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.

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