A Rifle Called “Katie Darling”~March, 1863~the 17th to 21st

Soldiers in both armies write about birthdays, weddings, religious faith, battles and weapons. Union soldiers involved in the “Great Locomotive Chase” are released in a prisoner exchange. Poland seethes with unrest. Some in the Lincoln Cabinet remain quite anti-British. Senator Sherman writes to his brother General Sherman, declaring that the Confederacy must be “throughly whipped.” Frederick Douglass encourages black men to enlist in the Union Army. In other places the world goes on.


Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy

Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy

March 17– Tuesday– Washington, D.C.– Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, after a quick visit to New York City, confides to his diary. “There is such a general feeling against the English, who are conniving with and aiding the Rebels, that privateering is becoming popular with the Administration and country. Statesmen who should check and restrain the excited, erring popular current are carried along with it.”

The men involved in the Great Locomotive Chase

The men involved in the Great Locomotive Chase

March 17– Tuesday– City Point, Virginia– Union soldiers William Bensinger, Robert Buffum, Elihu H. Mason, Jacob Parrott, William Pittenger and William H. Reddick are released from the Southern prisoner-of-war camp here and exchanged for Confederate soldiers held by the Federals. These six men participated in the “Great Locomotive Chase” of April, 1862, a failed attempt to sabotage a Confederate railroad.

March 17– Tuesday– Camp Winder, near Moss Neck, Virginia– Confederate soldier Andrew Brooks, serving under General Stonewall Jackson, writes to his mother to reassure her. When I commenced writing I had just returned from preaching, which we have every night. Dr. Hoge and Mr. Lacy are gone. There is a chaplain with each regiment of the brigade, two Presbyterians and three Methodists.”

March 17– Tuesday– Kelly’s Ford, Virginia– Union and Confederate cavalry clash in a hard fought exchange. Federal losses total 78; Confederate losses amount to 133. The Union cavalry retreats.

Battle at Kelly's Ford

Battle at Kelly’s Ford

March 17– Tuesday– County Limerick, Ireland– Birth of Patrick John McCarthy. At age 17 he will emigrate to the United States and settle in San Francisco, California, where he will become a trade union activist and mayor of the city from 1910 to 1912.

March 18– Wednesday– Columbia, Tennessee– Confederate soldier W. J. Thompson writes to his parents, describing a recent battle. “On the 5th day of this inst we fought one of the hardest Battles that I have ever experienced the Battle was fought at Thomson Station that is betwixt Columbia and Nashville on the rail rode believe we fought from ten o’clock in the morning till three o’clock in the evening we whipped them completely there cavalry all run off and left there infantry our cavalry then run round in the rear of there infantry then we give them shot and shell on every side until the hole of them surrendered I have never heard the report of the killed on either side.”

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

March 19– Thursday– New York City– George Templeton Strong writes of the evening’s activities. “To a state dinner at William Astor’s at six. . . . General McClellan kept very quiet. Had a little talk with him after dinner and found him genial and pleasant.”

March 19– Thursday– Charleston, South Carolina–The S.S. Georgiana is destroyed on her maiden voyage while attempting to run through the Union blockade. (The wreck will not be discovered until this same day, March 19th, in 1965).

artifacts recovered from the SS Geogiana and another wreck

artifacts recovered from the SS Geogiana and another wreck

March 20– Friday– Chambersburg, Pennsylvania– William Heyser notes the suffering around him in a hard winter. “Cloudy and cold. At the bank this morning. On the way was accosted by an old woman in need of wood and flour. I gave her something that made her eye sparkle. ‘God bless you, Sir,’ she said as I passed on. How much suffering thought I, is hidden from view. Nearly all is pain in some form, joy is a fleeting thing and its companion, contentment, just as illusive.”

Senator John Sherman, Republican from Ohio

Senator John Sherman, Republican from Ohio

March 20– Friday– Mansfield, Ohio– Senator John Sherman, home from Washington for a brief visit, writes to his brother, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman. “The laws passed at the last session will be a monument of evil or of good. They cover such vast sums, delegate and regulate such vast powers, and are so far-reaching in their effects, that generations will be affected well or ill by them. . . . The arming and employment of Negroes is left upon the old law and mainly to the discretion of the President. There was but little speech-making and that mainly to the matter in hand. The Union or rather Republican members made scarcely a political speech in either house. They felt too constantly the pressure of practical measures demanding action. On the whole, the recent Congress may fairly appeal to their constituents for a favorable judgment upon the general aggregate of their acts. . . . The people . . . no longer underrate the power of the Confederates and no longer expect a short or holiday war. When coming home . . . here among plain people I find a healthy feeling. They want peace. But very few would accept it on any other terms than the preservation of the Union. They know very well that the South will only yield to this after being thoroughly whipped, and this has not been done.”

March 21– Saturday– Rochester, New York– Frederick Douglass circulates a recruiting broadside to encourage black men to enlist. “The day dawns; the morning star is bright upon the horizon! The iron gate of our prison stands half open. One gallant rush from the North will fling it wide open, while four millions of our brothers and sisters shall march out into liberty. The chance is now given you to end in a day the bondage of centuries.”

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

March 21– Saturday– New York City– The New York Times updates its readers about the situation in Poland. “There is nothing new as to the movements of the insurgents. The latest letters from Cracow are favorable to the Poles. Prince Domireiki had been killed whilst cutting his way through some Russians who surrounded him and several refugees. The Governor-General of Wilna had issued an address to the peasants, appealing to them to oppose the agitators, to the arrests of guilty parties, and deliver them up to the authorities. The appointment of General Deberg as Commander of the Russian troops in Poland, is considered indicative of a stern and unrelenting determination to crush the revolt.”

March 21– Saturday– Falmouth, Virginia– Elisha Hunt Rhodes notes his birthday. “I am a man today, for it is my birthday and I am twenty-one years old. . . . . I have had a birthday present– a leave of absence for ten days, and I appreciate it very much.”

a Norfolk rifle

a Norfolk rifle

March 21– Saturday– Carthage, Tennessee– Union soldier David Shoemaker writes to his friend Henry Bitner about two types of romance. “So you have committed matrimony, have you? Or were you only joking? If you really have ‘gone and done it’ allow me to congratulate you on your choice and to wish you and your bride a happy voyage together down the stream of life, together with the ‘little responsibilities’. I am sorry however to lose you from among the noble fraternity of Bachelors. I fear that the joys and cures of matrimony may induce you to forget your friends who have not yet joined the Benedictine order. The fact is I intend to take me an helpmate myself from among Pennsylvania’s fair daughters, some day — p-e-r-h-a-p-s. With this view I expect you to spread a good word for me to all the ‘genuine fenders’ and it may be I can find some one fool enough to have me. . . . . Our regiment was today furnished with bran new Norfolk Rifles (Springfield pattern) I am quite proud of mine, which I call ‘Katie Darling’ and I am anxious to draw a bead on a rebel with it. I intend to sleep with it tonight. Give my respects to your lady and all the friends, and write soon.”

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