December’s Bareness Everywhere~December,1862~the 1st to the 5th

What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!

What old December’s bareness everywhere!

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

And, thou away, the very birds are mute:

Or, if they sing, ’tis with so dull a cheer,

That leaves look pale, dreading the winter’s near.

– William Shakespeare, the 97th Sonnet

The first year in the which the country has known war from beginning to end, draws to a close. The bloodshed and financial costs of the war have shocked the nation. Both the Confederacy and the Union are beset by problems of various sorts. Before the year ends, one more catastrophe awaits the Federal forces. Yet unbeknownst to both sides, the bloodiest year of the war lies just ahead.

As the month begins, Greece holds an election to determine its future, some in the North still worry about European intervention in one form or another and the President seeks an appropriation for damages to a French ship. Feelings in Minnesota, in Washington, D.C. and in eastern newspapers run strongly against all Native Americans. Southerners hope for a decisive victory to end the war. Some Northerners expect great things when the Emancipation Proclamation takes effect on New Year’s Day.

The Secretary of the Navy blames some Republican politicians for the reversals in November’s elections. Following the tradition established by Thomas Jefferson, one which will not change until Woodrow Wilson will become president, Abraham Lincoln submits in writing his annual state of the union message to the Congress. His eloquent close will serve “to light him down in honor to the latest generation.” Yet the radical abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison has only sarcastic criticism of the President’s message.

December 1– Monday– New York City– The New York Times addresses the issues of European offers of mediation and potential recognition of the Confederacy. “Non-interference with foreign Powers has from the first been one of the deepest principles and one of the most cherished traditions of our foreign policy. It has not only governed our belligerent action, but has affected our exercise of purely belligerent rights. The South American Republics were irretrievably lost to Spain, and the contest itself had actually ceased, before we, with all our sympathy for them, formally recognized their independence. The Republic of Rome, in 1848, lived for months unrecognized by us, though we had a minister on the spot, and it was plain that nothing but foreign intervention could crush it. All this has been not because our people have been indifferent to the struggles in other lands. Their hereditary principles and interests have always inclined them strongly toward every people struggling for freedom. But such sympathies have never been allowed to divert the Government from its established rule of practical neutrality. All that we now ask from the European Powers is that the same non-interfering policy we have in time past exercised toward them, shall now be faithfully practiced toward ourselves.”

December 1– Monday– Washington, D.C.–President Lincoln sends to Congress his annual message on the state of the Union. He addresses foreign affairs, the war effort, the status of the territories, the federal budget, the Sioux war in Minnesota and spends approximately 40% of the message discussing slavery and emancipation. In his famous conclusion, he writes: “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We – even we here – hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just –a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.”

December 1– Monday– Washington, D.C.– Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles reports to President Lincoln that the U S Navy has 427 vessels with 3,268 guns presently on active duty.

December 1– Monday– Athens, Greece– A plebiscite is held throughout Greece to determine the type of government and who shall rule in place of the deposed King Otto.

December 2– Tuesday– New York City– The New York Times evaluates France’s offer of mediation and relations with Europe in general. “The effect of this is to make us the more impatient to be free of this load of the rebellion – to make us long for the time when, with treason crushed at home, we may be freed from this half patronizing, half impudent tone of European Powers toward us, and may again, as of old, go on in our own course of development without troubling ourselves about any ‘joint action’ of the three Powers, or of all the Powers together. We beg Heaven only that when that time shall come, our disgust at the irksomeness of this meddling may not make the recoil too violent.”

Napoleon III of France

December 2– Tuesday– Richmond, Virginia– Government clerk John Jones evaluates the situation. “Few have faith in foreign intervention, to terminate the war; and there is a growing party both in the North and the South opposed to its indefinite prolongation. If we beat Burnside, I think it will be the last battle of magnitude. If he beats us, no one can see the end of the struggle. But from every State complaints are made against the military agents of the Confederate Government, for their high-handed oppressions.We may split up into separate States, and then continue the war– but it will be a sad day for us! The President ought to change his cabinet immediately, and then change his policy. He should cultivate the friendship and support of the people, and be strong in their affections, if he would rule with a strong hand.”

