A Better State of Things~October 1863~the 8th to the 12th

A Better State of Things~Gideon Welles

British and American officials make nice with each other, perhaps signaling improved international relations. Hard fighting continues in Tennessee and in Virginia. George Templeton Strong dines with the Secretary of State. Walt Whitman describes the patients in the hospitals. And the world continues to turn with the births of those who will help to shape the next century.

Winfield House in London--residence of the American Ambassador since 1936

Winfield House in London–residence of the American Ambassador since 1936

October 8– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– “Dear comrade, I still live here as a hospital missionary after my own style, & on my own hook. I go every day or night without fail to some of the great government hospitals. O the sad scenes I witness, scenes of death, anguish, the fevers, amputations, friendlessness, of hungering & thirsting young hearts, for some loving presence, such noble young men as some of these wounded are, such endurance, such native decorum, such candor. I will confess to you, dear Hugo, that in some respects I find myself in my element amid these scenes and shall I not say to you that I find I supply often to some of these dear suffering boys in my presence & magnetism that which nor doctors nor medicines nor skill nor any routine assistance can give?” ~ Letter from Walt Whitman to Hugo Fritsch.

October 8– Thursday– Fairfax, Virginia– “I believe with Lord Bacon, who was a very wise old fellow, that whatever be your income, it is only just to yourself, your wife, and your fellow-men, to lay aside a large fraction for wet days, and a large fraction for charity; I have never acted up to my theory, but I mean to begin now– I don’t mean to worry about money, and I don’t mean to have you worry ; ergo you must expect to see me keep an account-book, and occasionally pull it out and warn you how much water we are drawing, and how much there is under our keel. Mother ends by saying that she has put a thousand dollars in the bank to be something to fall back upon during the first year, but I think we ought to get along without needing that, my pay is $2400 a year, not including horses, one servant, and fuel and quarters ‘commuted’ when on duty in a city, of course these latter are supplied in the field. I know what officers of my regiment have done easily on a captain’s pay, and I know what I used to do when I kept house in Burlington, and I know we can live suitably and worthily on that, and be very happy and see friends as we want to see them, only we must start right.” ~ Letter from Charles Russell Lowell to his fiancee, Effie Shaw. [His salary of $2400 would equal $45,300 in current dollars.]

October 9– Friday– Boston, Massachusetts– “Another female bread riot occurred in Mobile, September 4th. The 17th Alabama regiment was ordered to put down the disturbance, but refused to do duty. The Mobile Cadets tried their hand, and were defeated and forced to fly by the women. Peaceful measures finally quieted the famine-stricken wretches. The rioters proclaimed openly their determination, if some means were not rapidly devised to relieve their suffering or stop the war, to burn the whole city.” ~ The Liberator provides an exaggerated account of the bread riot.

October 9– Friday– Washington, D.C.– “We [directors of the Sanitary Commission] gave a grand dinner to [Secretary of State William] Seward Friday night at Willard’s [Hotel]. Sat next to the Secretary and am satisfied there is more of him than I supposed. He is either deep or very clever in simulating depth, and discoursed of public affairs in a statesmanlike way, I thought.” ~ George Templeton Strong, in the capital on Sanitary Commission business, describes the evening in his diary.


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

October 9– Friday– Bristow Station, Virginia– “All of the officers have built quarters, and it looks now as if we were to stay here during the winter and guard the railroad. I hope so, for this is the first easy duty we have ever had, and we need rest. There is some talk of sending the 2nd Rhode Island home for the winter. . . . [regarding re-enlistment] I want to remain and see the end of the war. We had a very good meeting last night, and much interest was shown.” ~ Elisha Hunt Rhodes in his diary.

October 9– Friday– den Helder, the Netherlands– Birth of Edward William Bok, author, editor, conservationist, philanthropist and peace advocate. The second of the two sons of Sieke Gertrude van Herwerden Bok and William Hidde Bok, he will emigrate with the family to the United States in 1870. [In addition to writing numerous books and articles, giving generously to the arts and education, creating the American Peace Award in 1923 and supporting the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, Bok will serve as editor of Ladies Home Journal for 30 years, making it the premier magazine for women for over two decades and, in 1907, the first American magazine to have one million subscribers. At his death in 1930 he will leave a total of $2,000,000 to various charities.]

Edward Bok

Edward Bok

October 10– Saturday– Cambridge, Massachusetts– Birth of Alanson Bigelow Houghton, the second of five children and first son of Ellen Ann Bigelow Houghton and Amory Houghton. He will develop Corning Glass, his father’s company, into national prominence, be elected to two terms in the U S House of Representatives and serve as American ambassador to Germany and later to Great Britain.

Alanson B Houghton

Alanson B Houghton

October 10– Saturday– New York City– Representatives of the City of Baltimore, Maryland, call upon the Russian admiral and extend an official invitation for the Russian fleet to visit their city.

October 10– Saturday– Philadelphia, Pennsylvania– Birth of Helen Dunbar, stage and film actress.


Helen Dunbar

Helen Dunbar

October 10– Saturday– Washington, D.C.– At the White House, President Lincoln receives the British Minister Lord Lyons, Admiral Alexander Milne, and two other officers of British navy, escorted by Secretary of State Seward.

