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.

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