Down Among the Worst of It~February, 1864~5th to 10th

Down Among the Worst of It ~Walt Whitman

Whitman gets up close and personal with the war’s devastation. A soldier’s wife takes her own life. Fire kills horses on the White House grounds. French forces continue activity in Mexico. The Italian revolutionary Garibaldi calls for liberty. A radical English abolitionist visits the United States.

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

February 5– Friday– New York City– “Coroner Wildey yesterday held an inquest on the body of Mrs Ann Wood, a young woman, aged about 27 years, and a native of Staten Island. The husband of deceased has been for some time connected with the Union army, first as a private in the Forty-seventh Regiment New-York Volunteers, but more recently as First-Lieutenant in the Third South Carolina regiment (colored.) He returned to this City a few days since, his term of enlistment having expired. A day or two ago he informed his wife that it was his intention to reenlist. This information so affected the spirits of his wife that she became very melancholy, and about 1 o’clock on Wednesday afternoon she went up to the sixth floor of the house in which she had resided . . . and threw herself from the sixth-story window to the pavement below. . . . . The only motive for the commission of the rash act, which any of the witnesses could assign, was the proposed reenlistment of her husband.” ~ New York Times.

February 5– Friday– Washington, D.C.– “I am going down in front, in the midst of the Army, to-morrow morning, to be gone for about a week so I thought I would write you a few lines now, to let you know. Mother, I suppose you got my letter written last Tuesday. I have not got any from home now for a number of days. I am well & hearty . . . . I am sorry to leave [the] sick & downhearted & lonesome, they think so much of a friend, & I get so attached to them too but I want to go down in camp once more very much & I think I shall be back in a week. I shall spend most of my time among the sick & wounded in the Camp hospitals– if I had means I should stop with them, poor boys, or go down among them periodically, dispensing what I had, as long as the war lasts, down among the worst of it (although what are collected here in hospital, seem to me about as severe and needy cases as any after all).” ~ Letter from Walt Whitman to his mother Louisa.

February 5– Friday– Old Columbus, Jackson County, Tennessee– Federal troops burn the town.

February 5– Friday– Paris, France– “We have got up to fever-heat at last on the subject of war. Two of the old nations of Europe are at war, and France has no hand in it. The thing, is monstrous. Even the Emperor, with his loud talk about neutrality and indifference, appears like a fish out of water. For the great dominant military power to remain idle under such circumstances is abnormal, and provokes the national demangeaison for military glory. . . . . At any rate you may be sure that while France is remaining neutral she is getting ready for-war. That is the program. And then when the occasion presents she too, will step into the ring, and poor Germany will wish she had never crossed the Eider, or any other stream, with a doubtful future. . . . . At last it is settled that Maximilian is to go to Mexico. The Moniteur, of this morning, announces the fact. The late successes in Mexico have made this final decision possible, by giving to the Prince the guarantee he always asked – the free vote of seven-tenths of the country in his favor. The Moniteur does not inform us how these votes were obtained: it only says that a second deputation is on its way from Mexico to the residence of the Prince to offer him their guarantee, and then the Moniteur adds an extract from a letter of the Prince to General Almonte, in which it is declared that the moment the guarantee referred to above arrives, he will start on the voyage to his new Empire. The Prince will, therefore, soon arrive at Paris, where he is to have a grand ball at the expense of the city. The entire army of occupation in Mexico will be left for some months in that country after the new Emperor’s arrival, in order to render security to the throne, and to give time for the organization of a local army, devoted to the new order of things and to organize, also, the administration of the country. Then the French troops will commence to retire, and will continue until they have all left the country.” ~ Dispatch a reporter is sending off to the New York Times.

Maximilian

Maximilian

February 6– Saturday– Nashville, Tennessee– “Some two weeks ago we gave a list of ladies who left town in charge of some officers, to go beyond the lines. To-day we have the pleasing duty of chronicling their safe arrival. When they reached the extreme outposts of the Federal army, a flag of truce was sent into the Confederate lines, giving notice of the presence of the ladies, and requesting that means of conveyance be sent them. An ambulance, accompanied by several Confederate soldiers, returned with the flag, and after a pleasant exchange of courtesies between the blue and grey coats, and a shower of thanks from the ladies upon the soldiers of the escort who had seen them safely into the hands of their friends, the party proceeded to Dixie.” ~ Nashville Dispatch.

February 7– Sunday– Jacksonville, Florida– Federal troops, spear-headed by three companies of the 54th Massachusetts, begin to land. On the double-quick the black soldiers chase away Confederate pickets and snipers.

February 8– Monday– New York City– “Events press: if the year 1863 has left behind it shameful traces of egotism and discords, the new is inaugurated by other promises. In the agitation of oppressed peoples; in the fears of despotism which feigns to bow to right; in the Titanic struggles of Poland, . . . in the embarrassment even of diplomacy; on every side, in fact, arise the presages of coming events. I am convinced that they will decide the safety of Italy, and will supply the occasion so long desired of realizing its wishes, if the liberal element is not content with invoking the morrow, In the inert expectation of something bettor, but is ready and united. Italian democracy, which includes in itself all the militant patriotism for the contested unity, ought to see that it is not sufficient to be numerous, young, confident, but it must above all be organized and disciplined. I have not found a better way of supplying this want than by choosing a phalanx of elite friends. And with them I have instituted a Central Unity Committee. The name defines the object. To receive pecuniary aid, to dispose men’s minds to the accord of sacrifice and duty, all this with the holy end of the national deliverance, and of fraternal assistance to the enslaved provinces on the longed-for day of battles, such is its mandate; it has no other. . . . . Consequently I invite . . . all the Italians who disdain to remain passive spectators of the great drama which decides their existence and their rights, to group around this one centre, to recognize its authority, and to regard as mine the instructions emanating from this committee, or from its delegates.” ~ Manifesto issued by Garibaldi from the Island of Caprera, Italy, in January and printed in today’s New York Times.

