Monthly Archives: May 2012

Fortune’s Favor-June, 1862-the first week

“Fortune favors the bold,” old Romans said (in Latin, of course). June opens on somber notes for the Confederacy. The capture of New Orleans remains a fresh wound. Union General McClellan threatens Richmond with a large force. No European power has yet granted diplomatic recognition. The Union blockade of major ports exerts economic pressure on the economy of the rebellion. Planters burn valuable crops out of fear that federal forces will seize such valuable cotton and produce. However, things are about to change for the South. Robert E Lee takes command in Virginia. Before the month is out Lee, Jeb Stuart and Stonewall Jackson will bring joy to the Confederacy and deep concern to the Union. In the meanwhile, as Mary Chesnut ponders the war news, music moves her to tears.

Soldiers of both sides write to and about family and lament having to do their own laundry. In New York City relief agencies look for clothes for indigent Union soldiers recently released from prisoner-of-war camps. McClellan moves too slowly to satisfy civilian and Lincoln Administration critics. Union General Butler begins a reign of terror in occupied New Orleans.

Internationally, British merchant ships continue, some successfully, some not, to attempt to run the Union blockade of Southern ports. Free of Southern restraint, Congress authorizes the establishment of diplomatic relations with the free black states of Haiti, which declared its independence in 1804, and Liberia, independent since 1847. Turkey is held in high esteem by the administration for the Sultan’s stand against Confederate ships. Over all, the month of June will prove that fortune favors the bold and frowns upon the hesitant.


Robert E Lee, c1850

June 1– Sunday– Richmond, Virginia– President Jeff Davis appoints General Robert E. Lee, 55 years old and former superintendent of the academy at West Point where he himself graduated second in the class of 1829, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia to replace the wounded General Joseph E. Johnston.

June 1– Sunday– Fair Oaks, Virginia–As the second day of battle goes on, the Confederates successfully fight to bring to a standstill the Union advance led by General McClellan. Rather than counter-attack, McClellan takes up defensive positions. Federal forces lose a total of 5,031 dead, wounded and missing while the Confederate forces suffer 6,134 dead, wounded and missing.

Battle of Fair Oaks

June 1– Sunday– New Bern, North Carolina– George Whitman writes home to his mother. After telling her that he is sending her about $30 [equal to approximately $692 today] and how his company presented him with a sword and sash, he talks about the state of the war. “McCleland [sic] seems to be working rather Slowly but very surely in Virginia. I am not particularly anxious for a fight, but I should kinder like to be there when the big fight comes off at Richmond.”

June 2– Monday– Chattanooga, Tennessee– Union saboteur James Andrews of the Great Locomotive Chase, escapes from jail. He will be recaptured the next day

June 3– Tuesday– Columbia, South Carolina– Mary Chesnut records in her diary: “Sat down at my window in the beautiful moonlight, and tried hard for pleasant thoughts. A man began to play on the flute, with piano accompaniment, first, ‘Ever of thee I am fondly dreaming,’ and then, ‘The long, long, weary day.’ At first, I found this but a complement to the beautiful scene, and it was soothing to my wrought-up nerves. But Von Weber’s ‘Last Waltz’ was too much; I broke down. Heavens, what a bitter cry came forth, with such floods of tears! the wonder is there was any of me left. I learn that Richmond women go in their carriages for the wounded, carry them home and nurse them.”

June 3–Tuesday–At the mouth of the Rio Grande River– A U S warship captures a British merchant ship attempting to run the blockade.

June 4–Wednesday–Up and down the Mississippi River Valley– Dozens of Southern planters burn thousands of dollars worth of cotton to prevent its seizure by Federal troops.

June 4– Wednesday– New York City– The New York Times reports that 400 Union soldiers, recently released from Confederate prison camps, have arrived in the city. These men are destitute and in need of clothing. “The New-England Soldiers’ Relief Association . . . . [is asking ]for donations of men’s clothing of all kinds. As a steamer is momentarily expected with 650 more released prisoners, the wants of the Association are immediate. All contributions of cast-off clothing will be thankfully received at the Association Room, No. 194 Broadway.”

June 4– Wednesday– Washington, D.C.– Secretary of State Seward responds to the dispatch from E J Morris, the American consul at Constantinople regarding Turkey’s ban of Confederate ships. “The President receives with profound satisfaction the decree of His Majesty, the Sultan, which interdicts the entrance of pirates [Confederate privateers] engaged in deprecating upon the commerce of our country into the ports of the Turkish Empire. This proceeding is the more honorable to that Prince, and it will be the more gratifying to the United States, because it is an unreserved acceptance and application of the principles of international law which this Government has maintained from the beginning of the civil war in which we have so unnecessarily and unfortunately been involved during the past year. . . . It will . . . be to the honor of the Sultan of Turkey that he took the lead in conceding to the United States rights which, it is now expected, will soon be conceded by all the other maritime Powers.”

Union soldiers in camp

June 4– Wednesday– Mechanicsville, Virginia– Elisha Hunt Rhodes notes in his diary the cost of battle and his commitment. “Saturday was a day of carnage. Our Division suffered terribly. . . . But it is all for the Union. . . . Tomorrow will complete my first year in the Army. It has been one of hardships, but I am glad that I enlisted and want to see the end of the war with the Union restored and peace again in our land.”

June 4– Wednesday– New Market, Virginia– Jedediah Hotchkiss, serving under General Stonewall Jackson, writes to his brother Nelson. “We are confident of success whenever our General sees fit to strike a blow, under the blessing of Providence, which follows his prayers . . . . May God enable us to keep the foe away from our homes with his ruthless and despoiling hand. I am every day more and more impressed with the belief that of all human evils war is the greatest, the most degrading and horrible, one from which all engaged in it long to be delivered. . . . Nothing but the preservation of our dearest rights could ever induce me to have anything to do with it, but we must fight out our destiny, come weal, come woe, and leave those that war does not sweep away to prove whether blood has been shed for good or for evil. . . . I wish you would hire some one, for me, to work and completely make my garden and send the bill, if necessary and I will pay it. My wife says she has not been able to get it well made, and I do not wish her to weary herself and make herself sick trying to work it.”

Typical Civil War artillery

June 5– Thursday– New York City– George Templeton Strong notes public sentiment about General McClellan. “People complain of McClellan’s slow progress and wonder if he is not over-matched.”

June 5–Thursday– Washington, D.C.– Congress authorizes President Lincoln to establish diplomatic relationships with Haiti and Liberia.

Toussaint Louverture, leader of independence struggle in Haiti against France

June 5– Thursday– Landskrona, Sweden– Birth of Allvar Gullstrand, ophthalmologist, who will receive the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1911.

June 6– Friday– New York City– The New York Times has harsh words for British attempts to run the blockade of Southern ports. “If our readers could like to learn some of the schemes by which our kind friends in England undertake to violate the blockade, we recommend to them to read Judge Betts’ decision condemning the ship Cheshire and her cargo, which we publish in another column. The vessel sailed from Liverpool bound, as she claimed, on a voyage either to Nassau, or Halifax; and with so much uncertainty about her own destination, it is not at all remarkable that she should have found herself one morning off the port of Savannah. She was boarded by one of our vessels there . . . . Nor is this the only loss which John Bull has suffered at the hands of our Jack Tars. Within the last few weeks they have captured, off the various ports along the Southern coast, steamers and other vessels which had come from England with cargoes which must have been worth millions. And the proportion thus far of the vessels captured which have escaped condemnation from the Prize Courts, is very small. Our officers generally seem to have understood what they were about, and have very rarely seized a vessel which they were not able to hold. It will prove a painful, but we trust a useful lesson, to our friend Bull. He has lent a too credulous ear to those Southern friends of his, who have proclaimed so loudly that the blockade along the Southern coast was merely a paper blockade, not worthy to be regarded for an instant by the commercial fleet of Britannia the Ruler of the Seas.”

