Let Slip the Dogs of War~August 12th to 15th, 1862

African Americans remain at the heart of political and military affairs. In Washington, President Lincoln meets with a delegation of free black people and encourages emigration. In New Orleans the French Counsel tells Union General Butler that French nationals in the city have a right to keep and bear arms to protect themselves from possible slave insurrection.

Some in Lincoln’s Cabinet and in the armed services express doubts about the abilities of General McClellan. A riverboat accident kills wounded soldiers. Robert Gould Shaw laments the deaths of friends and desires to do serious harm to the rebels.

August 12– Tuesday– Washington, D.C.– Secretary of the Navy Welles nots in his diary his skepticism of General McClellan’s abilities. “Had a private letter from Commodore Wilkes, who deplores recent orders in regard to the army under McClellan; thinks it suicidal. I fear there is truth in his apprehensions.”

Heavy artillery

August 12– Tuesday– New Orleans, Louisiana– The French Consul responds to a recent order by General Ben Butler. “The new order of the day, which has been published this morning, and by which you require that all and whatever arms which may be in the possession of the people of this city must be delivered up, has caused the most serious alarm among the French subjects of New Orleans. Foreigners, Sir, and particularly Frenchmen, have, notwithstanding the accusations brought against them by certain persons, sacrificed everything to maintain, during the actual conflict, the neutrality imposed upon them. When arms were delivered them by the municipal authorities, they only used them to maintain order and defend personal property, and those arms have since been almost all returned. And it now appears, according to the tenor of your order of to-day, that French subjects, as well as citizens, are required to surrender their personal arms, which could only be used in self-defense. For some time past unmistakable signs have manifested themselves among the servile population of the city and surrounding country of their intention to break the bonds which bind them to their masters, and many persons apprehend an actual revolt. It is these signs, this prospect of finding ourselves completely unarmed, in the presence of a population from which the greatest excesses are feared, that we are above all things justly alarmed; for the result of such a state of things would fall on all alike who were left without the means of self-defense.”

Period steamboat

August 13– Wednesday– Potomac River, near Washington, D.C.– Two Union steamers, the George Peabody and the West Point, collide, killing 73 men, most of them wounded soldiers in transit.


Robert Gould Shaw


August 13– Wednesday– Culpepper Court House, Virginia– Robert Gould Shaw writes to his cousin Annie about Union killed and wounded. About his friend Richard Cary, whose body he found, he says, “The expression of his face was as sweet and happy as an angel’s and my first feeling was that I wanted to stoop down & kiss him.” About his own and others growing accustomed to so many dead, he say, “It is only at odd times that we realize what a fearful thing it is to see 100 or 200 men, whom we have lived in the midst of, for more than a year, killed in a few moments. I long for the day when we shall attack the Rebels with an overwhelming force and annihilate them. May I live long enough to see them running before us hacked to little pieces.”

August 14– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln meets with a delegation of free black persons at the White House. In his remarks, the President acknowledges the wrongs done to African peoples by slavery. “I need not recount to you the effects upon white men, growing out of the institution of Slavery. I believe in its general evil effects on the white race. See our present condition—the country engaged in war!— our white men cutting one another’s throats, none knowing how far it will extend.” However, Mr Lincoln notes, “There is an unwillingness on the part of our people, harsh as it may be, for you free colored people to remain with us.” In consequence of this, the President encourages the creation of a colony for free black people. “The place I am thinking about having for a colony is in Central America. It is nearer to us than Liberia—not much more than one-fourth as far as Liberia, and within seven days’ run by steamers. Unlike Liberia it is on a great line of travel— it is a highway. The country is a very excellent one for any people, and with great natural resources and advantages, and especially because of the similarity of climate with your native land— thus being suited to your physical condition.” He asks them to consider the idea and report back to him.

Period cartoon showing Lincoln as a patriot, rallying support for the Union cause

August 14– Thursday– Richmond, Virginia– Government clerk John Jones boasts in his diary. “Lee has gone up the country to command in person. Now let Lincoln beware, for there is danger. A mighty army, such as Napoleon himself would have been proud to command, is approaching his capital.This is the triumph Lee has been providing for, while the nations of theearth are hesitating whether or not to recognize our independence.”

August 14– Thursday– New Orleans, Louisiana– Union General Butler responds to the French Consul’s letter of two days ago. “Surely the representative of the Emperor, who does not tolerate Slavery in France, does not desire his countrymen to be armed for the purpose of preventing the Negroes from breaking their bonds. Let me assure you that the protection of the United States against violence, either by Negroes or white men, whether citizens or foreign, will continue to be as perfect as it bas been since our advent here, and by far more manifesting itself at all moments and everywhere than any improvised citizens’ organization can do.”

The constant question raised by the abolitionists

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