Sunday, November 27, 2011

Like a Festering Wound

This entry is from a speech made by James Mitchell Ashley on November 26, 1861, The Rebellion : its causes and consequences : a speech delivered by Hon. J.M. Ashley at College Hall in the city of Toledo, Tuesday evening, November 26, 1861, as found at Cornell University's Samuel J. May Anti-Slavery Collection.

Ashley was  was a U.S. congressman, territorial governor and railroad president  He was an active abolitionist who traveled with John Brown's widow on the date of Brown's execution.  In this speech Ashely attempts to show that the "conflict" was festering for a good thirty years before coming to the surface.
. . . .I have shown that the election of Mr. Lincoln was not the cause of this rebellion, but only a pretext for it ; that for thirty years the traitors have been fomenting treason and have only been awaiting  a favorable opportunity to inaugurate it.  I have shown that but for the fatal folly and wicked indifference of the North this rebellion would never have come upon us.  That we have fed and fostered the viper which is now at our throats, every candid, reflecting Northern man must admit ; when it was an infant, or even when it was but half-grown, the nation might easily have destroyed it, but now by our own fault and guilt it has grown until it has become formidable and terrible. For years we nursed it most tenderly and gave it all the succor and food it demanded.  Now outraged justice demands either that we shall destroy it, or be ourselves destroyed by it.  There is a law of compensations, a law which is above all human enactments, irrepealable because Divine, which proclaims that "the nation or people who do not rule in righteousness shall perish from the earth," and I believe we are now passing through the trying ordeal which will either establish us as a nation of freemen, ruling in righteousness, or destroy us.
James Mitchell Ashley from Wikimedia Commons (form the Library of Congress Collection), a Mathew Brady Photo

Thursday, November 24, 2011


This entry is from Mary Chesnut's Civil War, edited by C. Vann Woodward. Mary Chesnut was married to James Chesnut, United States Senator from South Carolina, 1859-1861, and afterward an Aide to Jefferson Davis, and a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army.   The sentiments she describes in her diary entry for November 24 were probably shared by many.

November 24, 1861

Hymn at Church:

Save us Lord, or we perish
When through the torn sail the wild tempest is howling
When o'er the dark wave the dread lightning is gleaming*

I could have rested my head on that cushion and sobbed and shrieked like a new convert at a revival camp meeting.  But not an eyelash moved. So much for civilized self-control.

*Lines slightly misquoted from a hymn by Reginald Heber appearing in Hymns Written and Adapted to the Weekly Service of the Year (1827)
Mary Chesnut

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I Survived The Wildcat Stampede

This entry comes from The Rebellion Record:  A Diary of American Events edited by Frank Moore, Third Volume, 1862.

Details are given by an unnamed correspondent in Kentucky of an event dubbed by the Confederates as the Wildcat Stampede.  It was a rushed and forced march by Union forces.   The retreat was ordered by General Sherman, and the logistics executed by Generals Carter and Schoepf, when Sherman erroneously became convinced that certain Union forces would be cut off by the Confederates.  One account of this situation can be found at The Civil War Daily Gazette blog.  

November 14, 1861 was an epic day for the marchers:
A heavy storm of rain roused the bivouackers from sleep. Their blankets and clothing were saturated with water. The morning was most dismal. Wildcat Heights, crowned with a heavy coronal of mist, frowned in dreary and discouraging altitude before us. The roads were already worked into a tough muck, the pathway on the edges where the troops walked, were slimy and slippery. Beyond was Rockcastle River, swift and reported unfordable. But the word was en avant. The lads partook of their cold rations and hot coffee, and took up the toilsome march. Every step was laborious to the sturdy, agonizing to the feeble. Knapsacks almost too heavy under fairest auspices, were now doubly burthensome, and the pack-horse load was increased by the aggravating weight of water which soaked blankets and heavy army overcoats, and the nasty slime which splashed and plastered each man's breeches as high as his knees in front and rear, and filled his shoes until they overflowed with slush.

During the first mile we passed one baggage wagon, capsized in a creek. Its load of commissary stores and baggage was lost. The desolate teamster and jaded horses, bedaubed with mud, gazed at it dismally and hopelessly as we moved forward. Farther up the hill a half-dozen wagons were stuck, and the poor animals could not move them. A few hundred yards further, barrels of bread were tossed out of wagons and left to destruction in the forests. A stranger to the facts, passing now, would have said, Here is a terrified army fleeing from a pursuing enemy.

