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150 Years Ago: Tuesday, April 23, 1861

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Members of the Virginia Assembly meet to approve two very important items: Robert E. Lee’s appointment to command the Virginia army, and the temporary union with the Confederacy and its Constitution. Lee, who is staying at the Spotswood Hotel in Richmond, is welcomed by a large group of citizens who are anxious to pay their respects. 
Richmond papers report that a member of Virginia’s legislature had been detailed with a body of Virginia troops to visit Harpers Ferry on Friday, April 19. The citizens were under the impression that the State authorities were about to make an unlawful seizure of their personal property. Upon arrival of the 300 Virginia troops, the small group of Federal troops stationed there feared they would be overpowered; they set fire to the armory and evacuated the town. Harpers Ferry citizens realized that the Virginia troops were only there to claim the armory and not overtake their town, so they helped put out the fire and save the property within the armory. All the machinery was saved along with 5,000 muskets, all which were taken to Richmond. Now 2,300 Virginia troops are in Harpers Ferry to guard this strategically important town that is not only the convergence point of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, but one of the main production centers for small arms.

The city of Baltimore is still cut off from most of the country, so rumors are traveling as people leave the town and head north. It appears Martial Law has been proclaimed and people are to stay in their homes. Though Union troops are no longer going through Baltimore, they are now going through Annapolis, MD via steamer. There is talk that citizens of Annapolis will take to the streets to show their protest to the troops; another riot is feared. 
In Columbus, Ohio, the House of Representatives pass a bill to protect land of the militia volunteers, not only while they are serving but for 60 days after they are discharged. This is one of many acts northern states will perform in an effort to support those who serve the cause.
In St. Louis, William T. Sherman writes a response to his brother John, who is a U.S. Senator strongly urging him to serve his country by rejoining the military. John was trying to convince his brother to go back to his home state of Ohio and enlist. Sherman writes to John, reminding him that when they met with Lincoln in March the President made the comment that he didn’t feel they needed military professionals; volunteer militia would be the key to bringing the Rebels back into the Union. Sherman had taken great offense to this. He now had permanent employment in St. Louis, something he had struggled with for years. He had a family he adored and did not see the point in returning to Ohio, a state he felt had always “ignored” him. Sherman felt that back in March the country was already at war, though no one was willing to recognize it. He had already sacrificed for his country and now felt it was all for nothing. Sherman approved of Lincoln’s stance to squash the rebellion, but he could not imagine going against his one year employment contract that would not only affect him financially, but would also make him an untrustworthy individual.
Almost 39 years old, Ulysses S. Grant was only planning on leading Galena, IL militia volunteers to Springfield and then seeing if the Governor had any use for him. Today he decides to officially rejoin the army as a volunteer before heading to Springfield.
Today the New York State 69th Regiment leaves for Washington City. History would eventually nickname them “The Fighting Irish.
 Illustration of 69th NY Regiment
Corner of Mott & Prince Streets, NYC
Lincoln continues to wait for Northern volunteers; no one appears. He begins to lament that there is no Rhode Island, that New York is no longer in their geography. For now the U.S. Capitol is extremely vulnerable to attack. He frets that all is already lost.
From the Confederate capitol of Montgomery, Alabama, President Jefferson Davis is frantically encouraging Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson to seize the Federal arsenal in St. Louis and join the Confederacy. 

150 Years Ago: Monday, April 22, 1861

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In Dubuque, Iowa, the First Iowa Infantry regiment was formed under the leadership of Colonel John F. Bates. This was the first Iowa unit established under Lincoln’s call for volunteers for 90 day service. In proportion to population, Iowa would eventually provide more men to the Union military effort than any other state. Today they boarded the ship Alhambra on route to Missouri. Pro-war sermons were given by the ministers of the Baptist and Congregational churches. Classes at the Catholic schools were dismissed, and flags were flown. Led by a Germania Band, the companies marched to the boat at the end of Jones Street. Though the Ladies Volunteer Labour Society had been working furiously to make uniforms for the militia, they were not yet complete; they would be sent two weeks later. 

