Monthly Archives: December 2012

Eve of Jubilee~December, 1862~the 28th to the 31st

In the last four days of the year the bloodshed continues and soldiers wonder if peace will ever come. Gideon Welles complains of party spirit hindering government. Reports arrive in the United States of political changes in Japan. German political theorist Karl Marx works on a manuscript. The poet Walt Whitman, having found that his brother George is alright, looks for employment in Washington. Anti-British sentiment continues because of the raider Alabama.

What emancipation will bring as depicted by Thomas Nast

What emancipation will bring as depicted by Thomas Nast

Above all, abolitionists and free black people, fugitive slaves, the Federal government in Washington and the Confederate government in Richmond all wonder if the essential nature os the war is about to change. Will President Lincoln carry out his promise of September to put the Emancipation Proclamation into effect? New Year’s Eve is a watch night for many.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

December 28– Sunday– Rochester, New York– Speaking at Zion Church in anticipation of the Emancipation Proclamation actually taking effect in a matter of days, Frederick Douglass sounds a prophetic warning. “This is no time for the friends of freedom to fold their hands and consider their work at an end. The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance. Even after slavery has been legally abolished, and the rebellion substantially suppressed, even when there shall come representatives to Congress from the states now in rebellion, and they shall have repudiated the miserable and disasterous error of disunion, or secession, and the country shall have reached a condition of comparative peace, there will still remain an urgent necessity for the benevolent activity of the men and the women who have from the first opposed slavery from high moral conviction.”

December 28– Sunday– Murfreesboro, Tennessee– Outside of the city, Union and Confederate skirmishers stop shooting long enough to exchange friendly banter and out-dated newspapers. Afterward, one Union soldier writes, “So we met and parted, not realizing we were enemies. My God, when will this unnatural war have an end!– when shall friend cease to seek the life of friend, and mankind once more realize the blessings of peace?”

December 28– Sunday– New York City– The New York Times reports political changes in Japan. “Intelligence has . . . just reached us, via San Francisco, that . . . . revolution has, in fact, taken place, which will probably have a most injurious effect on the interests of foreigners in Japan. For it is no longer the party friendly to the foreigner and to foreign commerce that governs . . . and determines the privileges of intruders, but that fanatical faction who have always been the inveterate foes of the stranger, and who have always been prompt to incite their followers to outrage against him. There is a chance . . . that things may not turn out so bad as they promise. Parties are seldom as ultra in as out of office, and such may be the case in Japan. But if the Reactionists remain true to the principles which they practiced when in opposition; if they still hold it a sacred duty to disregard the rights of aliens, and to protect their assassins, the foreign residents may prepare for persecution under the new regime. But should the treaties be disregarded, and the residence of aliens in the Empire be rendered unsafe and intolerable, Japan will speedily call down upon her head the punishment she deserves. The adoption of so execrable a policy on the part of the Japanese will be an open defiance of civilization; and the crimes and the arrogance of the Islanders will arouse the indignation of foreign Governments.”

Karl Marx

Karl Marx

December 28– Sunday– London, England– Karl Marx, age 44 and in exile in London since 1849, writes to his friend Frederick Engels about his manuscript for a book on political economy which he will call Capital. He explains the delays in finishing the work and his plans for publication. Also, he inquires about the political situation in Germany with expectations of coming revolution. “I have been, and still am, forced to undertake a large amount of hackwork to prevent myself and my family from actually being relegated to the streets. I had even decided to become a ‘practical man’ and had intended to enter a railway officer at the beginning of next year. Luckily — or perhaps I should say unluckily? — I did not get the post because of my bad handwriting. So, you will see that I had little time left and few quiet moments for theoretical work. It seems probable that the same circumstances will delay my finishing the book for the printers for longer than I should have wished. . . . The conspiration de silence with which I am honored by the German literary rabble as soon as the latter finds out that the thing can’t be dismissed with insults is . . . unfavorable from the point of view of sales. As soon as I have a fair copy of the manuscript (upon which I shall make a start in January 1863), I shall bring it to Germany myself, it being easier to deal with publishers on a personal basis. . . . I should be most grateful if you could write to me occasionally about the situation at home. We are obviously heading for revolution — something I have never once doubted since 1850. The first act will include a by no means gratifying rehash of the stupidities of ’48-’49. However, that’s how world history runs its course, and one has to take it as one finds it.”

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

December 29– Monday– Washington, D.C.– Having come looking for his brother to see if George is alright after the battle of December 13th, Walt Whitman finally writes to his mother. “When I found dear brother George, and found that he was alive and well, O you may imagine how trifling all my little cares and difficulties seemed– they vanished into nothing. And now that I have lived for eight or nine days amid such scenes as the camps furnish, and had a practical part in it all, and realize the way that hundreds of thousands of good men are now living, and have had to live for a year or more, not only without any of the comforts, but with death and sickness and hard marching and hard fighting, (and no success at that,) for their continual experience– really nothing we call trouble seems worth talking about. . . . George is very well in health, has a good appetite. I think he is at times more wearied out and homesick than he shows, but stands it upon the whole very well. Every one of the soldiers, to a man, wants to get home.” On this same day, Whitman writes to Ralph Waldo Emerson, telling Emerson that he is seeking employment in Washington and asking Emerson to write letters of reference to Secretary of State Seward and to Treasury Secretary Chase as well as a letter of introduction to Senator Charles Sumner.

December 29– Monday– Washington, D.C.– Gideon Welles notes new activities on the high seas. “We had yesterday a telegram that the British pirate craft Alabama captured the Ariel . . . on her passage from New York to Aspinwall [now, Colon, Panama], off the coast of Cuba.” Referring to the raider as “this wolf from Liverpool”, Welles vows to “have a day of reckoning with Great Britain for these wrongs, and I sometimes think I care not how soon nor in what manner that reckoning comes.”

