Now that April is Come–the Fourth Week

As April, 1862, draws to a close, soldiers on both sides write of the busyness of campaigns and the destruction they see, their worries about the enemy, the rightness of their cause, and the lack of mail from home. Some Union soldiers assert their opposition to abolition while the Senate approves the treaty with Great Britain for suppression of international slave trade. (In heaven, William Wilberforce and John Wesley must be smiling.) Union naval officer Commodore Farragut makes a name for himself by capturing New Orleans which distresses southerners like Mary Chesnut and pleases Yankees like Elisha Hunt Rhodes. In New York, the business man Isaac Singer is involved in a messy and expensive divorce. On the West Coast, California discriminates against Chinese immigrant labor. (Between 1854 and the end of 1860, over 41,000 Chinese immigrants have entered the United States, mostly in California.) Spain and England begin to withdraw from the European intervention in Mexico, leaving the French to discover the tenacity of Mexican soldiers. The Russian Tsar keeps a tight hold on the press and a British correspondent accuses President Lincoln of doing likewise. French author Victor Hugo finally comes out with a new novel and President Lincoln recites poetry with a friend during a quiet private evening at the White House. Publicly, visiting French sailors cheer the American President.

April 22– Tuesday– Hampton, Virginia– Christian Geisel, serving with the Union forces under General McClellan, writes to his sister Louisa back home in Pennsylvania. His unit let their horses graze “on a farm along the James river, about two miles from our camp; it must have been a splendid place at one time, but it is now deserted and the buildings are all burnt down. We hear cannonading most every day in the direction of Yorktown, but no general battle has taken place yet, but I suppose they will begin before long. There are now about 250,000 men concentrated around Yorktown on both sides, and I expect there will be a hard fight there.”

April 22– Tuesday– Somewhere between Stanardsville and Harrisonburg, Virginia– W H Baylor, newly selected colonel of the 5th Virginia Regiment, writes home to his wife, whom he addresses formally as Mrs Baylor. “It cannot be that our cause is not just. It cannot be that we have so sinned as to be worthy of destruction. No it cannot be . . . . if we rely upon God & do our duty the result will be our success. The result at Yorktown I trust will be in our favor– a great success there would be glorious for our cause. It would almost put a stop to the War. I feel much confidence in the result as we have noble Generals & brave troops to rely upon.”

Isaac Singer in one of the theatrical costumes he designed for himself

April 23– Wednesday– New York City– The New York Times reports the status on the divorce proceedings of Mary Ann Sponsler Singer against her husband, Isaac Singer, the sewing machine entrepreneur. Mr Singer, out on bond after his wife had him arrested for bigamy, has fled to Europe with his lover, Mary McGonigal, a former employee who has born Isaac five children. The court orders that Mary Ann is to “have an allowance of $8,000 per annum alimony pending suit, dating from the commencement of the action.” [In today’s dollars this would equal about $179,000 in purchasing power. The judge bases this on Singer’s corporate earnings of $200,000 in 1861, which would equal about $4.47 million today.]

April 23– Wednesday– Warwick Court House, Virginia– Elisha Hunt Rhodes notes in his diary that “We never get lonesome now, for something exciting is going on all the time.”

Alexander II, Tsar of all Russia

April 23– Wednesday– St Petersburg, Russia– A local journal reports that the Tsar intends “to maintain the system of censorship upon all periodical publications, but to replace it gradually by judicial proceedings.”

April 24– Thursday– New York City– Based upon European sources, the New York Times reports that Spain’s withdrawal from the intervention in Mexico can be attributed to “what it calls the change in the policy of the Madrid Cabinet, ‘which,’according to a telegram from Madrid, ‘nothing will turn aside from its firm determination to abstain from any thing affecting the independence of Mexico,’ to fear of America.” Yet the French government is dispatching more troops to Mexico and has instructed the admiral who has been in command of all the French forces “to confine himself to his duties as Commander of the [naval] squadron, . . . [and] informed [him] in . . . a non-official letter, that if he thinks proper to return to France he is at liberty to do so.”

April 24– Thursday– Conrad’s Store [now, Elkton], Virginia– Jedediah Hotchkiss writes to his wife Sara about the conduct of Union soldiers in the Winchester area. “They have an iron rule there, visiting houses searching everything, marauding over the country & insulting people. Most of those there are Dutch, and they are more brutal than any others – but our women there are not afraid of them and tell them freely what they think of them. . . . If the foe should come to your door, outwardly submit, but coldly abhor to the last those that seek our firesides . . . . Train our children, as you have done, in the ways of knowledge, virtue and holiness and so fill up the weary hours of our separation, and may the Lord in mercy shorten these days of tribulation.”

