150 Years Ago: Friday, May 10, 1861

For more information, visit our website at thecivilwarproject.com

Daily Highlights/Updates:
  • John J. Crittenden, Former Politician, USA (to be posted 5/16 PM)
  • Judith W. McGuire, Virginian Civilian/Future Author, CSA (to be posted 5/16 PM)
  • William S. Wood, Government Worker, USA (to be posted 5/16 PM)

With a distant view of the U.S. Capitol building from her home across the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia, Judith W. McGuire couldn’t believe that she was being forced to flee. The wife of an Episcopal minister, she had followed the papers closely on the conflict. Now that there was serious discussion that the Union would soon take Arlington Heights and Alexandria, her home was no longer safe. Judith had spent the last several days packing her belongings, but today finds time to write in a diary she has started specifically to record her feelings and observations on the situation. When she is not packing, Judith and other women in the neighborhood have been sewing furiously to provide uniforms for the men going off to war.  

“We are very weak in resources, but strong in stout hearts, zeal for the cause, and enthusiastic devotion to our beloved South; and while men are making a free-will offering of their life’s blood on the altar of their country, women must not be idle. We must do what we can for the comfort of our brave men. We must sew for them, knit for them, nurse the sick, keep-up the faint hearted, give them a word of encouragement in season and out of season.”

Judith describes the scene from her home:  

“The Confederate flag waves from several points in Alexandria: from the Marshall House, the Market-house and several barracks. The peaceful, quiet old town looks quite warlike. I feel sometimes, when walking on King’s street, meeting men in uniform, passing companies of cavalry, hearing martial music, etc., that I must be in a dream. Oh that it were a dream, and that the last ten years of our country’s history were blotted out. Some of our old men are a little nervous, look doubtful, and talk of the impotency of the South. Oh, I feel utter scorn for such remarks. We must not admit our weakness; they know that their hearts are strong and their hands are well skilled in the use of the rifle. Our country boys have been brought up on horseback, and hunting has ever been their holiday sport. Then why shall they feel weak? Their hearts feel strong when they think of the justice of their cause. In that is our hope.”

Judith has buried their silver, but is torn over what to do with personal belongings such as books and pictures. She has determined that when the time has come for her to leave, she will leave the family items with servants as they stay behind; she trusts them, and they have promised her they will be faithful.  

This morning U.S. Captain Nathaniel Lyon leads his troops to Camp Jackson, a rebel camp in St. Louis that has been supported by Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson. The Missouri militia leader, D.M. Frost, doesn’t have the men to hold the Fort so he surrenders. With no room to imprison the militia Lyon decides he will parole them after they take an oath of allegiance to the U.S. In a disastrous move, Lyon also decides to first parade the militia in the streets in an effort to humiliate them, which in turn only provokes Southern-sympathizing citizens to throw rocks and bottles at Lyon’s men. Eventually guns were used against the Union troops, causing the troops to respond back in defense. Four soldiers and 28 civilians were killed, along with 75 wounded. While it ended in bloodshed, Lyon’s actions secured U.S. government control over eastern Missouri.

In the border state of Kentucky, former U.S. Senator John J. Crittenden serves as a Unionist representative for a conference to determine Kentucky’s role in the war. The conference will fail to produce a united course of action, but it does adopt a policy of armed neutrality. There is a perceived threat that the current state militia has southern sympathies, so a separate “Home Guard” militia is formed and will be controlled by a five-man, pro-Union commission. Even though Crittenden is 73 years old, he enlists as a private and becomes part of a group that will secure weapons from the Federal government for the Home Guard. 

This afternoon Mary Lincoln, her cousin Elizabeth Todd Grimsley and William S. Wood (Interim Commissioner of Public Buildings) leave Washington for New York City. Mrs. Lincoln was on a quest to purchase furnishings for the White House, so she brought Elizabeth and William to assist her. Wood was a recent acquaintance, and while he immediately charmed Mary when she entered the White House he was a great source of media gossip and put a strain on the Lincoln’s marriage. This trip to New York City would not help matters. Major Robert Anderson, who was also heading back to New York, accompanied them. Though originally they were to travel by water, instead they take a train from Annapolis to Philadelphia, where they would spend the evening.

General Scott and Secretary of War Cameron discuss the potential for a fight in Frederick, Maryland; concerns and a request to address the issue had been expressed by Maryland Governor Hicks.

Somewhere in the country, actor John Wilkes Booth celebrates his 23rd birthday. In late April he had finished a series of performances in Albany, New York. His whereabouts have not been recorded in history, but today he autographs a book called “Rifle Practice: An Elementary Treatise upon the Theory of Rifle Firing” by C. M. Wilcox, signing his name and the date of May 10, 1861 inside the front cover. 

In Washington City, Horatio Nelson Taft writes:  

“A bright morning, but rain all day after 12 o’clock. Troops continue to arrive, 30,000 here now. They are now mostly going into camp in the suburbs of the City. Reports of large bodies of troops in Virginia indicate work near here before long. I should not be much surprised to see them on Arlington heights any morning. I hope an army will not attempt to march to Richmond. Should one do so, I believe it would be destroyed if less than fifty thousand. Went down to ‘Camp Anderson’ Franklin Square after dinner. There was no parade on account of the wet. Filled the Aquarium again tonight.”

Tonight in North Carolina, Catherine Devereux Edmondston writes in her diary that her husband has left for the Camp.

“Today he went. O! how sorrowful! What with the confusion, the bustle, the real work I have had to do, I have scarcely realized it; but tonight as I sit in my lonely room it presses fully upon me. O! my God! give me strength to bear what Thou imposest upon me.”

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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