December 29– Monday– Chickasaw Bayou, Mississippi–From strong defensive positions, Confederate troops repel an attack by William Tecumseh Sherman’s force and inflict heavy losses. Union killed, wounded and missing total 1776 while the rebel defenders suffer a total of 207 casualties.

December 29– Monday– Helena, Arkansas– A group of Federal military chaplains and Army doctors file a protest regarding the poor treatment of fugitive slaves by some soldiers. They request that the generals in charge take some remedial action. “The Contrabands [escaped slaves] within our lines are experiencing hardships oppression & neglect the removal of which calls loudly for the intervention of authority. We daily see & deplore the evil and leave it to your wisdom to devise a remedy. In a great degree the contrabands are left entirely to the mercy and rapacity of the unprincipled part of our army . . . with no person clothed with Specific authority to look after & protect them. . . . These grievances reported to us by persons in whom we have confidence, & some of which we know to be true, are but a few of the many wrongs of which they complain– For the sake of humanity, for the sake of Christianity, for the good name of our army, for the honor of our country, cannot something be done to prevent this oppression & to stop its demoralizing influences upon the Soldiers themselves?”

December 30– Tuesday– New York City– George Templeton Strong wonders in the pages of his diary if the Emancipation Proclamation will really take effect on Thursday. “Will Lincoln’s backbone carry him through the work he is pledged them [the slave population] to do? It is generally supposed that he intends to redeem his pledge, but nobody knows, and I am not sanguine on the subject. If he comes out fair and square, he will . . . take high place among the men who have controled the destinies of nations. If he postpone or dilute his action, his name will be a byword and a hissing till the annals of the nineteenth century are forgotten.”

December 30– Tuesday– Washington, D.C.– Preparing to issue the formal Emancipation Proclamation on New Year’s Day, President Lincoln provides members of the Cabinet with a copy of the Final Emancipation Proclamation and requests them to offer suggestions. The President informs General Burnside that “You must not make a general movement of the army without letting me know.”

December 31– Wednesday– Washington, D.C.–President Lincoln signs the act approving admission of West Virginia to the United States. He also meets with his Cabinet for a final review of the Emancipation Proclamation.

December 31– Wednesday– Washington, D.C.– Gideon Welles finishes his diary for this year. “The year closes less favorably than I had hoped and expected, yet some progress has been made. It is not to be denied . . . that the national ailment seems more chronic. The disease is deep seated. Energetic measures are necessary . . . . Worse than this, the envenomed, relentless, and unpatriotic spirit of party paralyzes and weakens the hand of the Government and country.”

December 31– Wednesday– Falmouth, Virginia– Elisha Hunt Rhodes observes the day. “Well, the year 1862 is drawing to a close. As I look back I am bewildered when I think of the hundreds of miles I have tramped, the thousands of dead and wounded that I have seen, and the many strange sights that I have witnessed. I can truly thank God for his preserving care over me and the many blessings I have received. . . . The year has not amounted to much as far as the War is concerned, but we have hope for the best and feel sure that in the end the Union will be restored. Good bye, 1862.” He makes a list in his journal of 73 towns and cities were he has been since his enlistment 18 months ago.

Elisha Hunt Rhodes

Elisha Hunt Rhodes

December 31– Wednesday– Murfreesboro, Tennessee– Union and Confederate forces clash in almost simultaneous attacks. The fighting begins at dawn and will last until the 2nd of next month.

December 31– Wednesday– Mobile, Alabama– President Jeff Davis sends a message to the War Department in Richmond, saying that “guns and ammunition . . . needed at Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Very much depends upon prompt supply.”

December 31– Wednesday– Off the coast of North Carolina–The Union ironclad Monitor sinks in a gale with 16 of the 62 crewmen lost in the storm.


December’s Bareness Everywhere~December, 1862~the 23rd to the 27th

The month and the year draw to a close. President Jefferson Davis orders the execution of any black Union soldiers and their white officers if such soldiers are captured. He e3xpresses confidence in the ultimate success of the Confederacy, despite current hardships. President Abraham Lincoln sends condolences to the daughter of a friend.

Robert Gould Shaw wishes to bring the South to its knees. Confederate clerk John Jones prays for peace and independence. New York lawyer George Templeton Strong worries about finances. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles expresses frustration with Congress. [Some things do not change, do they?] William Dean Howells marries an artist. Executions of the Sioux take place in Minnesota. British doctors report some advances in ovarian surgery.

North and South, people celebrate Christmas as they can and ponder the future.

Santa Claus visits Union trrops, 1862

Santa Claus visits Union trrops, 1862

December 23– Tuesday– Verviers, Belgium–Birth of Henri Pirenne, Belgian historian.

December 23– Tuesday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln writes a letter of condolence to Miss Fanny McCullough in Illinois. Her father William was a friend of Lincoln and was killed in battle 18 days ago. “It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially, that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer and holier sort than you have known before. Please present my kind regards to your afflicted mother.”

December 23– Tuesday– Fairfax Station, Virginia– Robert Gould Shaw writes to his sister, Effie. “I had rather stay here all my life (though in this case, I should pray for a short one) than give up to the South. The most satisfactory ending to me, would be to have them brought to their knees, and then kicked out, and allowed to set up for themselves within certain limits.. I would have them hemmed in on all sides by free States, and not a chance of extending.”

