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150 Years Ago: Wednesday, May 15, 1861


U.S. General Benjamin Butler took matters into his own hands yesterday; today he suffers the consequences. He is awakened at 8:30am and is given a dispatch that was written by U.S. General Winfield Scott yesterday:

“Your hazardous occupation of Baltimore was made without my knowledge, and, of course, without my approbation. It is a godsend that it is without conflict of arms. It is also reported that you have sent a detachment to Frederick; but this is impossible. Not a word have I received from you as to either movement. Let me hear from you.”

Butler finds the communication “if not appalling, certainly amusing.” He refuses to reply right away, but eventually writes a lengthy letter right back to Scott giving him the details of his actions. Scott won’t care; he has already ordered Major General William Cadwallader to relieve Butler of his command of the Department of Annapolis. Butler immediately heads to Washington City and at the request of Lincoln goes to the White House. Scott was furious with him, but Lincoln is not willing to dispose of him.

Robert Anderson (Source: Library of Congress)

Major Robert Anderson, hero of Fort Sumter, has his photo taken (right) by George S. Cook in his King Street studio in Manhattan. He also receives the news that he has been promoted to Brigadier General. The photo of Anderson would bring Cook a lot of recognition, though he would eventually be known as the “Southern Mathew Brady” when he takes his talents to the South.

Earlier in the day Anderson had been paid a call by Mary Lincoln at his hotel. Prior to her visit, Mary had spent time shopping at Lord & Taylor’s. After meeting with Anderson she attended four short plays at the Laura Theatre with friends and then went to E. V. Haughwout’s to make a very important purchase: the famous State Dinner Service for the White House. The dinner service from the Pierce administration was still in use, but Mary has her mind set that the White House is in serious need of updating and this is just one of the many items she feels needs replacing.

Lincoln Dinner Plate (Source: Christies)

With a border of “Solferino” purple and gold, the service will be made in France; Edward Lycett in New York will then hand-paint the arms of the United States in the center. The 190-piece set will be ready in September. Mary also orders glassware and mantle ornaments for the Blue and Green Rooms.

Pennsylvania Governor Andrew G. Curtin has more volunteers than needed to meet U.S. President Lincoln’s quota for troops, but U.S. Secretary of War Simon Cameron was refusing to take the extra men into service. Curtin had been feuding with fellow Pennsylvanian Cameron since 1854 when they ran for the same U.S. Senate seat, which Cameron won. They differ on everything politically, especially since Cameron constantly changes parties to suit his ambitions. Curtin was a staunch Republican and a determined supporter of the President, and so he comes up with the idea to retain the extra men into a special service, which today is approved by the Pennsylvania legislature. The infantry division is named the Pennsylvania Reserves, and they will be organized, trained and equipped at the expense of the state. They will be trained in four camps throughout the state, including one in Harrisburg named Camp Curtin in honor of the Governor. Two men from Pennsylvania will eventually lead this division and become key individuals in the future military effort.

In Missouri, Captain Nathaniel Lyon had heard of a large lead mine 70 miles south of St. Louis near the town of Potosi, so he takes the Fifth Missouri Volunteers there and they become an occupying force, seizing arms, powder and the mine. All but eight citizens take an Oath of Allegiance; those eight are put under arrest. When Lyon finishes his work in Potosi, he learns that there is a large States Rights/Secessionist flag that people are planning to raise in De Soto, which is along their route back to St. Louis. The secessionists go into hiding when the arrive in the city, but eventually Lyon’s men find the flag under the dress of a woman who is pretending to be sick and lying in a bed. The men make her stand up and the flag falls out. This flag is considered the first secessionist flag taken during the war.

It’s the third and last day of the First Wheeling Convention in northwest Virginia. The final result is a recommendation that western Virginians will elect delegates for a Second Wheeling Convention to be held on June 11 if the people of Virginia approve the Ordinance of Secession on May 23. Prayer is offered, the Star Spangled Banner is sung and three hearty cheers are given for the Union.

From Richmond, Robert E. Lee orders Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnston to take command of troops at Harpers Ferry, where Thomas J. Jackson has been overseeing operations.

Mary Custis Lee leaves her Arlington home. This was not only a childhood home; here she had married her husband Robert and raised their seven children. One of her sons, George Washington Custis Lee, accompanies her to Ravensworth in Fairfax County, home of Mary’s aunt. Mary had already sent several important items there, but had been delaying her own departure. She knew her husband Robert was deeply concerned for her safety, and not wanting to cause him additional stress while he had the weight of protecting Virginia she left. She leaves behind the home, her slaves and many personal belongings including items from George and Martha Washington, her ancestors. She leaves behind the life she knows for the Virginian cause.

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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