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.”

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