20th century depiction of “John Bull”

June 6– Friday– Memphis, Tennessee–Federal forces occupy the city.

June 6– Friday– Williamsport, Maryland– Robert Gould Shaw writes to his sister Susie. “It is pleasant to see how differently the men feel towards their officers since we have been under fire together. They appreciate the advantages of strict discipline now.”

June 6– Friday– James Island, South Carolina– Union soldier Christian Lobinger records in his diary his failed effort to do his laundry. “I attempted for the first time to wash some clothes– after rubbing and rubbing at least an hour and a half I found the shirt was not a particle cleaner than when I began so I become discouraged believing I never was cut out for a wash woman and I think I’ll never try it again.”

June 7– Saturday– Washington, D.C.– Both the Senate of the United States and the government of Her Britannic Majesty having ratified the treaty to ban international slave trade, there is a formal publication. “Now, therefore, be it known that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, have caused the said treaty to be made public, to the end that the same and every clause and article thereof may be observed and fulfilled with good faith by the United States and the citizens thereof.”

June 7– Saturday– Atlanta, Georgia– James Andrews, the Northern civilian leader of the “Great Locomotive Chase,” is hung by Confederate authorities.

June 7–Saturday– New Orleans, Louisiana–Union General Butler orders the execution by hanging of William Mumford for destroying the U S flag which had been flying over the federal mint.

Amazon Veterans

Today is the day we observe Memorial Day, a day to remember and honor veterans. The roots of this day grew out of the Civil War. The largest veterans organization from that horrendous struggle was the Grand Army of the Republic, or GAR. Founded in Decatur, Illinois on April 6, 1866 by Benjamin F. Stephenson, membership was limited to honorably discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps or the Revenue Cutter Service who had served between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865. The community level organization was called a “Post” and each was numbered consecutively within each Department, usually representing a state or region. In 1868, Commander-in-Chief John A. Logan issued General Order No. 11 calling for all Departments and Posts to set aside the 30th of May as a day for remembering the sacrifices of fallen comrades, thereby beginning the celebration of Memorial Day.

Civil War graves at Gettysburg

The Civil War battles occurred in more than 10,000 locations. However, almost 40% of these were fought in Virginia and Tennessee. In the midst of all of this, we find some interesting stories of women dressing as men–for purposes of battle. Consider the following:

The tombstone, a plain silver-grey granite, has in front of it, an American flag & a little round ‘Grand Army of the Republic’ marker indicating the grave of a Civil war veteran. This veteran’s grave in the tiny town of Saunemin, Illinois tells in simple words, an amazing story:

Albert D. J. Cashier

Co. ‘G’ 95th Illinois Infantry

Civil War


Jennie Hodgers in Clogher Head, Ireland



Tombstone of Cashier

The 95th Illinois Infantry was organized at Rockford, Illinois and mustered into Federal service on September 4, 1862. An infantry regiment numbered over 1,000 officers and men at full strength, but disease, disabilities, and battle casualties reduced these numbers very rapidly. The 95th Illinois was mustered out on August 17, 1865 at Galveston, Texas. During the course of the war, the regiment suffered 7 officers and 77 enlisted men killed in action or dead of wounds and 1 officer and 204 enlisted men who died of disease, for a total of 289 fatalities. Over 100 others suffered permanently disabling wounds.

 Cashier was the shortest soldier in the 95th Illinois. In one of the few existing photographs of Cashier taken during the war, a very careful observer can faintly detect the outline of breasts under the uniform. But an observer has to be looking for it. In 1862 the military was not. Hodgers was born in Clogher Head, Ireland around Christmas day, 1843, the child of Sallie and Patrick Hodgers. How and when the family moved to the United States is not clear. By 1862, Hodgers was living in Belvedere, Illinois. At 19, Jennie was eager to serve. Dressed in men’s clothing, the short, slim Hodgers stepped into the recruiting office and volunteered for military service. Reading and writing were not required of volunteers and so after marking an “X” on the enlistment papers and passing a cursory pre-induction physical examination, merely a quick look at the eyes and ears with no undressing or stripping to the waist, Jennie Hodgers transformed into Albert D. J. Cashier. Later, he said, “Lots of boys enlisted under the wrong name, so did I. The country needed men, and I wanted excitement.”

 Rodney Davis, from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, knew all about the exceptional story of Albert Cashier. In a strange twist of fate he discovered that his own great-grandfather was the commanding non-commissioned officer to Albert Cashier. “C. W. Ives was Cashier’s first sergeant so they got to know each other rather well. Albert managed to survive the war without arousing undue suspicion as to his gender identity. Accounts by comrades indicate that the other soldiers just assumed he was small and somewhat shy. One wrote: ‘He was of very retiring disposition and did not take part in any of the games. He would sit around and watch, but would not take part. He had very small hands and feet. He was the smallest man in the company.’”

Between September of 1862 and August of 1865, the 95th Illinois traveled over 9,000 miles, as part of the Army of the Tennessee under Ulysses S. Grant, later under William Tecumseh Sherman and yet later under O. O Howard. The regiment took part in the bloody siege at Vicksburg, the Red River Campaign, and the fierce combat at Guntown, Mississippi where they suffered heavy casualties. Cashier took part in more than 40 skirmishes and battles. While on a skirmishing expedition during the Vicksburg campaign, Albert Cashier was captured by rebels. He was fearless. He seized a gun from a guard, knocked the man down and made it back to the Union lines unharmed.

 Cashier served with the regiment through the war until August, 1865, when all the soldiers were mustered out. When the 95th Illinois were finally discharged, they were welcomed home as heroes and honored at a public reception. Each man then went his own way and Albert, a quiet bachelor, finally settled down in Saunemin in 1869. There he held a variety of jobs over the next 40 years: janitor of the church, farm hand, town lamplighter, handyman — no one ever the wiser. He voted in the presidential elections before Illinois gave women the right to vote and before the 19th Amendment became a part of the U. S. Constitution in 1920, five years after his death.

 In November 1910, Cashier was hit by a car and broke his leg. A physician discovered his secret in the hospital, but agreed to remain quiet. On May 5, 1911, Cashier was moved to the Soldier and Sailors home in Quincy, Illinois. He lived there until his mind deteriorated and he became confused and noisy. He was deemed insane and moved to the Watertown State Hospital in March 1913. Attendants there discovered his sex when they attempted to give him a bath. He was placed in the women’s ward and forced to wear skirts. It was so devastating to him that he would pin the skirt together between the legs to make them look like pants. When he did that, the outfit was awkward and he fell. An injury from the fall resulted in an infection. That was the cause of the death.

 When the asylum discovered a woman’s body in those trousers, the U.S. Pension Bureau launched a fraud investigation. It seemed impossible that a frail little woman drawing a veteran’s pension could actually have fought throughout the Civil War. Fortunately, several former comrades successfully rallied to Cashier’s defense and he retained his benefits.

 Professor Davis says his great-grandfather was one of several former comrades who successfully rallied to Cashier’s defense later in life. The status as a Union Army veteran, to them, trumped gender identity. Cashier demonstrated that he was as good as they were, as brave as they were, as effective a soldier. A woman’s body in those clothes was obviously worthy of remark, but not anything that made them turn away. Cashier had been in service from the beginning to the end. He stuck it out.

