the result.

For more than a decade, Ms Swisshelm made trouble and enjoyed doing it. In a brilliant piece in her newspaper, she described her feelings about what was refered to as “the woman’s sphere.”

If you wish to maintain your proper position in society, to command the respect of your friends now, and husbands and children in future, you should read, read–think, study, try to be wise, to know your own places and keep them, your own duties and do them. You should try to understand every thing you see and hear; to act and judge for yourselves; to remember you each have a soul of your own to account for; –a mind of your own to improve. When you once get these ideas fixed, and learn to act upon them, no man or set of men, no laws, customs, or combinations of them can seriously oppress you. Ignorance, folly, and levity, are more or less essential to the character of a slave. If women knew their rights, and proper places, we would never hear of men “making their wives” do this, that, or the other.

Hence, before Women’s History Month is completely gone, I take a moment to salute this pioneering journalist. Learn, gentle readers, from the woes of editors whose pants were stolen by a woman and the judge who feared the editor who did not fear jail and the senator who broke faith.

Swisshelm's grave, Pittsburgh PA

Oh, a final note– March is celebrated as Women’s History Month. But the history of women runs from January 1st to December 31st every year, every decade, every century. If you doubt it, remember, Clio, the inspirational muse of good historians, is female!

Brava Sisters for taking a stand!

This is Womens History Month. A Catholic friend sent this to me. As a practicing Lutheran, I salute these sisters for taking a stand. That is what makes people’s history–the real stuff.

Here’s what these Catholic nuns said:

“March 9, 2012

National Coalition of American Nuns Denounces Disrespectful Words of Rush Limbaugh, Groups and Policies that Further Gender Discrimination

This is Women’s History Month and as we celebrate International Women’s Day wecontinue our work to stop global degradation and violence against women,particularly in matters of reproductive justice. Women are educated and know the right thing to do regarding reproductive issues. Women as moral agents following their primacy of conscience always know the right thing to do but may be poor, underfed, unschooled, and not in control of their own fertility.

No woman should be treated as a second-class citizen of any country or religion. Yet the Church continues to say that women do not have the right to vote for itsleadership or Synod decisions, are not equal under the Code of Canon Law, are outside of inclusive language and should be treated without respect regarding reproductive decisions they make for the good of their families, spouses, partners, or in many situations to stay alive.

The National Coalition of American Nuns denounces the words and lobbying of anyone or any group, including public figures like Rush Limbaugh, using national media topromote disgusting and disrespectful terms and policies directed at any woman that further the violence of gender discrimination women experience around the world. Today we ask all communities to stop the violence of gender discrimination and to work toward a Justice that calls all males and females to equality.

The National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN), representing up to 1200 U.S. women religious, was founded in 1969 by prominent dissident Sr. Margaret Traxler of the congregation of Notre Dame. NCAN urges respect for the moral autonomy of womenthrough their support of family planning, marriage equality, and an inclusivepriesthood.”

March, 1862–Madness, Militancy, Manners, Moderation–the Fourth Week

In the last eight days of the month, the Lincoln Administration makes diplomatic advances, having the British agree to make it appear that the treaty creating joint efforts to stop the slave trade originated with the Americans, not Her Majesty’s Government, and seeking Senate approval on a trade treaty with the Ottoman Empire. The Confederate government considers conscription to build up its army. Soldiers in both armies write of battles and camp life. In New Mexico Territory, retreating Confederate soldiers are fed and nursed by the wives of Union officers. Among civilians, the golden-tongued Wendell Phillips finds that some Northern cities remain hostile to the abolition of slavery, the poet and editor Walt Whitman encounters a cross-dressing con artist, and in the Shenandoah Valley a farmer laments the increasing indifference to the rising number of casualties. Reports coming out of Mexico indicate that the European powers intervening there are squabbling among themselves. In France, a child is born who will become a politician, diplomat and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

March 24– Monday– Cincinnati, Ohio– While delivering a speech calling for immediate emancipation of all slaves, the eloquent abolitionist Wendell Phillips is hissed, booed and pelted with eggs. Phillips gives up his attempt to finish the speech when a raucous fist fight erupts.