December 23– Tuesday– Richmond, Virginia– President Jefferson Davis issues a general order proclaiming Union General Ben Butler an “enemy of mankind” and authorizing his immediate execution if captured. He also includes directions for the treatment of black Union soldiers. “And whereas the President of the United States has by public and official declaration signified not only his approval of the effort to excite servile war within the Confederacy but his intention to give aid and encouragement thereto if these independent States shall continue to refuse submission to a foreign power after the 1st day of January next, and has thus made known that all appeals to the laws of nations, the dictates of reason and the instincts of humanity would be addressed in vain to our enemies, and that they can be deterred from the commission of these crimes only by the terms of just retribution: . . . . 3. That all Negro slaves captured in arms be at once delivered over to the executive authorities of the respective States to which they belong to be dealt with according to the laws of said States. 4. That the like orders be executed in all cases with respect to all commissioned officers of the United States when found serving in company with armed slaves in insurrection against the authorities of the different States of this Confederacy.”

December 24– New York City– The New York Times reports that in the case of Adolphene Kluender v. James Lynch, the sheriff, Mrs Kluender “sues to recover the value of the contents of a cigar store, recently owned by her, as claimed, at No. 78 Bowery. Mrs. Kluender claims that the cigar store was her separate property, and that the defendant wrongfully seized upon its contents and carried them away. The defense was that the goods were seized under an execution against the property of Frederick Kluender, plaintiff’s husband, to whom it belonged. Thus the question was resolved into one of fact, and the Jury solved it in favor of the plaintiff, giving her a verdict for $500.” [Today her favorable verdict would be worth approximately $11,500.]

George Templeton Strong whose diaries provide much information about Northern life during the Civil War

George Templeton Strong whose diaries provide much information about Northern life during the Civil War

December 24– Wednesday– New York City– George Templeton Strong evaluates the holiday. “Christmas is a great institution, especially in time of trouble and disaster and impending ruin. Gloria in Excelsis Deo et in Terra Pax are words of permanent meaning, independent of chance and change, and that meaning is most distinctly felt when war and revolution are shaking the foundations of society and threatening respectable citizens like myself with speedy insolvency.”

December 24– Wednesday– Mankato, Minnesota– Speaking to friends and family, one of the Sioux men named Tazoo, soon to be hung, says, “Tell our friends that we are being removed from this world over the same path they must shortly travel. We go first, but many of our friends may follow us in a very short time. I expect to go direct to the abode of the Great Spirit, and to be happy when I get there; but we are told that the road is long and the distance great; therefore, as I am slow in my movements, it will probably take me a long time to reach the end of the journey.”

Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy

Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy

December 24– Wednesday– Washington, D.C.– Gideon Welles enters some observations about Congress which today adjourned for a Christmas break until January 5th. “The demagogues in Congress disgrace the body and the country. Noisy and loud professions, with no useful policy or end, exhibit themselves daiy.”

December 24– Wednesday– Singers Glen, Virginia–Joseph Funk, pioneer American music teacher, publisher, and one of the first American composers, dies at age 84.

December 24– Wednesday– Paris, France– William Dean Howells, age 25 and serving as American counsel in Venice, marries Elinor Mead, an American painter from Vermont, also age 25, at the American embassy.

William Dean Howells, American author

William Dean Howells, American author

December 25– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd Lincoln visit sick and wounded soldiers in area hospitals.

December 25– Thursday– Falmouth, Virginia– Union soldier Joseph Burrage sends greetings to his uncle, Alvah Augustus Burrage, in Boston. “A merry Christmas and happy New Year to you and all the Burrages in Union Park and elsewhere. I have just received your letter, by good luck getting here just in time. Your present is very acceptable, and I thank you much. Just now there is not much chance to get a great deal in the eatable line; the sutlers are all out of goods . . . . As to the battle, no two tell exactly the same story. You probably have better accounts at home than we get from those who were there, for each one saw only a small area around him. They all agree in thinking that we were badly beaten, and Burnside is not very popular with the troops. About the future, nothing is known. Some think we shall go into winter quarters; others, that another attempt at an advance is to be made; but we cannot believe anything here till we get orders to do it. Our regiment is ready, and will fight, I think. . . . . Ever so much love to all. I shall think of your New Year’s night, and remember a year ago. Hope next year we shall pass the holidays at home again.”

On Christmas Eve the wife of a Union soldier prays for her husband

On Christmas Eve the wife of a Union soldier prays for her husband

December 25– Thursday– Fredericksburg, Virginia– Confederate soldier P. H. Powers sends greetings to his wife. “I hardly have the heart to wish you a Merry Christmas this beautiful ChristmasMorning, because I will know merriment is not for you this day but I can and do wish you a happy day and the same to our little dears, who I suppose must be content with very meager gifts and very few sweet things. I thought of them when I first awoke this morning about day – And wondered what you managed to put in their stockings. Memory went back to the many happy Christmas days we have spent together with them. Alas! will the good old times ever return again? And you and I and our little ones dwell together in peace? I hope so. . . . I wrote you some account of the great fight– but you will see from the papers how Terribly whipped Burnside was, and what a commotion it has produced in Yankeedom. I think the sky brightens and our chances for peace improve. But still the war may linger on another year, or even to the end of Lincoln’s term. It is as warm this morning as June. And every thing bright – If I only was with you for the day at least I would have a happy Christmas.”

December 26– Friday– Mankato, Minnesota– At ten in the morning the 38 condemned Sioux, singing and chanting in their own language, are led to the scaffolds. Three drumbeats signal the moment for the execution. As the bodies drop through the trap doors and sway in the breeze, the crowd of settlers cheers. The dead are buried in a single grave on the edge of town.

