By Blood and Iron~September, 1862~the first week

The bloodshed of September scalds the nation. At the start of the war no one expected such endless blood-letting, so many dead. This month includes the bloodiest single day of fighting in the United States. In major battles fought during this month, the dead from both sides total at least 6,532 and the wounded at least 24,362. In addition to major battles, skirmishing, scouting, probing and firefights occur in Florida, Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and West Virginia [the last still in the process of officially joining the Union]. In the whole eight years of the American Revolution there were about 50,000 dead and wounded in total. During the War of 1812, a conflict of less than three years duration, 2280 Americans died in combat and another 4,505 were wounded. In this terrible month an average of 218 soldiers are killed each day. [In the whole American Revolution the daily average was 11 killed per day; in the War of 1812, an average of 31 per day; from 1955 to 1975, in the Vietnam War, an average of 26 soldiers were killed each day.] The month is full of uncertainty and bloodshed in measures previously unknown to Americans. It is a month of blood and iron in the United States and elsewhere around the world. A speech by the new German Prime Minister will set in motion a half century of developments leading, directly and indirectly, to the fields of Flanders in 1914. Yet in all of this there comes a gleam of hope for the enemies of slavery.

Frederick Douglass, abolitionist

As the month begins Frederick Douglass criticizes President Lincoln while Lincoln privately ponders the will of God. Yankee soldiers Robert Gould Shaw and Elisha Hunt Rhodes fret about the lack of progress in suppressing the rebellion. A popular Union general dies in battle. Bloodshed continues in Minnesota. A Southern belle praises her black “servants” for not running off with Yankee soldiers. Confederate General Lee prepares a strike northward to relieve pressure on Richmond. A young rebel reassures his family that he prays regularly but misses his home. Tensions continue between Britain and the United States. A leader of the Anglican Church dies.


September– Rochester, New York– In this month’s issue of Douglass’ Monthly Frederick Douglass takes to task President Lincoln. “The President of the United States seems to possess an ever increasing passion for making himself appear silly and ridiculous, if nothing worse. Since the publication of our last number he has been unusually garrulous, characteristically foggy, remarkably illogical and untimely in his utterances, often saying that which nobody wanted to hear, and studiously leaving unsaid about the only things which the country and the times imperatively demand of him.” In the same edition he writes, “The mild and gentle persuasions of abolitionists have been despised, their counsels and warnings have been scorned and rejected. Now the fiery sword of justice waves over the land, and we must reap as we have sown.”

September 1– Monday– Lexington, Virginia– Jacob Kent Langhorne, beginning his first year of study at the Virginia Military Institute, writes home to his sister in Augusta County. “Tell Ma that I have read my bible every day since I have been here. We also have prayers every night among the cadets and tell her that I have been every night and expect to keep it up as long as I stay here. I have looked for the last two days for a letter from home if you all knew how much I want to hear from home you would certainly write. Sister I have been thinking all day about the nice grapes and peaches you all are having and how much I would like to be there.”

the gallent General Kearney leading the charge in which he is killed

September 1– Monday– Chantilly, Virginia– In the continuing chaos since the battle of August 30th, about 20,000 Confederate troops under Stonewall Jackson and Jeb Stuart run into 6,000 Federal soldiers under Major General Philip Kearney. In heavy day-long fighting under a hard rain, the Union suffers 1300 dead, wounded and missing while the Confederacy suffers a total of about 800 casualties. During fighting the popular Union General Kearney, age 47, is shot and killed. The fighting is inconclusive. The Confederate advance toward Washington stalls and the Federals withdraw and regroup in defensive positions.

September 1– Monday– Fairfax Court House, Virginia– As the Union Army settles for the night, Elisha Hunt Rhodes describes the day’s battle. “It rained in torrents, and I never in all my life ever heard such thunder or saw such lightening. It seemed as if Nature was trying to outdo man in the way of noise . . . . Nature won and the battle ceased. We camped on the field for the night amid the dead and dying.”

