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150 Years Ago: Thursday, May 16, 1861


Tennessee legislators had voted to secede on May 6; today the state is officially admitted into the Confederate States of America. A decision is also made to recruit another 400,000 volunteers for the military effort.

The Confederate Congress also makes a crucial decision to move the Confederate capital from Montgomery, Alabama to Richmond, Virginia. They are hoping this move will encourage Virginia citizens to vote for the Ordinance of Secession on May 23. In some ways Richmond is a good strategic move as it’s more connected for rail and supply routes than Montgomery. On the other hand, it places the Confederate government within only a hundred miles of Washington City.

U.S. President Lincoln goes to Trinity Church at 9am to attend the wedding of Military Chief Administrative Officer’s son. He attends a dress parade of the 7th New York with Secretary of State William Seward and at some point in his day goes to Mathew Brady’s photography studio and has a series of photos taken.

Abraham Lincoln, May 16, 1861 (Source: Library of Congress)

Even though General William Harney had recently returned to St. Louis with his position reinstated, what he did not know was that there was a plot in the works to remove him once again. Montgomery Blair, his brother Frank Blair, Jr. and Captain Nathaniel Lyon, all from Missouri, suspected that Harney is a secessionist. Montgomery Blair has drafted an order to remove Harney from command and replace him with Lyon, who would be appointed a Brigadier General. Lincoln had been given the proposal but wanted to talk with General Scott and Secretary of War Cameron first.

Cameron was not convinced that Lyon was the right guy for the job, especially after the Camp Jackson affair. But today things fall into place; Cameron, Scott and Lincoln approve the order for Harney’s removal but there is one condition: Frank Blair, Jr. – who is in St. Louis – has to make the final decision on whether Harney should be given the order. Obviously this won’t be an issue because Frank was in on the plot from the beginning.

In New York City, Mary Lincoln takes a ride to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Greenwood Cemetery, followed by shopping in the afternoon as she continues to purchase items for the White House. At 10:30pm the city band and the Excelsior Brigade line up below Mary’s hotel window to pay their respects. Mary appears at her window, bows her compliments and drops a bouquet to the band as the surrounding crowd cheers gives her a hearty cheer.

Though he was relieved of command in Annapolis yesterday, today Benjamin Butler takes a special train to Washington City. Butler has learned that he is to receive a promotion but has not yet received official notice. He has been asked by Lincoln to come to the White House, but he first stops by to see General Winfield Scott. Scott receives him coldly and is unwilling to listen to Butler’s explanation. Butler would later say that his venting was so emotional that “upon my return to my quarters I threw myself on my lounge, and burst into a flood of tears.”

In the evening he heads to the White House where he meets with Lincoln and two of Lincoln’s cabinet members, Montgomery Blair (Postmaster General) and Simon Cameron (Secretary of War). Scott may be furious with him, but Lincoln can’t afford to spare officers right now. In their meeting he is officially promoted to Major General; he is now the third Major General in the U.S. Volunteers. Butler is given command of Fort Monroe, a Federal outpost at the end of the Virginia Peninsula. He will leave in the morning.

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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