Hanging of Sioux warriors

Hanging of Sioux warriors

December 26– Friday– Port Royal, South Carolina– One of the white teachers from New England describes her meeting with two white officers from the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, a regiment of black soldiers with white officers. “They are very pleasant and gentlemanly and give a charming impression of their intercourse with Colonel Higginson, and of his with the regiment. They had no ‘taps’ Christmas Eve or night, and the men kept their ‘shout’ up all night. One of the Captains heard a Negro praying most fervently, contrasting their ‘last Christymas and this Christymas,’ greatly to the advantage of that in the ‘Yankee Camp’ with ‘too much for eat.’” [Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Massachusetts minister, author and radical abolitionist, is the first white man given command of a black regiment. As of this date he has just turned 39 on December 22nd and is already studying the dialect and the spirituals of the men whom he commands.]


December 26– Friday– Jackson, Mississippi– Confederate President Jeff Davis delivers a patriotic speech. As he finishes, he speaks optimistically about the state of the Confederacy. “As to the States on the other side of the Mississippi, I can say that their future is bright. The army is organized and disciplined, and it is to be hoped that at no distant day it may be able to advance into that land which has been trodden under the foot of despotism, where old men have been torn from their homes and immured in dungeons, where even the women have been subjected to the insults of the brutal Yankee soldiery–that under the flag of the Confederacy Missouri will again be free. . . . The articles necessary for the support of our troops, and our people, and from which the enemy’s blockade has cut us off, are being produced in the Confederacy. Our factories have made rapid progress, so much is this the case that I learn with equal surprise and pleasure from the general commanding this department, that Mississippi alone can supply the army which is upon her soil. Our people have learned to economize and are satisfied to wear home spun. I never see a woman dressed in home spun that I do not feel like taking off my hat to her; and although our women never lose their good looks, I cannot help thinking that they are improved by this garb. I never meet a man dressed in home spun but I feel like saluting him. I cannot avoid remarking with how much pleasure I have noticed the superior morality of our troops, and the contrast which in this respect they present to those of the invader. I can truly say that an army more pious and more moral than that defending our liberties, I do not believe to exist. On their valor and the assistance of God I confidently rely.”

December 27– Saturday– Washington, D.C.– Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts meets with President Lincoln at the White House this evening and reads to the President a letter which he [Sumner] recently received from a number of clergy writing in support of the Emancipation Proclamation. Sumner, a scant two weeks away from his 52nd birthday, still suffers chronic pain from being assaulted in the Senate Chamber six and a half years ago by South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks.

December 27– Saturday– Richmond, Virginia– Government clerk John Jones wonders and hopes about what may come with the new year. “We have intelligence of a great armament, under General Sherman, sailing from Memphis against Vicksburg. At the last accounts the President [Jeff Davis] was at Vicksburg; and he may be witness of this decisive struggle for the possession of the Mississippi River, the result of which involves immense interests. We await with much anxiety the issue of the naval operations during the ensuing month. We are content with the land achievements of this year; and if we should be equally successful in resisting the enemy’s fleets, we shall deem ourselves fortunate indeed. . . . . Oh, that peace would return! But with Independence!”

December 27– Saturday– London, England– The medical journal Lancet, Volume 80, Issue 2052, reports on two cases of women with ovarian tumors, one of whom did well after surgical removal of her ovaries, the other died.

December’s Bareness Everywhere~December, 1862~the 18th to 22nd

As Christmas approaches, soldiers, their families, and concerned citizens ponder the aftermath of battle, the possible duration of the war, who is responsible for Union failures and the mounting cost of the war. President Lincoln deals with fuss from Congress and in his cabinet, praises the army and is criticized for his handling of the Sioux in Minnesota. Gerrit Smith gives voice to long-held abolitionist sentiments. Spain takes steps to deal with illicit slave trade. A Confederate raid surprises General Grant. A promising young scientist dies in an accident. And a group working to help poor women receives a substantial bequest.

George Templeton Strong whose diaries provide much information about Northern life during the Civil War

George Templeton Strong whose diaries provide much information about Northern life during the Civil War


December 18– Thursday– New York City– George Templeton Strong writes bitterly about Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. “The general indignation is fast growing revolutionary. The most thorough Republicans, the most loyal Administration men, express it most fiercely and seem to share the personal vindictiveness of the men and women whose sons or brothers or friends have been uselessly sacrificed to the vanity of the political schemes of this meddling murderous quack.”

December 18– Thursday– Fairfax Station, Virginia– Robert Gould Shaw writes to his sweetheart, Annie. Commenting about the recent Union loss, he writes, “It is a terrible thing that so many lives should have been lost for nothing. It seems to be the prevailing opinion now, that nothing more will be attempted for a good while; and the roads are in such a condition, that it is next to impossible to move troops more than five or six miles a day.” Further on in the letter, he talks about serving in the army. “I believe I never answered your question about my staying in the army after the war. I once tyhought of doing so, but have not for a good while. . . . but if the war goes on, there will be just as much reason for doing my share in it as there was for coming out in the beginning. Don’t you think so?”

Robert Gould Shaw~"Blue-eyed Child of Fortune"

Robert Gould Shaw~”Blue-eyed Child of Fortune”

December 18– Thursday– Kingston, Jamaica– The English naturalist and geologist Lucas Barrett drowns while exploring the sea bottom. It is one month after his 25th birthday.

December 19– Friday– Brooklyn, New York– Thomas Whitman writes to his brother Walt. “We are all much worried at not hearing anything from you. I have been over to the headquarters of the 51st three or four times but could get no information about brother George. The Times of day before yesterday gave his name among the wounded thus ‘Lieut Whitman Co. E 51st N. Y. V. cheek’ and we are trying to comfort ourselves with hope that it may not be a serious hurt. We certainly expected to hear from you before this and that you had found him. I know you will spare neither pains nor anything else to find him. I do hope that dear brother George is not seriously hurt. Don’t fail to let us hear from you at once.”