Going up the mountain, we pass Tennesseeans; some are still pushing on desperately. Yonder is one prone on a bed of wet forest leaves; his head is bolstered on a rotten stump. Exhaustion is graphically pictured on his livid complexion and in his silent form. He is unconscious while he sleeps the sleep of distress, that the driving rain is beating mercilessly upon him. My comrade startles me—"Is he dead?" Oh, no; he's only an exhausted soldier! Ho wears no shoulder straps, with a silver star on each. But it is yet early in the day; surely it is not time for soldiers to yield to fatigue. They have marched only one night, and have slept the whole of one or two hours on the damp, frosted soil.

At last the ascent is accomplished by a few. We look back with a sigh of relief, and turn away again with emotions of regret and disgust at the sorrowful and weary file of men, still toiling through the mire, and gazing wistfully to the top.  But here is a picture.  On the top of a rock on the crest of the hill, there sits a Toledo lad, writing a letter.  He protects the precious page from the rain with his hat, and the big drops patter on his bare head. He looks careworn and wayworn; but his eye is bright, his hand steady. From head to foot, he is incased in a thick plastering of clay, and moisture drips from his sleeves. He replies to my comrade, "No, colonel, I've not given out; I'm a little tired though. I'll make it, colonel; I'll never give up."

Why in the name of humanity does not the commander send back messengers to halt this column? Is there imminent danger ahead? Cannot these failing men be halted a day for rest? At least let messengers be despatched from head-quarters to inspire them to march, march, to resist the foe. Any thing to renew their spirit. But look at these wagon loads of sick soldiers. See them shivering in saturated blankets, seated in pools of water which drip from their clothing as it pours from the clouds. Hear their unceasing, discordant, and harrowing chorus of coughing. Here are candidates for the grave. But the order is stern—" Bring all your sick." "Oh," said one of the surgeons to me, "that was the cruelest order officer ever gave. I protested in vain. I urged that it would kill my patients. But come they must. I shall lose perhaps thirty or forty of my regiment, and it will plant consumption in the lungs of two hundred more.. . . ."
Brigadier General Albin F. Schoepf, one of the officers commanding the "Wildcat Stampede" from Wikipedia

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ladies' Curiosity Gratified

This entry comes from the Memphis Daily Appeal, November 14, 1861.

Ladies Curiosity Gratified.
            The war correspondent of the Charleston Courier tells the following good one:
            Frequently the ladies are in the habit of visiting the prisoners, but oftener from curiosity than sympathy.  Another incident is told of an encounter between several of them and an Irishman:

            It had become a matter of habit with the fair ones to open conversation with the very natural inquiry, "Where are you wounded?" and accordingly when a party of three or four the other day approached our cell, they launched out in the usual way.  Paddy made believe that he didn't hear distinctly and replied, "Pretty well, I thank yez."  "Where were you wounded?" again fired away one of the ladies.  "Faith, I'm not badly hurt at all.  I'll be thravelling to Richmond in a wake," replied Pat, with a peculiarly distressing look, as if he was in a tight place.  Thinking that he was deaf, one of the old ladies in the background put her mouth down to his ear and shouted again, "We want to know where you are hurt."
            Pat evidently finding that if the bombardment continued much longer he would have to strike his flag anyhow, concluded to do so at once, and accordingly, with a face as rosy as a boiled lobster, and with an angry kind of energy, he replied:  "Sure, leddies, it's not deaf that I am, but since ye are determined to know where I've been wounded, its in my sate.  The bullet entered behind of my breeches.  Please to excuse my feelings and ax me no more questions."

          I leave it to you to imagine the blushing consternation of the inquisitors and sudden locomotion of the crinoline out of the front door.

Seated soldier wearing four button sack with kepi, patriotic matte, from Library of Congress Collection

Friday, November 11, 2011

How I Was Almost Captured by the Confederates

Today's entry is from The Life-Story and Personal Reminiscences of Col John Sobieski, written by himself.

Sobieski was a Polish native descended from royalty who was banished from his own country, and so came to America.  He entered the American army in the 1850's, and fought on the Union side during the Civil war.  In this excerpt he writes about an experience he had shortly after the Battle of Antietam.

I was very nearly captured while we were near New Baltimore, after the battle of Antietam. I took charge of some teams one day, to go out and get some forage. Our orders were very strict not to enter into any private house, and if any of my men did so, or attempted in any way to molest the inhabitants, to report them on return to the camp. After getting some distance out into the country, and being some little distance in the rear of my teams, I noticed that they had halted in front of a farm-house. I put the spur to my horse, and as I approached the house heard the cackling of hens and the gobbling of turkeys, and knew some fowl (foul) proceedings were going on at the front. I rode up to the house just in time to meet the men on the way out to their wagons, with their hands full of fowls. I halted them and ordered them to drop their plunder, and threatened to report them on returning to camp. A very handsome lady, apparently about thirty-five, who was standing on the porch of the house, thanked me for my protection, and calling me captain, asked me how soon it would be before I would return. I told her in a couple of hours. She said if I would call, she would show her appreciation of my services by having a good dinner for me.

