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

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