December 19– Friday– Washington, D.C.– At an evening meeting at the White House, eight Republican Senators and members of the Cabinet meet with President Lincoln and discuss at length the reorganization of the Cabinet.

The fighting at Fredericksburg

The fighting at Fredericksburg

December 19– Friday– Falmouth, Virginia– George Whitman writes to his mother to reassure her that he is well. “You can’t imagine how sorry I was to hear how worried you have been about me, and all the while I was as well as ever, so you see how foolish it is to fret, the most trouble that I have, is thinking that you are worrying about me, so you see Mother if you would do as I say, and not fret we would both have less trouble. Mother why don’t you write to a fellow? I have not had a letter from you in a long time. I hope you have everything comfortable there at home. I should be mad as blazes if I knew you did not use the money I sent on, for anything you need.”

December 19– Friday– St Paul, Minnesota– Angry that President Lincoln has allowed only 38 of the condemned Sioux to be hung, Colonel Sibley writes to the Interior Department which has supervision of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. “It should be borne in mind that the Military Commission appointed by me were instructed only to satisfy themselves of the voluntary participation of the individual on trial, in the murders or massacres committed, either by voluntary participation of the individual on trial, in the murders or massacres committed, either by his voluntary concession or by other evidence and then to proceed no further. The degree of guilt was not one of the objects to be attained, and indeed it would have been impossible to devote as much time in eliciting details in each of so many hundred cases, as would have been required while the expedition was in the field. Every man who was condemned was sufficiently proven to be a voluntary participant, and no doubt exists in my mind that at least seven-eighths of those sentenced to be hung have been guilty of the most flagrant outrages and many of them concerned in the violation of white women and the murder of children.”

December 20– Saturday– Washington–Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase offers his resignation. President Lincoln rejects both Seward’s and Chase’s resignations.

December 20– Saturday– In camp somewhere between Frostburg and Port Royal, Virginia– Confederate soldier P. H. Powers writes to his friend, Bob, about the battle at Fredericksburg and what he has done since then. “I rode over the right of the battleground on Tuesday and the dead of the enemy were there laying in heaps – I counted Eighty five in one pile unburied. We do not hear in camp where Burnside now is. There are various rumors– but none reliable – since the Battle we have moved Camp . . . . I find necessity makes me a pretty good Cook. I have managed to get up several very savory dinners. If you can meet with any one coming to this Brigade, send us a Bale of good smoking Tobacco. We are entirely out. It is getting cold, but there is an abundance of wood, and the troops I think are generally comfortable.”

December 20– Saturday– Holly Springs, Mississippi– In a surprise raid on General Grant’s supply depot, a Confederate force takes 1500 prisoners and destroys $1,500,000 of supplies.

December 20– Saturday– Havana, Cuba– A correspondent for the New York Times prepares a dispatch about Spanish and Cuban efforts to suppress the slave trade. “It appears that the Government at Madrid are about to send out to this island nine steamers (schooners,) as soon as possible, intended expressly for an active vigilance along the coast, with strict orders to their commanding officers to carry out with decision the intentions of the Government. What those intentions are, it would not require a prophet to determine; they can only refer to the slave traffic, which has taken, gigantic proportions during the late administration of the island. The present Captain-General has set his face entirely against it, and already one or two of the principal speculators in this inhuman but lucrative business, have been spoken to upon the subject. General Dulce has begun the work of reform by an order of great importance for the future welfare of the island, I mean the formation of public schools of a superior kind, where a useful education will be afforded gratuitously.”

December 21– Sunday– Brattleboro, Vermont– In the early morning, a fire destroys much of the Vermont Insane Asylum; however all the patients are saved.

December 21– Sunday– New York City– Speaking to a large crowd, half of them women, at Cooper Union, Gerritt Smith, the 65 year old abolitionist politician, analyzes the relationship between slavery and the war. He asserts that maintaining the slave system is the sole proximate cause of the rebellion and criticizes the churches and the Democratic Party for failing to speak against slavery. According to newspaper accounts, “After denouncing the forced colonization scheme, he closed his lecture by drawing a picture of the happy condition of mankind when Slavery should be no more, and sat down amid loud applause.”

Gerrit Smith, abolitionist

Gerrit Smith, abolitionist

December 21– Sunday– Washington– William H Seward resumes his duties as Secretary of State.

December 21– Sunday– Fairfax Station, Virginia– Robert Gould Shaw writes to his sweetheart, Annie. “In spite of all the discomforts, there are many charms about our life. I never had a pleasanter sensation than that of getting into bivouac after a hard march, having the blankets spread, a great fire built, a little supper, and a comfortable pipe. Then as we lie looking at the stars through the tress, listening to the men singing– which is often very good– or talking about what we shall do when the war is over, and the scenes we have been through since it began. There are only a dozen of our old officers left, and I often wonder how many there will be when we go home. When I read Irving’s Life of Washington, I never knew before what a beautiful character he was.”