Wendell Phillips, c1863

March 25– Washington, D.C.– Lord Lyons and Secretary of State Seward are making progress on a treaty. Lyons reports to London on Seward’s recent steps. “Finding the President and Cabinet to be warmly in favour of doing so, he had proceeded to sound influential Senators on the subject. The result was that he had been led to believe that there was at this moment a probability that the ratification of the Senate might be obtained. One point, however, he deemed essential to success. The proposal must originate with the United States. The great majority, if not all, of the present Senators were strongly opposed to Slavery and the Slave Trade. But there were no doubt many who retained the old jealousy of Great Britain on the Subject of the Right of Search. They would resist all appearance of conceding anything on this subject to pressure from the British Government. But the question would present itself in a different aspect,-if it should be Great Britain that acceded to a requisition from the United States,-if it should appear that the proposal had been made spontaneously by the American Government from its own desire to suppress the African Slave Trade. Mr. Seward went on to say that if I was willing to receive the proposal as coming spontaneously from him, and if I considered that I had authority to enter into negotiations on that footing, he would at once make the proposal to me formally in writing, and would have a Draft of a Treaty prepared to submit to me. I answered that I had no hesitation in agreeing that the proposal should originate with the Government of the United States. Her Majesty’s Government could only regard this as conveying a more decided expression of the views of the Government of the United States, than would be given by a simple assent to a request from Great Britain.”

Walt Whitman, 1854

March 25– New York City– A woman named Mrs Ellen Eyre writes a rather suggestive letter to Walt Whitman. “I fear you took me last night for a female privateer. It’s true that I was sailing under false colors. But the flag I assure you covered nothing piratical although I would joyfully have made your heart a captive. Women have an unequal chance in this world. . . . I therefore write to remind you that there is a sensible head as well as a sympathetic heart, both of which would gladly evolve wit & warmth for your direction & comfort. . . . It shall only depend upon you to make them yours and me the happiest of women.” [However, “Ellen Eyre” is one of the aliases of a con-man named William Kinney who runs a fraudulent medical scheme during the day and cross-dresses as a woman at night to entrap and blackmail prominent men. What if anything later happened with Whitman is a matter open to speculation.]

March 26– Mt Jackson, Virginia– Confederate soldier Jebediah Hotchkiss writes to his wife Sara. “We are poorly provided with tents & cooking utensils but have guns enough The battle of Sunday last was one of the hardest yet.”

March 26– Washington, D.C.– Secretary of State Seward formally presents to Lord Lyons, the British Minister, a draft of a treaty for joint efforts by the United States and Great Britain to suppress international slave trade. It is almost exactly the treaty sent to Lyons by Lord Russell, with only a few minor changes and additions.

Joseph Addison Waddell in his later years

March 27– Augusta County, Virginia– A local farmer and newspaper man, Joseph Addison Waddell, describes his day in his diary. “Late in the afternoon I walked with Virginia [his wife] to the Institution (Military Hospital) to see the wounded soldiers. Young Sherrer, of Appomattox, and another one to come here to stay, tomorrow. Returning, I called at Davis Kayser’s to see Col. Echols, who had just arrived, badly wounded in the arm. . . . What a change has come over the feelings of the people since the early months of this war! We hear of the wounded and slain, almost without emotion.”

March 27– Beaufort, North Carolina– Alexander Adams of the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry writes home to his mother. “You said in your letter you would like to know what we had to eat and what kind of beds we have well I will tell you. For breakfast we have 3 crackers, a chunk of fat meat and a tin of coffee, supper the same, and for dinner we have bread, meat and soup and for a bed we have our blanket spread on the soft side of a board. We do not have to cook any unless it is something we buy but I am not troubled for I have nothing to buy with and I have not received any pay since I came here. . . . I have now nearly three months pay coming to me and I expect that we will get paid off in about a week and we will get two months pay. They always keep one month back.”

March 28–Nantes, France–Birth of Aristide Briand, French politician who will serve as Prime Minister, and will receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926.

Aristide Briand

March 28–Boston, Massachusetts–The current issue of The Liberator reprints a letter from a Union sailor who asserts that poisoned liquor was left for Union troops in North Carolina.

March 28– Washington, D.C.– The United States and Great Britain move closer to signing a treaty to suppress the slave trade. Lord Lyons sends a copy of Seward’s draft of such a treaty to Lord Russell in London, explaining what steps are being taken. “Mr. Seward’s Draft is copied verbatim from Your Lordship’s. But a clause is added to the last article reserving to each Party the right of putting an end to the Treaty after the expiration of ten years, on giving a year’s note of the intention to do so. I went to see Mr. Seward yesterday and asked what had been his object in adding this clause, and whether he attached any great importance to it. I said that certainly in my opinion the Treaty would be very much better without it; but that if he thought it essential in order to obtain the ratification of the Senate, I should be unwilling to insist so strongly upon its being obliterated, as to bring the whole Treaty into jeopardy, or even to cause any great delay. Mr. Seward answered that for his own part he should very much prefer a Treaty of unlimited duration; and that his friends in the Senate took the same view as he did. He had, he said, inserted the Clause in order to disarm opposition, but he should nevertheless be glad that I should state my objection to it in writing. With a note from me to this effect which he could produce, he might be able to get rid of the clause. . . . I feel confident that Your Lordship will not be disposed to blame me, if I assume the responsibility of signing a Treaty in accordance with your Draft, whether with, or without, the addition of a limitation Clause. Mr. Seward requested me to be mindful in my written communications with him that the proposal to conclude the Treaty was to be regarded as having originated with the Government of the United States.”