On my return she met me at the door, and a darky received my horse and led it away.

As I was entering the hall, she said: "Captain, you can lay your belts upon this table, and I'll promise you that they shall not be interfered with."

I hesitated for a moment, questioning in my mind the wisdom of the act; but I took them off and threw them on the table. She led the way into the parlor, where she introduced me to an exceedingly handsome young lady, who was her sister.

She said, "Sister, this is the young captain who protected our house this morning."

The young lady bowed and smiled. I was at that time twenty years of age, a very susceptible time in one's life, so the smile was more than I could stand, and I was gone in a minute.

She said, "Yes, sister told me about the event of this morning, and that shows that all the chivalry is not on our side."

The lady of the house said: "Now, I will hurry up my servants with the dinner, and my sister will entertain you;" which she did charmingly.

Soon dinner was announced, and when I entered the dining room, I saw there were several extra plates. I was assigned to a place at the table, and while waiting for the ladies to be seated, a door opened to my right, and in walked two Confederate officers, a captain and a major. They were introduced to me as Captain and Major Grayson. They extended their hands, and I shook hands with them and said I was glad to meet them. I reckon I never told a bigger lie.

The lady of the house said: "Now, I will put the major on the right of our friend, and the captain on the left. There, you don't know how nice you warriors look."

I thought I might look nice, but I didn't feel that way. It was some minutes before I dared look in the face of my hostess. I cannot describe my feelings in those minutes, though I tried to conceal them. I thought, after I had protected her house, she had laid a trap to take me prisoner. I was afraid, if I looked at her, I would say something that wasn't nice; so I waited until my emotions were conquered, and everything went as pleasantly as though we were old friends.

After dinner we went into the parlor. All around the parlor walls there were pictures of distinguished Virginians: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Tyler, Marshall, Zachary Taylor, and others. I thought all this time that I was a prisoner, though not the slightest reference had been made to the subject, or to my peculiar position. As we walked around the room we talked about the great men whose pictures we looked upon, and they complimented me that one so young as I was, and a foreigner, too, should be so well acquainted with the lives of these great men. Soon the ladies came in and we got to talking about my native country. As I told them of the struggle of our country for liberty and the part my family had taken in the struggle, and as I described the Russian prison, the death of my father, the banishment of my mother and myself, I saw the tears standing in the eyes of the two fair Virginians.

I now told my hostess that I must go. They all begged of me to remain longer, as they had enjoyed my visit so well; but I assured them that I must go. I thought they were going to say that they would keep me anyway; but soon my horse was announced, and we proceeded out into the hallway, followed by the ladies. The gentlemen assisted me in adjusting my belts, and when we arrived at the porch the little darky stood ready with my horse. When the bridle was placed in my hands, I turned around and confronted them for the first time. Up to this time not a single word had been said in regard to our peculiar relations.

As I extended my hand, both of the gentlemen stepped forward to receive it. The major said he was glad to have met me, and hoped to meet me again under more favorable circumstances. And the captain said, ''And above all, we hope you may go through the rest of the war unscathed."

I thanked them for their kind wishes, tipped my hat to the ladies, mounted my horse, and was gone. My relief was great when I found that I was a free man.

Still, I have often since pondered upon my strange adventure that afternoon. I have rather concluded that the major was the lady's husband, that the captain was his brother, of course, and that they had come there that day after we had left, and the lady had told them of the events of the morning, and, under the circumstances, they could not avail themselves of their opportunity for my capture. I wonder if they did go through the rest of the storm of war unscathed! I hope they did; and I have often hoped since then, that if they did come through alive, that I might meet one or both and have a talk with them over the events of that afternoon. I have given up that hope now, but trust in the great Beyond we shall meet and have a talk and laugh over the peculiar dinner on that November day, when we met together, and, forgetting the bitter passions of war, passed the hour so pleasantly.
John Sobieski, a photograph from his autobiography

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Slave Trader Sentenced to Hang

This entry is what the Judge Shipman said when he passed sentence on Nathanial Gordon on November 9th, 1861.  

Nathaniel Gordon was the only American slave trader to be tried, convicted and executed "for being engaged in the Slave Trade" in accordance with the Piracy Law of 1820. He loaded 897 slaves aboard his ship Erie in West Africa on August 7, 1860, "of whom only 172 were men and 162 grown women. Gordon was known for preferring to carry children because they were easier to control  The Erie was captured 50 miles from port on August 8, 1860. After one hung jury and a new trial, Gordon was finally convicted on November 9, 1861 and sentenced to death by hanging.  

