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150 Years Ago: Sunday, May 19, 1861


Robert Anderson left New York City and is now in Cincinnati. Yesterday he received a letter from U.S. President Abraham Lincoln from May 14th and responds back to him today, filling him in on the latest details. He thanks Lincoln for introducing him to Joshua F. Speed, a long-time friend of Lincoln’s who lives in Kentucky. Speed has volunteered to assist the Union in securing Kentucky, and will also be Lincoln’s eyes and ears, giving him accounts of what is happening in the state and what the overall feelings of the citizens are. Speed has introduced two other key individuals to Anderson that Speed vouches for, and they all instruct him to not actively raise troops in Kentucky for the Union cause. A committee has been formed in Kentucky who is organizing and arming a Home Guard; they feel this will be better received than Anderson actively recruiting, though Anderson is himself a Kentuckian. Speed also advises Anderson to set up command across the river from Cincinnati in Newport Barracks, which has been in operation since 1803. They feel that his occupation of the Barracks is in a place that will not cause citizens alarm and will, if anything, “probably do a great deal of good.” 

A minor naval battle has been taking place the last two days between the Union gunboat U.S.S. Monticello and  Confederate batteries that were in the process of being established on Sewell’s Point in Norfolk County, Virginia. Yesterday, as part of the Union blockade of Chesapeake Bay, the Monticello fired upon the Confederate troops who had arrived and had not yet set up defenses; the act did little harm. By 5pm today the Confederates have installed three 32-pound guns, which they will use against the Monticello when it decides to open fire in the early evening hours. The Confederate guns drive off the Monticello, and Captain Peyton Colquitt from Georgia raises a Georgia state flag in victory since he has no Confederate flag to raise. 

Mary Boykin Chesnut, an aristocratic woman from South Carolina whose husband is a politician and military leader, has friends in the highest of places. She spends some of her Sunday with 34-year old Varina Davis, the wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Varina finds the duty of being “Mrs. President” as “slow work” after leaving all of her friends behind in Washington, which she had made when Davis served as a Senator. Mary and Varina try not to look back at their former life, as their only real option given the circumstances is to move forward.

Julia Taft, daughter of a Patent Office worker and friend of the Lincoln’s, attends a sermon listening at one of the camps. The soldiers sang “I Would Not Live Away” with so much gusto that she can hardly hear the band accompanying them. The dashing Colonel Elmer Ellsworth escorts her home, but it’s strictly platonic in nature as he’s been engaged to Carrie Spafford in Springfield, Illinois since 1859. Julia has been taking care of Lincoln’s two youngest boys, Willie and Tad, and is often at the White House with Ellsworth, who is always welcome to visit the family.


Horace Greeley, the Washington correspondent for the New York Tribune, had met with U.S. President Lincoln earlier in the month and came back to New York City thinking that Lincoln was “passive and obstinate.” Greeley had once been of the opinion that the U.S. should just let the southern states go, but after Fort Sumter had changed his mind and was a vocal opponent for war. Today he writes Lincoln that “The intelligence that the war for the Union is to be prosecuted with emphatic vigor, and that the traitors are to be thrown back from Washington in every direction causes general rejoicing here. We feel that the struggle thus prosecuted, cannot be of long duration. All are confident that the result will justify our fondest hopes.” It was not unusual of Greeley to give advice, as he had been doing it for a long time both publicly and privately to those in power. Fortunately – or unfortunately – for Lincoln, he would have to get used to Greeley’s opinions.

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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