March 28–Friday– Richmond, Virginia–Recognizing the need to increase the strength of the Confederate Army, President Davis proposes a conscription bill.

Robert Gould Shaw in his colonel's uniform before his death in 1863

March 28– Friday– Strasburg, Virginia– Second Lieutenant Robert Gould Shaw, serving with the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry, writes to his mother Sarah Sturgis Shaw about the state of Union forces. “Indeed physically as well as morally, I believe we have the finest army in the world. Nevertheless a well disciplined European army would give us a terrible whopping because of our poor officers. Another wonderful thing is the soberness of the men. Though we can’t claim much merit for that in Virginia, as the Rebels have destroyed all the distilleries in this part of the State & probably every where.”

March 28– Friday– Pigeon’s Ranch near Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory– In a hard-fought encounter, Confederate forces come close to routing Union soldiers until a column of Federal volunteers attacks the Confederate supply wagons from the rear, destroying much of their supplies and ammunition. In this, one of the major battles in the Far West, Confederate dead, wounded and missing total 121; Union losses amount to 111. However, after the shooting stops, the Federals still have over 1200 able-bodied soldiers. The Confederate General Henry Hopkins Sibley believes that his troops are stretched too thin and now lacking supplies so he retreats southward back to Santa Fe even though he has over 900 fighters still capable of bearing arms.

Pigeon Ranch-1880-relatively unchanged since 1862 battle

March 29– Saturday– Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory– Retreating Confederate forces return to Santa Fe in the cold and snowy weather. Seeing that the Confederates lack blankets and food, Louisa Hawkins Canby and other Union wives provide Sibley’s men with blankets and food from hidden Federal stores. The women also nurse the sick and wounded. For her compassion, Louisa Hawkins Canby will be nick-named the “Angel of Santa Fe.”

March 29– Saturday– New York City– Harper’s Weekly provides its readers with an update on the situation in Mexico. “The preliminary treaty of Soledad, agreed upon between the Mexican and Allied commissioners, has been assented to by President Juarez. By this treaty the Allies are permitted to occupy three inland cities, and Vera Cruz was to revert to the Mexican authorities; but it is stated that at latest advices, and when the Allied troops had commenced to occupy the three towns named in the treaty, and when the Mexican flag had been again hoisted in Vera Cruz, and the Mexican officials were returning to resume control there, the English officials became dissatisfied, and it is said that the English forces will be entirely withdrawn. Trouble had also occurred between the French and Spanish, and General Prim was to be superseded by a French commander, and the affairs generally of the Allies seemed to be in great confusion. Two battalions of the Spanish forces had been withdrawn and had arrived at Havana.”


Benito Juarez



March 30– Sunday– Baltimore, Maryland– After six months of problems from Confederate forces, the B&O Railroad resumes normal operations in Maryland and West Virginia.

March 31– Monday– Newport News, Virginia–Sergeant Major Elisha Hunt Rhodes of the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry notes in his diary his good eating. “Yesterday I had a beefsteak and sweet potatoes. Very good eating for a soldier. . . . I am well and contented as usual. Camp life agrees with me.”

March 31– Monday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln sends a new trade treaty to the Senate and urges its approval. “I transmit to the Senate, for its consideration with a view to ratification, a treaty of commerce and navigation between the United States and the Ottoman Empire, signed at Constantinople on the 25th of last month.” He asks for quick action as notice must be given to the Sultan no later than May 25th.

Texans attack in the fight near Pigeon Ranch, New Mexico Territory

March 1862-Madness, Militancy,Manners, Moderation-the Third Week

The third week of March, 1862, finds Walt Whitman’s brother writing home about the battle at New Berne while Rhode Island troops want vengeance for the desecration of the body of Sullivan Ballou and rebel soldiers want to drive “the enemy” north of the Mason-Dixon line. Stonewall Jackson suffers a defeat. The Lincoln Administration makes a quiet response to Britain about a slave-trade treaty ban while in England the beginnings of new crisis take root as a British ship-builder stealthily releases a new warship for Confederate use. Newspapers complain about the liquor consumption of Confederate officers, praise a new book by the English author Wilkie Collins and take note of the major change begun in naval warfare. Troubled Mexico remains a sea of conflict. Two period painters die and an outlaw is born. In events which will reach well into the 20th century, in southeast Asia, France occupies more of Vietnam and in New Orleans, Homer Plessy, a man who has one African great-grandparent, is born.

