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.

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