American cartoon depicting the English “John Bull”, the equivalent of Uncle Sam to Americans

September 1– Monday– New York City– The New York Times takes to task British criticism of the Union war effort, detailing Britain’s failures and problems in the Crimean War of the preceding decade. “John Bull professes to be very greatly amazed that we do not abandon a war which we have failed to end in a year. He thinks we ought to be satisfied, by this time, that we never can conquer the South, inasmuch as we have not done it already. . . . We submit this brief summary of his only recent military undertaking, drawn from his own historian, to the careful contemplation of John Bull, whenever he feels disposed to criticize our operations and failures during the past year. England began that war with a powerful standing army, the largest fleet in the world, a strong Government, a high military reputation, skilled and experienced officers, and the loudest possible boasts of the enormous results she was about to achieve on behalf of the free institutions and Christian civilization of the Western World. Every step she took in the campaign was marked by blundering incapacity, by neglect of the most ordinary military precautions, and by failures which would have been fatal and utterly disgraceful, but for the timely and efficient aid of the French. The British officers, old and experienced as they were, were unable even to feed and shelter their troops, to prevent them from constant surprises, or to seize the opportunities which would have given them an early and a cheap victory.”

September 2– Tuesday– Morton, Minnesota– In the battle of Birch Coulee, the Sioux defeat a force of 170 soldiers, killing 13 of them and wounding 47 others. Two Sioux warriors are killed.

September 2– Tuesday– Bull Run, Virginia– Robert Gould Shaw writes to his father. “This campaign began about the 1st of March. Now it is September and we are just where we started from.”

September 2– Tuesday– Washington, D.C.– On or about this day, President Lincoln writes for himself a meditation on Divine Will. “The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party– and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true– that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere great power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.” [The scrap of paper is later found and preserved by John Hay, one of the president’s personal secretaries.]

President Lincoln with his two private secretaries

September 3–Wednesday– Frankfort, Kentucky– Confederate forces capture the city, the state capital.

September 3– Wednesday– near Washington, D.C.– Elisha Hunt Rhodes expresses the feelings of many Union soldiers. “It is hard to have reached the point we started from last March, and Richmond is still the Rebel Capital.”

September 3– Wednesday– Clinton, Louisiana– Sarah Morgan records the conduct of her family’s slaves. “Our servants they [Union soldiers] kindly made free, and told them they must follow them (the officers). Margret was boasting the other day of her answer, ‘I don’t want to be any free-er than I is now– I’ll stay with my mistress,’ when Tiche shrewdly remarked, ‘Pshaw! Don’t you know that if I had gone, you’d have followed me?’ The conduct of all our servants is beyond praise. Five thousand Negroes followed their Yankee brothers from the town and neighborhood; but ours remained. During the fight, or flight, rather, a fleeing officer stopped to throw a musket in Charles Barker’s hands, and bade him fight for his liberty. Charles drew himself up, saying, ‘I am only a slave, but I am a Secesh n—–, and won’t fight in such a d—- crew!’ Exit Yankee, continuing his flight down to the riverside.”

September 4– Thursday– Leesburg, Virginia– Rather than attempt a frontal assault on Washington, Confederate General Lee begins to cross the Potomac River here, 33 miles northwest of the Federal capital, and moves toward Maryland.

September 5– Friday– Washington, D.C.– General McClellan orders guard established at President’s residence on grounds of Soldiers’ Home. The 20 year old building in the northwest section of the District of Columbia has served as the President’s retreat since June.

the Lincoln Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home

September 6– Saturday– Frederick, Maryland– Confederate soldiers under Stonewall Jackson occupy the town.

September 6– Saturday– Washington, D. C.– Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, journals unpleasant thoughts. “We have information that the Rebels have crossed the Potomac in considerable force, with a view of invading Maryland and pushing on into Pennsylvania. . . . Have unpleasant information concerning privateers, which are getting abroad by connivance of the British authorities.”

Captured blockade runners

September 6– Saturday– London, England– John Bird Sumner, the Archbishop of Canterbury since 1848, dies at 82 years of age.

September 7– Sunday– Orcutts Cross Roads, Virginia– Elisha Hunt Rhodes, now a second lieutenant, celebrates. “I am very happy over my promotion, for I am one of the youngest officers, being only 20 years old, and seven months.”

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