The Sable Arm in Double Battle~February, 1863~the 1st to the 7th

The Sable Arm in Double Battle

In February reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation continues. Bad weather is wide-spread and problematic for men and animals in both armies. Many feel pessimistic about the war and its human costs. Trouble in Poland escalates. France wants to mediate but Britain refrains from interference. Yet above all else, irregardless of the prejudice or indifference of many, the essential nature of the war is changing. More slaves are fleeing to Union lines. More black men are enlisting and more involved in the fight, making an appearance of “the Sable Arm.” Frederick Douglass aptly foretells a struggle on two fronts for such soldiers. The governor of Massachusetts begins planning for black units commended by white officers and the 54th Massachusetts begins its march to glory.

February– Boston, Massachusetts– This month’s edition of The Atlantic Monthly contains a patriotic poem entitled “Boston Hymn” by Ralph Waldo Emerson and a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier in honor of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

February– Rochester, New York– In a column entitled “Condition of the Country” in this month’s issue of Douglass’ Monthly, Frederick Douglass gives a frank critique. “During this very administration slavery has been the all commanding and all controlling political power at Washinton as well as at Richmond. The saying that cotton is king was never an empty boast. It was king and ruled us all with iron. . . . Assuming that the Washington Government will cure its Cabinet of the Presidency, and its army of disloyalty, and call to important commands such men as Fremont and Phelps, men who are now in sympathy with the policy of the war, there is hope for the country and for the slave. . . . Colored men going into the army and navy of the United States must expect annoyance. They will be severely criticized and even insulted– but let no man hold back on this account. We shall be fighting a double battle, against slavery at the South and against prejudice and proscription at the North– and the case presents the very best assurances of success. Whoever sees fifty thousand well drilled colored soldiers in the United States, will see slavery abolished and the union of these States secured from rebel violence.”

February 1– Sunday– Falmouth, Virginia– George Whitman writes to his brother Walt, complaining about the weather and his lack of leave. “We had a regular old Northern snow storm last week, but it is nearly gone now but the mud is quite plenty just about here. Capt Sims tells me tonight that he has been promised a leave of absence for 10 days and will probably start for Brooklyn in a day or two. I suppose he will call on you in Washington. As soon as he gets back, I shall apply, and if I don’t get it I don’t know but I will send in my resignation as it is hardly a fair shake for some to go home two or three times a year while others can’t get away at all, but I don’t blame Sims at all for going whenever he can get a chance.”

February 1– Sunday– Union camp near Murfreesboro, Tennessee– A member of the 7th Kansas Cavalry records his regiment’s protection of escaped slaves. “One day a man came into camp inquiring of one of the comrades for his black boy who had run away. Another comrade at a little distance asked what that man wanted.’He wants his runaway black boy,’ was the reply.’Shoot him,’ shouted Comrade # 2. Other comrades, hearing it, repeated the call and several of them surrounded the man with drawn revolvers. Of course they would not have dared to shoot the man, but he did not know that, and was glad to make his escape after a solemn promise to never show himself in our camp again, and he kept his promise. At another time a middle-aged colored woman came into camp. She happened to fall in with our teamsters. As they wanted a cook, they had her cook for them. They gave her a government uniform to wear as a disguise and named her Tom. She rode in one of the wagons on the march. One day her master passed the wagon looking for her but did not recognize her. It was well for him that he did not, for if he had, and had attempted a rescue, he doubtless would have gotten some bullet holes in his coat.”

February 2– Monday– Washington, D.C.– A bill introduced by Thaddeus Stevens, 70 years old, abolitionist and Republican Representative from Pennsylvania, which calls for the enlistment of 150,000 black soldiers in the Union Army, passes by a vote of 83 to 54 after weeks of acrimonious debate. [The Senate will defeat the measure, asserting that measures to enlist black fighters are already in place and no further measures are required.]

February 2– Monday– Marijampola, Poland–A squadron of well-armed Russian cavalry attacks and massacres a group of Polish peasants armed only with scythes and other farm implements near the town.

February 3– Tuesday– Washington, D. C.– The French Minister, Henry Mercier, officially extends France’s offer to mediate the Civil War.

