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150 Years Ago: Tuesday, May 7, 1861

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Tennessee Governor Isham G. Harris sends a message to his state’s General Assembly, announcing the formation of a military league between Tennessee and the Confederacy. In Knoxville, a large riot breaks out when the U.S. flag is raised and anti-secession speeches are given. Shots are fired, about twenty in all. The ringleader is shot several times & is wounded; an outsider named Bull is killed.  
On the USS Yankee, Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge leaves Fortress Monroe, Virginia at 10am. As he approaches Gloucester Point, a shot from a Virginia battery is hurled across his bow. He continues on his course; another shot is fired and falls short from hitting its target. Selfridge stops the ship & moves his guns to the starboard side of the ship. He fires six shots, aiming for the highest elevation, but all fall short of hitting any target. Virginians fire twelve return shots, most falling short. Selfridge makes the decision to go back to Fortress Monroe; these were the first shots fired from Virginia troops.

In Harpers Ferry, Virginia, Colonel Thomas J. Jackson writes to General Robert E. Lee regarding his plans for defending the town. Jackson requests 10,000 men and more artillery so he can secure the Maryland heights overlooking the town. Jackson stresses that the loss of Harpers Ferry would “result in the loss of the northwestern part of the state”, which today we know as West Virginia. With the B&O Railroad line controlled by the Union, Jackson could no longer receive supplies from the east. In the west, “the cars have been broken open by the Republicans, upon suspicion that they contained arms.” Harpers Ferry was a strategic town and Jackson feels more proactive measures need to be taken in order to secure and hold it in their possession. 
The Union loses yet another military leader – this time Captain Richard S. Ewell, another Virginian. He had come back to western Virginia in 1860 to recuperate from an illness he had contracted while serving in Fort Buchanan, Arizona. He had expressed pro-Union sentiments in the past, but his loyalty was to his state. Today he resigns his commission so he can join the Virginia Provisional Army. 

Major Robert Anderson is empowered by President Lincoln to recruit volunteer troops from Kentucky and the western part of Virginia. Even though Virginia had seceded, strong pro-Union sentiments were overwhelming in northwest Virginia; Lincoln would use this to his advantage. Kentucky was of special importance to Lincoln, not just strategically but also because it was the place of his birth and where his wife Mary had been raised as a child and where most of her family still currently resided. Anderson was chosen for this sensitive task because he was a Kentuckian. The troops would be asked to serve a three year term, though very few people actually thought they would be needed for that long of a duration.

On the east front lawn of the Capitol building, President Lincoln, his personal secretary John Hay & his son Tad watched the 11th New York be sworn into service by Brigadier General Irvin McDowell. Together they also attend exercises of the Lincolns’ close friend Colonel Elmer Ellsworth and his New York Fire Zouaves brigade in the square behind the Capitol, much to Tad’s delight. Tad greatly admired his older friend Elmer, and seeing the drills today would lead him to perform his own Zouave-type drills on the White House lawn.  

At the end of the day, Lincoln discusses the “existing contest” with John Hay & his other personal secretary John Nicolay. He states that “The real question involved in it is whether a full and representative government has the right and power to protect and maintain itself. Admit the right of a minority to secede at will, and the question for such secession will almost as likely be any other as the slavery question.”

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