So Much of the Heart-Breaking~May, 1863~the 1st to the 3rd

The month of May opens with plenty of conflict. In Virginia, a vicious battle begins at Chancellorsville. In the course of the fighting Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson is seriously injured by his own men and losses an arm. In Mississippi, Union General Grant begins to encircle Vicksburg. Elisha Hunt Rhodes suffers a minor wound. Colonel Robert Gould Shaw marries his sweetheart. Charlotte Forten Grimke writes about black church services.. Elizabeth Cady Stanton calls for Northern women to become more patriotic. A Confederate soldier praises Southern women for their patriotism. A writer in The Atlantic Monthly describes the South as enslaved to the system of slavery. George Templeton Strong despises the British. And life goes on outside of the American Civil War.


May– Boston, Massachusetts– This month’s issue of The Atlantic Monthly contains, among other things, two poems by John Greenleaf Whittier, an essay by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr, an essay by Professor Louis Agassiz, a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne and an essay by D A Wasson entitled “Shall We Compromise?” The writer concludes with this: “Even would the Secessionists consent to partial compositions, as they will not, they must inevitably break faith, as ever before. They are slaves to the slave-system. As wise were it to covenant with the dust not to fly, or with the sea not to foam, when the hurricane blows, as to bargain with these that they shall resist that despotic impetus which compels them. They are slaves. And their master is one whose law is to devour. Only he who might meditate letting go a Bengal tiger on its parole of honor, or binding over a pestilence to keep the peace, should so much as dream for a moment of civil compositions with this system. Its action is inevitable. And therefore our only wisdom will be to make our way by the straightest path to this, which is our chief, and in the last analysis our only enemy, and cut it through and through.”

May 1– Friday– Boston, Massachusetts– The Liberator gleefully reports that “Thomas Sims, who was returned from Boston in 1851, to his master in Georgia, under the Fugitive Slave Law, arrived in Boston on Thursday of last week, with his family. He came direct from Vicksburg, where he had been employed as a bricklayer, having escaped from that city about three weeks ago, to General Grant’s lines, in a dugout, with his wife, child, and four colored men.” [The Sims case created a passionate demonstration against the new Fugitive Slave Law of September, 1850, so much so that President Millard Fillmore sent U S Marines into the city to escort the slave catchers and Sims to the ship which took them south.] This issue also reprints a patriotic speech by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. “The women of the South know what their sons are fighting for. The women of the North do not. They appreciate the blessings of Slavery; we do not the blessings of Liberty. . . . What are wealth and jewels, home and ease, sires and sons, to the birthright of freedom, secured to us by the heroes of the Revolution– liberty to universal man? Shall a priceless heritage like this be wrested now from us by Southern tyrants, and Northern women look on unmoved, or basely bid our freedmen sue for peace? No! No!” At this time Stanton is 47 years old with four of her seven children under age 12 yet she remains extremely active in the causes of abolition and woman’s rights.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton with 2 of her sons, c.1847

Elizabeth Cady Stanton with 2 of her sons, c.1847

May 1– Friday– New York City–Cornelia Knight and Dr James Knight open the Hospital for Ruptured and Crippled Children, the first orthopedic hospital in the United States.

May 1– Friday– New York City– George Templeton Strong in his diary: “At the Society Library tonight looking through English magazines and papers. Their misrepresentations about us are amazing and many of their blunders must be dishonest and malignant. . . . The fair-minded honest old English people, in which I believed so many years so firmly, has ceased to exist.”

May 1– Friday– Chancellorsville, Virginia– Having correctly anticipated that Union General Hooker was trying to outflank him, Confederate General Lee, having left part of his force at Fredericksburg, prepares to blunt the Union attach. In response Hooker stops advancing and takes up defensive positions. In the evening, Lee and Stonewall Jackson consult and decide to split the Confederate force yet again, with Jackson taking 26,000 of the Confederate’s 47,000 to launch a surprise attack on Hooker’s right flank, although the Union force totals almost 70,000 soldiers.

General Hooker & his staff as portrayed in Harper's Weekely

General Hooker & his staff as portrayed in Harper’s Weekely

May 1– Friday– Port Gibson, Mississippi– Union General Grant’s campaign against Vicksburg takes a big step forward as his soldiers defeat a Confederate force. Union killed, wounded and missing total 861; Confederate losses amount to 787.

May 1– Friday– Blountsville, Alabama; Washington, Louisiana; Suffolk, Virginia; Chalk Bluff, Arkansas; La Grange, Arkansas; Lizzard, Tennessee– Skirmishes, raids and small but intense pitched battles add by the tens and by the hundreds to casualty lists.

