That They Should Prove Themselves~June 1864~1st to 3rd

That They Should Prove Themselves ~ Charlotte Forten Grimke

In a magazine article Charlotte Forten Grimke writes lovingly of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. Walt Whitman brings ice cream to wounded soldiers and tells his mother of his war-weariness. Gideon Welles evaluates the political scene. Any number of people comment about General Grant. Heavy fighting begins at Cold Harbor. In Atlanta, Georgia, citizens hear canon fire.

Boston memorial to the 54th Massachusetts

Boston memorial to the 54th Massachusetts

 June 1– Wednesday– Boston, Massachusetts– “Among the visitors present was the noble young Colonel Shaw, whose regiment was then stationed on the island. We had met him a few nights before, when he came to our house to witness one of the people’s shouts [prayer meetings].We looked upon him with the deepest interest. There was something in his face finer, more exquisite, than one often sees in a man’s face, yet it was full of courage and decision. The rare and singular charm of his manner drew all hearts to him. He was deeply interested in the singing and appearance of the people. A few days afterwards we saw his regiment on dress-parade, and admired its remarkably fine and manly appearance. After taking supper with the Colonel we sat outside the tent, while some of his men entertained us with excellent singing. Every moment we became more and more charmed with him. How full of life and hope and lofty aspirations he was that night! How eagerly he expressed his wish that they might soon be ordered to Charleston! ‘I do hope they will give us a chance,’ he said. It was the desire of his soul that his men should do themselves honor,– that they should prove themselves to an unbelieving world as brave soldiers as though their skins were white. And for himself, he was like the Chevalier of old, ‘without reproach or fear.’ After we had mounted our horses and rode away, we seemed still to feel the kind clasp of his hand,– to hear the pleasant, genial tones of his voice, as he bade us good-bye, and hoped that we might meet again. We never saw him afterward. In two short weeks came the terrible massacre at Fort Wagner, and the beautiful head of the young hero and martyr was laid low in the dust. Never shall we forget the heart-sickness with which we heard of his death. We could not realize it at first,– we, who had seen him so lately in all the strength and glory of his young manhood. For days we clung to a vain hope; then it fell away from us, and we knew that he was gone. We knew that he died gloriously, but still it seemed very hard. Our hearts bled for the mother whom he so loved,– for the young wife, left desolate. And then we said, as we say now,– ‘God comfort them! He only can.’ During a few of the sad days which followed the attack on Fort Wagner, I was in one of the hospitals of Beaufort, occupied with the wounded soldiers of the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts. The first morning was spent in mending the bullet-holes and rents in their clothing. What a story they told! Some of the jackets of the poor fellows were literally cut in pieces. It was pleasant to see the brave, cheerful spirit among them. Some of them were severely wounded, but they uttered no complaint; and in the letters which they dictated to their absent friends there was no word of regret, but the same cheerful tone throughout. They expressed an eager desire to get well, that they might ‘go at it again.’ Their attachment to their young colonel was beautiful to see. They felt his death deeply. One and all united in the warmest and most enthusiastic praise of him. He was, indeed, exactly the person to inspire the most loyal devotion in the hearts of his men. And with everything to live for, he had given up his life for them. Heaven’s best gifts had been showered upon him, but for them he had laid them all down. I think they truly appreciated the greatness of the sacrifice. May they ever prove worthy of such a leader! Already, they, and the regiments of freedmen here, as well, have shown that true manhood has no limitations of color.” ~ Part of Charlotte Forten Grimke’s article in this month’s issue of the Atlantic Monthly.

Charlotte Forten Grimke

Charlotte Forten Grimke

June 1– Wednesday– New York City– “Mrs Grant and a party of her friends came downtown the other day to see the Treasury Building . . . . The lady is a simple-mannered, plain, quiet woman. ‘Is the General anxious?’ ‘O no, not at all; the last afternoon he was in Washington, he spent a couple of hours on the floor, playing with the baby.’ ‘He is confident of success then?’ ‘Entirely so, of course; he knows it is his destiny to take Richmond.’” ~ Diary of George Templeton Strong. [Julia Dent Grant is 38 years old at the time. She married Ulysses Grant in the summer of 1848 and bore him four children, 3 sons and 1 daughter. The youngest, whom she refers to as “the baby”, is 6 year old Jesse.]