Dubuque, Iowa, April 22, 1861
Illustration by Harper’s Weekly (5/25/1861 edition)
In Richmond, Colonel Thomas J. Jackson and his cadets from the Virginia Military Institute arrive to join the Virginia army. They will take over the training of volunteer militia now gathering in Richmond. 
Also in Richmond, Robert E. Lee accepts command of Virginia forces. Lee not only has the daunting task of organizing troops to protect Virginia, but also has the more difficult task of convincing his wife Mary Anna to leave their home in Arlington, VA. Given that they live right across the Potomac river from Washington City, it is not safe for his family to stay there. Mary will take a lot of convincing to leave her home, relics and slaves. But for Lee, the military effort must come first for now; an immediate threat is to keep control over Harper’s Ferry.
In northwest Virginia, more than 1,000 pro-Union citizens from Harrison county meet and pass resolutions against secession. They set a date for a convention of delegates from the northwest Virginia counties in an effort to determine their political destiny. In this region lies a very strategic military point and arsenal: Harper’s Ferry.  
Massachusetts Governor John Andrew’s tries eagerly to convince Baltimore Mayor Brown to return the dead & injured militia men back to their state for proper burial and care. Brown replies that the city is cut off and this is not a request he can honor; instead he promises to give the dead proper burial and to make sure the soldiers get proper care. Governor Andrew expresses shock that “the peaceful march of American citizens over the common highway to the defense of our common capitol should be deemed aggressive to Baltimore citizens.”   
Patriotic demonstrations and allegiance ceremonies continue to take place in both the North and South. In many states, women have joined in the effort by sewing uniforms for the newly formed regiments and collecting money for the families of volunteers. Northern newspapers are publishing many articles for men and women on how they can prepare for and assist in the war effort.
In Washington City, the citizens and leadership in Baltimore are still upset over troop movements, even though Lincoln has promised that troops will no longer go through the city, but will instead go around it. They cut telegraph wires to Washington, leaving them out of touch with the outside world. U.S. leaders have little communication as to what actions are being taken in the South, and they have no idea where the troops are from the various states that should be making their way into the city. Many citizens in Washington City continue to evacuate; they are fearful the war will soon be on their doorstep.
Brigadier General Joseph Johnston, a Virginia, meets with U.S. Secretary of War Simon Cameron to resign his position in the U.S. military. “I most go with the South,” says Johnston, visibly upset by his decision. “I owe all that I am to the government of the United States. It has educated me and clothed me in honor. To leave the service is a hard necessity, but I must go.” The U.S. had lost another strong military leader. He requests immediate written acknowledgement of his resignation, then returns home; he will leave for Richmond the next day to offer his services to his home state. 
With the lack of communication and information, U.S. General Winfield Scott becomes panicked that the city will soon be captured by Rebels. No Union troops have arrived in Washington City in two days. Lincoln stares out of the window in his office. “Why don’t they come!” he exclaims to secretary John Nicolay. “Why don’t they come!”

150 Years Ago: Sunday, April 21, 1861

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Today the day would begin at 1am for John Nicolay, one of Lincoln’s secretaries. A messenger woke him to announce that a Committee from Baltimore had arrived requesting an interview with the President. After the Baltimore Riots, Mayor Brown had urgently requested that no more Union troops be allowed to pass through their city. Knowing that more troops were on their way, he wanted to put a stop to it at once in order to prevent further bloodshed.

Nicolay chose to let Lincoln sleep, and makes his way to the War Department where Simon Cameron has been staying in an effort to be prepared for emergencies. After waking Cameron and explaining the committee’s mission to send no more troops through Baltimore, Cameron baulks at the request and goes back to sleep. Being proactive, Nicolay asks a Chief Clerk at the War Department if any troops are scheduled to reach Baltimore before 8am; the answer is “No.” Nicolay goes back to the Committee and asks if they would be willing to wait until 8am, knowing that no troops were scheduled to be in Baltimore before that time. The committee agrees.

The Committee returns, meeting the President at the foot of the stairs. Lincoln had been walking to see General Scott, who had shown up in his carriage outside the door. Scott suffered from gout, and the President was trying to save him from all possible pain. The President escorted the committee outside where they held an informal meeting on the situation. Any Union troops would not be safe in Baltimore and their presence was not wanted. General Scott gave a simple solution: “Send them around Baltimore.”

The President agrees to the suggestion as long as it is practical from a military point of view. He gives the Committee a note saying it was his wish to avoid further present difficulty, which satisfies the group.

Down the street from the White House, Clara Barton, who works at the U.S. Patent Office, learns of Baltimore Riots and the wounded Massachusetts soldiers now on Capitol grounds. She organizes a relief program and tends to the soldiers in the U.S. Senate chamber.

