150 Years Ago: Thursday, May 9, 1861

For more information, visit our website at thecivilwarproject.com

Daily Highlights/Updates:
  • James Longstreet, Military Leader, CSA (to be posted 5/16 PM)
  • Nathaniel Lyon, Military Leader, USA (to be posted 5/16 PM)

Around 3 a.m. a fire breaks out at a large firezouavesmay91861.jpgclothing store on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington City; the infamous Willard Hotel is next door. The New York Fire Zouaves are called onto the scene, led by Colonel Elmer Ellsworth. Given that his men were New York firefighters and Washington’s own fire department is lackluster in responding to the alarm, Ellsworth & his men take control of the situation. The 300 men involved become heroes and the hotel is saved. Harpers Weekly would tell the story in their May 25, 1861 edition, complete with an illustration (shown here).

Across the Potomac River at Arlington, Mary Custis Lee writes her husband Robert. She tells him that all of their wine, pictures and even their piano has been sent to a friend’s home in Ravensworth, VA for safekeeping. Other valuables have been sent to Richmond. Mary writes that Arlington was never “more beautiful, perfectly radiant. The yellow jasmine in full bloom and perfuming in the air, but a death like stillness prevails everywhere, you hear no sounds from Washington, not a soul is moving about.” She has continued to prepare to leave, but is not yet ready to make the move. 

Organizing and commanding Virginia’s armed forces from Richmond, Robert E. Lee responds to Colonel Thomas J. Jackson’s request for more troops and ammunition in Harpers Ferry. Lee promises arms immediately but he is not in agreement with Jackson’s need for troops, especially if they are to be used to capture the heights across the river in Maryland. Lee does think it advisable to put troops on the soil of Maryland unless the necessity of war calls for it; he thinks that Maryland citizens will be more ready to assist Virginians if they stay on their own ground. 

Jackson receives the message and immediately wires Lee. He feels that the “necessity of war” is already upon them. “If this place is attacked, we may expect the enemy to make free use of rifled cannon.” If Jackson didn’t take Maryland heights now the Union would, giving them the ability to fire down into Harpers Ferry. Jackson made the decision to occupy the Maryland heights anyway, with one company of infantry from Augusta County and a group of Kentucky militia armed only with pistols and bowie knives. 

From the Confederate capital of Montgomery, Alabama, President Jefferson Davis authorizes the enlistment of 400,000 men, to serve for three years or the duration of the war.

A man who was once close friends with Ulysses S. Grant – not to mention a relative of Grant’s wife – resigns his position as Major and Paymaster of the U.S. Army in Albuquerque, New Mexico. James Longstreet would now accept a commission from Alabama with, in his owns words, “a clear conscience.” What most people did not know is that he had accepted it eight days ago. While most men had waited for their resignations to be accepted before they returned home and applied for commissions with their southern home state, Longstreet had been corresponding with Alabama officials since January 1861. According to official records, Longstreet was offered a commission as a Lieutenant Colonel of Infantry in Alabama on March 18, 1861, almost a month before the first shots at Fort Sumter. On May 1, Longstreet accepted the commission but waits until today to officially resign; now he will wait several weeks until it is officially accepted.
While waiting for a response to his letter to Washington offering his military expertise to the Union cause, William T. Sherman, along with a few of his children, ride a streetcar to the St. Louis arsenal and they receive a tour of the facilities. Sherman sees regiments drawn into lines and being issued ammunition. He views Captain Nathaniel Lyon – who is acting more like a General than a Captain – “…running about with his hair in the wind, his pockets full of papers, wild and irregular, but I knew him to be a man of vehement purpose and of determined action. I saw of course that it meant business, but whether for defense or offense I did not know.

A party of politicians and other officials, including President Lincoln, spend the afternoon at the Navy Yard. Festivities include a dress parade of the 71st New York Regiment along with a band concert from the 12th New York. John Hay, the President’s secretary, writes “They sang well the band played well and the President listened well. After the programme, the President begged for the Marseillaise (the French National Anthem). The prime gentleman gave the first verse and then generously repeated it, interpolating nonchalantly ‘Liberty or Death’ in place of ‘Abreuve nos sillons’ (Water our furrows!), which he had forgotten.” 

Tonight President Lincoln and his wife Mary host a reception for “Commissioned officers, and their families, of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and the Volunteer Militia.” Major Robert Anderson, who has recently arrived from New York City, originally comes in unnoticed. Once the President sees Anderson he quickly makes his way to him and after introductions makes sure Anderson is a fixture by his side for the rest of the evening. The two youngest Lincoln boys, Willie and Tad, are awestruck at the Union hero of Fort Sumter. It is mentioned that evening that when one of the boys had been sitting for their photo, they insisted on having a picture of Major Anderson in their hand.

For more information, visit our website at thecivilwarproject.com

About The Civil War Project

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. This site is not a source of revenue for me, nor is it tied in with a company or other 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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