Here is what the judge, said:

Let me implore you to seek the spiritual guidance of the ministers of religion; and let your repentance be as humble and thorough as your crime was great. Do not attempt to hide its enormity from yourself; think of the cruelty and wickedness of seizing nearly a thousand fellow beings, who never did you harm, and thrusting them beneath the decks of a small ship, beneath a burning tropical sun, to die in of disease or suffocation, or be transported to distant lands, and be consigned, they and their posterity, to a fate far more cruel than death.
Think of the sufferings of the unhappy beings whom you crowded on the Erie; of their helpless agony and terror as you took them from their native land; and especially of their miseries on the ---- ----- place of your capture to Monrovia! Remember that you showed mercy to none, carrying off as you did not only those of your own sex, but women and helpless children.
Do not flatter yourself that because they belonged to a different race from yourself, your guilt is therefore lessened – rather fear that it is increased. In the just and generous heart, the humble and the weak inspire compassion, and call for pity and forbearance. As you are soon to pass into the presence of that God of the black man as well as the white man, who is no respecter of persons, do not indulge for a moment the thought that he hears with indifference the cry of the humblest of his children. Do not imagine that because others shared in the guilt of this enterprise, yours, is thereby diminished; but remember the awful admonition of your Bible, “Though hand joined in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished." 
—Worcester Aegis and Transcript; December 7, 1861; pg. 1, col. 6.

Description of a slave ship," by an anonymous artist, wood engraving. The woodcut was first produced in 1786 to illustrate various works by Thomas Clarkson, and was then distributed separately by abolitionists. from the British Museum, London, this image is from Wikimedia

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pick Me! Pick Me!

This entry comes from The War Within the Union High Command: Politics and Generalship During the Civil War, by Thomas J. Goss.  It concerns Benjamin Butler, a prominent Massachusetts politician turned General, who has a reputation of being an ineffectual Civil War leader.  But apparently it wasn't for lack of ambition.
In his diary on November 8, 1861, Lincoln aid John Hay recorded a letter from Benjamin Butler to the President.

Gen’l Wool has resigned. Gen’l Fremont must. Gen’l Scott has retired.
I have an ambition, and I trust a laudable one, to be Major-General of the United States Army.
Has anybody done more to deserve it? No one will do more. May I rely upon you, as you may have confidence in me, to take this matter into consideration?
I will not disgrace the position. I may fail in its duties.
P.S. I have made the same suggestion to other of my friends.

General Benjamin Butler from Library of Congress via Wikimedia

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Lady as Loyal as Steel

This entry comes from My Diary North and South by William Howard Russell.
Russell was an Irish reporter with The Times and is considered to have been one of the first modern war correspondents. Here he comments on Mary Todd Lincoln.

November 3rd. [1861] —For some reason or another, a certain set of papers have lately taken to flatter Mrs. Lincoln in the most noisome manner, whilst others deal in dark insinuations against her loyalty, Union principles, and honesty. The poor lady is loyal as steel to her family and to Lincoln the first; but she is accessible to the influence of flattery, and has permitted her society to be infested by men who would not be received in any respectable private house in New York.

Mary Todd Lincoln, from the Library of Congress Collection

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Socks for Soldiers

This entry comes from My Story of the War by Mary Aston Rice Livermore. Livermore was a journalist, and an advocate for woman's rights.  During the war she was involved with the United States Sanitary Commission, organized many aid societies and visited army posts and hospitals.

Various aid societies in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana would send boxes of supplies  they made to the Sanitary Commission for use in hospitals.  Many came with notes.  Here are a few that came with socks.

 Dear Soldier, —If these socks had language they would tell you that many a kind wish for you has been knit into them, and many a tear of pity for you has bedewed them. We all think of you, and want to do everything we can for you; for we feel that we owe you unlimited love and gratitude, and that you deserve the very best at our hands.

Here is another, of a different character: — My Dear Boy, — I have knit these socks expressly for you. How do you like them ? How do you look, and where do you live when you are at home? I am nineteen years old, of medium height, of slight build, with blue eyes, fair complexion, light hair, and a good deal of it. Write and tell me all about yourself, and how you get on in the hospitals. Direct to . P. S. If the recipient of these socks has a wife, will he please exchange socks with some poor fellow not so fortunate?

And here is yet another: — My Brave Friend — I have learned to knit on purpose to knit socks for the soldiers. This is my fourth pair. My name is ______ and I live in ______. Write to me, and tell me how you like the foot-gear and what we can do for you. Keep up good courage, and by and by you will come home to us. Won't that be a grand time, though? And won't we all turn out to meet you, with flowers and music, and cheers and embraces?  There's a good time coming, boys!
Mar Rice Livermore (from Wikipedia)