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.]

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