March 16– Sunday– Near New Berne North Carolina– George Whitman, brother of poet Walt Whitman, writes to his mother about the battle two days ago. “We have given the Secesshers another thundering thrashing, and have gained a splendid victory. I went through the fight and did not get a scratch although the balls fairly rained around me, and several of our boys were struck down close by my side. I suppose you will get a great deal better account of the fight, than I can give you (from the papers) but I know you will want to hear my account of it so here it is. . . . Our men had 60 rounds of Cartridge each when they went into action and had used it nearly all and were just about to fall back to let the 51st Pennsylvania Regt take our places (as they had not been in the fight at all) when the enemy run. Our regt went into the fight with about 650 men and as we lost about 100 in killed and wounded you may know that we had pretty hot work. . . . We are very comfortably situated and will probably stay here for some time and take it easy as our boys are pretty well used up.”

March 16– Sunday– San Francisco, California– Worried by rumors of impending Confederate invasion, Federal authorities impose martial law.

Homer Plessy

March 17– Monday– New Orleans, Louisiana– Birth of Homer Plessy. A man of very light skin-color who has one great-grandparent of African blood, Plessy will become, 30 years from now, the representative of New Orleans African-Americans challenging segregated railroad passenger cars, which will lead to the U S Supreme Court decision in Plessy v Ferguson, a decision which will make segregation legal until the mid 20th century.

March 18– Tuesady– Richmond, Virginia–President Davis makes changes in his Cabinet, moving Judah Benjamin from the War Department to Secretary of State to replace R. M. T. Hunter. Also, he appoints George Randolph of Virginia as Secretary of War.

March 18– Tuesday– Washington, D.C.–Charles Bird King, American portrait artist, dies at age 76. His patrons included John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. For twenty years, between 1822 and 1842, he did 143 portraits of visiting Native Americans, a work commissioned by the federal government.

March 19– Wednesday– Dusseldorf, Germany– Frederick Wilhelm Schadow, Romantic painter, dies at age 72.

March 19– Wednesday– Mt Jackson, Virginia– A Confederate soldier, James McCutchan, serving under Stonewall Jackson, writes to his sister. “It looks pretty hard though to leave the finest portion of the Valley to be overrun by the Enemy & of course hundreds of good loyal secessionists must be trampled upon & insulted by a cruel and relentless foe. But there will be a time & I don’t think it far distant when the Hessians will be glad to stay on the North side of the Potomac. . . . This is the darkest hour the Confederacy has ever seen. Now is the time for every true & patriotic spirit to rally ‘round the Bonnie Blue Flag & fight & never cease to fight while there is an enemy South of Mason’s & Dixon’s line.”

March 20– Thursday– Mekong Delta, Vietnam– French forces begin a three day siege of the town of My Tho which will result in expanding French control in the area.

Gerrit Smith, abolitionist

March 21– Friday– Boston, Massachusetts–The text of a long speech recently given by Gerrit Smith at the Smithsonian Institute appears in The Liberator. Smith concluded by declaring “The question is no longer whether slavery shall die. The sole question now is whether our slavery-bewildered nation shall live. It will live, if the Government resolves unconditionally that it shall. But it will not live, if the Government persist in the purpose that slavery shall also live.”

March 21– Friday– New York City– The New York Times comments about the changes made by the new naval warfare. “One thing is certain, we are bound to have an iron-clad navy that will defy those of the most powerful European nations. Already, at one leap, we have taught the world more than all it knew before respecting this new warlike capacity. The country is opulent with creative genius and engineering skill.”

Shipyard model of the Union iron-clad the USS Monitor

March 21– Friday– Washington, D.C.– Lord Lyons, the British Minister, sends a classified, updated report to the Foreign Office in London regarding a treaty with the United States to end slave trading. “Mr. Seward is willing to propose to me to negotiate a Slave Trade Treaty, provided the proposal have the air of coming originally from the United States, instead of from us. I have agreed to this. It may therefore be well not to mention that we have already made a proposal. Mr. Seward says he shall propose stipulations not materially differing from those in your Draft.”

March 21– Friday– Camp Brightwood, outside Washington, D.C.– Elisha Hunt Rhodes writes in his diary about the last year. “I am twenty years of age today. The past year has been an eventful one for me, and I thank God for all his mercies to me. . . . I have now been in service ten months and feel like a veteran.”

March 21– Friday– Norfolk, Virginia– The Day Book, a local newspaper, complains about the drinking habits of officers in the Confederate Army who consume alcohol “in quantities which would astonish the nerves of a cast-iron lamp-post, and a quality which would destroy the digestive organs of the ostrich.”

March 21– Friday– London, England–James Bruce, the 8th Earl of Elgin, is appointed Governor-General of India.