April 24– Thursday– Mississippi River, below New Orleans, Louisiana–Early in the morning Commodore Farragut’s vessels begin sailing up the Mississippi River past Fort Jackson and Fort St. Phillip. After half the fleet sails past the fort the Confederates discover the movement and open fire. However, the majority of Federal ships make it past the forts.

Union naval hero Farragut in his admiral's uniform

April 25– Friday– New Orleans, Louisiana– After defeating Confederate ships at English Turn, Commodore Farragut’s fleet drops anchor at the city and demands the surrender of the most important port in the South. With a population of 168,675, it is the largest city in the Confederacy and 6th largest in the United States.

Farragut's ships at New Orleans, April, 1862

April 25– Friday– New York City– The New York Times reports on the dissolution of joint European operations in Mexico and the problem of on-going French military presence. “The movement has nothing to do with the collection of the recognized debt of Mexico to France; it has nothing to do with the restoration of order or the regeneration of a fallen people. It is simply an exceedingly loathsome and disreputable stock-jobbing swindle, of which the Frenchman’s love of glory is made the instrument. The French expedition will never have accomplished its purpose until it shall have placed in power a Government which will acknowledge this spurious debt, and agree to repay what it never received and enjoyed. It is well to comprehend the merits of this business fully. It may be our business to deal with it practically hereafter.”

April 25– Friday– Washington, D.C.– The Senate unanimously approves the treaty with Great Britain regarding joint efforts to suppress the slave trade, without changes or amendments.

April 25– Friday– Washington, D.C.– In the evening, Senator Orville Browning, a Republican and personal friend from Illinois, visits President Lincoln at the White House. For a quiet ninety minutes the two men discuss poetry in general and, in particular, the works of English poet Thomas Hood (1799-1845), a humorist and social critic. The President, always an avid reader and memorizer, recites several of Hood’s poems. [Senator Browning was appointed to fill the seat vacated by the death of Stephen A Douglas last year.]


Chinese immigrants--late 1850s

April 26– Saturday– Sacramento, California–The state legislature passes “An Act to Protect Free White Labor Against Competition with Chinese Coolie Labor, and to Discourage The Immigration of the Chinese into the State of California” (commonly called “The Anti-Coolie Act of 1862”). The law levies a tax of $2.50 per month on anyone of Chinese origin who applies for a license to work in the mines or to operate any kind of business. Since the majority of Chinese workers earn only wages of $3 or $4 a month, the tax is a significant burden.

April 26– Saturday– Washington Navy Yard– President Lincoln is warmly received by the crew of the visiting French warship, Gassendi.

April 26– Saturday– London, England– Birth of Edward Grey who will serve as British Foreign Secretary from 1905 to 1916. [In 1914, when war erupts across Europe, Sir Edward Grey will say, “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time.”]

Victor Hugo--c.1855

April 26– Saturday– New York City– The New York Times reports on the publication of a long-delayed novel by French writer Victor Hugo. “The author’s only other novel, Notre Dame de Paris, was accepted by its publisher on condition that he should bring out every succeeding work by that author. Notre Dame proved a brilliant success, and made the fortune of – the publisher. Victor Hugo then wrote Les Miserables, determining to respect the condition, but to make his own terms with the unscrupulous brain-trafficker. These terms were at once rejected, and the author, unreleased from the old obligation, was obliged to put by his manuscript for a more favorable season. Year after year he renewed proposals, increasing each year his demand, until at last the publisher died, and, after waiting nearly a quarter of a century, the well-seasoned, if not seasonable, Les Miserables is in press.”

April 26– Saturday– Fort Macon, North Carolina– The Confederate force formally surrenders, the Federals taking 400 of the rebels as prisoners.

April 26– Saturday– Mississippi River below New Orleans, Louisiana– Captain Richard Elliot, from Massachusetts, serving under General Butler on one of the troop ships, writes in his diary. “A large fire raft came down upon us last night but fortunately the current took it to one side of us so it done no harm. It floated down and run aground on the flats. It was composed of the hulk of a large vessel of some kind coppered and copper fastened. Filled with cotton & tar and other combustible materials.”

April 27– Sunday– New York City– The New York Times reports at length on the sermon delivered last Sunday, Easter Day, by Dr Nathan Lewis Rice, prominent Presbyterian minister. “I have never believed that the great peril of the country is the war. I have always believed that it would have been ended before now if it had not been for those corrupt and fanatical influences that were crippling every effort to end it in a right manner. There are two great perils that threaten the country now– one is immorality, and the other fanaticism. In an age of excitement error becomes fanaticism; men are carried away with whatever is held up before them. In the absence of excitement religious error takes the form of philosophical speculation, but in times of excitement it becomes fanaticism, which is far more dangerous to Church and State.”

