A Good Deal in a Muddle~July 1883~the 15th & 16th

A Good Deal in a Muddle~Walt Whitman

The rioting in New York is subdued at last after much damage and loss of life. Soldiers like Elisha Hunt Rhodes are quite willing to shoot rioters. Walt Whitman expresses compassion for the crowds and opposes the draft. Gideon Welles blames Democratic politicians for the rioting. Colonel Robert Gould Shaw unknowingly writes what will be his last letter to his wife. Federal forces occupy Jackson, Mississippi, without a battle. Confederate soldiers want news from home and complain about a lack of supplies. Southern women do whatever they can for the cause.

July 15– Wednesday– Boonsboro, Maryland– Elisha Hunt Rhodes summarizes the situation. “At last the northern soil is free from Rebels, and great must be the rejoicing at home. Good news again Port Hudson has fallen. Well, now enforce the draft and we shall be all right. I wish they would send the 2nd Rhode Island to New York City. The riots in that city are a disgrace to the nation and ought to be suppressed at any cost of money or life.”

Elisha Hunt Rhodes

Elisha Hunt Rhodes

July 15– Wednesday– Washington, D. C.– The Washington Intelligencer comments abot the riots in New York “The Government must suppress such tumultuous uprisings with a heavy hand, but the wise surgeon, while he applies the knife and cautery to the extermination of the tumor of the blotch, will not neglect a pathology of the symptoms by which the origin of these disorders may be traced.”

July 15– Wednesday– Washington, D.C.– Walt Whitman writes to his mother about the troubles in New York. “So the mob has risen at last in New York. I have been expecting it, but as the day for the draft had arrived & every thing was so quiet, I supposed all might go on smoothly but it seems the passions of the people were only sleeping, & have burst forth with terrible fury, & they have destroyed life & property, the enrolment buildings &c as we hear– the accounts we get are a good deal in a muddle, but it seems bad enough– the feeling here is savage & hot as fire against New York, (the mob-‘copperhead mob’ the papers here call it,) & I hear nothing in all directions but threats of ordering up the gunboats, cannonading the city, shooting down the mob, hanging them in a body, &c &c meantime I remain silent, partly amused, partly scornful, or occasionally put a dry remark, which only adds fuel to the flame. I do not feel it in my heart to abuse the poor people, or call for rope or bullets for them, but that is all the talk here, even in the hospitals. The acc’ts from N Y this morning are that the government has ordered the draft to be suspended there. I hope it is true, for I find that the deeper they go in with the draft, the more trouble it is likely to make.”

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

July 15– Wednesday– James Island, Charleston harbor, South Carolina– Colonel Robert Gould Shaw writes what will be his last letter to his wife of two months, Annie. “Your letters of June 3rd, 14th, and 28th, and July 3rd, 4th, and 5th, came to-day, and I felt horridly ashamed of myself for having blamed you for not taking care to post your letters. Do excuse it. It will show you how much I value your dear letters. You don’t know what a fortunate day this has been for me and for us all, excepting some poor fellows who were killed and wounded. We have at last fought alongside of white troops. Two hundred of my men on picket this morning were attacked by five regiments of infantry, some cavalry, and a battery of artillery. The Tenth Connecticut (of Stevenson’s Brigade) were on their left, and say they should have had a bad time, if the Fifty-fourth men had not stood so well. The whole Division was under arms in fifteen minutes, and after coming up close in front of us, the enemy, finding us so strong, fell back. The other regiments lost in all, three men wounded. We lost seven killed, twenty-one wounded, six missing, supposed killed, and nine unaccounted for. These last are probably killed or captured. All these belonged to the four companies which were on picket. The main body, excepting artillery, was not engaged at all. All this is very gratifying to us personally, and a fine thing for the colored troops. It is the first time they have been associated with white soldiers, this side of the Mississippi. To make my happiness and satisfaction complete, the afternoon brought your and Mother’s letters. . . . . I know this letter will give you pleasure, because what we have done to-day wipes out the remembrance of the Darien affair, which you could not but grieve over, though we were innocent participators. You will have some satisfaction in telling it to your father, your Uncle Charles, and Aunt Fanny, to all of whom please give my sincere regards. Whenever you see your grandfather and grandmother, do not forget to give them my respects. To our Mamma, and Clem. I needn’t say I send my warmest love.”

Shaw & the 54th Massachusetts depicted on the memorial

Shaw & the 54th Massachusetts depicted on the memorial

July 16– Thursday– New York City– By this time 4,000 soldiers, most of them having fought at Gettysburg, are in the city. In skirmishes between the crowds and soldiers about 30 rioters and 10 soldiers are killed, many others on both sides are wounded. A final confrontation occurs this evening near Gramercy Park. [The exact death toll is unknown, but at least 120 civilians were killed, 11 black men were lynched, at least 2,000 people were injured. Total property damage is estimated to be $1.5 million or about $28.3 million today. Fifty buildings, including two Protestant churches, burned to the ground.]