May 1– Friday– St Helena Island, South Carolina– Charlotte Forten Grimke reflects in her diary. “This is a glorious moomlight night. From the window I can see the water in silver waves shining in the clear soft light. Sat a long time on the piazza . . . thinking of some loved ones who are far, far away.”

Charlotte Forten Grimke

Charlotte Forten Grimke

May 1– Friday– Dunedin, New Zealand– The Evening Star newspaper, founded by G. A. Henningham and Co and edited by George Henningham, publishes its first issue. The paper will be in continuous publication until 1979.

May 2– Saturday– Brooklyn, New York– Jeff Whitman to his brother Walt Whitman: “I suppose, dear Walt that you will have more to do in the Hospitals than ever pretty soon. I hardly can see how you can stand seeing so much of the heart-breaking I certainly could not do it. I am sure it would make me sick enough to die.”

May 2– Saturday– New York City– Colonel Robert Gould Shaw marries Annie Kneeland Haggerty at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension.

Church of the Ascension in NYC as it looks today

Church of the Ascension in NYC as it looks today

May 2– Saturday– Washington, D.C.– Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles in to diary: “Thick rumors concerning the Army of the Potomac . . . . This indefiniteness, and the manner attending it, is a pretty certain indication that the information received is not particularly gratifying.”

May 2– Saturday– Washington, D.C.– The Washington Chronicle reports that during the past week a certain gentleman called on President Lincoln, requesting a pass to go to Richmond. “Well,” said the President, “I would be very happy to oblige you, if my passes were respected; but the fact is, sir, I have, within the past two years given passes to 250,000 men to go to Richmond, and not one has got there yet.”

May 2– Saturday– Chancellorsville, Virginia– At 6 o’clock in the evening Confederate General Stonewall Jackson launches an attack upon the unprepared Union right flank while General Lee mounts a limited and distracting attack against the Federal front. Union troops fall back. Jackson considers continuing with a night attack and rides forward to see for himself what the Federals are doing. Returning in the dark from scouting Union positions, General Jackson is accidentally shot by some of his own soldiers. His pickets, mistaking his party for Federal soldiers, open fire. Three of Jackson’s staff are killed and the general is seriously wounded in his left arm. In a matter of hours, surgeons amputate the arm.

General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson

General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson

May 2– Saturday– New Orleans, Louisiana– Colonel Grierson’s Union cavalry raiders arrive in the city. He reports that in 16 days he and his men have killed about 100 rebel soldiers, taken another 500 prisoners, captured more than 1000 horses and mules as well as 3000 weapons and destroyed more than 50 miles of railroad and telegraph lines as well as several depots and warehouses of supplies.. His casualties are 3 dead, 7 wounded and 9 missing. His raiders covered 600 miles through enemy territory.

May 3– Sunday– Chancellorsville, Virginia– Union forces continue to fall back as the Confederates push hard against them. However, General Lee’s final push does not take place as he turns to defend himself against Union General Sedgwick who has pushed through Fredericksburg and attacks Lee’s right wing.

May 3– Sunday– Salem Church, Virginia– From late afternoon until nightfall, Sedwick’s Union soldiers and Lee’s Confederate soldiers maul each other. Lee successfully prevents Sedwick from joining Hooker’s troops at Chancellorsville, thus ensuring a Confederate victory. Elisha Hunt Rhodes is one of the Union soldiers participating in the bitter struggle. He is slightly injured. “One iron bullet struck me upon my foot causing me to jump into the air, but only lamed me a little. I picked up the iron bullet and put it in my pocket and will send it home.” He adds that in today’s fighting his regiment lost 7 killed, 68 wounded and 9 missing.

Elisha Hunt Rhodes

Elisha Hunt Rhodes

May 3– Sunday– Franklin, Tennessee- A Confederate soldier writes: “God bless the ladies, the part they have acted in this war will never be forgotten, and that part is no little. Their fair hands have clothed our army, have woven the fabric that warmed the soldiers frozen form, as he laid down to sleepat night in the cold winters blast, and have administered to the wants of the sick and wounded; they have breathed words of consolation to the sick and afflicted; and by their spirited address, have nerved men on to deeds of daring.”

May 3– Sunday– Dubuque, Iowa– Roman Catholic Bishop Clement Smyth, Irish born, 53 years old and a Union supporter, cautions church members not to become involved with the pro-Southern Knights of the Golden Circle.

May 3– Sunday– St Helena Island, South Carolina– Charlotte Forten Grimke writes about religion among the freed slaves. “Too weary and ill to go to church . . . I always like to see the people, looking so bright and cheerful in their Sunday attire, and to hear them sing. . . . . It is wonderful that perfect time the people keep with hands, feet, and indeed with every part of the body. I enjoy these ‘shouts’ very much.”

May 3– Grand Gulf, Mississippi– Confederate troops evacuate their fortified position, worried about being encircled and cut off by General Grant.

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