150 Years Ago: Sunday, May 5, 1861

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There might be a war, but traditions continue. Today the West Point Military Academy holds graduation services for 45 cadets. Four of these cadets would eventually mark their place in Civil War history: Adelbert Ames, Emory Upton, Edmund Kirby and Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, all who would honorably serve the Union.
General Benjamin Butler captures the Railroad Relay House on the B&O line. This secures the rail line from Washington, to Annapolis and on to Baltimore. For the last couple of weeks troops were being brought in by ship, so this move would not only improve security around the Capital but also help move troops into place faster.
President Lincoln meets with the Baltimore Committee of three again, who urge him to recognize independence of the Southern states. He rebukes them and feels they should be more willing to fight to keep the Union together. 
Mrs. Mary Custis Lee writes to Mildred, her 16-year-old daughter, telling her that she would not leave her Arlington home “even if the whole Northern Army were to surround it.” However, she doesn’t want to burden the minds of her husband Robert and their oldest son, George and wants to “leave them free to perform their duty.” She pours out her frustration with the leaders of the U.S. government, saying they seem to be “without honor and without pity.” She has sent her silver and valuables to Richmond and Ravensworth, but says “the rest of our effects must take their chance.” For now, she will continue to stay at the house. 
Mary would also pen another letter, this time to General Winfield Scott, an dear friend of the family and a fellow Virginian. Though Scott is currently responsible for putting her home in danger, it obviously did not sever the positive feelings and regard Mary held for him. Her words also imply that Scott also had not been able to completely sever his ties to Robert Lee, even though he was now an enemy of the Union. There also might have been a small motive for Mary’s letter: the hopes that her words might spare her home from being taken by the Union. She writes:

My Dear General: Hearing that you desire to see the account of my husband’s reception in Richmond, I have sent it to you. No honors can reconcile us to the fratricidal war which we would have laid down our lives freely to avert. Whatever may happen, I feel that I may expect from your kindness all the protection you can in honor afford. Nothing can ever make me forget your kind appreciation of Mr. Lee. If you knew all you would not think so hardly of me. Were it not that I would not add one feather to his load of care, nothing would induce me to abandon my home. Oh, that you could command peace to our distracted country! Yours in sadness and sorrow, M.C. Lee.

On this Sunday in Richmond, Mary’s husband Robert would also write: “They do not know what they say. If it came to a conflict of arms, the war will last at least four years. Northern politicians will not appreciate the determination and pluck of the South, and Southern politicians do not appreciate the numbers, resources, and patient perseverance of the North. Both sides forget that we are all Americans. I foresee that our country will pass through a terrible ordeal, a necessary expiation, perhaps, for our national sins.”
The 7th New York State Militia had been recently moved from the Capitol Building to Camp Cameron in Georgetown. Nicknamed the “Silk Stocking” regiment due to the high number of members who were part of New York’s social elite, today they would take time for religious service. This would be a constant for all regiments, every Sunday, during the course of the war. 


Published by Harper’s Weekly on  May 25, 1861

For more information, visit our website at thecivilwarproject.com

About thecivilwarproject

Like many others, I have a passion for the Civil War era, and for decades have chosen to spend my much of free time researching this topic - particularly the people, as the human component is what I find most fascinating. The site is not a source of revenue for me, nor is it tied in with a company or individual behind the scenes. It is my own personal venture. It is because of this genuine bond of respect and affection I feel towards this period in our history that I created "The Civil War Project." If this is your first time visiting the site, I welcome you and thank you for your interest. If you have any feedback or questions, please feel free to contact me at thecivilwarproject@yahoo.com.


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