Julia Grant

Julia Grant

June 1– Wednesday– Washington, D.C.– “We have to-day the results of a meeting of strange odds and ends of parties, and factions, and disappointed and aspiring individuals at Cleveland. Fremont is nominated as their candidate for President and John Cochrane for Vice-President. The gathering had the nomination of Fremont in view, though other objects were professed. . . . This war is extraordinary in all its aspects and phases, and no man was prepared to meet them. It is much easier for the censorious and factious to complain than to do right. I have often thought that greater severity might well be exercised, and yet it would tend to barbarism. No traitor has been hung. I doubt if there will be, but an example should be made of some of the leaders, for present and for future good. They may, if taken, be imprisoned or driven into exile, but neither would be lasting. Parties would form for their relief, and ultimately succeed in restoring the worst of them to their homes and the privileges they originally enjoyed. Death is the proper penalty and atonement, and will be enduringly beneficent in its influence. There was, moreover, an aristocratic purpose in this Rebellion. An aristocracy of blood and wealth was to have been established. Consequently a contrary effect would work benignantly. Were a few of the leaders to be stripped of their possessions, and their property confiscated, their families impoverished, the result would be salutary in the future. But I apprehend there will be very gentle measures in closing up the Rebellion. The authors of the enormous evils that have been inflicted will go unpunished, or will be but slightly punished.” ~ Diary of Gideon Welles.

June 1– Wednesday– Cold Harbor, Virginia– “This morning our Corps started at an early hour and had a hard march to Cold Harbor where we arrived this afternoon. We were here in 1862 under McClellan, and some of the scenes are familiar.” ~ Diary of Elisha Hunt Rhodes.

June 1– Wednesday– Atlanta, Georgia– “A little nearer each day, and each day the cannons are heard more distinctly. Sherman flanks and fortifies, and Johnston falls back. Every day’s paper reiterates, ‘No cause for despondency. We know certain things which we could tell, but the time has not yet come. It will soon be seen that our General knows what he is about.’ There is sorrow and gloom everywhere around me. But a short distance from my house the militia are stationed. They are composed mostly of men past the conscript age, who had a right to expect exemption from camp life. Many of them, too, have opposed this war from the beginning and have passed through the fires of treason unscathed in soul. One man said he could and would escape across the lines, but he had reason to believe his two sons would be hung in revenge and his house be burned over his defenseless family. So he stands guard in the ditches, through storm and sunshine, with hundreds of men like him praying for deliverance.” ~ Diary of Cyrena Stone, a Union sympathizer.

June 1– Wednesday– Columbia, Arkansas; Marietta, Georgia; Pound Gap, Kentucky; New Market, Missouri; Kingston, Georgia– Skirmishes, raids and bloody affairs.

June 2– Thursday– Washington, D. C.– “There is intense anxiety in relation to the Army of the Potomac. Great confidence is felt in Grant, but the immense slaughter of our brave men chills and sickens us all. The hospitals are crowded with the thousands of mutilated and dying heroes who have poured out their blood for the Union cause. Lee has returned to the vicinity of Richmond, overpowered by numbers, beaten but hardly defeated.” ~ Diary of Gideon Welles.

June 2– Thursday– Richmond, Virginia– “Dr. J. J. Gravatt, the Surgeon in charge at Seabrook’s (Receiving) Hospital, in this city, has communicated his grateful acknowledgments to Mrs. Terry, Bruce, Garland, Stamps, Wilson, McGee, and other patriotic and kind-hearted ladies on Milton, North Carolina, for liberal donations of diet, wines, pickles, preserves, bandages, testaments, tracts, etc., assuring them that the said articles will be appropriately distributed among the wounded, who will be sustained and cheered in their sufferings by such manifestations of kindness on the part of the noble ladies of North Carolina.” ~ Richmond Whig.


June 2– Thursday– Cold Harbor, Virginia– “This afternoon we had a heavy rain storm that seemed to dampen the ardor of both Armies. We slept under fire of the enemy.” ~ Diary of Elisha Hunt Rhodes.

June 2– Thursday– London, England– Birth of Ben Webster, stage and screen actor who will star in movies from 1913 to 1943. [Dies February 26, 1947.]

June 3– Friday– Geneva, Ohio– Birth of Ransom Eli Olds, automotive pioneer. [Dies August 26, 1950.]

Ransom Eli Olds

Ransom Eli Olds

June 3– Friday– Washington, D.C.– “Mother, if this campaign was not in progress I should not stop here, as it is now beginning to tell a little upon me, so many bad wounds, many putrefied, & all kinds of dreadful ones, I have been rather too much with– but as it is I shall certainly remain here while the thing remains undecided– it is impossible for me to abstain from going to see & minister to certain cases, & that draws me into others, & so on. . . . O I must tell you I gave the boys in Carver hospital a great treat of ice cream a couple of days ago, went round myself through about 15 large wards, (I bought some ten gallons, very nice)– you would have cried & been amused too, many of the men had to be fed, several of them I saw cannot probably live, yet they quite enjoyed it, I gave everybody some– quite a number western country boys had never tasted ice cream before– they relish such things, oranges, lemons, &c. Mother, I feel a little blue this morning, as two young men I knew very well have just died, one died last night, & the other about half an hour before I went to the hospital, I did not anticipate the death of either of them, each was a very, very sad case, so young– well, mother, I see I have written you another gloomy sort of letter. I do not feel as first rate as usual. . . . I believe I am homesick, something new for me, then I have seen all the horrors of soldier’s life & not been kept up by its excitement– it is awful to see so much, & not be able to relieve it.” ~ Letter from Walt Whitman to his mother Louisa.

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