April 27– Sunday– New Bern, North Carolina– Union soldier George Whitman writes to his mother and family about a constant concern of soldiers. “I have not heard from home in almost a month. Mother you don’t know how bad it makes a fellow feel to have a mail arrive and bring him no letter. I wish some of you would write every week if only to say that you are all well. We expect a mail in tomorrow and if I don’t get a letter I shall feel quite disappointed.”

William H Russell, war correspondent for the Times of London, seen by northerners as pro-Confederacy

April 27– Sunday– Paris, France– Mr William H Russell, war correspondent for the Times of London, sends a dispatch in which he criticizes President Lincoln for not allowing him [Russell] to visit and report from General McClellan’s headquarters while in contrast Emperor Napoleon III allowed Russell “perfect liberty to accompany the [French] army, and that all he captured was, not that he himself or the army should be praised, but that the account of the operations should be impartial. . . . I am happy to have an opportunity of contrasting the conduct of the President of the ‘free and enlightened Republic’ with the ruler of a Military Empire, who led his own armies in the field.”

April 28– Monday– Nassau, the Bahamas–In a deal with certain British sources, the Confederacy takes possession of the British ship Oreto which will become the warship CSS Florida.

April 28– Monday– New Orleans, Louisiana– The city formally surrenders to Federal forces after Farragut threatens to bombard the city.

April 28– Monday– Harrisonburg, Virginia– Union General Banks reports quite optimistically to the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton.. “Our force is entirely secure here. The enemy is in no condition for offensive movements, and nothing can prevent our troops from joining the main body in safety if attacked. . . . You need have no apprehensions for our safety. I think we are now just in condition to do all you can desire of us in this valley-clear the enemy out permanently.”


Union General N P Banks


April 29– Augusta County, Virginia– Mr A B Roler writes to one of his cousins. He responds to his cousin’s declaration of intent to marry and tells of his own participation in the war and what may come. “I have no lady ‘courted’ like yourself and another difficulty with me just at this time is that the unnatural and detestable war will have to be fought through before I can allow my cranium to be besieged with connubial thoughts. . . . I have joined an Artillery Company and will meet my Company in Richmond. . . . I tell you we are in a smart hubbub– in a pretty bad ‘old fix’ just now in the Valley. I hope and pray that our arms may be successful at Yorktown. That battle when ever it does come off I think will decide the fate of the Valley indeed of Richmond and of entire Va and if we are successful I think will be the decisive one of the war. . . . I am afraid that we will not be able to recover from the effects of this destructive war for a long time. Religious, moral and educational institutions are at a very low ebb and it will take us a long time to catch up again.”

April 29– Tuesday– Padova, Italy– Birth of Vittorio Mano Vanzo, composer.

April 29– Tuesday– Columbia, South Carolina– Mary Chesnut evaluates the war news. “A grand smash, the news from New Orleans fatal to us.”

April 30– Wednesday– Young’s Farm, Virginia– Elisha Hunt Rhodes evaluates the war news. “The news of the capture of New Orleans has been received, and it gives us great joy. Well, the war will end in God’s own time and we shall have peace. But the Rebels must lay down their arms before the United States will make peace with them.”

April 30– Wednesday– Washington, D.C.– Congress votes to censure former Secretary of War Simon Cameron for misconduct while in the Cabinet, particularly for acts that were “highly injurious to the public service” such as entrusting public money to Alexander Cummings, his assistant who spent about $21,000 on personal purchases, and granting fraudulent contracts to his former business associates. [The $21,000 misspent then would equal about $470,000 misappropriated today.]

April 30– Wednesday– outside New Orleans, Louisiana– Captain Richard Elliot with Union forces preparing to occupy the city, notes in his journal his frustration with the regimental chaplain who this morning “exasperated Col Dudley and many other Officers of our Regiment, by giving a very strong Abolition speech and I am in favor of having a stop put to it, it is not right. We are not Slave catchers, or liberators. When we come to that I must go home, it is the Union as it has been, and not Abolition of Slavery I want and the majority of our Regiment are the same. Col Dudley is a thorough Democrat. and will not fight for N—— any more than I will and we are not alone.”

April 30– Wednesday– Cameron, Mexico– A sixty-five man company of the French Foreign Legion fights an all-day battle with Mexican irregular forces. Only 5 of the Legionaries survive.

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