Ulysses S. Grant, who is busy organizing volunteers from Galena, Illinois to take to Springfield, writes to his father Jesse. A West Point graduate, he realizes that he was trained for this type of emergency – and at the expense of the government. But he is hesitant to offer his services; whether this is because he was somewhat dishonorably discharged from the military several years before is unknown. He vows to give all the assistance he can to organizing the Galena Company and suggests that once he reaches Springfield he may ask the Governor if he can be of assistance. He parts with these closing words: “Whatever may have been my political opinions before, I have but one sentiment now. That is we have a Government, and laws and a flag and they must all be sustained. There are but two parties now, Traitor & Patriots and I want hereafter to be ranked with the latter and, I trust, the stronger party.”

In Missouri, Captain Nathaniel Lyon works to get official permission to enlist Unionist Germans into the army to protect the St. Louis Arsenal, which is a key center for the West.

In Richmond, Robert E. Lee meets with Virginia Governor John Letcher, who offers him head command of Virginia state militia. He asks for a day to think over the offer.
Thomas J. Jackson, a professor at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, VA, attends chapel this Sunday morning with his cadets. A devoutly religious man, God always came first. In the afternoon Jackson and his cadets take stagecoaches to the nearest train station; they are off to enlist in the Confederate army.

150 Years Ago: Saturday, April 20, 1861

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After two days of internal struggle, Robert E. Lee officially resigns his position with the U.S. military after 25 years of service. He addresses his letter to Secretary of War Simon Cameron with a simple sentence: “I have the honor to tender the resignation of my Commission of Colonel of the 1st Regt. of Cavalry.”

To his mentor, long time friend and fellow Virginian General Winfield Scott, Lee writes a longer explanation. He says that he wanted to give his resignation personally to Scott, but couldn’t “…For the struggle it has cost me to separate myself from a service to which I have devoted the best years of my life and all the ability I possess.” Lee expresses gratitude for the kindness shown to him. “To no one, General, have I been as much indebted as to yourself for uniform kindness and consideration.” He closes with “Save in the defense of my native State, I never desire again to draw my sword.” 

Lee was a civilian again, but not for long. He decides to head to Richmond to offer his services. What he does not realize, however, is that the resignation will not officially go through until it is officially accepted. The resignation will not be accepted today, so technically he is still a member of the U.S. military when he leaves for Richmond.
In New York City, the largest public meeting citizens have ever witnessed is held in Union Square (now Broadway and Fourth Avenue). 100,000 men – though not many African Americans as they are considered unwelcome at such public events – pour into the square. Women & children are also not allowed, with the exception of those who are able to look out their windows or stand in doorways to see the action. 

One of the reasons this location was chosen was due to an equestrian statue of George Washington in the southeast corner – which is where a statue of King George III had once stood. (TCWP note: The GW statue has since been moved to the south side of the area.)  Affixed to the statue for the rally was the U.S. flag that had once flown at Fort Sumter.

Statue of George Washington holding Fort Sumter flag, Union Square, NYC
April 20, 1861
Source: Library of Congress

Jane Stuart Woolsey, who would become an active member of the Sanitary Commission, observes the rally from her family’s balcony in the southeast corner of the square. She describes the scene as a “huge sea of men” who “overflowed the quadrangle of streets.” She is unable to hear the speakers, though she knows when key points are made based on the thousands of hats lifted and swung in the air and by the roar of the cheers.

Major Anderson is the hero of the day; many speeches are given, including a moving piece by New York City Mayor Fernando Wood. Wood had spoken of New York secession on several occasions, but for today he is on the side of the Union. A popular phrase heard several times at the rally is “We are all Democrats. We are all Republicans.” For today, New York City is united.

Out in western Missouri, a pro-secession group raids a U.S. arsenal in the town of Liberty. It is not a huge loss, but it causes great fears over the safety of a key arsenal in St. Louis. 

In St. Louis, William Tecumseh Sherman is serving as President for the St. Louis Railroad Company. He had been the first superintendent for the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy, but left in January 1861 due to secession in the South. He had traveled to Washington City to meet with Lincoln when he was inaugurated, but was very disappointed to find a man who he perceived as unresponsive and blind to the true situation the country faced. Having seen the sentiments of the citizens of Louisiana, Sherman felt he had a clearer perception than most as to the fight that was ahead of them. Feeling helpless and isolated in his views, on this day he wrote: 

“The first movements of our government will fail and the leaders be cast aside. A second or third set will rise and amongst them I may be. But at present, I will not volunteer as a soldier or anything else. If Congress meet or if a national convention be called and the Regular Army be put on a footing with the wants of our country, If I am offered a place that suits me, I may accept. But in the present call, I will not volunteer.

The time will come in this country when Professional knowledge will be appreciated, when men that can be trusted will be wanted. I will bide my time. I may miss the chance and if so all right.  It is an administration of your choice as you think it right. You must back it up with power adequate to its wants and necessities. I say volunteers and militia never were and never will be fit for Invasion and whoever tries it will be defeated and dropt by Lincoln like a hot potato.”

