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150 Years Ago: Friday, May 31, 1861


Ellen Sherman is packing up her St. Louis home; she and the children are moving back to her father’s home in Lancaster, Ohio. Today is her husband William Tecumseh (Cump) Sherman’s last day as President of the Fifth Street Railroad; he has served just two out the twelve months he had originally agreed to. Though it took some persuasion on the part of Sherman’s brother John and Ellen’s own political-involved Ewing family, Cump had accepted the command of Colonel of the Thirteenth Regular Infantry which he was appointed to on May 14. Though Cump had requested to raise this new Regiment at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri, General Winfield Scott had denied the request; he wants Sherman in Washington City. Knowing that Washington is not a safe place for his wife and five children – with a sixth child on the way – Cump had made arrangements with Thomas Ewing, Ellen’s father. Ellen prefers to be as close to her parents as possible, so she is very agreeable to the arrangement.

Also in St. Louis, two Union officers are reacting to two very different letters received from Washington that are dated May 16. U.S. Brigadier General William S. Harney is in shock to learn that he has been relieved of command after only a few weeks. He writes to Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas, acknowledging that he received the instructions and officially relinquishes command, but at the same time is convinced that President Lincoln could not have approved this action. He believes this is all a mistake and informs Thomas that news from Missouri over the past few weeks was more animated and blown out of proportion than what politicians in Washington may think. Harney believes that things are best left in his capable command, but leaves his fate at the hands of the President.

But one man’s loss is another man’s gain. With Harney’s removal, this now puts Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon in charge. Lyon immediately assumes command of Union troops in Missouri. It’s the position he has been aiming for over the last several months as he recruited volunteers, secured the St. Louis Arsenal and weapons, and captured rebel Camp Jackson, all on his own initiative.

In Washington, U.S. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair suspends all mail to the states that have seceded from the Union and closes accounts of secessionist postmasters. All remaining postmasters must take an oath of allegiance to the Union if they wish to retain their positions.

The Confederate government continues to make military appointments now that the government has been moved to Richmond. Today General P.G.T. Beauregard is given command of the “Alexandria Line” which includes all of northern Virginia.

From her home in New Brunswick, Canada, Betsy Edmonds writes a letter to her daughter Sarah Emma Edmonds. Sarah is better known as Private Frank Thompson to her comrades in the Second Michigan Infantry and she is now at Fort Wayne in Detroit after being mustered into service six days ago. Betsy is confused over her daughter’s behavior to pose as a young man and join a war in another country. She’s hoping that her words will reach Sarah and get her to change her course of action:

My dear child:

I take time to write you to let you know that your family is well. I received a letter from you today and I was much displeased. I implore you to give up this ruse and come home at once. This war is not yours, my child. Leave it to the Americans who fight each other, most foolishly, in my opinion.

If you will not leave the war, at least then leave that which causes you the most danger, and which must surely be your most constant trouble–that of seeming to be what you are not. Cast off the Yankee uniform and take back your skirts, Emma. Or if you must stay in this war, at least stay as the woman you are.

I pray daily for your safety. And I pray for the swift resolution to this foolish war which is ripping your adopted country apart.

Your loving mother,

Betsy Edmonds

Betsy closes with a final afterthought, telling her daughter not to bother writing her again until she can sign her “own rightful name” to the letter.

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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