 Cashier died on October 10, 1915. In the end, Cashier did get rid of that dreaded skirt. Cashier’s comrades made sure that he was buried in the soldier’s uniform which he had neatly kept for years, and that he received a proper military funeral, honor guard, rifle salute and taps. His tombstone was inscribed “Albert D. J. Cashier, Co. G, 95 Ill. Infantry” It took W. J. Singleton, executor of Cashier’s estate, nine years to track Cashier’s identity back to Jennie Hodgers. None of the would-be heirs proved convincing, and the estate of $418.46 [worth over $8600 today] was deposited in the Adams County, Illinois, treasury. In the 1970s, a second tombstone, inscribed with both of his names, was placed beside his first.

 Ms. Deanne Blanton, co-author of They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War, observed that a private in the Union Army made $13 a month, easily double what a woman would make as a laundress, a seamstress or a house maid. At that time, women could not vote. Most depended on men to survive. In return, women were to devote their time and talents entirely to husbands, children and their extended families. Once women were cross-dressed and in the military, earning more money and spending their money as they saw fit, they greatly enjoyed the freedom that came with being perceived as a man. The women who went to war, who disguised themselves as men and carried a gun, were overwhelmingly working-class women, immigrant women, poor women, both urban women and farm workers. Hodgers was part of this group, an immigrant from Ireland, who couldn’t read or write.

 The women soldiers easily concealed their gender in order to fulfill their desire to fight. Two Union soldiers under General Philip Sheridan’s command, one a teamster and the other a private in a cavalry regiment, became drunk and fell into a river during a scuffle. The soldiers who rescued the pair discovered, in the process of resuscitating them, that both were women. Sheridan personally interviewed the two and later described the woman teamster as coarse and the “she-dragoon” as rather attractive, even with her unfeminine suntan. He did not state their real names, aliases, or regiments.

 For the most part, women were recognized after they had received serious wounds or died. Mary Galloway was wounded in the chest during the Battle of Antietam. Clara Barton, attending to the wound, discovered the gender of the soft-faced “boy” and coaxed her into revealing her true identity and going home after recuperation. One anonymous woman wearing the uniform of a Confederate private was found dead on the Gettysburg battlefield. It is likely she died participating in Pickett’s fateful charge on July 3rd.. In 1934, a grave sight found on the outskirts of Shiloh National Military Park revealed the bones of nine Union soldiers. One of the skeletons, with a minie-ball in the bony remains, was female. The identities of these two dead women are lost to posterity.

 Another whom we do know about was Sarah Emma Edmonds (1841?–September 5, 1898), a Canadian-born woman who lived to be about 56 or 57 and is known for serving with the Union Army. She was born in New Brunswick, Canada, and left home after her abusive father attempted to force her to marry a man she did not love. She worked for a time in New Brunswick selling Bibles but still afraid of being found by her father, she fled to the United States in 1856 where she settled in Flint, Michigan.


Sarah Emma Edmonds

During the Civil War, she enlisted in the 2nd Michigan Infantry, disguised as a man named Franklin (“Frank”) Thompson. He first served as a male nurse, participating in several campaigns, including the First Battle of Bull Run. As Frank Thompson, he also served as a spy, occasionally disguising himself as an African American or a woman, or sometimes both. At one point, she disguised herself as an Irish peddler named Bridget O’Shea.

 The military career of Frank Thompson came to an end when he contracted malaria. Unable to go to the military hospital because he would be revealed as a woman, Frank “left” the army and checked into a private hospital, intending to return to military life once recuperated. (He didn’t think of his leaving as desertion).When she was better, however, she saw posters listing Frank Thompson as a deserter. Rather than return to the army as a man, she decided to serve as a female nurse at a Washington, D.C. hospital run by the Sanitary Commission for wounded soldiers.

 After the war under the pen name “S. E. Edmonds” she wrote Nurse and Spy in the Union Army. It was a huge success, selling in excess of 175,000 copies. In 1867, she married a Mr L. H. Seelye, a Canadian carpenter with whom she had three children; one of them she named Fredrich Seelye. In 1886 she received a U S government pension of $12 a month, rewarding her military service. Edmonds died on September 5, 1898.

 A friend of mine, a brilliant historian, tells me that over 700 women served, at least 250 wearing Confederate grey and at least 450 wearing Union blue. I am proud to honor the veterans who fought to save the Union and to especially honor these women.

 “That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion . . . that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”– President Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863.

May’s Mixture–the last week-1862

As the month winds down, the New York Times praises the productivity of a woman writing popular novels and dismisses the report of General Butler’s order regarding the women of New Orleans as Confederate propaganda. A war widow takes her own life in a murder-suicide. Mary Chesnut notes the social whirl continues in South Carolina while her slave maid “stands by her color.” Robert Gould Shaw reports Southern women firing on Union troops from the windows of their homes.

While Confederate forces withdraw from Corinth, Mississippi, Stonewall Jackson wins an important battle and causes Southerners to glory in his accomplishments. President Davis expresses confidence in Robert E Lee. Wartime inflation rocks the Confederate capital. Confederate forces take action against the slow-moving Union General McClellan.

President Lincoln takes over wartime use of the railroads [ahha! A closet socialist!], takes some blame on himself and his Cabinet for the mistakes of former Secretary of War Simon Cameron, and takes care to reassure a Central American republic. New York lawyer George Templeton Strong critiques new Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Massachusetts soldier Robert Gould Shaw wants to put the torch to a Virginia town while his pocket watch saves him from injury. Rhode Island soldier Elisha Hunt Rhodes describes the destruction of a rebel railroad train.

Walt Whitman receives some advise from an abolitionist friend about a new edition of Leaves of Grass while death claims both an Austrian musician and a Russian writer. In London a new Westminster Bridge opens.

Fashionable dresses~1862

May 22– Thursday– New York City– The book review in the New York Times lavishes praise on the newest novel, A Life’s Secret: A Story of Woman’s Revenge, by the British author Ellen Wood who writes under her married name as Mrs Henry Wood. “The rich fruit of the literary garden which Mrs. Wood claims as her own, has come to us with ever fresh and acceptable abundance during the present season. . . . .we are as much astonished at the speed as at the success of the author’s composition. . . . What companion, then, so impressive, so winning, so agreeable, as a woman of heart, rarely gifted, recounting the sorrows of the heart. Such society does Mrs. Wood offer in this excellent work, and we predict for it, other things being equal, a far wider success than any of her preceding efforts attained.”

May 22– Thursday– Richmond, Virginia– Government clerk John B Jones writes excitedly about the exploits of Stonewall Jackson. “There is lightning in the Northwest, and the deep thunder ofavenging guns is heard at Washington! Gen. Jackson, sent thither by Gen. Lee, is sweeping everything before him, defeating Shields, Banks, Fremont, and one or two other Yankee major-generals, with his little corps d’armee! And his coadjutor, Ewell, is worthy of hiscompanionship. He has swept them out of the valley, scattering their hosts like quails before the fowler! They fly in every direction; and the powers at Washington are trembling for the safety of their own capital. Glorious Jackson! and he gives, as is justly due, the glory to God.”

