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.

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