December 22– Monday– Brooklyn, New York– At a special meeting of the Board of Managers of the Brooklyn Female Employment Society, Mrs N. Luquer, First Directress, reports receipt of a letter from the attorney representing the estate of the late William H Cary, which says in part that the deceased lived and died “firmly believing that in awakening and encouraging this spirit of self-respect and personal endeavor, was to be found the best security to the community against an increasing tendency among the poorer classes to indifference, indolence, and dependence. Heartily concurring in the soundness of his judgment upon this point, and believing that the operations of the Society which you have the honor of representing are substantially based upon this foundation, and are exerting a healthy and elevating influence upon the class of our community for whose particular benefit it has been organized, the widow of the deceased, Mrs Maria Cary; and the remaining heirs of his personal estate, have united in donating from this fund, in his name, and as a memorial of his sympathy in your efforts, to the Brooklyn Female Employment Society, the sum of $5,000.” [The Brooklyn Female Employment Society was established in 1854 with a mission to procure employment for destitute women. Originally located at 65 Court Street in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, it will later relocate to 93 Court Street and in 1924, will join with the Woman’s Work Exchange (organized in 1886) under the name the Needlework Society and Exchange in order to better reflect the combined focus of the organizations. The gift would be worth about $115,000 today].

December 22– Monday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln sends a message to the Army of the Potomac. “I have just read your general’s report of the battle of Fredericksburg. Although you were not successful, the attempt was not an error, nor the failure other than accident. The courage with which you, in an open field, maintained the contest against an intrenched foe, and the consummate skill and success with which you crossed and recrossed the river in the face of the enemy, show that you possess all the qualities of a great army, which will yet give victory to the cause of the country and of popular government. . . . . I tender to you, officers and soldiers, the thanks of the nation.”

December 22– Monday– Chambersburg, Pennsylvania– William Heyser, local businessman and farmer, confides to his diary. “News from Washington very perplexing, opinions so conflicting nothing gets resolved. This war has opened up a system of speculation never seen before. It has turned fine honest men into plunderers of our government. It seems no one is immune from this greed. I believe this war will continue as long as it is profitable for these scavengers.”

December’s Bareness Everywhere~December, 1862~the 13th to the 17th

As the year moves to a close, the Union Army suffers a bloody defeat in an ill-advised attack at Fredericksburg, a fight which results in 18,000 more casualties in total. President Lincoln obtains first-hand battlefield information from a journalist. The extreme violence of the fighting shocks soldiers and citizens, North and South. Republicans in Congress criticize the President’s cabinet in general and Secretary of State Seward in particular.

In the North, President Lincoln postpones the executions of the Sioux and endures criticism from a citizen of Minnesota. In the South a dashing Confederate officer marries and the citizens of New Orleans breathe with relief as Union General Ben Butler is replaced. Union General Grant issues an anti-Semitic order. Reports indicate that illicit international slave trade continues, despite the treaty signed earlier this year between the United States and Great Britain for joint efforts to stop the traffic in human beings.


December 13– Saturday– Fredericksburg, Virginia–In hard fighting which culminates three days of probing each others lines and skirmishing, Lee’s Confederates beat Burnside’s Union troops. The Union dead, wounded and missing total 12,653 for the three days; Confederate losses total 5,309 killed, injured and missing. The awful carnage lasts from sunup to dusk. One Union soldier remarks that the men “might as well have tried to take Hell.” Union soldier Elisha Hunt Rhodes writes that “Just at dark the firing ceased, but what a scene was before us. The dead and wounded covered the ground in all directions. Ambulances were sent to pick up the wounded, but the enemy opened fire upon them, and wounded were left to suffer.”

December 13– Saturday– St Paul, Minnesota– A local man writes a long letter to the New York Times, a letter full of vitriol against Native Americans and the leniency of President Lincoln. “The Chippewas are so insolent that they visit the houses of the whites at will, and as most of the men have gone to the war, the wives of our brave volunteers now in the field are compelled to comply with the most unreasonable demands these ‘red devils’ take delight in making. A company of volunteer cavalry is to leave here to-day . . . with the double purpose in view of being ready for any emergency, and providing a present defense against the existing outrages. Perhaps, in view of the probability of the rising of this band, the prompt execution of a portion of the condemned Sioux . . . would exert a salutary influence upon Hole-in-the-Day and his band. This chief is a very dangerous man, possessing more than his share of Indian treachery, and as he is what is termed a civilized Indian, and can read and write, he is only the more dangerous. The squeamishness exhibited by some in respect to applying the death-penalty to the convicted Sioux, has emboldened this bad Chief, and he verily believes we dare not do it. . . . . “Something must be done, and that right speedily, or before we are aware, the cry will ring in our ears. The Chippewas are upon us! In whom shall rest the responsibility?” [The Times will publish this letter in the Christmas Day edition.]

December 14– Sunday– Washington, D.C.– Early in the day President Lincoln telegraphs General Burnside, impatiently seeking news of the battle About 10 P.M. Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts brings Henry Villard, a 27 year old German immigrant and war correspondent present at Battle of Fredericksburg, to see the President. ([n early 1866, Villard will marry Helen Frances (“Fanny”) Garrison, the only daughter of the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.]

December 14– Sunday– Washington, D.C.– Gideon Welles worries about accurate news of the battle. “When I get nothing clear and explicit at the War Department, I have my apprehensions. They fear to admit disastrous truths.”

December 14– Richmond, Virginia– Government clerk John Jones reacts to the battle. “Yesterday was a bloody day. General Lee telegraphs that the enemy attacked him at 9 A.M., and as the fog lifted, the fire ran along the whole line, and the conflict raged until darkness (6 P.M.)put an end to the battle. The enemy was repulsed at all points, he continued, thanks be to God! But we have to mourn, as usual, a heavy loss. Lee expects another blow at Burnside to-day. . . . . [Two Confederate generals were killed and another seriously wounded.] A dispatch says that where our generals fell, the colonels could no longer restrain their regiments; and the men ran into the ranks of the enemy, and, animated with a spirit of desperation, slaughtered the foe in great numbers with their bayonets, pistols, and knives.”

