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.”

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