I Owe a Duty to My Country~December 1863~18th to 21st

I Owe a Duty to My Country~ Elisha Hunt Rhodes

President Lincoln attends a lecture about Russia, receives the visiting Russian naval officers and issues assurances that escaped slaves will not be returned to slavery. President Davis assures one of his generals about the size of the enemy army. General Grant is generating excitement in the North, particularly in Washington. The Sanitary Commission prospers. Soldiers write about camp life. In Europe a noble child is born. A little of over fifty years hence his murder will thrust the world into the worst war yet known.

December 18– Friday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln attends a lecture on Russia given by Bayard Taylor at Willard’s Hall. [Taylor, age 38, has achieved renown as an author, poet, translator, traveler, and journalist, having by this point in his life spent time in sixteen countries on four continents. He published his first volume of verse at age 19. From May, 1862 to September, 1863, he served as part of the American delegation to the Imperial Russian Court. He is fluent in several languages.]


Bayard Taylor

Bayard Taylor

December 18– Friday– Graz, Austria– Birth of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria. He is the eldest son of Archduke Karl Ludwig and Princess Maria Annunciata, and a nephew to Maximillian who is trying to establish an empire in Mexico. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 will help to precipitate the First Word War.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Archduke Franz Ferdinand

December 19– Saturday– New York City– “. . . the Sanitary Commission . . . . we used to talk of what we could do if we could only hope to secure fifty thousand dollars for our treasury. I have already received about nine hundred and twenty thousand dollars, and our branches at Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and other cities have doubtless received as much more.” ~ Diary of George Templeton Strong. [The $920,000 would be about $17,400,000 in today’s dollars, based upon the Consumer Price Index.]

December 19–Saturday– Washington, D.C.– President and Mrs Lincoln host a reception this afternoon at the White House for the visiting officers of the Russian navy. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles notes, “There was a reception to-day from one to three at the President’s. Went over for an hour. Several of the Cabinet, most of the foreign ministers, judges of the Supreme Court, and a gay assemblage of ladies . . . were present.”

Russian naval officers

Russian naval officers

December 19– Saturday– Orange Court House, Virginia– “I am most happy to have this opportunity to write you again. Christmas is near at hand & today finds me in the cold. We are building winter huts but I am afraid that I will not have a cabin to go in to at Christmas . . . working hard to get it done. I had hoped to spend this Christmas with you all but there is no such thing as that now. Adam will not get off either I wish he could get off but he and I will both get furloughs before the winter is over if they continue to give furloughs.” ~ Letter from Confederate soldier Silas Jones to his friend George Kersh.

December 19– Saturday– Richmond, Virginia– “The force of the enemy as estimated by scouts is generally exaggerated. I hope it has been so in this case & if it should be possible to restore confidence among our own people, I trust that desertions will cease and that recruits will flock to your standard. The evacuation of the valley of the Arkansas no doubt produced, as usual in such cases, desertions from the troops raised in that quarter. If the chances of war should enable you to reoccupy it those men would doubtless return to you. But the reoccupation has a higher importance than this– that is the only region where you can obtain the requisite supplies to support an army for the defense of Arkansas or for an advance into Missouri.” ~ Letter from President Jeff Davis to General Kirby Smith.

December 19– Saturday– Richmond, Virginia– “Allegheny College. An effort is being made to purchase the Blue Sulphur Springs property as the seat of this College, and further establishing a fund which shall be devoted to the education of the children of soldiers killed in the service, and of young men who have been disabled in our defense. An agent of the institution is visiting the cities and towns of Virginia to accomplish this praiseworthy object.” ~ Richmond Daily Dispatch. [Blue Sulphur Springs lies in West Virginia, a separation which Virginia did not yet recognize.]

December 19– Saturday– near Bean’s Station, Tennessee– “Having witnessed a good deal of the operations of what are known as partisan rangers, I have the honor to petition that all such organizations be abolished. They are usually, so far as my experience has gone, the most trifling troops we have. Acting alone, they accomplish nothing, and when serving with other troops they hang upon the rear to gather up property, and instead of turning it into the proper departments, spirit it away for speculation. Besides, it is evident injustice to the great mass of the army for a small part to be allowed pay for partial captures, while those who do the real work have no special reward. It will create great satisfaction to have all the troops put on the same footing.” ~ Request from Confederate General R Ransom to the War Department in Richmond.