May 23– Friday– Richmond, Virginia– John B Jones complains of war-time scarcity and inflation. “Oh, the extortioners! Meats of all kinds are selling at 50 cents per pound; butter, 75 cents; coffee, $1.50; tea, $10; boots, $30 per pair; shoes, $18; ladies’ shoes, $15; shirts, $6 each. Houses that rented for $500 last year, are $1000 now. Boarding, from $30 to $40 per month. Gen. Winder has issued an order fixing the maximum prices of certain articles of marketing, which has only the effect of keeping a great many things out of market.”

What Mary Chesnut and her friends might have worn

May 24– Saturday– Columbia, South Carolina– Mary Chesnut makes notes in her diary about her social circle and social life. “My Hebrew friend, Mem Cohen, has a son in the war. . . . Cohen is a high name among the Jews: it means Aaron. She has long fits of silence, and is absent-minded. If she is suddenly roused, she is apt to say, with overflowing eyes and clasped hands, ‘If it please God to spare his life.’ Her daughter is the sweetest little thing. The son is the mother’s idol. Mrs. Cohen was Miriam de Leon. I have known her intimately all my life. Mrs. Bartow, the widow of Colonel Bartow, who was killed at Manassas, was Miss Berrien, daughter of Judge Berrien, of Georgia. She is now . . . a penniless woman. , , , Columbia is the place for good living, pleasant people, pleasant dinners, pleasant drives. I feel that I have put the dinners in the wrong place. They are the climax of the good things here. This is the most hospitable place in the world, and the dinners are worthy of it. Here in Columbia, family dinners are the specialty. You call, or they pick you up and drive home with you. ‘Oh, stay to dinner!’ and you stay gladly. They send for your husband, and he comes willingly. Then comes a perfect dinner. You do not see how it could be improved; and yet they have not had time to alter things or add because of the unexpected guests. They have everything of the best – silver, glass, china, table linen, and damask, etc. And then the planters live ‘within themselves,’ as they call it. From the plantations come mutton, beef, poultry, cream, butter, eggs, fruits, and vegetables.

May 24– Saturday– London, England– A completely new Westminster Bridge, designed by Thomas Page, opens, replacing the old bridge.

Westminster Bridge–in service since 1862

May 25– Sunday– Winchester, Virginia– Confederate troops under General Jackson rout Union forces, inflicting heavy casualties. The Federal total reaches 2,019 dead, wounded and missing while Jackson’s losses are about 400. Overcoming his religious scruples about activity on the Sabbath, Jackson orders the attack and in addition to routing the Federal force half the size of his own, captures a large amount of supplies and ammunition. Jackson’s troops have been marching and skirmishing every day since May 19th.

Historical marker of the first battle of Winchester–they will be back–both armies–more than once.

May 25– Sunday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln issues an executive order which “takes military possession of all the railroads in the United States from and after this date until further order, and directs that the respective railroad companies, their officers and servants, shall hold themselves in readiness for the transportation of such troops and munitions of war as may be ordered by the military authorities, to the exclusion of all other business.”

May 25– Sunday– Graz, Austria– The singer, actor, composer and playwright Johann Nestroy dies at age 60. [The most important award given today in German language theater is named after him.]

James Redpath

May 26– Monday– Boston, Massachusetts– James Redpath, abolitionist and journalist, writes to Walt Whitman about a new edition of Leaves of Grass. “I find that the plates of The Leaves of Grass are now the property of a person named Wentworth, whose residence is Warren Place, Roxbury. I do not care to know him. Suppose you write to him. I have no doubt you could arrange to have a new edition published by or through him.” [Horace Wentworth received the plates of Leaves of Grass as compensation for his financial loss when the publisher Thayer and Eldridge went bankrupt in 1861.]

May 26– Monday– New York City– The New York Times comments on General Butler’s order concerning the women of New Orleans but dismisses the matter as lying propaganda by Confederate General P G T Beauregard. “If General Butler has issued any such order, he should be forthwith dismissed from the army. It would be a disgrace to the service, -an infamous outrage upon the morality and decency of the country and the age. . . . The whole thing is clearly a fabrication. The fact of its being used by Beauregard to stimulate the decaying ardor of his troops, brands its character. This renegade General has proved himself already to be the most reckless and remorseless liar in the rebel service, – and that is saying a good deal. The public will not soon forget the order he issued at the very outset, of the war, filled with kindred calumnies upon the Union troops, falsifying utterly and infamously the whole tenor of their conduct, and showing himself to be totally unscrupulous as to the truth or falsehood of anything to which he might attach his official signature. This pretended order of General Butler’s is evidently one of his forgeries.”

May 26– Monday– Washington, D. C.– In response to Congress’s censure on April 30th of former Secretary of War James Cameron, President Lincoln sends a special message detailing the actions of his administration at the start of the war last year. He explains why certain things were done and concludes by writing that “Congress will see that I should be wanting equally in candor and in justice if I should leave the censure expressed in this resolution to rest exclusively or chiefly upon Mr. Cameron. The same sentiment is unanimously entertained by the heads of Departments who participated in the proceedings which the House of Representatives has censured. It is due to Mr. Cameron to say that although he fully approved the proceedings they were not moved nor suggested by himself, and that not only the President, but all the other heads of Departments, were at least equally responsible with him for whatever error, wrong, or fault was committed in the premises.”

 May 26– Monday– near Winchester, Virginia– Confederate soldier Jedediah Hotchkiss writes a long letter to his wife, Sara A Hotchkiss, describing the last several weeks of fighting. He opens by saying, “I wrote you a brief note, yesterday, telling you of our victories and that I was well, and this evening I will write you more fully, after a day of enjoyment in which I wish you could have participated & enjoyed some of the good things they left behind in their hasty retreat – delicacies of every kind, in getting up which the Yankee nation seems to have surpassed itself.”

Union cavalry on the move

May 27– Tuesday– Williamsport, Maryland– Robert Gould Shaw writes to his father about the battle of two days ago. “We lost a great many men in the streets of Winchester. The inhabitants did their share from the windows– women as well as men. I hope that town will be destroyed when we go back there. We had time to burn part of it while the fight was going on.” In the battle Shaw was saved from serious injury or mortal wound when his pocket watch broke stopping a musket ball. He tells his father that “I felt the blow on my side & found my watch had stopped the ball [and] the first thing I thought of was how you all would have felt if I had been left on that infernal pavement.”

May 27– Tuesday– New York City– The New York Times reports that a 26 year old Swiss immigrant named Lydia Phillipie, whose husband recently died in Virginia while fighting for the Union cause, acting out of despair at now being a widow, killed her 5 and ½ year old daughter with poison and then took her own life by the same means.

May 28– Wednesday– New York City– George Templeton Strong confides to his diary his distrust of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton whom Strong describes as acting with “the utmost unsteadiness and capriciousness, if not of bad faith and downright lying.” He finds the Secretary forgetful, unable to delegate to subordinates and “impulsive, flighty and excitable.”

May 28– Wednesday– Hanover Court House, Virginia– Yankee soldier Elisha Hunt Rhodes describes his regiment’s capture of a Confederate supply train at a place called Atlee’s Station. “We destroyed the track by tearing up the rails. Huge piles of ties were made and the rails laid across. When the fire reached the rails they bent of their own weight and so they became useless. We opened a culvert and ran the engine into it, after which we bent all the rails we could and built a huge fire over it all. The cars were blown up after taking out such things as we needed.”

May 28– Wednesday– St Petersburg, Russia– The poet and dramatist Lev Aleksandrovich Mei dies at age 40 from problems due to his alcoholism.