December 14– Sunday– Murfreesboro, Tennessee– In the evening the wedding of the beautiful 22 year old Martha (“Mattie”) Ready and the dashing Confederate cavalry commander John Hunt Morgan, age 37, is held at the Ready home near the courthouse on the town square.

December 15– Monday– St Paul, Minnesota– Henry Sibley, asserting that he just received the President’s order of December 6th, sends a telegram to President Lincoln asking him to postpone the execution of the condemned Sioux from December 19th to a later date of December 26th. That earlier date “is too short for preparation & for concentrating the troops necessary to protect the other Indians & preserve the peace. The excitement prevails all sections of the state & secret combinations Exist Embracing thousands of citizens pledged to execute all the Indians matters must be managed with great discretion & as much secrecy as possible to prevent a fearful collision between U S forces & the citizens.”

December 15– Monday– New Orleans, Louisiana– Having been replaced, Union General Ben Butler departs the city, much to the joy and relief of the citizens.

December 15– Monday– New York City– George Templeton Strong writes mournfully in his diary. “Poor Bayard, killed last Saturday, was to have been married next Wednesday to a pretty girl of seventeen, daughter of the commandant at west Point. Her trousseau was all ready . . . . Such details help one to appreciate the depth of meaning embodied in the words battle, war, rebellion. Ought we to leave among us men who sympathize with those who have brought these tragedies into our peaceful homes?” [General George D. Bayard, a New York man and career army officer, died at Fredericksburg, four days shy of his 27th birthday.]

December 15– Monday– Curran, County Kildare, Ireland– Birth of John Edward Kelly, who under the professional name of Jack Nonpareil Dempsey, will become a famous boxer. In the 20th century, an American boxer, William Harrison Dempsey, will use “Jack Dempsey” as his professional boxing name, inspired by this Irish fighter.

December 16– Tuesday– Washington, D.C.– In caucus, Republican Senators vote 13-11 for a resolution calling for the resignation of Secretary of State Seward. They express dismay at the military failures and the loss of seats in the House of Representatives. Several hold the opinion that Secretary Seward is a bad influence on President Lincoln.

December 16– Tuesday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln grants Sibley’s request to postpone executions of the Sioux until the day after Christmas. He also writes to the commander of Federal forces in Missouri, saying that he received a letter from N W Watkins, a half brother to the late Henry Clay, which letter complained about Union soldiers forcing the old man out of his home. Lincoln asks the general to look into the matter and restore the elderly gentleman to his residence.

December 16– Tuesday– Washington, D.C.– Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles dejectedly notes in his diary that the “army has recrossed the Rappahannock; driven back, has suffered heavy loss. The shock is great, and it will be difficult to get any particulars. I fear the plan was not a wise one.”

December 16– Tuesday– Falmouth, Virginia– George Whitman writes to his mother about the battle of last Saturday and his injury. “We have had another battle and I have come out safe and sound, although I had the side of my jaw slightly scraped with a piece of shell which burst at my feet.” He summarizes the fighting from Thursday to Friday and then writes about its bloody conclusion on Saturday. “About 9 O’clock in the morning our Regiment was ordered to support a Battery [of artillery] but it was in such an exposed position that they could not work the guns, and after losing several men they were forced to haul off and we laid still until about 3 O’clock when we were ordered up to the front. Our whole Brigade formed in line and advanced beautifully over the plain and up to the bank of the creek, under a most terrible fire of Rifle balls, Cannister, and Shell, after getting to the edge of the creek we lay down and blazed away until night Other Brigades and Divisions followed us in and lay down behind us but we could get no further, and after dark the firing ceased and we all fell back to the Town except 3 Brigades who was left to hold the ground until morning when we supposed the fight would be renewed but Sunday passed and no fighting.”

December 16– Tuesday– Falmouth, Virginia– Describing the Federal forces in retreat, Elisha Hunt Rhodes writes, “The Army has met with a severe loss, and I fear little has been gained, . . . May God help the poor afflicted friends at home. I am tired, O so tired, and can hardly keep awake. We have had very little sleep since we first crossed the river. My heart is filled with sorrow for our dead, but I am grateful that my life has been spared.”

December 16– Tuesday– New Orleans, Louisiana– General Nathaniel P Banks assumes command in place of the departed Ben Butler.

December 16– Tuesday– Bourbon, County, Kentucky– Birth of John Fox, Jr., journalist and author of short stories and novels.

December 17– Wednesday– Washington, D.C.– Republican members of Congress decide to ask for a reorganization of President Lincoln’s cabinet. Secretary of State Seward submits a letter of resignation to the President.

December 17– Wednesday– Holly Springs, Tennessee– Union General Grant issues his infamous general order #11. “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order. Post commanders will see that all of this class of people be furnished passes and required to leave, and any one returning after such notification will be arrested and held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners, unless furnished with permit from headquarters. No passes will be given these people to visit headquarters for the purpose of making personal application for trade permits.”

December 17– Wednesday– Havana, Cuba– A report circulates that a ship flying the Spanish flag has smuggled about 1180 slaves into Cuba but ran aground in the process. Officials are investigating.

December’s Bareness Everywhere~December, 1862~the 6th to the 12th

Despite the onset of cold weather in most of the country, the shooting war continues in battles large and small, with bullets and with bitter words. Most soldiers, like George Whitman, want to get it over with and go home. While the war is about ending secession, West Virginia moves closer to successfully seceding from disloyal Virginia. Some of the Northern press express anti-European sentiment in general and anti-French sentiment in particular. President Lincoln limits the execution of the Sioux in Minnesota to about 1/10 of the number requested by military and state authorities and explains himself to the U S Senate.