December 3– Wednesday– New York City– The New York Times summarizes recent reports from William P Dole, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and says that he “is in favor of aggregating the tribes as much as possible in one region. He would mass the middle tribes in what we call the ‘Indian Territory’– the region west of Arkansas; and the northern tribes he would mass in the farNorthwest. He recommends that a line of forts be erected along the Red River of the North, and that they be sent to that region. This plan we approve of. It seems the best solution of a difficult question.Mr. Dole is opposed to the hanging of the three hundred warriors in Minnesota who surrendered themselves and have been condemned to death. He favors only the execution of the chiefs who instigated the slaughter. These chiefs and head-men, he says, wield an influence over their subordinate savages which it is difficult for us to understand or appreciate; and we shall never be justified in judging the latter by our Christian standard of morals. For the ordinary mutineers, he urges a milder punishment than death– which punishment, we think, should take the shape of banishing the entire Sioux tribe from Minnesota.”

December 3– Wednesday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln reports to Congress about an incident involving a French ship. “On the 3d of November, 1861, a collision took place off the coast of Cuba between the United States war steamer San Jacinto and the French brig Jules et Marie , resulting in serious damage to the latter. The obligation of this Government to make amends therefor could not be questioned if the injury resulted from any fault on the part of the San Jacinto. With a view to ascertain this, the subject was referred to a commission of the United States and French naval officers at New York, with a naval officer of Italy as an arbiter. . . . and they have determined that the sum of $9,500 is an equitable allowance under the circumstances. I recommend an appropriation of this sum for the benefit of the owners of the Jules et Marie.”

December 3– Wednesday– Washington, D.C.– Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, confides to his diary his opinion of last month’s mid-term elections. “The November elections have not been favorable to the Administration. To a great extent its friends are responsible. Some active and leading Republican minds have ability and talent to abuse, berate, traduce, often in secret, and assail, and these gifts are directed against the Administration.”

Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy

December 4– Thursday– New York City– The New York Times opines about the future of the war in light of the Emancipation Proclamation and Southern threats of violence against Union prisoners. “If any United States soldiers are captured and hung by order of the Governor of South Carolina, retaliation must be made on any South Carolinians that may fall into the hands of the Union army. And for the lives of prisoners thus taken, Mr. Jefferson Davis will have to demand reparation. In this way, whether willing or not, the rebel President will be compelled to indorse the brutal and sanguinary program of the States of South Carolina and Virginia, or suffer a breach between the Confederate Government and those States, that will be fatal to all hopes of unity and independence. There can hardly be a doubt that the position of our armies will be such on the 1st of January next, that any attempt of the Confederate Government to inaugurate a bloody and revengeful code on the subject of military emancipation, will bring infinite disaster on the rebels. So that in either event, whether Mr. Davis yields to South Carolina and Virginia, and goes with them together to destruction, or refuses, and they all go by different roads to ruin– the end will be the same. They will perish, and the black flag they themselves raised will fitly mark their resting-place.

December 4– Thursday– Mankato, Minnesota– Several hundred civilians, armed with hatchets, clubs, and knives, attempt to attack the camp where the condemned Sioux are being held. However soldiers surround and disarm the mob.

December 4– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– Gideon Welles comments about the coming execution of the Sioux. “The Members of Congress from Minnesota are urging the President vehemently to give his assent to the execution of three hundred Indian captives, but they will not succeed. . . . . it would seem the sentiments of the Representatives were but slightly removed from the barbarians whom they would execute. The Minnesottians are greatly exasperated and threaten the Administration if it shows clemency.”

December 5– Friday– Boston, Massachusetts–In The Liberator William Lloyd Garrison presents a scathing criticism of President Lincoln’s state of the union message to Congress. Focusing on the slavery question, Garrison writes bitterly that Lincoln is “a veritable Rip Van Winkle, who, for the last thirty years, has been oblivious to everything going on in the country!”

William Lloyd Garrison

December 5– Friday– Germantown, Virginia– Joseph Burrage, a Massachusetts man serving in the Union army, writes home to his mother. “The snow has kept coming till the ground is white and decidedly sticky. Take it altogether, it is about as disagreeable a day as we have had. I wish I could have been at home Thanksgiving day, for your account of it brings to mind all the good things thereof with new vividness. I should have been very glad to see Miss Farr and her father, but I must class that among my lost pleasures.”

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