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.”


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