December 6– Saturday– New York City– The New York Times evaluates France’s offer to mediate an end to the war. We regard this offer of Napoleon, and its rejection by England and Russia, as likely to put an end to all projects of intervention for some time to come. It has answered his purpose, by displaying to his own people his anxiety to restore their prosperity by restoring their cotton. There will be no excuse for renewing it until the close of the new campaign against the rebel States. And when that comes we trust the condition of the country will be such as to render all thought of intervention utterly out of the question.”

December 6– Saturday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln sends an order to Colonel Sibley regarding the executions of the Sioux prisoners. He allows the hanging of 39 of the condemned to take place on December 19th and orders Sibley and his troops to keep the others in custody and protect them from “any unlawful violence” pending further determinations. [The execution of one additional condemned man will also be suspended later after new evidence casts doubt upon his guilt]

December 6– Saturday– Gordonsville, Virginia– Thomas Garber writes to his sister Addie Garber about a recent brush with Yankee cavalry. “I then determined to see how many Yank they were & report to the Major. I went on around the corner and looked down the street and there was a whole Yankee Regiment. I had my pistol in my hand. I raised it up and fired it, wheeled my horse and started up the street, 8 or 10 Yanks after me shooting and howling like brave men after one man with a flag, I never run a horse faster in all of my life.”

December 7– Sunday– Prairie Grove, Arkansas– In a chaotic battle, Union forces turn back a Confederate effort to gain control of the northwest part of the state. Dead, wounded and missing among the Confederates total 1317 while among the Federals the total is 1251.

December 7– Sunday– Hartsville, Tennessee– Confederate cavalry under John Hunt Morgan surprise the Union garrison and take about 1800 prisoners.

December 8– Monday– near Falmouth, Virginia– George Whitman writes home to his mother. “All is quiet along the Rappahannock and we are still lying here in Camp. The weather has been Cold here, for the last day or two, and this morning the ground is covered with snow . . . I wished we could have one good big square fight that would settle the Rebs, and the war at the same time, so that I could come home and see you all, and drink that wine Matt has saved for me. I hardly think there will be a fight here at Fredericksburg, as we have orders to fix up our tents as though we were expected to stay here some time. The rebels seem to be busy, building breastworks, and preparing for us, but I should think it would not be much trouble for us to drive them out of Fredericksburg if we went about it.”

December 9– Tuesday– Stockton, Minnesota– The Winona and St. Peter Railroad makes its first run between Winona and here.

December 10– Wednesday– Washington, D.C.–The House of Representatives passes a bill allowing the creation of the state of West Virginia.

December 10– Wednesday– Knoxville, Tennessee– A Confederate court seizes the property of Andrew Johnson. “The said jury having heard the testimony and the charge of the Court, upon their oaths do say, that the said Andrew Johnson is an alien Enemy to said Confederate States of America. It is therefore decreed by the Court that said Johnson is an alien enemy and all the property, rights and credits belonging to him either at law or in equity, are sequestrated under the acts of Congress, and the Receiver for said District is directed to proceed to dispose of the same as provided by law.” (Johnson, age 54 and former U S Senator from the state, has remained loyal to the Union and in March was appointed by President Lincoln as Military Governor of Tennessee as Union forces continue attempts to subdue rebellion throughout the state.)

December 11– Thursday– Albion, New York– Birth of Belle King Sherman, who will become an important leader among women’s clubs, an advocate of national parks and educational reformer who will call for science education in elementary schools.

December 11– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln submits to the Senate a detailed message on the Sioux uprising in Minnesota, including trial transcripts and General Pope’s report. He also submits for ratification .a treaty of trade and friendship with the Republic of Liberia. With regard to the Sioux in Minnesota the President updates that chamber on his activities in this matter. “Anxious to not act with so much clemency as to encourage another outbreak on the one hand, nor with so much severity as to be real cruelty on the other, I caused a careful examination of the records of trials to be made, in view of first ordering the execution of such as had been proved guilty of violating females. Contrary to my expectations, only two of this class were found. I then directed a further examination, and a classification of all who were proven to have participated in massacres, as distinguished from participation in battles. This class numbered forty, and included the two convicted of female violation. One of the number is strongly recommended by the commission which tried them for commutation to ten years’ imprisonment. I have ordered the other thirty-nine to be executed on Friday, the 19th instant.”

December 11– Thursday– Fredericksburg, Virginia– Despite changeable weather and obvious Confederate preparations, Union forces cross the Rappahannock River and occupy the city.

December 11– Thursday– Murfreesboro, Tennessee– Confederate General Braxton Bragg writes to Union General William Rosecrans whose troops occupy Nashville. “In your letter of the 4th instant you express your abhorrence of the system of harassing and arresting non-combatants. In a previous letter I have intimated my entire concurrence in these views and nothing shall swerve me from the faithful observance of a policy which is dictated by every proper sentiment. I am credibly informed, however, that on the very day on which your communication was written a number of citizens of Tennessee charged only with political offense or proclivities were arrested and imprisoned in the penitentiary of Nashville. It is of little moment to me whether this was done by your immediate order or by your subordinates for whose conduct you are responsible, and I hereby notify you that I shall enforce rigid and unyielding retaliation against the commissioned officers who fall into my hands until this violation of good faith be corrected in deeds as well as words.”

December 12– Friday– Fredericksburg, Virginia– In anticipation of a major Federal attack, General Lee prepares to repulse General Burnside.

December 12– Friday– along the Yazoo River, Mississippi, along the Neuse River, North Carolina, Poolesville, Maryland, and Goldsborough, North Carolina– Union and Confederate forces raid, snipe, skirmish and exchange canon fire.