Lev A Mei

May 29– Thursday– Columbia, South Carolina– Mary Chesnut makes observations about slave servants, her own and those of others and comments about women born in the North. “Betsey, recalcitrant maid of the W’s, has been sold to a telegraph man. She is as handsome as a mulatto ever gets to be, and clever in every kind of work. My Molly thinks her mistress ‘very lucky in getting rid of her.’ She was ‘a dangerous inmate,’ but she will be a good cook, a good chambermaid, a good dairymaid, a beautiful clear-starcher, and the most thoroughly good-for-nothing woman I know to her new owners, if she chooses. Molly evidently hates her, but thinks it her duty ‘to stand by her color.’ Mrs. Gibson is a Philadelphia woman. She is true to her husband and children, but she does not believe in us- the Confederacy, I mean. She is despondent and hopeless; as wanting in faith of our ultimate success as is Sally Baxter Hampton. I make allowances for those people. If I had married North, they would have a heavy handful in me just now up there.”

May 30– Friday– Richmond, Virginia– President Jeff Davis writes to his wife, Varina, who is in Raleigh, North Carolina, with their children because Union troops are threatening Richmond. “General Lee rises to the occasion . . . and seems to be equal to the conception. I hope others will develop capacity in execution. . . . If we fight and are victorious, we can all soon meet again. If the enemy retreat to protect Washington, of which there are vague reports, I can probably visit you.”

Varina Howell Davis, First Lady of the Confederacy

May 30– Friday– Corinth, Mississippi– Confederate troops withdraw, concerned by the increasingly large Union force threatening their position.

May 30– Friday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln submits to the Senate for ratification a treaty of trade and friendship with the Republic of Salvador. In his message he acknowledges that the terms are not much different from the treaty presently in existence; however, considering the disturbed situation in Mexico, “it will prove to be mutually advantageous. Several of the Republics of this hemisphere, among which is Salvador, are alarmed at . . . reactionary movements against republican institutions on this continent. It seems, therefore, to be proper that we should show to any of them who may apply for that purpose that, compatibly with our cardinal policy and with an enlightened view of our own interests, we are willing to encourage them by strengthening our ties of good will and good neighborhood with them.”

 May 31– Saturday– Fair Oaks, Virginia– Confederate forces launch an attack against McClellan’s troops threatening Richmond. On the first day of the two-day battle, the commanding Confederate general, Joseph E Johnston, is wounded.

May’s Mixture–the third week-1862

Union General Butler stifles the free press in New Orleans and issues his infamous order against the women of the city. Southern women such as Sarah Morgan and Mary Chesnut comment “at the brutality of the thing.” Elisha Hunt Rhodes notes the hostility of Southern women toward Union soldiers and a Confederate government employee describes Richmond’s women as being “in ecstasies” at the determination to defend the rebel capital. An English ship builder turns over to the Confederacy the vessel which will shortly gain infamy as a raider and lead to a long-standing legal battle between Britain and the United States. American damage claims about the Alabama will not be resolved until 1871. Around Fortress Monroe some people are kidnaping fugitive slaves back into slavery and selling them in the Carribean.

President Lincoln officially repudiates General Hunter’s attempts to free slaves and appeals to Southern sates to accept compensated emancipation. He also appoints the first Jewish chaplain in the U S military and signs into law the Homestead Act which recognizes the claim to land by women who are heads of households. A New York woman serving as a Union nurse describes the death of a patient. Robert Gould Shaw moves closer to his destiny as he seeks a commission in yet to be organized regiments of black troops.

The Canadian government falls. Paris and London are abuzz about the capture of New Orleans while the possibility of European intervention in the American war still lurks in the background.

A distraught prominent musician kills himself

Seal of the Department of Agriculture


May 15– Thursday–Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln signs the measure creating the Department of Agriculture as a new department of the federal government but without cabinet status. [It will only gain that position in 1889.]

May 15– Thursday– Liverpool, England– At the Laird shipyards, a newly completed vessel, know simply as “#290,” is launched. It has been built for the Confederacy and will become the CSS Alabama.

CSS Alabama

May 15– Thursday– New Orleans, Louisiana– General Ben Butler, Federal commander of the occupied city, issues his infamous Order #28. “As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women calling themselves ‘ladies of New-Orleans,’ in return for the most scrupulous non-interference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall by word, gesture or movement, insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.”

May 15– Thursday– London, England– Charles Darwin publishes On the Various Contrivances by Which British and Foreign Orchids Are Fertilized by Insects, and on the Good Effects of Intercrossing.

Charles Darwin–c1855

May 15– Thursday– Vienna, Austria– Birth of Arthur Schnitzler, Austrian author and dramatist whose frank writing about sexuality and strong stand against anti-Semitism will create controversy during his career.

May 16– Friday– Macon’s Plantation, Virginia– Elisha Hunt Rhodes comments about Southern women. “The female portion of the population are very bitter and insult every soldier they meet, or rather think they do. One of them said as the U S flag was borne by her house: ‘I never expected to live to see this day.’”

May 16– Friday– New Orleans, Louisiana– General Butler suspends publication of the New Orleans Bee. The paper, founded in 1827 and at this time published in both French and English, is the city’s premier journal.

May 16– Paris, France– The correspondent for the New York Times writes a dispatch about French reaction to the war. “Nothing which has occurred since the commencement of the war has made such an impression on the French as the fall of New Orleans. No blow which has been struck has served so effectually in removing the illusion that the South possessed all the military genius of the country. In France people in general know but two great towns in America – New York and New Orleans – and they know that New Orleans is the greatest city of the South. Moreover, it is an old French town, the Capital of an old French colony, and the social and commercial relations between it and France are almost as intimate as if still a dependency of France. Any shock at New Orleans, therefore, is sure to produce a corresponding vibration throughout France.”

May 16– Friday– Wellington, New Zealand– Edward Gibbon Wakefield, a career politician who early advocated the colonization of Australia and New Zealand, dies at age 66.

May 17– Saturday– New York City–This issue of Harper’s Weekly reports thatCommodore Farragut’s fleet which captured New Orleans, “consists of forty-six sail, carrying two hundred and eighty-six guns, and twenty-one mortars” and landed U S Marines who are patrolling the city.

May 17– Saturday– Baton Rouge, Louisiana– Sarah Morgan writes about General Butler’s action against women. “A new proclamation from Butler has just come. It seems that the ladies have an ugly way of gathering their skirts when the Federals pass, to avoid any possible contact. Some even turn up their noses. Unladylike, to say the least. But it is, maybe, owing to the odor they have, which is said to be unbearable even at this early season of the year. Butler says, whereas the so-called ladies of New Orleans insult his men and officers, he gives one and all permission to insult any or all who so treat them, then and there, with the assurance that the women will not receive the slightest protection from the Government, and that the men will all be justified. I did not have time to read it, but repeat it as it was told to me by mother, who is in utter despair at the brutality of the thing. These men our brothers? Not mine! Let us hope for the honor of their nation that Butler is not counted among the gentlemen of the land.”

May 18– Sunday– Washington, D.C.– Miss M B Gardener, a volunteer nurse, writes to her family in New York City, describing her work on a hospital ship on the Potomac River. “Among the sick we had 22 wounded, (amputations, &c.,) the rest of the 420 were fever patients, fever in all its stages. We lost six during the passage. I myself closed the eyes of two – Americans and young men. They died of typhus fever, and were completely insensible after we received them. One of them, a man of immense vitality, apparently mistaking me for his mother, seized my hand with so strong a grip as to be really painful, and looking at us all with wild, imploring eyes, and his poor black tongue moving with difficulty, he called mother with such a lamentable cry, as I shall never forget.”