Garibaldi, c 1866

Garibaldi, c 1866

February 8– Monday– Culpepper, Virginia– “I ought to have written to you before, acknowledging the good package of books, duly received by express, & actively used since, changing them around in places where most needed among the soldiers– (I found a small hospital of U. S. teamsters, entirely without reading, I go there considerable, & have given them largely of your reading contribution). I am down here pretty well toward the extreme front of the Army, eight or ten miles south of headquarters, (Brandy Station) . . . . I talked with the men– how good, how cheerful, how full of manliness & good nature our American young men are. I staid last night at the house of a real secesh woman, Mrs. Ashby– her husband (dead) a near relation of the famous reb General Ashby– she gave me a good supper & bed. There was quite a squad of our officers there– she & her sister paid me the compliment of talking friendlily [sic] & nearly altogether exclusively with me– she was dressed in very faded clothes but her manners were fine, seems to be a traveled educated woman– quite melancholy– said she had remained through fearful troubles & changes here on account of her children– she is a handsome middle-aged woman– poor lady, how I pitied her, compelled to live as one may say on chance & charity, with her high spirit.” ~ Letter from Walt Whitman to John Townsend Trowbridge.

February 8– Monday– Ten Mile Run, Florida; Coldwater Ferry, Mississippi; Barboursville, Kentucky; Ringgold, Georgia; Senatobia, Mississippi; Maryville, Tennessee; Donaldson, Louisiana– Skirmishes and fire fights.

February 9– Tuesday– New York City– “George Thompson the famous English Abolitionist, whose oratorical displays against Slavery excited such commotion in our large cities thirty years ago, is about to revisit this country. He will undoubtedly be made the object of a good deal of glorification by the old-line Anti-Slavery men of the Garrisonian stamp. This is well enough for them, for he was once their fellow-laborer and fellow-sufferer. But is he entitled to any such welcome from our people generally? Do the Anti-Slavery Union men of the North owe him any special tribute of respect and honor for what he once here said and did? We don’t ask this with any reference to the fact that he is an Englishman. Allow, if need be, that he was no intruder here, that he had precisely the same right to deliver himself against American Slavery that any American had, our inquiry yet is, whether he is now entitled to American laudation? In other words, we give the question the broad scope whether the Garrisonians’ school, with which he was identified, deserve well of the Republic? We all rejoice in the downfall of Slavery; – are we indebted for it to them? We say emphatically, No! The work was not theirs. It was not theirs either in method or in result. It was not theirs either directly or indirectly, proximately or remotely as a condition or as a final cause. Precisely the contrary. Had their principles been adopted, and their plans acted upon, Slavery at this day would be stronger than ever, and more secure of an indefinite perpetuation. There is no refuting this fact.” ~ New York Times.

George Thompson

George Thompson

February 9– Tuesday– Washington, D.C.–Senator Charles Sumner introduces a petition, signed by over 65,000 women, requesting a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery.

February 9–Tuesday– Richmond, Virginia–A group of 109 Union officers led by Colonel Thomas Rose escape from Libby Prison on the banks of the James River. Subsequently, 59 of them reach Union lines.

February 9– Tuesday– Camden County, Georgia– “One feels that they are truly passing a wilderness life in Camden County and we are exiles indeed. A half barrel of syrup and small bucket of sugar holding 30 lbs came to Sybil yesterday for which she pays $174.00. We are glad to have something for a luxury when Julia comes. We have only flour enough for three or four meals. The pork is nearly gone too, we must kill the only passable hog we have before she comes. Potatoes are getting low. Until the vegetables come in from the garden, we see nothing in prospect but corn and rice. That will go very well with syrup. What if famine stalks throughout the land? It is impossible to submit to Lincoln rule– ‘They must fight while life lasts.’” ~ Diary of Julia Johnson Fisher.

February 9– Tuesday– Paris, France– “The speech of the Emperor to the Committee of the Corps Legislatif . . . has put a stop to all discussion in favor of liberal measures. His Majesty declared in effect in that speech that he was the Government, that to him belonged the initiative in the adoption of measures of the nature referred to, and that when the time came to adopt them he was to be the judge of their opportunity. . . . . Miss Adelina Patti continues to be the star of the operatic world at Paris. She is supported by Mario and Della-Sede, and the theatre is nightly filled, although all the seats in the lower part of the house have been put up to 14 and 15 francs each. Miss Carlotta Patti, who spent the month of January at Paris, and who only sang during that time in private, returns here in March to give a series of grand concerts. She sang at the houses of both Rossini and Meyeebeer at Paris.” ~ Dispatch by a correspondent of the New York Times.

February 10– Wednesday– Washington, D.C.– The stable at the White House catches fire and burns down, killing six horses and ponies. A newspaper account says, “[Mr.] Cooper, the President’s private coachman, left the stable to get his supper about 8 o’clock, and he was first notified of the fire by the President himself, who discovered the smoke . . . . One of these ponies was all the more highly prized, in consequence of having once been the property of Willie, the deceased son of Mr. and Mrs. President Lincoln.”

February 10– Wednesday– Brandy Station, Virginia– “Hurrah! We start for home today. . . . . We are to have thirty-five days leave of absence.” ~ Diary of Elisha Hunt Rhodes. [This furlough is a reward to Rhodes and other men of his regiment who have re-enlisted. Due to the intervention of Senator William Sprague, their leave will be extended to April 6th. Sprague, age 33, former governor of Rhode Island, is serving his first term as U S Senator from Rhode Island.]

Elisha Hunt Rhodes

Elisha Hunt Rhodes

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