Wilkie Collins, from Harpers Weekly

March 22– Saturday– New York City– Harper’s Weekly comments approvingly upon a new novel. “In connection with the commencement of Mr. Wilkie Collins’s new Tale, No Name, we publish herewith a portrait of this distinguished man. William Wilkie Collins was born in London in 1824. His father was a painter, who went to Italy shortly after his son’s birth, and remained there till the latter had reached manhood. Mr. Wilkie Collins’s first work, Antonina, which was published in 1850, revealed his remarkable genius; but the subject was ill chosen, and the book did not meet with great success. His later Novels, and especially the Woman in White, published in Harper’s Weekly, have placed him in the first rank of contemporaneous Novel writers.”

March 22– Saturday– Cuidad Serdan, Mexico–On orders from Benito Juarez, former President Manuel Robles Pezuela, who served under appointment by the conservative military junta for one year, is executed for treason. Pezuela is 44 years old.

March 22– Saturday– Liverpool, England– The newly completed ship Oreto sets sail for Nassau, the Bahamas. Built by the English firm William C Miller & Sons for the Confederacy, the ship will be commissioned as the CSS Florida in mid-August.

March 23– Sunday– Camp Brightwood, outside Washington, D.C.– Elisha Hunt Rhodes records that today his regiment received the remains of Major Sullivan Ballou, Captain Levi Tower and Colonel John Slocum who were killed last July at the Battle of Bull Run. Ballou’s body had been desecrated and burned by the Confederates. “This to us is horrible, and the 2nd Rhode Island will remember it when [we] meet the foe again.”

March 23– Sunday– Mt Jackson, Virginia– Jebediah Hotchkiss writes home to his wife Sarah. “Gen Jackson came over to see us Friday– he is a fine looking fellow– Baylor mustered us in. Gen. Jackson moved his army back down the Valley today, the enemy having fallen back, it is said below Winchester on account of the reported trouble in Maryland– we have any amount of Rumors, but know nothing.”

General Jackson in 1862

March 23– Sunday–Kernstown, Virginia– Outnumbered Confederate troops under General Stonewall Jackson are repulsed in their attack upon a Federal position. Confederate losses total 718 dead, injured and missing while the Union losses total 590. Jackson, with 3500 troops, had expected only a disorganized Union rear guard in the town. Instead, he finds himself attacking 9000 well-positioned Federal troops. Despite the Union victory, the attack makes President Lincoln worry about the safety of the capital.

March 23– Sunday– Beaufort, North Carolina– Federal troops begin a siege of the town.

Texas Jack Reed, from a wanted poster

March 23– Sunday– Madison County, Arkansas– Birth of Nathaniel Reed. Under the alias “Texas Jack,” Reed will rob banks and trains but upon being paroled after serving a year in prison in 1895-6, he will become a traveling Protestant evangelist.

March, 1862–Madness, Militancy, Manners, Moderation–the Second Week

In the second week of March, 1862, a new era opens in naval warfare as iron clad ships battle to a draw. Federal troops capture a North Carolina town. In Washington, President Lincoln receives a symbolic gift from Massachusetts, commends the crew of the USS Monitor and relieves General McClellan of overall command but demands action from the Army of the Potomac while Secretary of State Seward gives an initially cool reception to Britain’s overture for suppression of the international slave trade. In Boston, the radical abolitionist press harshly criticizes Lincoln’s proposal for compensated emancipation. And in South Carolina, Mary Chesnut, socialite wife of a Confederate politician, explains why she keeps a diary and that black women “have a chance here that women have nowhere else.” Elsewhere, soldiers write home.

March 9– Sunday– Camp Brightwood, outside of Washington, D.C.– Elisha Hunt Rhodes notes that he has been released from his clerk job, returned to his regiment, the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers, and promoted to Sergeant Major. “To say I am delighted would be very tame.”

The iron clads fight it out

March 9– Sunday– Hampton Roads, Virginia–In view of Confederate and Union forces, the ironclads, USS Monitor and the CSS Merrimack fight to a virtual stand-off. Federal naval and governmental authorities feel relieved that they now possess a warship to counter the Confederate iron-clad.

March 9– Sunday– London, England– Lord Russell writes that the Union blockade of the Confederacy must be maintained by actual presence of warships, not merely by a declaration of blockade. “According to all American doctrine it must be an actual blockade kept up by an efficient force.”

Mary Chesnut


March 10– Monday– Columbia, South CarolinaSocialite Mary Chesnut explains why she keeps her diary. “Second year of Confederate independence. I write daily for my own diversion. These mémoires pour servir may at some future day afford facts about these times and prove useful to more important people than I am. I do not wish to do any harm or to hurt any one. If any scandalous stories creep in they can easily be burned. It is hard, in such a hurry as things are now, to separate the wheat from the chaff. Now that I have made my protest and written down my wishes, I can scribble on with a free will and free conscience.”

March 11– Tuesday–Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln relieves George McClellan as General-in-Chief of the U. S. Army yet continues as him commander of the Army of the Potomac. In other changes, the President adds “Ordered also, That the country west of the Department of the Potomac and east of the Department of the Mississippi be a military department, to be called the Mountain Department, and that the same be commanded by Major-General Fremont.”