December 19– Saturday– St Andrew’s Bay, Florida–Union forces destroy a number of businesses and about 300 homes in the town.

December 20– Sunday– Washington, D.C.– “I shall not attempt to retract or modify the emancipation proclamation; nor shall I return to slavery any person who is free by the terms of that proclamation, or by any of the acts of Congress.” ~ Response of President Lincoln to Henry C. Wright. [Wight, age 66, is a radical abolitionist, feminist, pacifist and anarchist who had voiced concern that to make peace or as part of the President’s offer of amnesty, that freed black people would be returned to slavery.]

December 20– Sunday– General Longstreet’s camp in eastern Tennessee– “Molly, I may fall one day but if I do I intend by the grace of God to fall in the discharge of my duty and with my face towards heaven and, if it must be so, God grant us a happy meeting there. I would to God I could meet you again on earth.” ~ Letter from Confederate soldier William R Stilwell to his wife Molly.

December 20– Sunday– Prospect, Tennessee– “During the day an incident occurred which shows how many things hard to bear occur during war time. The top of the hill where we are building the Fort has been used by the inhabitants as a Grave Yard, of the course of the ditch takes necessarily disturbs many of the Graves. Last August a year ago a man was buried there by the name of Allen, close to the right of our Sally Port, and where the Grave would be covered by the extreme left of the Breastwork. While waiting there yesterday morning his widow came to beg us to allow her to have her husband’s body removed, so that she could have it buried in some place where it would not likely be disturbed, for she could not bear the thought of a fight taking place over her husband’s grave. It seemed that when Allen died, she herself was sick and had not seen him either during illness or after death. The Colonel very kindly detailed 4 men to take the body up and then seized of my wagons to haul it off. I went with the Detail and helped rebury the poor fellow and shall [not] forget the gratitude of the poor woman. She said she did not think the Yankees could be so kind. She took down all the names of the Squad who helped her, that she might pray for them, and promised me she would pray for me and my wife and children. So if a rebel’s prayers are any account I suppose I shall gain something by it. But best of she got us a good dinner. We had Fried Sausage, Roast & Boiled Pork, Head cheese, Peach Pies and Sweet milk and an invitation to go and see her whenever we could get leave. As I commanded the squad of course I came in for a double share of thanks and invitations, but as she is 60 years old you need not get jealous.” ~ Letter from Union soldier George Cadman to his wife and family.

December 21– Monday– Boston, Massachusetts– “I have been to see about getting together a package of books for you, but the booksellers are so busy it will be several days before I can get them packed and sent. Let me hear from you. I write in haste with numb fingers– it is bitter cold here today.” ~ Letter from John T. Trowbridge to Walt Whitman.

December 21– Monday– Washington, D.C.– “Be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the thanks of Congress be, and they hereby are, presented to Major-General Ulysses S. Grant, and through him to the officers and soldiers who have fought under his command during this rebellion, for their gallantry and good conduct in the battles in which they have been engaged; and that the President of the United States be requested to cause a gold medal to be struck, with suitable emblems, devices, and inscriptions, to be presented to Major-General Grant.” ~ President Lincoln issues an executive order to put into effect the joint resolution which passed Congress on Thursday the 17th.

General Grant

General Grant

December 21– Monday– Camp Sedgwick, Virginia– “We are quiet in our winter quarters . . . . We drill when the weather will permit and sleep and smoke when it storms. We have received a number of recruits and about one hundred drafted men who look a little lonesome. . . . . The United States need the services of her sons. I am young and in good health and I feel that I owe a duty to my country. . . . . I like a soldier’s life and without egotism I think I can say that I am doing some service. . . . . so good bye homesickness. I am going, if God wills, to see the end of this wicked rebellion.” ~ Diary of Union officer Elisha Hunt Rhodes.

December 21– Monday– Richmond, Virginia– “Such is the scarcity of provisions, that rats and mice have mostly disappeared, and the cats can hardly be kept off the table.” ~ Diary of John Jones.

December 21– Monday– the Dismal Swamp, Virginia– A squad of black soldiers serving under Union General Edward Wild track a band of Confederate guerrilla fighters into the swamp and burn the Confederate encampment.


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