Another Solemn Epoch of Human Progress~August 1863~the 4th to the 7th

Another Solemn Epoch of Human Progress~Giuseppe Garibaldi

Garibaldi, the Italian revolutionary hero, praises President Lincoln. Lincoln himself encourages emancipation in Louisiana and defends the draft. The abolitionist editor Garrison encourages his eldest son, praises the soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts and denounces the rioters of New York City. Gideon Welles despises a British ship builder. New Yorker George Templeton Strong wants to assign Southern politicians to hot places in hell. The new state of West Virginia selects senators. (This is before the adoption of the 17th Amendment to the U S Constitution so senators are chosen by governors and state legislators, not direct election by the voters.) Theater audiences in Wheeling have a reputation.

August 4– Tuesday– New York City– George Templeton Strong expresses himself. “Only news is the death of that notable scoundrel, W L Yancey . . . . The gallows don’t always get its due in the this world, but the Devil commonly gets his in the next; and if men are to be judged by the quantity of mischief they have done . . . deliberate authors of Civil War deserve a hot corner of Tophet.” [William Yancey, from Alabama, one of the Southern politicians known as “Fire-Eaters”, an agitator for secession, a racist supporter of slavery and its unlimited expansion, had died at age 48 on July 27th. Many abolitionists shared Strong’s opinion. “Tophet” is a Hebrew word used to refer to a place of punishment, generally hell.]

August 4– Tuesday– Richmond, Virginia– John Jones expresses his hopes and concerns in the pages of his diary. “Our people are thirsting for another victory; and may expect too much. Confederate notes are now given for gold at the rate of $12 or $15 for $1. Flour is $40 per barrel; bacon, $1.75 per pound; coal, $25 per cart-load; and good wood, $30 per cord. Butter is selling at $3 per pound, etc. etc. Nevertheless, most men look for relief in the foreign complications the United States are falling into. England will not prohibit the selling of steamers to the Confederate States, and the United States say it shall not be done; and France has taken possession of Mexico, erecting it into an Empire, upon the throne of which will be seated some European ruler. We think recognition of our government is not far behind these events; when we shall have powerful navies to open the blockade. We are used to wounds and death; but can hardly bear starvation and nakedness.” [By this time Confederate currency is significantly declining in value. Comparing these prices in Yankee dollars, the $40 barrel of flour would equal about $750 today; the $25 worth of coal, about $472 current dollars.]

August 4– Tuesday– Richmond, Virginia– The Richmond Sentinel takes note of local changes made by the war. “The Hermitage Fair Grounds. Since the occupation of this place by the military, it has undergone quite a changed appearance. The fencing has been nearly all removed, and the desolating effects of war are visible on all sides. Let us hope that the day is not far distant when, in the enjoyment of the blessings of peace and independence, we may again witness the assembling of thousands of the beautiful daughters and sturdy farmers of Virginia, at this once attractive spot.”

August 4– Tuesday– Wheeling, West Virginia– The West Virginia Legislature selects Waitman Willey, age 51, of Morgantown, and Peter Van Winkle, age 54, of Parkersburg, as West Virginia’s first United States Senators.

Senator Peter Van Winkle

Senator Peter Van Winkle

August 5– Wednesday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln writes to General Banks in New Orleans about politics in Louisiana. “I would be glad for her [Louisiana] to make a new constitution, recognizing the emancipation proclamation, and adopting emancipation in those parts of the State to which the proclamation does not apply. And while she is at it, I think it would not be objectionable for her to adopt some practical system by which the two races could gradually live themselves out of their old relation to each other, and both come out better prepared for the new. Education for young blacks should be included in the plan. After all, the power or element of ‘contract’ may be sufficient for this probationary period, and by its simplicity and flexibility may be the better. As an antislavery man, I have a motive to desire emancipation which proslavery men do not have but even they have strong enough reason tothus place themselves again under the shield of the Union, and to thus perpetually hedge against the recurrence of the scenes through which we are now passing. . . . For my own part, I think I shall not, in any event, retract the emancipation proclamation: nor, as executive, ever return to slavery any person who is free by the terms of that proclamation, or by any of the acts of Congress.”

August 6– Thursday– Boston, Massachusetts– Abolitionist and pacifist William Lloyd Garrison writes to his eldest son, George Thompson Garrison who has joined the 55th Massachusetts Regiment. “I have nothing but praise to give you that you have been faithful to your highest convictions, and taking your life in your hands, are willing to lay it down, even like the brave Colonel Shaw and his associates, if need be, in the cause of freedom, and for the suppression of slavery and the rebellion. True, I could have wished you could ascend to what I believe a higher plane of moral heroism and a nobler method of self-sacrifice; but as you are true to yourself, I am glad of your fidelity, and proud of our willingness to run any risk in a cause that is undeniably just and good.”

August 6– Thursday– London, England– Birth of Francis Sydney Marvin, historian and educator.