General McClellan & his wife, Ellen Marcy McClellan

March 12– Wednesday– Fort Union, Albuquerque, New Mexico Territory– Lieutenant Silas Soule, serving in the Union Army, writes to his friend Walt Whitman. “We . . . start in three days to attack Sibley where I expect we shall have as great a battle as ever was known. Soldiering suits me although it is rather rough at present. We have traveled through mountains and plains and seen many amusing things. We have a splendid chance to study human nature for we have all kinds of men in the Reg[iment]. We are within one hundred miles of Santa Fe which I suppose is taken by the Texans by this time. Men women and children and thousands of head of stock arrive here daily from that country.”

March 13– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– Secretary of State Seward advises Charles Francis Adams to tell Her Majesty’s Government that the Lincoln Administration disapproves of the presence of British, Spanish and French troops in Mexico.

March 13–Thursday– Madrid, Spain–The U S Charge d’affaires reports to Secretary of State Seward that Spain will equivocate with France regarding French intervention in Mexico because Spain itself would like to regain Mexico.

March 13– Thursday– Columbia, South Carolina–Mary Chesnut compares the South to both England and the North. “Read Uncle Tom’s Cabin again. These negro [sic] women have a chance here that women have nowhere else. They can redeem themselves – the ‘impropers’ can. They can marry decently, and nothing is remembered against these colored ladies. It is not a nice topic, but Mrs. Stowe revels in it. How delightfully Pharisaic a feeling it must be to rise superior and fancy we are so degraded as to defend and like to live with such degraded creatures around us – such men as Legree and his women. The best way to take negroes [sic] to your heart is to get as far away from them as possible. As far as I can see, Southern women do all that missionaries could do to prevent and alleviate evils. The social evil has not been suppressed in old England or in New England, in London or in Boston. People in those places expect more virtue from a plantation African than they can insure in practice among themselves with all their own high moral surroundings – light, education, training, and support.”

Abolitionist view of the chances of slave women

March 13– Thursday– Montour, New York– Birth of Jane Delano, founder of the American Red Cross Nursing Service.

March 13– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– Presented with a handsome buggy whip by a delegation of Massachusetts businessmen, President Lincoln expresses his thanks, saying that “it is evidently expected that a good deal of whipping is to be done. But as we meet here socially let us not think only of whipping rebels, or of those who seem to think only of whipping Negroes, but of those pleasant days, which it is to be hoped are in store for us, when seated behind a good pair of horses we can crack our whips and drive through a peaceful, happy, and prosperous land.” Lincoln issues an executive order to General McClellan to take “the force down the Potomac, choosing a new base at Fortress Monroe, or anywhere between here and there, or, at all events, move such remainder of the army at once in pursuit of the enemy by some route.”

 March 14– Friday– Christiania, Norway– Birth of Vilhelm Frimen Koren Bjerknes, physicist and meteorologist who will help to develop modern weather forecasting.

March 14– Friday– New Berne, North Carolina– Federal troops capture the town, suffering 471 dead, wounded and missing while inflicting about 600 Confederate casualties.


Gunboats at the battle of New Berne


March 14– Friday– Boston, Massachusetts– The Liberator criticizes President Lincoln’s proposal of March 6th for compensated emancipation, mocking the content and language of the message to Congress, ridiculing the idea of “pecuniary cooperation . . . for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such change of system. . . . bunglingly expressed, quite discreditable in that particular as official documents. . . . [The] President is at war with common sense, sound reason, the teachings of history.” The paper asserts that the president “has now THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT, POWER AND OPPORTUNITY to ‘proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the in habitants thereof’ and neither the President nor Congress must be allowed to evade this solemn duty by any dodge of this kind.”

March 15– Saturday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln issues an executive order expressing his thanks to the commander and crew of the USS Monitor “for the heroism you have displayed and the great service you have rendered.” The President also signs legislation establishing American participation in a joint commission of France, Great Britain and the United States to determine means of preserving fisheries in the North Atlantic Ocean.

March 15– Saturday– New York City– With a sly comment about Britain’s diplomatic and military response to the Trent affair, Harpers Weekly alleges that the “expense to England of the Mason and Slidell affair is understood to be £364,000 ($1,820,000).

