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150 Years Ago: Tuesday, April 16, 1861

While the Northern states quickly responded to President Lincoln’s proclamation by immediately placing calls for troops & organizing meeting places, for a few states this was the push that shoved them over the edge. Governor John Letcher of Virginia wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of War Cameron that he would not furnish any regiments to Washington D.C. as he felt it was nothing more than subjugation and was also unconstitutional. Behind the scenes a group of Virginia delegates met in secrecy to discussion secession.

Robert E. Lee was asked by Francis P. Blair Sr. to meet on April 18 in Washington City. Blair Sr., the founder of the Republican Party in 1856 and part of an influential family who resided in the border states, had been asked by Lincoln to meet with Lee on his behalf to ask him a very important question.

In Galena, Illinois, Ulysses S. Grant and the rest of the residents just learned of Fort Sumter. A town meeting was called, to be held on April 18. Ulysses, a graduate of West Point & former solider in the U.S. military who now worked in his father’s store, was asked to preside over the meeting.

Catherine Ann Devereux Edmondston, a 38-year-old in Halifax County, North Carolina, was a plantation mistress and avid diarist. At the time, she & her husband Patrick owned almost 2,000 acres of land and 88 slaves. Some of her closest relatives, including her father, supported the Union that she so loathed. Today she writes:

“All of no avail. The dam gave way about daylight this morning. We lost all the work; the Low grounds are just ploughed & planted with corn, besides fencing & ditching. But outside matters occupy us so that tho’ it is a heavy blow in both money & work & entails strict economy on us for the rest of the year, we do not regard it as ordinarily we should. Public affairs absorb all our interest; the desire to know what next Mr. Lincoln will do!”

In Richmond, Virginia, a former slave named Mary Elizabeth Bowser married W. Bowser, a free black man. They married at a church, which was high unusual because church parishioners were primarily white. They settled just outside of Richmond where Mary would work for the Van Lew family, her former slave owners. This decision would soon place her in a very unique position as a very important spy for the Union.

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