August 6– Thursday– Caprera, Italy– The Italian revolutionary hero Garibaldi writes to President Lincoln. “In the midst of your titanic struggle, permit me, as another among the free children of Columbus, to send you a word of greeting and admiration for the great work you have begun. Posterity will call you the great emancipator, a more enviable title than any crown could be, and greater than any merely mundane treasure, You are a true heir of the teaching given us by Christ and by John Brown. If an entire race of human beings, subjugated into slavery by human egoism, has been restored to human dignity, to civilization and human love, this is by your doing and at the price of the most noble lives in America. It is America, the same country which taught liberty to our forefathers, which now opens another solemn epoch of human progress. And while your tremendous courage astonishes the world, we are sadly reminded how this old Europe, which also can boast a great cause of liberty to fight for, has not found the mind or heart to equal you.”


Garibaldi, c 1866

Garibaldi, c 1866

August 7– Friday– Boston, Massachusetts–In today’s issue of The Liberator, Garrison reprints President Lincoln’s order insuring that there should be “no distinction as to color in the treatment of prisoners of war as public enemies.” Garrison notes with satisfaction the provision for retaliation upon Confederate prisoners if any black soldiers are executed. About the attack upon Fort Wagner and the riots in New York, the paper says: “The 54th Massachusetts, by the admission of all who witnessed their heroic conduct at the storming of Fort Wagner, have added one more argument to sustain the policy of raising Negro regiments, and furnished one more practical contradiction to the slanders of the enemies of the policy. We trust, for the honor of human nature, that there is not a person in the loyal States, if we except the brutes, ruffians and assassins of New York mob, who can read the accounts of the assault, without feeling his prejudices insensibly giving away before such examples of fortitude and daring, and without being impressed anew with the unfathomable baseness of the miscreants in New York City, who wreaked every outrage on the defenseless brethren of such soldiers, and who, recreants themselves to their country’s call, were furious at the idea that men whose skins were black should presume to be patriots and heroes. The crimes perpetrated in New York against the Negro were palliated by some disloyal journals on the ground that they were a natural reaction against the attempt of the Administration to raise the blacks above their natural level. It was highly presumptuous in the Negro to wish to die for the nation, and therefore it was to be expected that whites should instantly proceed to burn black tenements and murder black citizens! We wonder if the white gentlemen of Five Points, Corlaers Hook and Mackerelville, even now consider the 54th Massachusetts as up to their level.”



 August 7– Friday– Washington, D.C.– Walt Whitman to Hugo Fritsch. “Well, Hugo, I am still as much as ever, indeed more, in the great military hospitals here. Every day or night I spend four, five, or six hours, among my sick, wounded, prostrate boys. It is fascinating, sad, & with varied fortune of course. Some of my boys get well, some die. After I finish this letter . . . I shall give the latter part of the afternoon & some hours of the night to Armory Square Hospital, a large establishment & one I find most calling on my sympathies & ministrations. I am welcomed by the surgeons as by the soldiers– very grateful to me. You must remember that these government hospitals are not filled as with human debris like the old established city hospitals, New York, &c., but mostly [with] these good-born American young men, appealing to me most profoundly, good stock, often mere boys, full of sweetness & heroism– often they seem very near to me, even as my own children or younger brothers.”


August 7– Friday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln responds to New York Governor Seymour’s request that the President suspend the draft. “I do not object to abide a decision of the United States Supreme Court, or of the judges thereof, on the constitutionality of the draft law. In fact, I should be willing to facilitate the obtaining of it. But I cannot consent to lose the time while it is being obtained. We are contending with an enemy who, as I understand, drives every able-bodied man he can reach into his ranks, very much as a butcher drives bullocks into the slaughter-pen. No time is wasted, no argument is used. This produces an army which will soon turn upon our now victorious soldiers already in the field, if they shall not be sustained by recruits as they should be. It produces an army with a rapidity not to be matched on our side if we first waste time to re-experiment with the volunteer system, already deemed by Congress, and palpably, in fact, so far exhausted as to be inadequate; and then more time to obtain a court decision as to whether a law is constitutional, which requires a part of those not now in the service to go to the aid of those who are already in it; and still more time to determine with absolute certainty that we get those who are to go in the precisely legal proportion to those who are not to go. My purpose is to be in my action just and constitutional, and yet practical, in performing the important duty with which I am charged, of maintaining the unity and the free principles of our common country.”

New York Governor Horation Seymour

New York Governor Horation Seymour

August 7– Friday– Washington, D.C.– Navy Secretary Gideon Welles describes the ship builder John Laird as “an unmitigated liar and hypocrite. Professing to be an antislavery man from principle and an earnest friend of the Union, he and his firm have for money been engaged in the service of the slaveholders to break up our Union.”

August 7– Friday– Wheeling, West Virginia– “With show folks of all sorts the people of Wheeling have the reputation of being the most boisterous and disorderly at public exhibitions, of any people in the country. Every exhibition, no matter of what character, is sure to be greeted by shouts and whistles and rude demonstrations of disorder. Since the theatre opened at Washington Hall the management has been terribly annoyed by a class of persons who appear to attend the performances on purpose to create a tumult and annoy the performers and the better portion of the audiences.”~Wheeling Intelligencer

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