150 Years Ago: Friday, April 19, 1861

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President Lincoln, Secretary of State William Seward and Secretary of War Simon Cameron visit Capitol Hill early in the morning to meet the Pennsylvania militia volunteers that arrived from Baltimore the evening before. Many of the troops call for Lincoln to give a speech, but he declines. Instead, he says “Officers and soldiers of the Washington Artillery: I did not come here to make a speech. The time for speech making has gone by, the time for action is at hand. I have come here to give you a warm welcome to the city of Washington, and to shake hands with every officer and soldier in your company providing you grant me the privilege.” Not a single soldier denies Lincoln this request.

As Lincoln makes his way through, he notices that several of the soldiers are bruised and bloodied from the events the prior day. Lincoln is particularly struck by Nick Biddle, whose head was wrapped in blood soaked bandages. The 65-year old African American stood proudly in his uniform, while Lincoln expresses concern over his injury and urges him to seek medical assistance. Biddle refuses, saying that he prefers to stay with his Company. 

In Baltimore, the mob from the day before now turned into a full blown riot. Baltimore was a unique city, as many of the new militia troops had to go through there by train to get to Washington City. To complicate matters, the rails coming from the north/west stopped on the north side of the city; it did not pass through Baltimore and to Camden Station, where the rails led south to Washington. This meant that train cars had to be separated and then pulled individually by horses to transport the men to Camden Station.

Today the Massachusetts 6th Regiment has to go through the mob. Baltimore citizens were strong secessionist supporters, though Maryland was still a part of the Union. Things become out of control and led to a full blown riot. Citizens do whatever they can to prevent the troops from reaching their destination by blocking the transport cars and breaking windows, which eventually forces the militia to march through the streets in double-time. Once again bricks and stones are thrown at the volunteers. A few citizens fire shots at the troops, killing one. The order to “fire” back is eventually given, hitting a few citizens in the mob. Baltimore police try to hold the citizens back so that the regiment can pass and exit the city. 

Baltimore Riot Illustration
April 19, 1861

Unfortunately the situation is so severe that most of the equipment and baggage – and even the marching band – is left behind in the escape. The Colonel of the regiment, once on the train, realizes that 130 volunteers are unaccounted for. In total, four soldiers and twelve civilians were killed, and countless others were injured. While the first blood was shed the day before, this was considered the first real day of bloodshed due to the number of victims. The troops that were killed are offered a prominent lot in the Congressional burial ground if the regiment is not able to send them back home to be buried in Boston.

Baltimore officials demand that President Lincoln send no more Union troops through their city. The Mayor and Police Chief authorize the destruction of several key rail bridges outside of town to prevent troops from entering the city. Other citizens tear down telegraph wires, effectively cutting off communication between Baltimore and Washington City. Union citizens are upset; Horace Greeley, a famous writer for the New York Tribune, calls for Baltimore to be burned to the ground.

In Washington City, President Lincoln issues a blockade against Southern ports, seeking to cripple the South’s ability to bring in supplies to help their war efforts. This would also affect exports out of the South, including cotton, which would cripple the South financially and also had the potential to affect U.S. relations with countries like England and France.

In Montgomery, Alabama, CSA President Jefferson Davis issues a proclamation with the purpose of establishing friendly relations with Virginia, who had seceded from the Union on April 17 but had not officially joined the Confederate States of America. This proclamation was the first step at establishing such a bond.

Late that evening from his plantation home in Arlington, Virginia, Robert E. Lee could clearly see the unfinished capitol dome representing the country he had vowed to protect. But Virginia, his true home, had left the Union. His loyalties were now split. After a lot of thought and consideration, Lee followed his heart and trusted in God that he made the right choice. Between the hours of 8pm and midnight, he wrote an official letter resigning his position in the U.S. military. He loved his country, but loved Virginia more. He broke the vow. He would stand with his fellow Virginians. The letter would be delivered the next day.

150 Years Ago: Thursday, April 18, 1861

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Major Robert Anderson, after his defeat at Fort Sumter, finally arrives in New York City. His first order of business was to send a telegram to Secretary of War Simon Cameron. It was a brief message, outlining what newspapers had already reported: The Union had defended the Fort for 34 hours until the quarters were destroyed and the Fort was severely damaged. He only had three cartridges of powder and the only food left was some pork. Anderson accepted the terms of the evacuation from CSA General Beauregard. They were allowed to leave the Fort with colors flying and drums beating, along with a salute of 50 guns to the U.S. flag. What he did not report at this time was that he had brought the tattered U.S. flag back with him, something that would make him the first hero of the Civil War for the North.