Front cover of the diary of Mary Chesnut as first published

May 18– Sunday– Columbia, South Carolina– Mary Chesnut writes in her diary. “Read Milton. See the speech of Adam to Eve in a new light. Women will not stay at home; will go out to see and be seen, even if it be by the devil himself. . . . There is said to be an order from Butler turning over the women of New Orleans to his soldiers. Thus is the measure of his iniquities filled. We thought that generals always restrained, by shot or sword if need be, the brutality of soldiers. This hideous, cross-eyed beast orders his men to treat the ladies of New Orleans as women of the town – to punish them, he says, for their insolence.

 May 19– Monday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln issues a proclamation repudiating General Hunter’s orders freeing slaves in the area under his command. “Neither General Hunter nor any other commander or person has been authorized by the Government of the United States to make proclamations declaring the slaves of any State free, and that the supposed proclamation now in question . . . is altogether void so far as respects such declaration.” Mr Lincoln urges the Confederate states to review and accept the offer of compensated emancipation which Congress passed and he signed into law. “To the people of those States I now earnestly appeal– I do not argue; I beseech you to make the arguments for yourselves; you can not, if you would, be blind to the signs of the times. I beg of you a calm and enlarged consideration of them, ranging, if it may be, far above personal and partisan politics. This proposal makes common cause for a common object, casting no reproaches upon any. It acts not the Pharisee. The change it contemplates would come gently as the dews of heaven, not rending or wrecking anything. Will you not embrace it? So much good has not been done by one effort in all past time as, in the providence of God, it is now your high privilege to do. May the vast future not have to lament that you have neglected it.”

May 19– Monday– Washington, D.C.– Robert Gould Shaw writes to his father about the matter which brought him to the capital. “Major Copeland . . . . wants me to take hold of the black regiment with him, if he can get permission to raise it, and offers me a major’s commission in it.”


Rabbi Jacob Frankel

May 20– Tuesday– Washington, D.C.–President Lincoln appoints Rabbi Jacob Frankel of Philadelphia as the first Jewish chaplain in the U S military.

May 20– Tuesday– Washington, D.C.– Congress approves and sends to President Lincoln the Homestead Act. The law provides that any U S citizen or immigrant demonstrating intent to become a citizen can purchase 160 acres of western prairie land for a fee of $10, provided that the individual works on and improves the land for at least five years. The act specifically includes military veterans and women who are heads of household but excludes rebel fighters. The second section of the law requires that “the person applying for the benefit of this act shall, upon application to the register of the land office in which he or she is about to make such entry, make affidavit before the said register or receiver that he or she is the head of a family, or is twenty-one years or more of age, or shall have performed service in the army or navy of the United States, and that he has never borne arms against the Government of the United States or has given aid and comfort to its enemies, and that such application is made for his or her exclusive use and benefit, and that said entry is made for the purpose of actual settlement and cultivation.”

Women homesteading in Nebraska

May 20– Tuesday– Richmond, Virginia– John B Jones notes in his diary the spirit of resistance in the city. “The President, in response to the Legislative Committee, announced that Richmond would be defended. A thrill of joy electrifies every heart, a smile of triumph is on every lip. The inhabitants seem to know that their brave defenders in the field will prove invincible; and it is understood that Gen. Lee considers the city susceptible of successful defense. The ladies are in ecstasies.”

May 20– Tuesday– Cold Harbor, Virginia– Elisha Hunt Rhodes describes the war-torn country side. “The plantations as a rule are deserted but show that this was before the war a delightful country.”

May 20– Tuesday– Ottawa, Canada–The Macdonald-Cartier government falls as the Parliament defeats the Militia Bill, a measure to make Canadians pay for their defense by Great Britain against an expected American invasion.

Canada’s parliament building under construction–1863

May 20– Tuesday– London, England– A correspondent for the New York Times writes a dispatch about British attitudes toward the Union occupation of New Orleans and Yorktown and the increasing unemployment due to the lack of American cotton for the textile mills. “All eyes are turned to America. The Pope, Victor Emanuel and all European interests are forgotten. Prosperity or adversity, peace or war, life or death, depend upon the events now taking place in Virginia and the Southwest. If the North is to conquer, it must be soon. England cannot bear a protracted struggle. There will be intervention if there is not peace.”

May 21– Wednesday– New York City–Fearful of financial reverses, Edwin Pearce Christy, founder of Christy’s Minstrels kills himself by jumping out of a window of his home. He is 46 years old.

Edwin Christy


May 21– Wednesday– Fortress Monroe, Virginia– A reporter from Philadelphia sends a dispatch to his newspaper in which he claims that white men have lured away escaped slaves on the pretext of offering them day work and then making them captive. A ship with about 270 such fugitives, “sprightly lads, worth, in Cuba, from $1,200 to $1,300 each,” set sail during the night. However, a Union gunboat has been sent in pursuit. [The sale price of those human beings would equal between $27,700 and $30,000 in today’s dollars.]

May’s Mixture–the second week-1862

As Henry David Thoreau is laid to rest, Ralph Waldo Emerson eulogizes him while in a Union Army camp Robert Gould Shaw recalls good times listening to Emerson’s daughter Edith read out loud. Shaw considers joining the regular army in expectation of a long war with the South and possible war with a European power. President Lincoln thanks soldiers for their service. In New Orleans General Butler begins his reign of terror. In a headline that could come out of recent decades, the New York Times declares on May 11th that “Health Bill Fails.” Despite that fact that the census of 1860 shows that farm owners and farm laborers make up over 13% of the national work force, the largest section of workers, and that 25.2 million people of the nation’s 31.4 million live in rural areas, the Times complains that Congress panders to agrarian interests.

Some of the worst fears of the South are fulfilled as a black slave named Robert Smalls steals a ship and escapes to Union protection. On most fronts Confederate forces continue to pull back. However, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson begins building his reputation as a tough and victorious fighter. Sarah Morgan, a Louisiana woman, sees the need of a victorious South and worries about a military dictatorship from a large standing army in the North.

The Russian charge d’affairs in Washington is obtaining naval plans of interest to the Tsar. Garibaldi, the hero of Italian unification, complains of an arms deal gone awry.


May 8– Thursday– McDowell, Virginia– In Stonewall Jackson’s first major victory, his troops repel a Union attack. Dead, wounded and missing for the Federal troops total 256 while the Confederate losses amount to 498. It is a heavy loss in numbers for the Confederacy but an important morale booster and the beginning of Jackson’s reputation for near invincibility.

General Stonewall Jackson

May 9– Friday– Norfolk, Virginia–Confederate troops withdraw from the town, destroying the naval base and supply depots as they leave.

May 9– Friday– Concord, Massachusetts– At Thoreau’s funeral, Ralph Waldo Emerson delivers the eulogy. He concludes by saying, “The country knows not yet, or in the least part, how great a son it has lost. It seems an injury that he should leave in the midst his broken task, which none else can finish, — a kind of indignity to so noble a soul, that it should depart out of Nature before yet he has been really shown to his peers for what he is. But he, at least, is content. His soul was made for the noblest society; he had in a short life exhausted the capabilities of this world; wherever there is knowledge, wherever there is virtue, wherever there is beauty, he will find a home.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson-c.1857

May 9– Friday– Newmarket, Virginia– Union officer Robert Gould Shaw writes to his mother in Boston. “I sometimes think in my sanest moments, that the sight of our officers and men lying dead and wounded . . . would not be a cheering one . . . . how the number of orphans, widows, and childless people is increased by the sending of one more regiment into a battle.” Turning to other matters, he writes, “I have just been reading The Idyls of the King, and as I haven’t seen them since the summer we were at Naushon, where Edith Emerson [daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson] read them aloud, it carried me back to that pleasant time. . . . Ask Effie [Robert’s sister] to excuse me, if I don’t fully understand everything she writes me. I will try to read up on Plato and Socrates when I have time, and can get the books; her last letter fairly floored me.”