July 16– Thursday– New York City– Dr John Torrey describes today’s events for Dr Asa Gray. “The [street] cars are running this morning, but the stores are closed in the greater part of the 3rd avenue. Herb came up to breakfast. He had been up all night at the Assay Office, & had been drilling, under a U. S. officer, as an artillerist. They had 4 cannon & a rifle battery ready for the mob, at the office. I found a body of marines there this morning. Just at this moment there was a false alarm, ‘every man at his post.’ The great doors were slammed to in a moment, & the arms were seized. I was amused to see an old tar quietly light his match rope, & swing it about to get it well on fire. He had the shells, to be thrown from the windows, in charge. Quiet was soon restored. Passing down the Avenue, I saw the 7th Regiment at their armory, ready to go wherever they were needed. They will be as impartial as veterans.”

July 16– Thursday– New York City– The New York Times reports that “The Thirteenth Ward was the scene of great excitement during the night. Bands of thieves, taking advantage of the occasion, joined themselves with the rioters for the purpose of plunder. They went into a lager-beer saloon, on the corner of Governeur and Division streets, and demolished the premises.”

July 16– Thursday– Darkesville, West Virginia– Confederate soldier Tony Pastor to his sweetheart Annie Harris: “I tell you our boys have had a hard time sure, since they left Fredricksburg. They have been on the march for more than a month, during which time they have not had a change of clothes, they are now both dirty & ragged, & a great many of them barefooted, yet notwithstanding all these things they seem to be very cheerful indeed. We drew up in line of battle this side of Hagerstown & fortified where we remained two days waiting for the enemy to attack us but this they did not do, excepting to skirmish a little, & on Tuesday morning about day eight we crossed the river at Williamsport. wading it up to our shoulders. We are now about six miles this side of Martinsburg in camp, how long we will remain at this place I cant say. It is thought by some the Yankees are making for Fredricksburg again, if so we will be on the march for that place in a few days.”

July 16– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– Gideon Welles criticizes the Democratic governor of New York state. “It is represented that the mob in New York is about subdued. Why it was permitted to continue so long and commit such excess has not been explained. Governor Seymour, whose partisans constituted the rioters, and whose partisanship encouraged them, has been in New York talking namby-pamby. This Sir Forcible Feeble is himself chiefly responsible for the outrage.”

July 16– Thursday– Staunton, Virginia– W. H. Frenger writes to his cousin, Marguerite (Maggie) Williams, seeking news from home. “I will try my luck in writing to you this time, and I am almost certain that I will meet with success. I want to hear from my many friends in Frederick- how they are getting along- what they are doing, &c., I have written several letters to my Frederick friends since the Yanks left, but have not received even a line from them. not even sister Becky has thought it worth while to write. And I now hope you will do me the kind favor to answer this by return mail, and tell me how & what you are all doing, &c, I heard that Becky was married; but am still at a loss to know if it is true. Please excuse this short letter, as my candle is almost gone. We are all well, & hope this may find you the same. Give my love to Uncle James & Lizzie, your Ma, and all the rest. & reserve a good portion for yourself. I will try & give you a long letter if you will answer this.”

July 16– Thursday– Richmond, Virginia– The Richmond Dispatch reports that “Lt. Buford, otherwise Mrs. Alice Williams, the female ‘Lieutenant,’ who was in Castle Thunder for appearing in male apparel, goes South this morning to Atlanta, Georgia. It is hardly probable that this brave but eccentric woman will be kept out of the fights in Mississippi.”

Rose Greenhow & daughter

Rose Greenhow & daughter

July 16– Thursday– Charleston, South Carolina– Confederate agent Rose Greenhow writes to President Jefferson Davis about the current state of her affairs and why she is delaying her departure to Europe. “I arrived here yesterday (Wednesday) at noon after rather a fatiguing travel from Richmond, not stopping by the wayside long enough to wash my face. The only thing to mark the journey was the excitement and anxiety manifested by all classes to hear the news from Richmond, and especially from Lee’s army, and many a sigh of relief was uttered. When I spoke of his calm confident tone. I endeavored also to empress upon every one your conviction as to the necessity of reinforcing the army by the most rigorous means. Just as I left Richmond news of the fall of Fort Hudson had been received which was confirmed by the intelligence of the wayside. On reaching Wilmington the situation of Charleston became the engrossing subject of conversation and of interest, which was not diminished by the accounts received from time to time by passengers who got on the principle portion of whom were from Charleston or the vicinity. Doubt and anxiety as to the result was the general tone of the people, and occasionally severe animadversions upon the conduct of the military affairs, especially instancing the supineness, in the construction of the defenses. These I mention–nor [do] I attach importance to criticism of this nature but rather to show you the temper & spirit of the people.”

July 16– Thursday– Jackson, Mississippi– Concerned about the superior numbers of Federal troops, Confederate General Joe Johnston withdraws from the city without offering major battle and General Sherman’s Union troopers occupy the place.

July 16– Thursday– New Orleans, Louisiana– For the first time in more than two years a steamboat arrives from St Louis as the United States controls the Mississippi for its entire length, although occasional raids by rebel guerilla bands hamper fully free travel.


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