Robert E. Lee went to Washington City to meet with Francis Preston Blair. Blair had requested a meeting with Lee, which was arranged by Lee’s cousin, John Lee. The meeting was confidential, and later there would be conflicting reports as to what occurred. President Lincoln and Secretary of War Simon Cameron had expressed interest in offering Robert E. Lee the top military leadership position to oversee the Union army. Knowing that Lee was very attached to Virginia and that his home state had recently agreed to put secession to a vote of the people, it was a very delicate subject that they felt someone only with Blair’s long standing reputation could handle. They spoke for several hours, and at that time Blair asked Lee if he would be willing to accept such a position if it was offered to him. Lee is famously said to have responded “How can I draw my sword upon Virginia, my native State?” He was unable to provide an answer to Blair at this time; he asked to talk to General Winfield Scott, who was his superior and someone he respected. General Scott was also from Virginia, and Lee was likely looking for personal guidance; was his loyalty to the Union or to his home in Virginia? After his meetings, Lee went back to his home in Arlington to make his decision.
Later that day, 475 volunteer militia troops from Pennsylvania (who had started out in Harrisburg that morning) were now making their way through the streets of Baltimore to Camden Station to board a train for Washington City. Many residents in Baltimore were in support of secession, so when word of troops arriving spread through the city almost 2,000 showed up in protest. Police were brought in to help escort the volunteers, but they had a difficult time keeping things under control. Protesters yelled jeers and insults while hurrahing Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy.

The arrival of the militia at Camden Station was met with chaos and violence. At this point the protesters became a mob, throwing bricks, stones, bottles, and whatever else they could find. Some threw punches and clubbed the volunteers; a few actually drew knives and guns. Someone sprinkled gun powder on the floor of the train cars, hoping that someone would carelessly throw a match while lighting a cigar or attempting to better light the area so they could see better, which would result in blowing themselves to pieces.

What enraged the mob the most was the sight of Nick Biddle, a 65-year old black orderly to Captain James Wren. Biddle had been associated with the company since 1840 and was so well respected that he was allowed to wear a uniform even though blacks were not allowed to serve in the military at the time. Cries of “Nigger in uniform!” were yelled at Biddle, who was struck in the head by a brick so hard that it exposed bone. Though Biddle is often not spoken of, but at the time he was considered the first soldier to shed “first blood” in the bloodiest war in U.S. history. 

In Galena, Illinois, Ulysses S. Grant attended a town meeting that he had been asked to preside over. Though he was not a man of high standing in the community, he was a West Point graduate, had served in the military and fought in the Mexican War, thereby making him a man of experience in matters of war. The town had gathered to discuss President Lincoln’s proclamation asking for troops and what their town needed to do to support this effort. 
While Grant said little in the meeting, lawyer John A. Rawlins gave a moving and memorable speech to his fellow men encouraging them to serve their country and help in putting down this rebellion. Grant was chosen to help in recruiting a company of Volunteers, which he was then to take down to the Illinois capitol of Springfield. Rawlins would go with Grant as a volunteer “aide-de-camp” (personal assistant or secretary); the future had a lot in store for these two men.
At 7pm, the 475 Pennsylvania volunteers arrived in Washington City. They were the first to arrive after Lincoln’s call for troops, and were nicknamed the “First Defenders.” Major Irwin McDowell (USA) met them at the train station and escorted them to the U.S. Capitol, where they spent their first night.

150 Years Ago: Wednesday, April 17, 1861

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CSA President Jefferson Davis issues a proclamation, inviting all who desire to assist the Confederate government by applying for service in “private armed vessels to the high seas.”

In Richmond, Virginia, the majority of delegates vote in favor of the Ordinance of Secession. They repealed its 1788 ratification of the Constitution of the United States. Official secession would occur in May, but at this point it was clear that the Union had lost Virginia. This was a huge loss, as many West Point graduates called Virginia home and would likely maintain their allegiance to their state. 

Missouri Governor Clayborne Jackson tells President Lincoln “Your requisition, in my judgment, is illegal, unconstitutional, and revolutionary in its objects, inhuman and diabolical, and cannot be complied with.”

A group of Illinois officials send correspondence to President Lincoln advising him that if Federal troops can be spared, they should be sent to Cairo, Illinois immediately. Because of it’s position on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, it was considered the most important and commanding point in the West.

Daily Civil War Calendar

April 2011

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