 October 10– Saturday– Washington, D.C.– “Dining at Lord Lyons’s this evening. Admiral Milne, who sat next me, stated that he is the first British admiral who has visited New York since the government was established, certainly the first in forty years. He said that it had been the policy of his government to avoid such visitations, chiefly from apprehensions in regard to their crews, their language and general appearance being the same as ours. There were doubtless other reasons which neither of us cared to introduce. He was exceedingly attentive and pleasant. Said he had tried to preserve harmony and good feeling, and to prevent, as far as possible, irritation and vexatious questions between us. Complimented the energy we had displayed, the forbearance exercised, the comparatively few vexatious and conflicting questions which had arisen under the extraordinary condition of affairs, the management of the extensive blockade, and the general administration of our naval matters, which he had admired and in his way sustained without making himself a party in our conflict. There were some twenty or twenty-five guests, including the Prussian, Spanish, and Brazilian Ministers, the Secretary of State, the Attorney-General, and myself of the Cabinet. The whole was well-timed and judiciously got up for the occasion, and with a purpose. It is, I think, the harbinger of a better state of things, or rather of a change of policy by the English government.” ~ Diary of Gideon Welles. [Sir Alexander Milne, age 57, a career officer, has been Commander-in-Chief of the North America and West Indies Station of Her Majesty’s Navy since January, 1860. He has been particularly conscientious in having ships under his command watch for vessels engaged in the slave trade. At time of this dinner he has just brought his flagship, the HMS Nile, from New York City to the Washington area.]


Admiral Sir Alexander Milne

Admiral Sir Alexander Milne

October 10– Saturday– Blue Springs, Tennessee– Federal forces defeat a Confederate column which is attempting to disrupt Union lines of supply and communication. Union casualties total 100, Confederate losses 216.

October 11– Sunday– In Virginia at Brandy Station, Culpeper Courthouse, Griffinsburg, Kelly’s Ford, Morton’s Ford, Stevensburg, and Warrenton– Heavy skirmishing, intense fire fights, cavalry clashes and sniping as Union forces try to curtail General Lee’s new thrust northward.

October 11– Sunday– Bristow Station, Virginia– “Still on guard duty. The enemy does not molest us. Only pretty girls with pies for sale invade our camp.” ~ Diary of Union officer Elisha Hunt Rhodes.

October 11– Sunday– Memphis, Tennessee– “Last night about eleven o’clock, a fire broke out in a block of wooden buildings on the south side of Beal street, entirely consuming nine of them, together with much of their content. The fire was undoubtedly the work of an incendiary, and we hear of parties who think they can identify him. If so, the matter should be investigated.” ~ Memphis Bulletin.

October 11– Sunday– near Chattanooga , Tennessee– “My Dear we are hear [sic] in line of Battle at the time expecting a battle every day an the cannons is firing every day an the bomb shells is passing an bursting about every day they have bin [sic] at it this morning but they do but little damage as yet. I hope we will never have this battle to fight for if we do we will lose several thousand good men.” ~ Letter from Confederate soldier Richard Brooks to his wife Telitha in Georgia.

October 11– Sunday– Tavistock, England– Birth of Mary Ellen Spear Smith, politician. She will move to Canada with her husband and sons in 1892 and become the first woman member of British Columbia’s Legislative Assembly as well as the first woman Cabinet minister in the British Empire. As an independent, she will win a Vancouver by-election in 1918, called after the death of her husband Ralph Smith and will later be re-elected as a Liberal in 1920 and again in 1924. She will serve as minister without portfolio from March to November 1921. In her career she will serve as a powerful advocate of British Columbia’s first Mothers’ Pensions Act and Female Minimum Wage Act.


Mary Ellen Smith

Mary Ellen Smith

October 12– Monday– Washington, D.C.– “At Seward’s yesterday with Lord Lyons and Admiral Milne to dine. Miss Cushman, the actress, who is visiting at Seward’s, was present. I took her to dinner. The city is full of rumors of fighting, and of Meade’s falling back. Much is probably trash for the Pennsylvania and Ohio elections, which take place to-morrow. Still I am prepared for almost any news but good news from the front. Cannot expect very good news from Meade’s command. He would obey orders and faithfully carry out the plans of a superior mind, but there is no one here more capable than himself, to plan, to advise, to consult. It will not surprise me if he is outgeneraled by Lee.” ~ Diary of Gideon Welles.

October 12– Monday– McMinnville, Tennessee– “We are now sure that a great victory was gained by our troops at Chickamauga, that Rosecrans was worsted and Burnside defeated. Report states now that Rosecrans is at Chattanooga occupying the late rebel fortification there, and that he is surrounded. Longstreet, being on this side [of] the Tenn. river with a large force. Forrest is also said to be on this side [of] the river, and Wheeler to have gone on from McMinnville to Shelbyville, which he captured, destroying all stores etc. just as he did at McM. The mountain people who have been robbing so much here all summer, are very much frightened I am told, for fear of the retribution which is to come if the ‘sesh’ get it again, and many of them are moving off. It will be a good riddance to any place when such a population leaves, certainly; but I fear they are not half frightened enough. Their doings have been so outrageous that I would wish them to be ‘scared out [of] their seven senses,’ if they have the usual number, which I think doubtful. Yesterday Darlin’ and I rode out a little way on the Altamont road in the buggy, but I was uneasy the whole time consequently our ride was brief. I do not like to leave the house for any length of time—there is no telling what may happen before your return. We are environed by dangers on every side and live as it were on the brink of a precipice. Robberies take place every day or two, and we know not when our turn may come. Lawless men roam at large, all about, belonging to neither, or both armies, but whose only object is rapine and plunder. I see the Abolition Nashville Union exalts in the fact that Warren county has been desolated, nothing left the rebels there but their land and houses—some of the latter gone too. Well, so it is—but God I trust will care for us and help us, if we try to help ourselves.” ~ Journal of Lucy Virginia French.



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