A cruiser of the British Africa Squadron chases a slaver

March 15– Saturday– Washington, D.C.– Lord Lyons, the British Minister, reports to Lord Russell in the Foreign Office that he, Lyons, has “seen Mr. Seward and have spoken to him, in the sense of those Despatches, on the subject of the search and capture by British Cruizers of American Vessels engaged in the Slave Trade. I said to Mr. Seward that in the opinion of Her Majesty’s Government the only mode of providing for the safe and lawful exercise of a power to effect such searches and captures, would be the conclusion of an efficient Slave Trade Treaty between the two Countries; and I put into his hands the Draft of such a Treaty which was inclosed in your Lordship’s [dispatch of March 1st]. Mr. Seward appeared to doubt its being advisable to enter at the present moment into negotiations for the conclusion of a Treaty. He said, however, that he would consider the matter. He observed that the occupation of the Coast of the Southern States by the Federal troops would, he supposed, soon very much diminish the number of ships required to maintain the Blockade and would thus enable this Government to employ an efficient Squadron in operations against the Slave Trade.”

March 1862–Madness, Militancy, Manners, Moderation–the First week

The first week of March brings diplomatic efforts in Washington and London. President Lincoln proposes a program of compensated emancipation as a middle road to end slavery and restore the unity of the country but neither the South nor the abolitionists will be satisfied with moderation. Despite hard feelings about the Trent affair remaining on both sides of the Atlantic, Great Britain senses the possibility that the United States may at long last agree to mutual efforts to suppress international slave trade. Part of Britain’s diplomacy since the Congress of Vienna in 1815, all the major powers and many smaller states have joined, with the exception of the United States. The sticking point–outside of Southern desires for unrestricted slave trade–was allowing American ships to be searched by British cruisers. Lord Russell, the Foreign Minister, sees an opportunity. The dream of the great British abolitionist William Wilberforce, dead almost 30 years now, may be moving closer to full realization.

William Wilberforce-c.1790


Ordinary soldiers on both sides wonder what’s happening and deal with sickness and loneliness. In the far west, rebel troops are courteously received by the wives of Union officers while in the east a dashing cavalry officer falls in love. The South uses a fearsome new naval weapon. A Quaker poet hopes for an end to slavery and war. Lincoln expresses dissatisfaction with McClellan and takes a chance on a Southern senator who remained loyal. Federal forces win a battle in Arkansas.

March 1– Saturday– Richmond, Virginia– President Davis proclaims martial law to be in effect throughout the city. Confederate authorities arrest a number of Virginians on suspicion of being Union sympathizers.

March 1– Saturday– Pocahontas, Virginia– Adam Kersh, serving in the Confederate Army, writes to his brother George. “I received the letter you sent us on the 25th February and was glad to hear from you all at home. I would have answered you [sic] letter sooner but did not feel well enough. I have had the jaundice working on me for about eight days now which makes me feel very lowlifed and mean. . . . I look about as yellow as a pumpkin. . . . You were speaking of reenlisting. I have not reenlisted yet nor none of our company have yet. It is a heap talk in the regiment about reenlisting. I have come to the conclusion to wait awhile and see how I get along with my first twelve months before I reenlist.”


Lord Russell, Her Majesty's Foreign Secretary, 1862


March 1– Saturday– London, England– Sensing that the American government is at last willing to sign a treaty agreeing to mutual efforts to suppress international slave trade, Lord Russell of the Foreign Office writes to Lord Lyons, the British Minister in Washington, saying in the key part that he is “transmitting to you the Draft of a Treaty between Great Britain and the United States for the suppression of the Slave Trade, I have to state to you that so much ill feeling has been created at different times by the exercise of a Right of Visit on the part of British Cruizers [sic] that Her Majesty’s Government deem that it would be very inexpedient to instruct the Lords of the Admiralty to sanction any practice of overhauling American Merchant Ships suspected to be Slavers on the mere Authority of an informal Agreement with the Secretary of State of the United States. At the same time Her Majesty’s Government are fully convinced of the sincerity of the United States Government in their professions of a desire to suppress the Slave Trade. This desire is in conformity with the well known sentiment of the President and the principal Members of his Administration. But, if such is the case, it is much to be desired that the rules of proceed- ing for the Men of War of the two Nations should be clear and precise. By this means all dispute on the rights of Naval Commanders to visit and search Vessels may be avoided. With this view I have had drawn up the Draft Treaty of which I desire you to give a Copy to Mr. Seward.”

March 2– Sunday– New York City– Birth of John Jay Chapman, lawyer, journalist, poet, literary critic and dramatist. His grandmother is the abolitionist and feminist Maria Westin Chapman, long-time associate and supporter of radical abolitionist editor William Lloyd Garrison.

March 2– Sunday– Washington, D.C.– Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes writes in his diary. “Still packed up and ready to move, but the orders are countermanded almost as soon as received. I want to go, I want to get out of Washington, and I want the war to end.”

March 2– Sunday– Murfreesboro, Tennessee– The handsome 36 year old widower Captain John Hunt Morgan comes to dinner at the home of Colonel Charles Ready and makes a favorable impression upon 21 year old Martha Ready, the sixth of the Colonel’s eight children. Martha’s sister Alice describes Captain Morgan as “an extremely modest man, but very pleasant and agreeable, though one to see him would scarcely imagine him to be the daring reckless man he is.” The dashing cavalry officer is smitten with Martha. The two will become engaged by the end of the month and will marry in December.