May 10– Saturday– New York City– The New York Times criticizes the agrarian interests in the United States Congress. “The House of Representatives appears to be exclusively composed of members from the rural districts, anxious to secure for their constituents every possible rural felicity. . . . It passed on Thursday a bill creating another Executive Department of the National Government, to be known as the ‘Agricultural Department,’ the business of which shall be to take money from the National Treasury, and spend it upon the non-taxpaying farmer . . . . as a sequel to the Homestead bill, giving away the National domain, and the Agricultural bill, furnishing the new proprietors ideas, annuals, and seeds for cultivating it.”

May 10– Saturday– Pensacola, Florida–A Confederate force destroys the naval base as they withdraw. Federal troops soon occupy the town.

May 10– Saturday– Chesapeake Bay, Virginia– Federal forces occupy Norfolk and Portsmouth.

May 10– Saturday– Cascade Locks, Oregon– The first steam locomotive in use in the Pacific Northwest completes its inaugural run of 4.5 miles on the Oregon Portage Railroad.

May 10– Saturday– New Orleans, Louisiana– General Butler seizes $800,000 in gold from the Dutch Consulate. [This would equal over $18.5 million today.]

New York state capitol

May 11– Sunday– New York City– The New York Times reports that once again the state legislature has adjourned after defeating a health bill which would establish some regulations for workplace safety and health. “It is proved to a mathematical demonstration, that at least nine thousand of our laboring poor die annually, that would be saved by the enforcement of the provisions of the Health bill just defeated. Who will not commiserate the man that in later life will have to reflect that for personal gain and political power, which will doubtless turn to ashes in his grasp, he sacrificed the lives, health, happiness, and well-being of tens of thousands of his fellow-men? Such is the simple story of the defeat of the Health bill in the Legislature of 1862. While we would hold up to the scorn of our citizens the thrice guilty authors of this great public calamity – for in no other light can it be viewed – let us do all honor to those members of the Legislature who advocated the bill with unanswerable arguments.”

May 11– Sunday– Craney Island, Virginia– With the loss of the naval yard at Portsmouth, the CSS Merrimac no longer has safe base for refueling and refitting so sailors and marines scuttle the ship so it does not fall into Federal hands.

May 11– Sunday– Near the Pamunkey River, Virginia– Yankee soldier Elisha Hunt Rhodes notes in his diary some hard times. “Food is scarce, and all that we have to eat is the cattle killed by the way. No bread or salt in the Regiment and I am most starved. But it is all for Union and we do not complain.”

May 12– Monday– Washington, D.C.– Eduard de Stoeckl, the Russian charge d’affairs, reports to St Petersburg that he expects to obtain plans for the Union iron-clad ship. “They will be of some interest to His Imperial Majesty.”

Russian charge d.affairs, Eduard de Stoeckl, who married an American woman

May 12– Monday– Washington, D.C.– Because Union forces have seized “the ports of certain States, including those of Beaufort, in the State of North Carolina; Port Royal, in the State of South Carolina; and New Orleans, in the State of Louisiana,” President Lincoln lifts the Federal blockade of those ports, contingent upon satisfactory evidence that “the vessels . . . will convey no persons, property, or information contraband of war either to or from the said ports.” This concerns European merchants for it means that their ships remain subject to stop and search by the Union Navy and are subject to seizure and forfeiture if they attempt to carry contraband.

May 12– Monday– New Bern, North Carolina– George Whitman writes home to his mother in New York. “The news from New Orleans and in fact from all parts of the Union keeps us all in good spirits so that we get along first rate. We have been reinforced within the last week by a Regt of Cavalry and a battery of light artillery with eight rifled guns, so we are about ready to advance, if there is any advancing to be done in this part of the world. I would not be surprised if we were to move somewhere inland, on the railroad running from Richmond through this State and leading down South somewhere I don’t know where. But it seems to me if we could stop the retreat of the varmints and let McClelland [sic] have a chance to get his name up it would be about the thing.”



Robert Gould Shaw-prior to elisting-c1859

May 13– Tuesday– Strasburg, Virginia– Robert Gould Shaw writes to his father in Massachusetts. “I wrote to Mr Sumner [senator from Massachusetts and fervent abolitionist] today & asked him if there was any chance of my getting into the Regular Army. . . . I think that the war is going to last some time yet and the regular service, I am convinced, is the one to be in. . . . Beauregard & Johnson joined together could make a strong stand somewhere– and then there is a chance of our having a row with France about Mexico.”

Robert Smalls–later in life as a Congressman

May 13– Tuesday– Charleston, South Carolina–Robert Smalls, a 23 year old black man, a slave and a knowledgeable harbor pilot, steals the Confederate steamer Planter. Aided by seven other slaves, he brings them and their families, including his wife and two children, to safety among the ships of the Union blockade. He turns over the ship, several artillery pieces on board and a Confederate code book to the U S Navy.


May 13– Tuesday– Trescore Balneario, Lombardy, Italy– Garibaldi, the hero of Italian unification, writes an open letter to the Times of London to complain of a shipment of Italian arms which has fallen into the hands of Turkey, seemingly with some English assistance. “Generous and free England can surely not allow that their own Government should be the cause of those arms remaining any longer in the possession of the Turk. I appeal, therefore, to your justice and courtesy to publish this letter, in order that the matter may call forth an interpellation in Parliament. I thank you, and send you the expression of my gratitude in anticipation of your favor.”

May 14– Wednesday– Washington, D.C.– As the members of the 12th Indiana Infantry Regiment are mustered out after completing one year of service, President Lincoln meets with them and at the request of their commanding officer, delivers some remarks. “Your colonel has thought fit, on his own account and in your name, to say that you are satisfied with the manner in which I have performed my part in the difficulties which have surrounded the nation. For your kind expressions I am extremely grateful, but on the other hand I assure you that the nation is more indebted to you, and such as you, than to me. It is upon the brave hearts and strong arms of the people of the country that our reliance has been placed in support of free government and free institutions.” [In a matter of weeks, the regiment will reorganize at Indianapolis for three years of service.]

Members of 12th Indiana Infantry–near Washington, D.C.

May 14– Wednesday– Richmond, Virginia- John B Jones, a clerk in the Confederate government, notes in his diary the threat to the capital from Yankee forces. “Our army has fallen back to within four miles of Richmond. Much anxiety is felt for the fate of the city. Is there no turning point in this long lane of downward progress? Truly it may be said, our affairs at this moment are in a critical condition. I trust in God, and the chivalry and patriotism of the South in the field.”

May 14– Wednesday– Baton Rouge, Louisiana– Sarah Morgan, 20 years old, self-educated daughter of the late Judge Thomas Morgan, confides to her diary her view of secession and the war. “I don’t believe in Secession, but I do in Liberty. I want the South to conquer, dictate its own terms, and go back to the Union, for I believe that, apart, inevitable ruin awaits both. It is a rope of sand, this Confederacy, founded on the doctrine of Secession, and will not last many years– not five. The North cannot subdue us. We are too determined to be free. They have no right to confiscate our property to pay debts they themselves have incurred. Death as a nation, rather than Union on such terms. We will have our rights secured on so firm a basis that it can never be shaken. If by power of overwhelming numbers they conquer us, it will be a barren victory over a desolate land. We, the natives of this loved soil, will be beggars in a foreign land; we will not submit to despotism under the garb of Liberty. The North will find herself burdened with an unparalleled debt, with nothing to show for it except deserted towns, burning homes, a standing army which will govern with no small caprice, and an impoverished land.”