Henri Mercier, the French Minister to the United States, 1860 to 1864

Henri Mercier, the French Minister to the United States, 1860 to 1864

February 3– Tuesday– Murfreesboro, Tennessee– Union Colonel John Beatty reports to his private journal. “This has been the coldest day of the season in this latitude. The ground is frozen hard. I made the round of the picket line after dinner, and was thoroughly chilled. Visited the hospital this evening. Young Willets, of the Third, whom I thought getting along well before I left for home, died two days before my return. Benedict is dead, and Glenn, poor fellow, will go next. His leg is in a sling, and he is compelled to lie in one position all the time. Mortification has set in, and he can not last more than a day or two. Murfreesboro is one great hospital, filled with Nationals and Confederates.”

February 3– Tuesday– Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada– Birth of James White, geographer. In 1906 he and his team will produce the first edition of the Atlas of Canada.

February 4– Stafford Courthouse, Virginia– Robert Gould Shaw writes to his sweetheart. “Father has just left here. He came down yesterday and brought me an offer from Governor Andrew of the Colonelcy of his new black regiment. The Governor considers it a most important command and I could not help feeling, from the tone of his letter, that he did me a great honor in offering it to me.” He goes on to say that he declines the offer.

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

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

February 5– New York City– George Templeton Strong confides his pessimism to his diary. “But (between me and my journal) things do in fact look darker and more dark every day. We are in a fearful scrape and I see no way out of it. Recognition of the ‘Confederacy’ is impossible. So is vigorous prosecution of the war twelve months longer.”

February 5– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln sends a message to the Senate. “I submit to the Senate, for consideration with a view to ratification, a ‘convention between the United States of America and the Republic of Peru for the settlement of the pending claims of the citizens of either country against the other, signed at Lima on the 12th January ultimo.”

February 5– Thursday– London, England– In a message to Parliament Queen Victoria, through her Prime Minister, writes that the government has abstained from any attempt “to induce a cessation of the conflict between the contending parties in the North American States, because it has not yet seemed to Her Majesty that any such overtures could be attended with a probability of success.” The Queen has been almost a recluse since the death of husband, Prince Albert, in December of 1861.


the youthful Queen Victoria

the youthful Queen Victoria


February 6– Friday– Washington, D.C.– Secretary of State Seward informs the French Minister, Mecier, that the United States declines the offer from France to mediate an end to the war with the Confederacy.

February 6– Friday– Washington, D.C.– In response to the Senate’s request, President Lincoln provides that chamber information about Frederick Townsend Ward, an American citizen who died in battle in China on September 21, 1862, leading Chinese Imperial troops.

February 6– Friday– camp near Fredericksburg, Virginia– Confederate General Robert E Lee writes to his daughter Agnes. “The storm of the last twenty-four hours has added to our stock of all, and we are now in a floating condition. But the sun and the wind will carry all off in time, and then we shall appreciate our relief. Our horses and mules suffer the most. They have to bear the cold and rain, tug through the mud, and suffer all the time with hunger. The roads are wretched, almost impassable.”

February 7– Saturday– New York City– Harpers Weekly carries an advertisement for “India-Rubber Gloves cure Chapped Hands, Salt Rheum, &c., making them smooth and white, and are suitable for all kinds of house-work.” They come in various ladies sizes and sell for 87 cents per pair. [In current dollars that would equal $16.10 a pair.]

February 7– Saturday– St Helena Island, South Carolina– Charlotte Forten Grimke records a conversation with one of the black soldiers serving under Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson about a recent fight with the rebels. If he had to face his master, “I’d fight un, Miss, I’d fight un till I turned to dust!” When he and his colleagues were taunted and insulted by rebels, they yelled back, “Hole your tongue and dry up” because “we wasn’t feared of dem, dey couldn’t hurt us now. Didn’t we laugh to see dem so mad!”

the wreck of HMS Orpheus

the wreck of HMS Orpheus

February 7– Saturday– Auckland, New Zealand–The HMS Orpheus, a ship only two years old and flagship of Her Majesty’s Australia squadron, sinks while attempting to enter Manukau Harbor. Of the 259 total crew and soldiers on board, 189 men die.

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