March 3– Monday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln appoints Andrew Johnson to be military governor of Tennessee. Johnson, age 53, a Democrat from Tennessee, is the only U S Senator from a Confederate state not to have resigned his seat last year when the war began. President Lincoln’s appointment is seen as both a reward to Johnson for his loyalty and as an attempt to show that the Administration is not anti-southern.

March 3–Monday– Washington, D.C.– Secretary of State Seward instructs Charles Francis Adams, Minister to Great Britain, to advise Her Majesty’s Government that the United States disapproves of British, Spanish and French troops in Mexico.

March 3– Monday– New Madrid, Missouri– Federal troops begin a siege of the town.

March 4– Tuesday– Washington, D.C.– In a meeting with the Minister representing the government of Peru, President Lincoln states his foreign policy toward friendly states in the Western Hemisphere. “You may be assured, sir, that in all things this government will deal justly, frankly, and, if it be possible, even liberally with Peru, whose liberal sentiments toward us you have so kindly expressed.”

March 4– Tuesday– St Gallen, Switzerland– Birth of Jacob R Emden, meteorologist and astrophysicist.


Louisa Hawkins Canby


March 4– Tuesday– Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory– Confederate soldiers occupy the town. They are surprised to find a welcoming committee consisting of the wives of Union officers, led by 43 year old Louisa Hawkins Canby, the wife of Colonel Canby who commanded the Federal garrison and removed himself and his troops before the invaders arrived.

March 6– Thursday– East Haverhill, Massachusetts– John Greenleaf Whittier writes to John Hutchinson of the Hutchinson Family Singers, abolitionist to their core. “Whatever General McClellan may do with my rhymes, I am thankful that Congress is putting it out of his power to ‘send back’ fugitive slaves as well as singers. After all, I do not think it strange that a Quaker’s song should be thought out of place in the army. Wishing thee and thine health and happiness, and hoping that you may live to sing of the deliverance of our land from slavery and war.”

Whittier, poet & abolitionist

March 6– Thursday– Richmond, Virginia– The Confederate Congress authorizes the military to destroy tobacco, cotton or other crops rather than allow them to fall into the hands of Union troops.

March 6– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– In a message to both houses of Congress, President Lincoln sets forth a proposal for compensated emancipation of slaves, a measure he hopes might end the war. “I recommend the adoption of a joint resolution by your honorable bodies, which shall be substantially as follows: Resolved , That the United States ought to cooperate with any State which may adopt gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State, in its discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such change of system. If the proposition contained in the resolution does not meet the approval of Congress and the country, there is the end; but if it does command such approval, I deem it of importance that the States and people immediately interested should be at once distinctly notified of the fact, so that they may begin to consider whether to accept or reject it. The Federal Government would find its highest interest in such a measure, as one of the most efficient means of self-preservation. . . . In the mere financial or pecuniary view any member of Congress with the census tables and Treasury reports before him can readily see for himself how very soon the current expenditures of this war would purchase, at fair valuation, all the slaves in any named State. Such a proposition on the part of the General Government sets up no claim of a right by Federal authority to interfere with slavery within State limits, referring, as it does, the absolute control of the subject in each case to the State and its people immediately interested. It is proposed as a matter of perfectly free choice with them. . . . While it is true that the adoption of the proposed resolution would be merely initiatory, and not within itself a practical measure, it is recommended in the hope that it would soon lead to important practical results. In full view of my great responsibility to my God and to my country, I earnestly beg the attention of Congress and the people to the subject.”

Battle of Pea Ridge

March 8– Saturday– Pea Ridge, Arkansas–Three days of fighting concludes with a Union victory as they drive back a slightly larger Confederate force. Federal losses total 1384 dead, wounded and missing while the Confederate total is approximately 800.

March 8– Saturday– Hampton Roads, Virginia– The Confederate iron-clad ship the CSS Virginia, formerly the Merrimack, attacks besieging Union warships, destroying two of them and damaging several others.

The Confederate iron-clad

March 8– Saturday–Washington, D.C.–President Lincoln, dismayed at General McClellan’s inactivity as well as his failure to appoint corps commanders, names Edwin Vose Sumnner, Samuel Heintzelman, Erasmus Keyes and Irvin McDowell as corps commanders. In addition, Lincoln orders “that the Army and Navy cooperate in an immediate effort to capture the enemy’s batteries upon the Potomac between Washington and the Chesapeake Bay.”

 March 8– Saturday– St John, New Brunswick, Canada– Birth of George F Phillips who will win the U S Congressional Medal of Honor while serving in the American Navy during the war against Spain in 1899.