May’s Mixture-1862-the first week

The month of May, 1862, opens badly for the Confederacy. New Orleans has fallen. Federal forces are moving in two sections of Virginia and in North Carolina. The Apache of the Southwest beat some Confederate cavalry. The Turkish Empire bans Confederate ships from Turkish ports and Turkish waters. Slaves are escaping into Union lines, hoping for safety. On the other side of the mixture, General McClellan still moves too slowly to satisfy President Lincoln. Confederate General James Longstreet begins to emerge as one of the Confederacy’s military heroes.

Union General Benjamin Franklin Butler takes over occupied New Orleans, soon earning his reputation as “the beast of New Orleans.” In months his conduct will lead to his recall. Interestingly, despite his inglorious military career, he will be active in post-war politics, make a great deal of money in his law practice and grow friendly with Susan B Anthony, even to attending suffrage conventions.

In Europe, the International Exposition of 1862, the World’s Fair of its day, opens in London. However, Queen Victoria remains in seclusion, mourning her dead husband. It will be some time before she makes a public appearance; she will wear widow’s black for the rest of life and seldom come to London from Windsor. Napoleon III sees an opportunity to build an overseas empire in Mexico, what with the United States disapproving but too involved with civil war to stop France. However, Spain and Britain are pulling their troops out and the French Army suffers its first major military defeat since Waterloo as a smaller Mexican force soundly whips them and creates a national holiday to celebrate Mexican pride. An old Dutch town goes up in flames.

Henry David Thoreau dies young. Abolitionists continue to complain about the Lincoln Administration’s failure to deal forthrightly with the issue of slavery. And an out-spoken, uppity abolitionist woman can get her name in the papers for her eloquence.

May 1– Thursday– Camp Stevens, near Beaufort, South Carolina– Christian C Lobinger, a private from Pennsylvania serving in the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, records in his diary an encounter with several fugitive slaves. “Early in the morning we were arrested by the sound of oars; a skiff approached containing two male slaves with their wives. I never in my life saw any one so much scared as they were. Women hid their faces trembling with fear . . . said they had been a month and eight days on the road in making their escape; hid in the swamp during daytime; said all the “Secesh” had gone to Yorktown on Sunday last. We fed them and entertained them as best we could and I never saw any persons appreciate favors like they did. I never saw any living souls so happy as they were. They were sent to the General’s headquarters.”


Union General Ben Butler--"the Beast of New Orleans"

May 1– Thursday– New Orleans, Louisiana–Union infantry under General Benjamin Butler begin entering the city.

 May 1– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln wires General McClellan, again expressing concern about McClellan’s slowness to act. “Your call for Parrott guns [siege artillery] from Washington alarms me– chiefly because it argues indefinite procrastination. Is anything to be done?”


Part of the great hall at the 1862 Exposition in London

May 1– Thursday– London, England– The six-month long International Exposition of 1862, or Great London Exposition, opens beside the gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society in South Kensington. Sponsored by the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Trade, it includes over 28,000 exhibitors from 36 countries, representing a wide range of industry, technology, and the arts. In secluded mourning for the death of her husband, Prince Albert, last December, Queen Victoria makes no public appearance at the Exposition.

May 2– Friday– Sacramento, California– The state legislature passes an act creating the California State Normal School [now San Jose State University].

May 3– Saturday– Yorktown, Virginia– Concerned by the increasing size of the Union forces around them and the number of heavy siege guns, General Joseph E Johnston orders the Confederate army to begin withdrawing.

 May 3– Saturday– New York City– George Templeton Strong makes a celebratory entry in his diary. “The nation has been making progress. We have occupied New Orleans and thus tied a main artery of treason.”

May 3– Saturday– New York City– The New York Times prints a circular letter from Secretary of State Seward sent two months ago and expressing to a number of European powers the position of the Lincoln Administration regarding European intervention in Mexico. In a key part, Seward writes that “the President regards it at his duty to express to the Allies, in all kindness and candor, that a monarchical government established in Mexico, in the presence of foreign fleets and armies, occupying the waters and the soil of Mexico, has no promise of security or permanence; in the second place, that the instability of such a monarchy would be enhanced if the throne were assigned to a person alien to Mexico; that in these circumstances the new Government would instantly fall unless sustained by European alliances, which, under the influence of the first invasion, would be practically the beginnings of a permanent policy of armed intervention by monarchical Europe, at once injurious and inimical to the system of government generally adopted by the American Continent.”

French Emperor Napoleon III

 May 4– Sunday– Yorktown, Virginia– Confederate forces complete their withdrawal and Federal troops occupy the city. Despite the fact that there has been no major fight nor even heavy bombardment, General McClellan, in a self-congratulatory message to Washington, declares his success here to be “brilliant.”

 May 4– Sunday– New York City– The American Female Guardian Society and Home for the Friendless holds its annual meeting. Officers report that in the last calender year they spent $20,927.35 to assist 2,335 young women and their children. [In contemporary dollars that would exceed $500,000.]

May 5– Monday– Williamsburg, Virginia– As Confederate troops withdraw from the area, soldiers under General James Longstreet fight a hard rear-guard action against Union General Joseph Hooker’s troops, inflicting 2239 casualties (dead, wounded and missing) on the Federal forces while sustaining about 1700 casualties themselves.


The French defeat--May 5th--Battle of Puebla

May 5– Monday– Puebla, Mexico– The Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza defeats the French Army of 5,000 soldiers. French forces suffer about 700 casualties and fail to take a fort from Mexican defenders. [This event will be commemorated each year as “Cinco de Mayo.”]

 May 5– Monday– Dragoon Springs, New Mexico Territory [near what is now Benson, Arizona]– A small detail of Confederate cavalry foraging for stray cattle in the area around an abandoned stagecoach depot become involved in a fire fight with about 100 Chiricahua Apache warriors, commanded by Cochise. Four Confederate soldiers are killed and the others retreat. The Apaches capture a large number of cattle and horses. The number of Apache casualties is unknown.

 May 6– Tuesday– Concord, Massachusetts–Henry David Thoreau dies at age 44. His last words are “Now comes good sailing.”


The grave of H D Thoreau

May 6– Tuesday– New York City– The twenty-ninth anniversary meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society opens with William Lloyd Garrison presiding. Speakers include William Wells Brown, Theodore Tilton and Wendell Phillips. Speakers generally criticize President Lincoln for his slowness to act on abolition. The day-long program concludes in the evening with a speech by Anna E Dickinson and singing by the Hutchinson Family. The New York Times describes Miss Dickinson’s presentation as “a most eloquent peroration” presented “in an energetic style of declamation, a most interesting address” to “the majority of the audience . . . composed of ladies.”


The eloquent Anna Dickinson, abolitionist

May 6– Tuesday– Constantinople, the Ottoman Empire– Mr E J Morris, the American Minister, reports to Secretary of State Seward that the Sultan’s government has banned any Confederate ship from all waters and all ports of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkish Sultan Abdul-aziz who banned Confederate ships from his ports & waterways


May 7– Wednesday– Enschede, the Netherlands– Much of this old medieval city is ruined by fire.